Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Comet McNaught

An awful thing happened to me last week: I had some free time on Thursday at work so I thought I'd catch up on my local blog reading and found, to my horror, as I perused a variety of related posts, while surfing from blog to blog, that everyone had been out the night before observing some comet called McNaught, the "brightest comet in 42 years".

Some frantic online research ensued, and soon I was up to speed, and feeling depressed. How on earth could I have missed absolutely all the pre-sighting buzz, the news reports, the announcements? I still don't know the answer to that.

The next few days were even worse, as various weather catastrophes, transport catastrophes, and looking-in-the-wrong-direction catastrophes conspired to make me miss the comet every evening until finally I could no longer stand the daily "Have you seen the comet?" questions from everyone I knew and decided to risk my life to see the damn comet.

So last night, at 8:40, I interrupted my patriotic watching of Drum to climb up on the (slippery) roof, in semi darkness, to find it once and for all.

And what a sight!

Even though it's not as bright as a week ago when members of the Cape Town In Crowd were all camping on Victoria Road or Durbanville Hills taking magnificent photographs (and here and here and here) it's still an awesome sight to see. As the sky darkens the tail grows longer until it looks like something out of a medieval text designed to herald Eventual Doom As Punishment For Evil Ways.

Of course, up on the roof, being battered from all sides by Cape Town's high winds, the best photograph I was able to take comprised a beautiful gradated sky with an electricity pole in the foreground and a hazy brown blur on one side in the background. I won't be uploading that gem to Flickr.

Nevertheless, I have finally seen the comet, and it was definitely worth the wait and repeated mishaps. Plus, I no longer have to dodge the "Have you seen the comet yet?" question that I was eventually hearing about three times a day.

Friday, January 12, 2007

URBO: The Adventures Of Pax Afrika

This morning I visited the offices of Octagon, in Cape Town, where the TV show URBO: The Adventures Of Pax Afrika is made.

The show is - technically - for kids but it has enough in-jokes and situations to appeal to your more culturally cool adults, such as myself. It has been running for a few months on SABC3 on Saturday mornings at 9am , but is constantly interrupted to make way for A1 Grand Prix and less interesting sporting events, much to the frustration of fans. However, I recommend that you keep an eye on SABC3's schedule and check out the show next time it's on*.

(And then buy the DVD boxed set when it becomes available.)

The show is set in a dark, futuristic, polluted, corporate-controlled Cape Town and revolves around our hero, 13-year-old Pax Afrika, and his friends and family. The first season is 52 episodes long but due to all the scheduling issues we're only on about episode 8, so you still have time to join in on the fun. There are storyline threads that run through the entire season but each episode can happily be enjoyed on its own as well.

I was given a quick tour of the offices to see where all the magic happens, and will be returning later this year for a more in-depth tour and question-and-answer session with some of the people behind the scenes. The project started with a team of six people, and this has now exploded into a team of 43. Most of the show is created in Flash (great news for any Flash designers that may be reading this blog - you, too, can work on more interesting projects than bad web sites!), and there are also 3D elements that are created, such as the virtual sets and the robots, that are then reworked to look like the 2D style of the rest of the show and later composited with the 2D elements to form the final product.

Although seasons one and two have been planned out in terms of the main story elements, the writers are still working on a few episodes in the mid 30s (season one), and the animation team is finishing up episode 24 of season one. It takes about eight days for them to finish an episode, with each animator assigned to work on about three minutes of the show, as outlined in the storyboard. There are 20 animators divided into two teams, and each team works on one episode at a time. With all the other work that goes on - writing, storyboard development, recording of the voice actors, animatics, animation, compositing, creation of music and sound effects - each episode can be in production for about five weeks: that's a lot of work for 24 minutes of screen time!

You can find out more about the show at its official web site, or have a look at the fascinating developers' blog at 24.com Blogs for some great behind-the-scenes info and footage from some of the episodes.

Meanwhile it was incredibly difficult for me to leave the Octagon offices in order the return to The Office, and I look forward to visiting again soon!

*March update: From April the show is apparently moving to SABC3 on Friday afternoons at 3:30pm.



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