Posts

  • Project Moonbase | The Historic Sound of the Future | Unusual music show | Podcast | Space cult | projectmoonbase.com

    26 Nov 2016

    Join us, dear listener, on a long-overdue journey through some of the brightest stars in the night sky and discover just how easy-going this whole astronomy thing really is. […] Link

  • H.264 is Magic

    10 Nov 2016

    H.264 is a video compression codec standard. It is ubiquitous - internet video, Blu-ray, phones, security cameras, drones, everything. Everything uses H.264 now. H.264 is a remarkable piece of technology.

    […]Link

  • Transcoding a movie library with Hazel and Handbrake CLI

    10 Nov 2016

    –Preface, skip to the how-to

    I have an archive of thousands of movies living on a disk array. Lots of them are obscure rips of old laserdiscs, VHS, and things that maybe played on Soviet Television. Not exactly ephemeral new movies I can just stream from a modern service. Because I’ve been nursing this collection along for over a decade and trading with others, they’re in a number of different formats- divx, matroska, and others. It’s getting increasingly difficult to work with these formats on modern Mac operating systems. While VLC will happily play them, I like to scrub through my movie collections and extract clips to use in video projections. Mpeg Streamclip used to be my tool of choice and it no longer seems to work in Sierra. Perian, a multi codec package for quicktime, died a sad death long ago. It’s clearly time for me to transcode all my media to mp4.

    How to batch transcode with Hazel and Handbrake CLI–

    This is where the excellent Hazel folder action tool comes in. I’ve used Apple’s Automator on and off for years and always found it slightly confusing and clumsy. Hazel is refreshingly powerful and simple, and since you can fire off shell scripts with it, you can use it with a number of services. I used Handbrake CLI here for simplicity, but if you wanted to encode something other than mp4, you could probably use ffmpeg.

    First, grab Hazel. It’s incredibly useful for automating folder actions and there’s a thousand uses for it. Alongside Better Rename it’s my favorite piece of automation software on mac (Alfred is also very good).

    Add Handbrake CLI to your applications folder. I’ve seen other tutorials that recommended putting it in /usr/bin but Sierra wouldn’t let me do that even as superuser. Applications works fine.

    In my setup I have a movies folder with a bunch of subfolders and then .avi and .mkv files. I don’t want to move the files out of their folders, becuase a lot of them have subtitle track files too. I just want to encode a same-named mp4 file, toss the old avi or mkv and move on.

    hazel screenshot

    In Hazel I want to add the folder my movies are in in the left, be it downloads or a movies folder or what have you. In my adjacent rules section the first rule I add is one that scans subfolders and applies the other rules to them as well.

    hazel screenshot

    Then in my case I made two Handbrake CLI scripts, one for mkv files and one for avi’s.

    hazel screenshot hazel screenshot hazel screenshot

    Here’s my avi to mp4 shell script if you’d like to copy/paste.

    /Applications/HandbrakeCLI -i "$1" -o "${1%avi}"mp4 --preset='AppleTV3'

    If you wanted to move the transcoded file to a new folder you could just add a path to the beginning of the output filename. I also picked the AppleTV3 preset from handbrake, but you can open up the Handbrake GUI app and take a look at the different presets and see if there’s another you’d prefer.

  • Talking about VDMX over on the VIDVOX Blog

    06 Nov 2016

    Vidvox ran a piece this week about some of the projects that I’ve worked on using VDMX as the core piece of software.

    The Work of Wiley Wiggins

  • Using Lumen and VDMX together with Syphon

    24 Oct 2016

    (UPDATED)

    Here’s a quicky post showing how to run Lumen alongside VDMX.

    One exciting thing about Lumen adding Midi in their new 1.0 release- it’s easy to control Lumen with midi out from a vdmx control surface or Osculator , There’s lots of possibilies!

    Check out Paracosm’s tutorial site, as well as Vidvox’s tutorials for more help getting started.

