Saturday, May 24, 2014

Lemia's EZ Trader Joe's Pasta Salad

 
Hi!

It’s been forever since I’ve posted anything, so I’m going with my impulse today and just posting about what I’m doing. We’re off to a BBQ for dinner, so I’m starting Summer early and making my EZ Trader Joe’s Pasta Salad. My local store stopped carrying Spinach Fusilli, so I’m experimenting with new pastas in search of a good replacement.

I actually hate pasta salad – sorry, sis, that includes the one you make with the slimy cubes of cheddar - so one summer I vowed to create one that I would enjoy eating. This is the recipe that resulted. You only need to know how to chop and boil to make this.

All but two of the ingredients for this tasty pasta salad are available at Trader Joe’s, hence the name. #1 Sadly, the Trader Joe’s brand of capers is horrible, so either buy the brand name I list or another one that you trust. You may also make the salad without capers, if you choose. #2 Trader Joe’s does not have spinach fusilli, period. The flavor and texture of spinach fusilli really enhance this dish, so I don’t recommend substitutions, unless you can’t find spinach fusilli.

Lem’s EZ “Trader Joe’s” pasta salad

This recipe makes a large amount, more than enough to take to a potluck or picnic. My family doesn’t mind, though. They’ll eat it enthusiastically for a week solid!

Ingredients:

            2 Jars “Trader Giotto’s Artichoke Antipasto” (12 oz. each)

            1 Jar “Trader Joe’s Fire Roasted Red Peppers (or the yellow and red garlic 
                     fire roasted, for more color) (12 oz.)

            1 jar “Trader Joe’s Spanish Manzanilla Olives (14.5 oz)

            1 jar “Mezzetta Capers (4 oz.)

            6 cups  Spinach fusilli pasta (6 cups BEFORE boiling)*
                        You can substitute Barilla tri-color Rotini –1.5 boxes (18 oz./510 
                        grams). Today I’m trying Trader Joe’s Organic Vegetable 
                        Radiatore and also their Organic Brown Rice & Quinoa Fusilli 
                        (a small side batch for my gluten-free efforts), so the capers may
                        end up the only ingredient that doesn’t come from TJoe’s!

            ½ teaspoon ground white pepper (or to taste)

            salt to taste

Instructions:

Drain the peppers and olives and fine chop them. Combine them with the Artichoke Antipasto, and the capers in a mixing bowl. Sometimes, the Artichoke Antipasto has some tough pieces, so you may want to get your hands in there and make sure the mixture doesn’t have hard lumps, but you don’t have to. Set aside the mixture so it’s ready when the pasta is still warm.

Break the pasta into smaller pieces if the spirals are longer than 1” before they are cooked. This is done most easily by applying an untwisting motion where you want to break the piece of pasta. You can do this while you watch television, long before you start the salad.

Boil the fusilli in well salted water until it is just a little underdone (i.e. chewy), then rinse it with cold water to slow/stop the cooking process. Don’t wait for the pasta to cool all the way.

Sprinkle white pepper over the pasta and mix it in.

Add the rest of the ingredients and blend.

Taste it and if necessary, sprinkle salt sparingly over the pasta and mix that in.

Now, let it sit in the fridge to cool.

Enjoy!

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Avatar, Life of Pi and trends in cinematography.

 
            On March 7th 2010 filmmakers all over the world began scratching their heads, bewildered. Mauro Fiore won the Oscar for greatest achievement in cinematography for the film Avatar, beating out Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, Inglourious Basterds, The Hurt Locker, and The White Ribbon. “How can they call it ‘best cinematography’ when 80% of the film was CGI (Computer Generated Image)? Basically, I think the academy confused a beautiful looking animation with real-world cinematography,” cinematographer Ian Kerr said.

            To make the controversy plain for the average filmgoer, look at the traditional role of the cinematographer. Also known as the director of photography (DP), a cinematographer is the person who paints with light, so that the audience is transfixed by the images on the screen whether it is an endless desert in The English Patient or the world through the eyes of the Dutch painter Vermeer in Girl with a Pearl Earring. He uses lights, lenses, and filters in conjunction with various types of film stock and specific cameras to create images that captivate or repel an audience, according to the film director’s vision.