  • Tinnitus Neuromodulator

    25 Sep 2016

    Neuromodulation sound generator for the MyNoise app to help distract from symptoms of tinnitus […]Link

  • Fantastic Arcade Itch.io Bundle

    23 Sep 2016

    games, juegos rancheros

    Monday is the first day of Fantastic Arcade talks and tourneys, but you can play this year’s games already, either in the Highball, in our Arcade lounge or at home, with five new experimental games that were incubated by Juegos Rancheros, the Austin indie game collective. These games are running in custom cabinets at the festival but you can get them together as a bundle from itch.io.

    blogheader

    [ CLICK HERE OR USE THE WIDGET BELOW TO BUY THE 2016 FANTASTIC ARCADE BUNDLE AND SUPPORT JUEGOS RANCHEROS! ]

    All proceeds from the sale of this bundle benefit the Juegos Rancheros non-profit organization (of which I am an organizer), dedicated to nurturing emerging game voices and sharing games we care about with Austin and the world.

    Included in this bundle are all five games you see here, along with extras & bonus materials- niumrunningpastmonsters niummarquee

    NIUM, by Moppin & Nemk

    DOWNWELL creator Moppin has partnered with Nemk (one of our favorite artists working in games) to present NIUM: a post-apocalyptic action game where players will crawl through a ruined, abandoned, STALKER-esque exclusion zone inhabited only by a variety of mutated wildlife. (Windows, Mac) 2016-09-22-11_30_54 alphamarquee

    ALPHABET, by Keita Takahashi & Adam Saltsman

    Originally available only to select Kickstarter backers, ALPHABET is a slapstick marathon footrace for 1- to 26-players from Keita Takahashi (renowned creator of KATAMARI DAMACY & NOBY NOBY BOY) and Adam Saltsman (designer behind CANABALT & OVERLAND). Run, jump, eat, sing, poop, and sleep through silly obstacle courses! (Windows, Mac, Linux) 2016-09-22-11_32_56 woofmarquee

    INSPECTOR WOOF, by Klondike

    From Klondike — France’s upstart super-collective of indie game stars — INSPECTOR WOOF & THE VEGETABLE HIGH SCHOOL is a procedurally generated mystery adventure game where every student is hiding terrible secrets. Armed only with your freshly-printed hints sheet, dig deep into their guilty consciences and expose the truth! (Windows, Mac, Linux) 2016-09-22-11_35_30 f2oggymarquee

    F2OGGY, by Nathalie Lawhead

    F2OGGY (Only one survives!) is a Brute-Force Frog-Combat Simulator, by the IGF-winning creator Nathalie Lawhead, made for a growing audience of competitive frogfans. Each player is divided into a faction (a Frog-Faction), and must defeat their opponent using High-Velocity Amphibian Impact Lunges. (Windows, Mac) l-a-s-s-o-s_gif1 lassosmarquee

    LASSOS, by SOKPOP

    From SOKPOP — the the Dutch collective behind indie cult classics like the low-fi sci-fi exploration game BERNBAND — comes LASSOS, a game fit for its Texas debut: throw lassos, get money! (Windows, Mac)

  • prosthetic knowledge — RIP Bill Etra Artist engineer who with Steve Rutt...

    28 Aug 2016

    prosthetic knowledge — RIP Bill Etra Artist engineer who with Steve Rutt… > Artist engineer who with Steve Rutt created the pioneering Rutt/Etra video synthesizer has passed away. Here is a video of Bill demonstrating his hardware:

  • Peek Inside The Notebooks Of A Legendary Logo Designer

    22 Aug 2016

    Peek Inside The Notebooks Of A Legendary Logo Designer > In 1968, graphic designer Lance Wyman designed the iconic Mexico Olympics identity, hailed today as arguably the strongest branding of any Olympic Games.

  • James Paterson At Eyeo 2013

    17 Aug 2016

    Eyeo 2013 - James Paterson by Eyeo Festival // INSTINT

    Join James, a weirdness engineer who moonlights as a software engineer, on a tour of The Gently Rounded Triangle: A space where the disciplines of drawing, animation, and code merge and become one.

  • Les Métamorphoses de Mr. Kalia

    28 Jul 2016

    Les Métamorphoses de Mr. Kalia

    Les métamorphoses de Mr. Kalia is an interactive poetic adventure and a study of the concept of metamorphosis. This project won the DevArt contest initiated by Google and the Barbican.