            Since the beginning of film, the cinematographer has overseen visual effects, from a spaceship landing in the moon’s eye in A Trip to the Moon (1902) to flying bicycles in E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial (1982). But, over the last few decades the role of visual effects has grown so much and technology advanced to such a degree that the world seems destined to forget the magic touch a cinematographer and his camera bring to the screen.

            The shift was evident in Lord of the Rings when new motion-capture technology created the creature Gollum, using a real actor to model physical movement rather than animation alone. Motion-capture, a process using a computer to track and record a real person’s movements by sensing colored dots attached to their body, had not been used so effectively for capturing facial expressions before. Finally, an animated character could have near-human emotions and movements. A less obvious example of the shift in technology, in the same film, is a scene when Aragorn speaks to Boromir in the woods, and his eyes are clearly illuminated. Does the average moviegoer notice that Aragorn’s eyes have been lit using a computer program because the original close-up was too dark? When Howard Hughes crashes an airplane in Aviator, do viewers know where the computer animation ends and Leonardo DiCaprio begins? The integration of computer animation and other technologies are making what the audience sees less camera magic and more computer programming.

            According to James Cowan, a manager at Technicolor Creative Services in Vancouver B.C., post-production processes have become so advanced that many cinematographers no longer try to light a scene artfully, concentrating, instead, on proper film exposure and moving fast to stay on schedule. If their personal schedule allows, they may sit in on the color-timing session to oversee their vision at that point. That’s at least a 30-hour block of time in post-production (time they are not paid for). During the session, a technician known as a color-timer sits in a theatre-like room and works at a computer control board to alter everything from the color of a scene and the shadows cast in a scene to what areas of the image are in focus, or even enhance costumes and make-up. Before digital, color-timers were mainly limited to changing colors and brightness of the overall image, not individual parts. Cowan points out that the technology works best on an image that has not been manipulated during production. In other words it’s better not to use high-contrast lighting for dramatic effect or gels to create special light colors. It seems as if technology is reducing the on-set creativity behind the camera itself. As production manager Bridget Hill puts it, “it’s no longer, ‘fix it in post’ but make it in post!”

            In an April 2004 issue of millimeter, John Seale, Oscar-winning cinematographer of The English Patient (1996) and A Prince of Persia (2010), was not upset by the prospect of losing creativity during the filming process. Seale uses what he calls, “a reality driven style.” In other words, he uses just enough light to properly expose the film and the actions taking place. He claims this saves the production money by reducing the number of times you set-up lights: saving hours in labour costs. This also allows for multiple cameras. “You get three shots for the price of one,” he says. Regarding the digital process, Seale explained, “I can save money in gels and filters and things on-set this way, we can do more with windows, and so on. That’s why I’ve become a convert to the DI (digital intermediate) process.” In the DI process, images are loaded into a computer system - whether they start as digital media or as a film negative that is scanned into the system - in order to run them through the color-timing session and add any other visual effects. By windows, Seale means the various layers and shapes that can be put onto an image during the color-session, using software. The software allows the color-timer to select a specific area of the screen and illuminate it by itself (like Aragorn’s eyes in Lord of the Rings) eliminating the need to re-light during filming, which would involve at least one crew member, or even re-shooting at a later date.

            Ellen Kuras, the cinematographer for Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, also makes time to attend the color-timing session. According to an April 2004 article in American Cinematographer, she works with the color-timer to get as much of her vision into the images as possible. She also still uses traditional techniques like lighting and choosing film stocks. For Eternal Sunshine she chose stock that was slightly cyan (blue) in dark areas of the image, to give a little bit of depth to the shadows.

            There are still things a computer cannot replace, like the jittery, hyper-real opening in Saving Private Ryan, and a million other techniques and choices that determine the images that arrive on screen. Cinematographers, now, need to know how to use more tools than ever. Kerr puts it this way, “Post allows more control to the directors which is sort of good, but the best directors will always recognize that a partnership with a DP is to their advantage.”