  • that.party

    19 Mar 2016

    edit: more photos here!

    I had a lot of fun doing improvised visuals for that.party on wednesday in San Francisco. Official pics soon. Thanks to the good folks at Razer for lending us some very nice computers and ID@XBOX for sponsoring. It looks like Juegos Rancheros will be adding this to our list of annual events from now on, so I’m looking forward to next year’s party.

    #thatparty #GDC2016

    A photo posted by Criss (@criss.burki) on

    #thatparty #gdc #gdc2016

    A video posted by bustercasey (@adambusterwolf) on

    #thatparty #GDC2016

    A photo posted by Criss (@criss.burki) on

    i danced my heart out last night thank u all for a wonderful night love u all and forever grateful for each of u

    A photo posted by Jenny Jiao Hsia (@q_dork) on

    jukio absolutely killing it aaaaaa 🇺🇸 ⚡️

    A video posted by ANDREW BROPHY (@andrew.brophy) on

    ROCK AND ROLL #seiho #party

    A video posted by POOR HIRO (@inouyeah) on

    ahhh sugar's campaign's album last year was one of my favs I'm so glad I got to see Seiho

    A video posted by Caty M. (@catcaty) on


    Public Works had an unusual setup- three projectors that were all mirroring from the same source, but skewed and slightly overlapping, probably for their own vj’s video mapping. I had to quickly think of a way to make them all feel unified using my own rig- so I mapped my canvas to prevent the projectors from overlapping, and then offset my image so that my canvas looked like this: bob I then put a slow horizontal framehold movement on it, so that even though it was just the same image repeating three times, it looked like they all flowed together like one moving panorama, especially when I had an eye catching image like bob the cat floating by. I was kind of ill prepared when I got to the club, but being quick on my feet with vdmx actually let me make something on site that worked rather than having to rework a bunch of stuff I might have made beforehand without knowing what I was getting into.

  • The Distant Future of the Here and Now

    31 Jan 2016

    “An old thing becomes new if you detach it from what usually surrounds it.” -Robert Bresson

    Authenticity is a difficult quality to pin down. It’s a sort of patina on the surface of a thing- a texture that is in constant danger of wearing away on each new examination. In art, the authenticity of a work is rarely connected to its fidelity, but rather to a total synchronicity of parts, an internal consistency. There’s a part of our perceptual process that is always evaluating this, and it’s usually better at its job than that conscious, creative faculty we use to make representative art.

    After decades of CG in film, filmmakers gradually lost the ability to make an audience think of an image as being ‘real’ (if that was ever even the intention), and at best hope only to stun them with visual complexity. It’s now a marketing point when a movie can claim expensive and complex practical effects instead of CG, not necessarily because the audience can recognize the difference, but because by believing in the reality of an image, they feel re-engaged with what they see on screen.

    Even with the present lip service towards ‘real’ sets and practical effects, we have always expected a high level of artifice in the genre of science fiction. Prior to computer generated imagery in movies, matte glass painting, models, full-size sets and in-camera animation techniques achieved much of the same effects, albeit more rigidly.

    One of the strengths of filmmaking as a medium is its ability to simply capture the world around us in-place and recontextualize its images. There’s been lots of movements in film that have used direct, observational methods to try to lay claim on authenticity, but here I’m going to talk about something different- films that use a high level of editorial and expositional artifice to make ‘real’ footage represent something fantastic, while retaining that inherent ‘patina’ of authenticity. Using a ‘grown’ world as opposed to one meticulously built by the artist breaks the “black box” ( as Walter Murch terms it 1. ) It cedes some control away from the artist and reintroduces complexity that can’t be otherwise fabricated.