            However, long before the color-session, films today engage a number of other computer tools to create the images seen on screen. Frequently, films are generated by computers, rather than only enhanced. Chief among the processes now performed by computers is animation. The Oscars and the Golden Globes have recognized the accompanying surge of feature-length animated films by designating a special category for them. Avatar appears to qualify for that classification, in accordance with rule 7 of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences [AMPAS], so why wasn’t it considered for that award? Perhaps the use of live-action and motion-capture blended with animation have put the film into its own category, but awards shows, lagging behind technology, have not defined that new division. Therefore the presence of living actors within the process allowed Avatar to be considered for things like best picture and best cinematography.

            The process for selecting the winner of the best cinematography Oscar is fairly straight forward, although it may be flawed for today’s swiftly changing technical fields. Cinematographers who are members of the AMPAS must approve films before they are eligible to be nominated. After they have approved candidates (films), AMPAS cinematographers then vote to decide who is nominated, and, finally, all members of the AMPAS vote on who wins. The ‘cinematographer’ must be recognized as such by the American Society of Cinematographers (ASC). Nothing in the rules posted on the AMPAS or the ASC websites defines what the job of the cinematographer must include, nor do the rules explicitly or implicitly forbid shared credits.

            In the writing world, unless more than 51% of the material has been modified, the original creator is considered the author of a work. In a January 2010 article in American Cinematographer, by his own estimate Fiore only shot 30% of Avatar. He wasn’t even hired until most of the film had already been shot. The rest was created by computer animators, and the motion capture process. In fact, most of what appears on the screen cannot be attributed to Fiore. According to cinematographer Ian Kerr, “Most DPs on the boards point out that JC [James Cameron] ‘shot’ most of the film, that [Vince] Pace was as much a DP as Fiore.” Pace, who created the stereoscopic 3-D camera that is essential to the film, is listed as Director of Photography for the L.A. unit of the film, but was not a co-recipient of the Oscar. That’s not where the award discrepancies end.

            James Cameron used a “virtual camera” to shoot a lot of the computer generated shots. The instrument made it possible for Cameron to navigate the animated world where Avatar exists as if he were using a real camera in a 3-D world rather than a keyboard and a 2-D computer screen. It also allowed Cameron to see actors as their characters and in their virtual environment rather than as people in funny body suits on a sound stage. Supplying him with that tool fell to people like Rob Legato and Glenn Derry. Richard Baneham developed a method for capturing the flight scenes that, for some moviegoers, is the finest part of the film. His method included flying wire dummy airplanes whose patterns were motion-captured, then the backgrounds were animated to fit that pattern, and, finally, the actors followed the flight on a screen so that their actions matched the visuals that had been animated. Eric Saindon headed a team of computer animators who reportedly created 1500 different plants to appear on the planet Pandora, where the film takes place, while Wayne Stables made them into 3-D images. The lighting in the virtual world was created and fine-tuned by teams supervised by Guy Williams and Joe Letteri. Apparently, Fiore wasn’t involved or even present for any of this.

            What Fiore did exceptionally well was light numerous green screen sets, using techniques definitely worthy of the old-fashioned title ‘cinematographer.’ He shot using 3-D cameras only just invented by Pace and Cameron. He’s one member of a team of extraordinary innovators that have produced something beyond the realm of human possibility. They have paved the way for truly astonishing things to happen on screen. Letteri, Rosenbaum, Baneham, and Jones were recognized with the Oscar for best visual effects achievement. However, Pace was not awarded a technical achievement Oscar for creating the stereoscopic 3-D camera and support apparatus; nor were the Legato and Derry teams recognized for the virtual cameras they invented. But does the final product of all these separate teams justify giving Fiore the best cinematography award? Current voting members of the AMPAS either mistakenly believe that Fiore did more than 30%, or they believe that computer animation and motion-capture belong in a cinematographer’s department even if most of the creation and direction are not done by that cinematographer.

            The question isn’t whether Fiore deserves recognition, nor whether Avatar is spectacular. The question is whether someone who only creates 30% of a film can even be listed as its prime generator, and whether a virtual world can be considered to be photographed especially when the people in it are captured through a mainframe rather than a lens. These questions don’t have easy answers, but they aren’t going away. What is clear is that the film world is being changed so rapidly by technology that even awards shows need to work hard at keeping up. Film student David MacDonald sums it up this way, “It's just a different kind of cinematography...Whether this…is comparable to the traditional kind is debatable, though. They might have to make two separate categories soon, like digital and film...kinda like how they used to have an award for color and one for black and white.” Hopefully, the Oscars will hurry and catch up, so that everyone who deserves an award gets one for the work they actually performed.


*****************
 January 2014

In 2014 there is still no dividing line between cinematography and computer generated images when it comes to awards. Hugo (2012) and The Life of Pi (2013) each received Oscars [AMPAS] for best cinematography, while utilizing techniques well beyond the camera. Blended photographic techniques have been embraced by audiences and filmmakers alike, but they are still not being acknowledged openly by the awards circuit.



            The question of what constitutes photography seems to have been tabled. Is the American Society of Cinematographers afraid of making a fuss for some reason or are they just busy playing with all their new toys? Awarding a special category for special filming techniques is not unheard of: in 1956 the Hollywood Foreign Press awarded Wichita a Golden Globe for Best “Outdoor Drama.” If a new award category were created for computer capture films and digital manipulation, what would it be named? What degree of computer generated material would qualify a film for such a category?



            Pi’s success highlights the continued importance of collaboration. More than ever, the director and the director of photography on a given film must know exactly what they are aiming for visually because they’ll be managing several teams in pursuit of that single vision. And they need to know more about cutting edge technology too. Claudio Miranda, the Oscar winning director of photography on Pi managed at least three different visual effects subcontractors to produce 690 computer generated visual effects shots for the film (about 75% of the film). Perhaps the award title would be Best Director of Visual Collaboration, or, for lovers of fantasy, Best Master of Chaos. 

            When the Oscar nominations are announced on January 16th what type of film will rise to the top of the heap in cinematography and how much of that film was actually captured through a camera lens?

Sunday, December 30, 2007

2007 A Jam-packed Year!

 
It's been a jam-packed year. I've written a lot of blogs that need posting.

Last Spring, I continued what I now call the "honeymoon with a Bolex" period of film school. The Bolex is a 16mm camera with a wind-up motor. It's very basic, yet very versatile: the motor runs for only 29 seconds per wind, but you can capture stop motion animation with it. For my second non-synced sound film, my goal, initially, was to use longer shots and fewer shots than in my first film. I planned to follow a more straight forward narrative theme rather than an experimental one. I ended up with a more complicated, experimental narrative film, combining three visual styles to tell one introspective story – how an inanimate object can take on emotional weight. Instead of fewer than 24 shots, I ended up with more than thirty!
The assignment was to use sound to enhance or change the meaning of the film's visuals. So there were fifty sound clips to accompany the 4.5 minute film. 

On top of the complexity of the film's structure, I found that in order to match the main character with existent family photos, I had to play the part myself (mine field!!). I had to direct and act at the same time, after not acting for over a decade. Luckily, thanks to some awesome friends, I didn't have to operate the camera while I was in front of it. 

Rose, Suede, and Lace was pretty well received. My professor would only say that I had done everything that I set out to do, so I'd earned an A whether I thought I'd succeeded or not. The lack of constructive feedback left me wondering what to improve! I am a student, after all.
 
Rose, Suede and Lace poster pic. I made the purse and the hanky just for the film.

Another challenge of this Spring was that I was constantly trapped on campus by snowfall. Burnaby Mountain Campus is over 1500 feet high so it snows frequently throughout the Spring term. I did have studded tires, but my parking space was at the end of the lot at the bottom of the hill. Half the snowplow operators were too lazy to push snow all the way off the pavement, so I spent most of the Winter with a three foot wall of ice behind my car. Whenever the weather cleared, I would hop a bus downtown, just to be there. Vancouver is a wonderful place for that.
 


Escape to Downtown - gorgeous, almost sea level and snow free!

A highlight of the Spring Term was an evening spent with fellow students and Andrew Currie who is an SFU grad & the director of FIDO (a wonderful zombie, lassie spoof starring Carrie-Anne Moss and Billy Connolly). It had incredibly ornate set decoration that I loved. Currie has a true knack for directing children; so it was really fun to watch. Anyway, the evening was exciting if somewhat daunting. The prize is attainable but the road is long.