    Here are a handful of films that claim their place in the Science Fiction cannon simply by showing the world around us in a new light.

    alphaville poster

    Science and technology as a negative force run amok is a common theme in genre fiction. The optimistic view of technology as a means to a utopia that was common in pulp and television science fiction in the 50’s and 60’s has felt out of place in the public imagination for a long time. It’s always been rare to find middle-ground: a work of science fiction that balances the fears-of and hopes-for technology in a moderate way. One of the handful of examples of this comes from one of science fiction’s earliest films, Fritz Lang’s Metropolis, which repeats the slogan, “The Mediator Between Head and Hands Must Be The Heart!”. Artist Patricia Piccinini has her own take on the Faustian scientist trope -

    “To my mind the fatal flaw that condemns Doctor Frankenstein in Mary Shelly’s story is not hubris. It is not that he has sought to, or even succeeded, creating life from nothing but his own desire and reason. Frankenstein’s mistake is that having done this he does not take responsibility for his creation. Having brought this creature into the world, he should also be liable for its life here. He was not a good parent. 2

    In Alphaville (1965), Jean Luc Godard shows science as a bloodless force for dehumanization, led not by scientists themselves, but by a nonhuman machine-intelligence (with a voice lent by a throat cancer survivor using an assistive device). The Alpha-60 computer has a goal of a rigid hive-society, free of the stickier emotions of mainstream humanity. The hero here is the stony faced detective “Lemmy Caution” (a character lifted completely, American expatriate actor and all, from an established noir detective series). Lemmy shoots, punches, and photographs his way through the city of Alphaville, on a mission to find (and kill) the scientist creator of the Alpha-60, “Professor Von Braun” (evoking Werner Von Braun, creator of the V2 rocket who worked for both the Third Reich and later the United States).

    alphaville

    “Everything weird is normal in this city of whores.” - Alphaville

    Photographed in stark black and white, saturated with pitiless, obscuring shadows, and punctuated by absurdly sinister orchestra hits and random violence, Godard’s roaming camera shows Paris through the contrasting lenses of both noir and SF, a stylistic mix we would eventually see echoed in Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner. Godard amplifies each style to the extreme, until the film becomes a farce of genre conventions. Futuristic architecture in the film are on-location shots of the Hotel Sofitel Paris le Scribe and the Paris Electricity Board Building. Much of the content of the film was improvised, and Godard reportedly funded the film with money from German investors by sending them a phony Lemmy Caution script that was never shot.

    In our current world science is both championed for commercial gain and decried by the same voices in nearly the same breath as they see fit. Big business decides what research has value, and to what ends technology is used, not the scientists that conceive it. In a way Godard’s vision of technocrats enslaved by their own creation may not be so outrageous.

    La Jette

    “Nothing sorts memories from ordinary moments. They claim remembrance when they show their scars.” - La Jette

    La Jette (1962) implies another degraded world, one so thoroughly ruined that it cannot even be shown beyond a few darkened underground hovels and stock photos of devastated ruins from World War II. In photo montage form, Filmmaker Chris Marker shows us his character’s flight back in time from this uninhabitable future, into the present. Eventually the protagonist becomes so mesmerized by the world we take for granted that he is lead to his own death, an inevitable event that he had already witnessed in his childhood as an onlooker. In La Jette the strange becomes familiar, the future becomes the present, the inevitable thing we fear most must come to pass, and has already defined us by its inevitability. This is a personal and philosophical film, and its use of the present day shown as new through the eyes of a time traveller is perhaps the most immediate and visceral of any Science Fiction film. It was later used as the basis for Terry Gilliam’s film 12 Monkeys.

    “We look at the present through a rear-view mirror. We march backwards into the future.” - Marshall MCLuhan

    Seven minutes of La Jette

    La Jette’s creator Chris Marker was an extremely private figure, working pseudonymously throughout his career. He was considerably older than Godard, having fought as a young man in the French Resistance during World War II and later joining the French Communist party. He was a prolific artist, and La Jetee is sometimes credited with establishing the form of film-essay. By subverting documentary conventions, the film essay can construct a wide range of narratives- fictional, personal, polemical, surreal.

    Herzog and Godard

    One of the greatest innovators of the film essay form is Austrian-born director Werner Herzog. Herzog is widely quoted as dismissing Godard, “Someone like Jean-Luc Godard is for me intellectual counterfeit money when compared to a good kung-fu film.” The two were once photographed together in 1980, meeting famed Japanese director Akira Kurosawa. Herzog is engaged in conversation with Kurosawa, and reportedly altered his travel plans to return the next day to deliver a book of illustrations to him. Godard is silent throughout the encounter and looks on with a bemused and distracted expression. I haven’t found records of any other interactions between the two, but Herzog is famously contemptuous of film theorizing, and was unpopular with the late 60’s Euopean left, as his film Even Dwarfs Started Small was considered by some as a lampooning of the ‘68 student riots that had swept France, coinciding with protests in other countries. Herzog dismissed political readings of his own work. He also has consistently relished tearing down assumptions of truth in Cinema Verité and documentary filmmaking. In his “Minnesota Declaration” he states, “By dint of declaration the so-called Cinema Verité is devoid of verité. It reaches a merely superficial truth, the truth of accountants.”

    Lessons of Darkness

    “I am a storyteller, and I used the voice-over to place the film – and the audience – in a darkened planet somewhere in our solar system.”

    In Lessons of Darkness (1997), Werner Herzog reveals an emotionally and politically charged scene, the Kuwaiti oil fires and debased victims left in the wake of the first Gulf War. However, he creates something very different from a standard documentary in his depiction of the scene. Herzog elects to present it as the unfathomable, hellish panorama of an alien world. Landscapes of oil, smoke, fire, and blackened earth are shown with the same kind of awestruck revelation that is usually only afforded to multi-million dollar effects shots. The difference here being that this alien world is incalculably more “real”.

    “I think Science fiction films are wonderful because they are pure imagination and that is what cinema is about, but on the other hand, all of these films hint that what you see is artificially made in a studio with digital effects. This is the issue of truthfulness in today’s cinema. It’s not about realism or naturalism, I’m speaking of something different. Nowdays even six-year-olds know when something is a special effect and even how the shot is done 3.”

    Lessons of Darkness

    “Calling Lessons of Darkness a science fiction film is a way of explaining that the film has not a single frame that can be recognized as our planet, and yet we know it must have been shot here” relates the director, “ I am a storyteller, and I used the voice-over to place the film – and the audience – in a darkened planet somewhere in our solar system 4.”

    Lessons of Darkness is the first of two of Herzog’s films to place what might have otherwise been considered documentary footage in a science fiction context. The Wild Blue Yonder uses NASA footage of working astronauts and scenes of Antarctic divers to create a story about alien visitors, narrated by a wild-eyed Brad Dourif. Dourif’s performance has the added effect of creating another layer of interpretation, where the whole story could be the ramblings of a mentally ill human with delusions of grandeur. Lessons of Darkness is texturally a very different film from The Wild Blue Yonder and reactions to the two were very different. The Wild Blue Yonder was uncontroversial, but Lessons of Darkness polarized audiences, winning Grand Prix at the Melbourne Film Festival while causing an outcry at the Berlin Film Festival. Critics accused Herzog of aestheticising the horrors of war while divorcing it from its political context. Herzog has argued that this handling of the footage gave it deeper and more disturbing impact rather than fetishizing it.

    “…we have all watched so many horrific things on the news that we have become totally – and dangerously – inured to them… The stylization of the horror in Lessons of Darkness means that the images penetrate deeper than the CNN footage ever could.”

    Stalker

    Based on Boris and Arkady Strugatsy’s novel Roadside Picnic, Andrei Tarkovsky’s Stalker (1979) persuades us that the empty, overgrown areas around chemical facories and powerplants in Estonia are the no-man’s land surrounding a forbidden room where some cosmic collision once occurred. A year of footage from shooting in these toxic landscapes had to be discarded after the film was improperly developed by Soviet labs, and Tarkovsky essentially began the film again from scratch with a new director of photography. Several crew members, including Tarkovksy himself, died of cancers or illnesses that may have been attributable to the long periods of time spent working in these locations.

    Stalker, dream sequence excerpt

    Much has been written about the parallels between Stalker’s “zone” and the “alienation zone” surrounding the center of the Chernobyl nuclear accident, the landscape of the latter coupled with the themes of the former became the subject of an unlikely and imaginative videogame S.T.A.L.K.E.R.