I spent the first half of the Summer in Syria. It was the first time that I had gone there in nine years. A lot of things have changed there in the interim. I had a wonderful time swimming in the pool at the farm cottage and seeing all my

cousins, some of whom are barely in Jr. High. I have twenty-five first cousins on my father's side. We had a celebration at the farm after the children finished their end of year school exams. The party included second cousins, so I lost count!


My favorite pic with my favorite papa!

One of baba's friends took this snap of us together. It's now officially my favorite father-daughter pic. It was taken at a real estate office opening in a Christian and Muslim mixed village. The night would make a great blog; but it would need photos and video to truly express the event. There were drummers, callers, and sword dancers; food, drink, and floral arrangements fit for a grand wedding. I learned the hard way, never to leave the camcorder at home, even if I was too sick to use it (I had such horrible allergies that I had to get a cortisone shot later in the week)!

The pool at baba's farmhouse. My sometimes sanctuary (when the gardener wasn't around).
 

The home cooked food in Syria was amazing and I got to shoot some footage for a food documentary that I hope to put together. It was really hard to leave, having reconnected with so many loved ones and lived a luxurious lifestyle. The lack of freedom did grate a little, but I'm mellower than before and I knew it wouldn't last, so it wasn't too bad. Also, apparently, I'm past the age of being able to shame the family easily, so Baba actually let me go on a date…without a chaperone!!! Wow.

 

On the way home an Air France snafu landed me in Paris overnight so I walked past Notre Dame, the Louvre, the Seine, Arc de Triumph, the Eiffel Tower and everything between in about 7 hours. Awesome!!!

Notre Dame

I returned to Oregon for the second half of the Summer, which proved more busy than relaxing. After pulling an emergency shift at the cotton candy booth (I think I spun my 1500th cone at Scandinavian Festival, this year), I went home to a gravely ill cat who we had to put to sleep the next night because she was dying painfully from congestive heart failure. It has been a rough Fall without that green-eyed fiend. I pray from the bottom of my heart that none of you ever has to go through such an experience. Having to weigh Eowen's chances of survival over her suffering from one hour to the next as first one antibiotic and then another failed to stop the swelling around her heart, was excruciating. The decision to put her down, though the right one, will always haunt me. My friend Shannon and my Aunt Sharron have reminded me, she is always with me, now, which is a comfort, except when I think of her famously soft fur and her infamous purring bear hugs. I wrote a blog about losing Eowen, mostly to help my own grieving process. Thank you to those who have been so sympathetic.

More later!

Friday, August 10, 2007

Paris in Seven Hours!

Notre Dame. It almost looks like a cartoon with the sky behind it like that.
The final adventure of my travels this summer was that my flight out of Damascus was delayed leaving, so I missed my connecting flight in Paris. As a result, I got an overnight in Paris, gratis. I took a train into Paris from Charles De Gaulle Airport and then walked from Notre Dame, through some of downtown, along the Seine (past the Pont Neuf Bridge) to the Louvre. Continuing through the Tuileries Garden toward Place de la Concorde, I stopped to ride a three story swing. I'm saving the six story ferris wheel for next time! It just seemed like it would be more fun with a companion. Then I proceeded to the Pont Alexandre III Bridge where I looked at Les Invalides in the distance, and fell under the charm of a sea nymph sculpture. I enjoyed the amazing mosaic work on the front of the Grand Palais before going up the Champs Élysées to the Arc de Triumph and from there to the Eiffel Tower.

I didn't know what half of what I saw actually was until I looked it up later. I'm sure I've left a lot of places out of this post, like a famous Metro station, and other palaces that I could see in the distance as I walked past. I didn't stop moving except for the swing and a snack at the Eiffel Tower. Ironically, French fries were all the vendor had left when I got there. No crepes, no waffles, no macaroons. Finally, I got on a train back to my hotel. 

Charming "little" Sea Nymph (probably twice the size of an adult).