    The British Film Institute has posted a piece with accompanying film stills about the content and production of Tarkovsky’s two science-fiction films, Stalker and Solaris. Both films are highly introspective and meditative, and did nothing to help Tarkovsky’s already difficult standing with Soviet censors, who already considered him a decadent spiritualist. They also contain some of his most enduring images. Stalker is a movie of textures- rust, foliage, dirt, flowing water, foam and flotsam. While the composition of every shot in the film is as precisely arranged as the gears in a stopwatch, the textures must all be real, and the assemblage of the fiction becomes tangible by their authenticity.

    After Tarkovsky’s death in exile from lung cancer, Chris Marker made a film essay in homage to the great director.

    One Day in the Life of Andrei Arsenevich

    Letterboxd collection- The Distant Future of the Here and Now

    also: Geoff Dyer, Paul Farley and Werner Herzog discuss Geoff Dyer’s book inspired by Stalker

    Guillaume, Guillaume, Guillaume, the cat named Guillaume

    1. Walter Murch on Moviola Metaphysics

    2. The Siren Mole, Artist’s Statement

    3. Herzog on Herzog, p 177

    4. Herzog on Herzog, pp 248-249

  • Monkeytown 6

    14 Jan 2016

    I have a short 4 channel video installation included Monkeytown 6, a scrappy experimental-video-dinner-theater-event that’s running for a few more weeks here in Austin.

    Here’s a video featuring myself & creator Montgomery Knott. Tickets are available at monkeytown6.com

  • Bob Sabiston at Nerd Nite

    10 Jan 2016

    “It was all a dream: A look back at Waking Life,” by Bob Sabiston from Nerd Nite - Austin on Vimeo.

    Regardless of how you might feel about Waking Life, Bob is a super great guy who I love making stuff with. I show up at the end of this and mention a new(old) possible collaboration I’m pitching.

  • A New Blog

    01 Jan 2016

    Sometime last year I discovered that the blog I previously hosted at this address had become slowly riddled with spam links due to a security flaw in a Wordpress extension. I had been dutifully posting to it since 2002, as raw html and then as a Blogger site, finally as Wordpress. The spam was insidious- nothing overt enough to gain my attention at first, years-old posts were having random words linked to spam sites. I was able to fix the security problems, but the amount of effort it would have taken to scrub the posts of the links was too much for me to consider. Also, as I was flipping through the posts, I had an impulse to flush them all out and start fresh.

    The landscape of online content has been radically changed in the last twelve years by the social-media/advertising model- RSS and feedreaders were largely killed off, lots of independent blogs were abandoned. It disturbs me a lot how many layers of advertisers and gatekeepers a piece of news or a page goes through before it finally gets seen on social media. Anybody with a sore wallet and a bone to pick can make it disappear. Considering that it’s now sort of like yodeling alone on a desert island, a self-hosted blog almost needs some justification to exist, the most common being software developers posting technical articles. My reason for wanting to maintain a self-hosted blog is that I don’t like providing free content for someone else’s advertising scheme. That, and also I am an incredibly interesting person and you should drop what you are doing and hang on my every word.

    These posts are being generated by a static site generator called Jekyll. Markdown documents on my iPad, phone, and computer all sync to my server via Dropbox, and are automatically build into pages by Jekyll. I’m looking into weird extra automated posting that I can do using Dropbox hooks in IFTTT and Workflow. We’ll see what I come up with.

  • Fantastic Arcade 2015 videos online

    27 Dec 2015

    Arcane Kids Nearly 30 session videos from Fantastic Arcade 2015 have been posted on YouTube. Fantastic Arcade is one of several game related events that Juegos Rancheros programs for Film and Cultural Festivals each year.

  • The Universe According to Scrooge McDuck

    09 Nov 2009

    (Originally published on the World of Mondo blog)

    Carl Barks, the artist who created Scrooge McDuck, started work at Disney in 1935 as an inbetweener, drawing innumerable piles of Disney animation frames for 20 dollars a week 1. Inbetweening is the most grueling and thankless of jobs in animation (we now farm these jobs out to Asia to be done by children wearing rags who are lorded over by shirtless dudes with bullwhips and executioner’s masks). While Barks was working as an inbetweener, he regularly submitted ideas for cartoons in development to keep from losing his mind in the brutal tedium of his work. His first joke to be accepted by Disney involved the already established character Donald Duck having his ass shaved by a robot barber (Already the sparkle of his innate genius had begun to shine through). Barks finally quit in disgust to try and start a chicken farm in the inhospitable Inland Empire area of Los Angeles, but not before contributing artwork for the first Donald Duck themed comic strip. While his chicken farm floundered and failed, Barks was forced to go back to Western Publishing, the company that had put out the licensed Donald Duck comic that he had worked on, and ask for extra work. Smelling bird on him, they put him back on Donald Duck. Barks produced an estimated 500 books for Western Publishing involving ducks, and in the process, took one apoplectic, two-dimensional duck, and invented an entire universe around him- a universe that sometimes barely needed or noticed the character that it had sprung from.

    This image is far from a complete family tree, for a terrifyingly exhaustive one, click here. For an online history of Duckburg, click here.

    Disney works hard to present a monolithic face, and none of Barks’ comics carried his name, only “Walt Disney Presents”. However, because his work was uniquely imagined and had a un-homogenized style to it that was unduplicated anywhere else in Disney’s output, people started to notice, and referred to him as “The Good Duck artist”. The Good Duck artist lived to the age of 99, occasionally taking time to do oil paintings of ducks, to be snapped up by rabid fans for thousands of dollars. Interestingly, the story of Duckburg doesn’t stop there. In fact, like most good acts of focused and slightly unhinged creativity, Barks’ work radiates out through culture, setting off bizarre chain reactions. For a small example, Lucas and Speilberg have publicly acknowledged that the rolling boulder intro to “RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK” (1981) was inspired by Uncle Scrooge Comics 2 ( “The Seven Cities of Cibola” From Walt Disney’s Uncle Scrooge #7, September 1954). And then there’s the odd effect that Scrooge McDuck comics had when left behind by G.I.’s in Japan: “Manga developed after World War II at the hands of one designer, Osamu Tezuka. He was influenced a great deal by the work of Carl Barks - the creator of Scrooge McDuck 3. Basically, Tezuka made an American art form Japanese by mixing Disney with sophisticated stories. In the US, McCarthyism lobotomized comics, reducing them to this one genre of costumed superheroes. But in Japan, comics grew into a literary art form: You have romance comics, historical comics, golf comics, sports comics … they’re made for every market and for every taste. Now Disney is taking cues from the Japanese. The Little Mermaid is heavily influenced by the manga style, and The Lion King is basically Tezuka’s ‘Kimba the White Lion’.” - Christopher Couch -Editor-in-chief, CPM Manga 4

    Beyond indirectly shaping the style of Japanese Manga, the Duckburg stories are venerated as literature in Germany and much of northern Europe and outsell all other comic books. (in this we seem to have not only defeated our Axis foes on the battlefield, but also razed their cultures with the memetic timebomb of cartoon ducks). This is primarily due to the insertion of yet another overachiever caught in the act of slumming - In this case Erika Fuchs, a German art history Ph.D. who was given the task of translating Barks’ stories in the 50’s and continued to do so until her death in 2005. In the course of translating, Fuchs was directed to enrich the content of the comics to try and assuage German parents’ fears of encroaching American pop-culture. As a result, the Fuchs-Banks hybrid ducks spout Goethe and sing Wagner.

    Take, for example, the classic Duck tale “The Golden Helmet,” a story about the search for a lost Viking helmet that entitles its wearer to claim ownership of America. In Dr. Fuchs’s rendition, Donald, his nephews and a museum curator race against a sinister figure who claims the helmet as his birthright without any proof—but each person who comes into contact with the helmet gets a “cold glitter” in his eyes, infected by the “bacteria of power,” and soon declares his intention to “seize power” and exert his “claim to rule.” Dr. Fuchs uses language that in German (“die Macht ergreifen”; “Herrscheranspruch”) strongly recalls standard phrases used to describe Hitler’s ascent to power. 5

    Music from “Duck Tales Wanpaku Duck Yume Bouken”, better known as “Duck Tales, the Game” (1990 Capcom)

    In 1987, Disney - a company that for most of its history existed by merchandising the character design that it owned from its animation projects, was in a post-Walt slump. Its animation had been de-emphasized in favor of live action (1981’s The Fox and the Hound, which had the then depressed and marker-sniffing Tim Burton on its animation staff 6, was the closest thing Disney had to an animated hit in the 80’s). Disney planned on making a foray into television animation in an attempt to win back some of the child mindshare that had been irrevocably lost to the funnier and more frenetic Warner Brother’s cartoons in the 1940’s.