The whole time I walked through Paris, I just kept taking pictures and hoping I had enough daylight left to get to the Eiffel Tower before dark (I had discovered in Syria, that my flash didn't work!). I took 148 pictures in Paris.  Luckily, it was July first - very near midsummer - so I had as much daylight as possible. I actually got to the Eiffel Tower just as the sun was going down. I have shots of the Eiffel Tower that look like daylight, more that are in twilight, and more attempted in full dark; all taken within a twenty-five minute span.

I fully expected my feet to be bloody stumps when I got back to my hotel: without my checked luggage, I wasn't equipped with walking shoes. But, I was fine. According to maps, I probably only walked about eight or nine kilometers plus a little more added for meandering, and walking around things to get a better angle with my camera, or just see better. Your eyes physically can't take Arc de Triumph in all at once from close up! I also didn't have a purse or a coat, so I kept my purchases to what fit in my hoodie pockets. I froze half to death when the hotel shuttle took 45 minutes to arrive at the unheated train station. 


I think I did the walk in exactly the right order.  Kudos to the French for having street signs that matched the free map on the bus tour brochure I used to navigate. It was a much better experience overall than getting lost in Vienna 9 years before without a single road sign matching my map! Of course that could have been because I wasn't in the area covered by the map. But that's another story.  

The Louvre: Can yo see the Ferris Wheel in the distance?

Although Notre Dame was impressive, the Louvre was more so. You really can't imagine how large the Louvre is until you've been there. You could spend a week just walking through it, I'm sure. In the back courtyard of the Louvre, I paused to listen to an opera singer who was busking. That mezzo-soprano was better than anyone I've ever heard. I recommend entering the Louvre from the back courtyard on your first visit. Everyone has seen the front. You get a much better sense of scale when you walk through the rear courtyard before emerging behind the glass pyramid. It's a special perspective that you shouldn't miss.

Swing in the Tuileries Garden. Okay, maybe three stories was an exaggeration.

Once I got to the Tuileries Gardens, across the street from the Louvre, I could actually see the Arc de Triumph in the distance, looking Mammoth from two kilometers away! Once I got to the Arc, it didn't seem quite so huge, until I saw these itsy bitsy things on the top and thought at first there were some statuettes on top of it. No: they were full sized people who looked like ants from the ground. It really is colossal! I didn't spend the 23 Euros to go up, since I didn't have time to stop. The Eiffel Tower was still a ten minute walk away.

Arc de Triumph. Those itsy bitsy dots at the top are people!

After so much grandeur - no wonder the French can be arrogant about the beauty of Paris - I didn't expect the Eiffel Tower to be very impressive. I arrived there just as the sun was setting. From across the river, it looked just as you'd expect from postcards. But once you get to it and walk underneath it... I don't think I've ever seen anything so beautiful, industrial, and large all at once. The rolls royce merlin propeller at Chatsworth, runs it a close second in the industrial beauty category. But, this is HUGE!!! The open ironwork makes it look delicate and beautiful while the form and size give it amazing presence. It's funny; but it didn't occur to me to feel small, it only made me wonder at how beautiful industry could be if only it tried. The Eiffel Tower may be a hundred years old; but it still feels like something out of a Sci-Fi movie. For me, it was like the first time I saw the USS Enterprise on big screen!  I half expected to be taken up into the "mother ship!" 


Eiffel Tower, duh!

C'est trop bon! Now, I completely understand why people come back from Paris with all sorts of little Eiffel Tower souvenirs. I wanted to get all sorts of things, but managed to keep it down to the basic two key chains and a magnet. Someday: bookends or a lamp or... It's hard not to want something; to hold onto that moment of experience: a trigger for a grand memory.  The experience of the Eiffel Tower alone is up there with Zion National Park, on the must see short list.

I left the hotel at almost 4 PM and headed back to it about 11:30 PM; so it was more than 7 hours; but I don't think the train counts as it was decidedly ordinary unless you've never taken a bus or train through suburban Europe.

If you have a layover in a foreign, or even domestic location, don't hesitate to grab all the experience you can in the short time you have. You won't regret the adventure. 

 

I've had quite the vacation already. It will be years before I do anything half so impressive, I'm sure. I think I actually might be ready to do some studying and ordinary living by September.



Bon Vacances!