    Unfortunately, Disney’s intellectual property had always depended on pillaging fairy tales and buying characters from dead artist’s estates- there was very little in the way of a richly detailed and charactered disney franchise that would make good fodder for a serialized cartoon. Disney’s first attempts- “The Wuzzles” and their Smurf clone “The Gummi Bears” were met with lukewarm response. Finally, rediscovering the wealth of Barks’ work, Disney’s “Duck Tales” cartoon was a huge success, and may have indirectly led to the brief (and quickly squandered) renaissance of Disney feature animation in the early 90’s (Aladdin, The Little Mermaid). As it was, “Duck Tales” was reportedly the first American animated TV series to be syndicated in the former Soviet Union.

    As a child, my only connection to Disney animation was the “Duck Tales” cartoon which I’d watch when I got home from school… And the fact that, when I was an infant, my mother put up Mickey Mouse drapes in my room which terrified me and lead to reoccurring nightmares about being stalked by Mickey (with his giant eyes and maniacally happy mouth). Divorced from any knowledge of what a cartoon supposed to represent, the almost abstract stylization of these characters can be disturbing to a still-forming mind. I don’t think I even realized Mickey was supposed to be a mouse, just some grinning bubbly-headed thing (I certainly have no childhood memory of ever seeing a Mickey Mouse cartoon).

    In 1995, the huge demand for Scrooge comics in Germany and Northern Europe led Disney to commission new comics. Cartoonist and Barks fan, Don Rosa, used this as an opportunity to meticulously comb through every Carl Barks’ duck book and produce a series of comics (collected as “The Life and Times of Scrooge McDuck”- out of print due to licensing issues, but supposedly new editions are in the works). Rosa won the Eisner Award for “Best Serialized Story” for his Scrooge work, and in the process, produced some of the most exhaustive footnoting and organization of the Barks comics. (He also drew that creepy picture of Scrooge’s grave that begins this article.)

    Barks is fascinating to me for a couple of reasons. First, because he’s a perfect example of a man given a tiny, dreary corner in which he can be creative, and instead of going through the motions (how many people would brighten at the idea of drawing ducks for the rest of their lives?) he poured his soul into it, and channeled a rich inner life into a universe of ducks (I wonder if when he closed his eyes he saw hordes of anthropomorphic ducks, chasing him through his dreams?). At the same time, in writing this article, I came across such serious and studied devotion to Barks and his work, that I feel like he is a prime example of the flip-side of an artist pouring his heart into commercial entertainment: he’s an artist who people work feverishly to read stuff into. One of the weird aspects of the time we live in is that people would rather read between the lines of pop culture to find spiritual and emotional succor than go pick up a comparitievly medicinal work of ‘high art’ that deals with things directly. Either through nostalgia or ignorance or some other coy form of intellectual perviness, people would rather guess what someone is trying to say about life by sifting through hundreds of comics about talking ducks than read a ‘real book’. Our collective story is being codified into mass media, which as a commodity must be accessible to children under 10 (and children over 30) to survive. If it sounds like I am taking a duck-crap on “Duck Tales” and on Disney, I’m not. This harsh environment of scribbling in the margins makes some of the oddest, most layered, but still accessible art- and it gives us some of the most interesting characters to talk about. Not Scrooge McDuck, per se, but the weirdo who created him, and the weirdos who obsess over him.

    This disturbing exploration into the nature of evil in both Ducks and Beagles comes from the amazing FatalFarm.

    1. Carl Barks wikipedia page

    2. “the Duck with the Bucks- Time Magazine

    3. Check out this New Year’s card that Tezuka wrote to Barks in admiration.

    4. Wired Magazine - Ichiban (top ten Japanese influences on western culture)

    5. Why Donald Duck Is the Jerry Lewis of Germany - The Wall Street Journal Online

    6. Burton on Burton (Faber&Faber press)

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