Akira Concept Art

https://static.squarespace.com/static/524c2e14e4b05018590a21e1/5386efbce4b0bd6d1373003c/5387038ce4b0792be624b4a5/1401357197387/image002.jpg?format=1500wA few years ago, it was reported that director Ruairi Robinson was going to create a live-action American adaptation of the classic anime, Akira! The project has getting a lot of hype, despite what many hardcore fans have to say about an American version of the anime cult classic. And while the attempts to get the ball rolling have continually stalled, with actors and directors constantly dropping and out of the project, it does seem like this is one project that just wont’ die.

For instance, Ruairi Robinson ceased being attached to the project in 2010, but some interesting concept art from his slated involvement survives. Below, you can see pictures and mock-ups for what the live action of Akira, in his hands, would have looked like. For instance, in the first photo, the casting choices of Chris Evans as Shotaro Kaneda and Jason Gordon Levitt as Tetsuo Shima. In addition, countless pictures depicting Neo-Tokyo.

(left) Kaneda, (middle) Travis, (right) CyrusIn many of these, you can see Kaneda’s iconic red bike running through the streets. But the larger focus is on the colorful skylines, complete with skyscrapers, neon signs, multiple languages scripts, and a general gritty, cyberpunk feel. And at the bottom, there is a comparison shot showing a shooting location in New York City above a picture of what the proposed Neo-New York City would look like. That name sound at all believable to you?

Several scenes from the movie are also depicted, which include the battle with the Clowns biker gang, and the sudden appearance of one of Colonel Shikishima “patients”.

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It looks like a Neo-New York City

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https://static.squarespace.com/static/524c2e14e4b05018590a21e1/5386efbce4b0bd6d1373003c/5387038de4b058afe7f75492/1401357199565/streetconcept.jpg?format=500w

https://static.squarespace.com/static/524c2e14e4b05018590a21e1/5386efbce4b0bd6d1373003c/538a927ee4b0e9ab9157cd27/1401590403111/image003.jpg?format=500wBut what montage of Akira-related images would be complete without scenes depicting the unleashed psychic Tetsuo, demonstrated his newfound powers? Below are a couple that demonstrate the anime’s antagonist in action, in the first, deflecting a missile attack from an attack chopper, and in the second breaking into the Akira vault and discovering the namesake’s remains.

  Travis Clyne aka "Tetsuo" unleashing his power!

https://static.squarespace.com/static/524c2e14e4b05018590a21e1/5386efbce4b0bd6d1373003c/538773c1e4b0e13cfb6da384/1401385923649/crater_akira01_CC2.jpg?format=500wNot too bad to look at. But with the supposed director, producers, and actors changing every few years, many are wondering if this live-action remake will ever happen. And many fans can see nothing wrong with the idea, provided it is true to the source material. And dropping the whole Americanized angle and setting it back in Neo-Tokyo where it belongs wouldn’t hurt much either! But in the end, it really comes down to being true to the spirit of the Manga, if not the precise format.

Luckily, there is still the crowdfunded live-action Akira Project. This fan-based effort to make an adaptation that is both true to the spirit and setting of the original manga produced a full-length teaser trailer not that long ago that impressed fans quite a bit! So who knows? If Hollywood can’t get its act together and make a decent remake, there’s always the direction and the funding of dedicated fans to pick up the slack! Time will tell which of them will bear fruit…

In the meantime, here’s another look at the Akira Project trailer:


Sources:
moviepilot.com, ruairi-robinson.squarespace.com

The Akira Project

Akira_explosionKatsuhiro Otomo’s Akira is hailed by manga and comics fans alike as being one of the best graphic novels of all time. Similarly, the film adaptation, which was also written and directed by Otomo, is considered a premier example of anime and the cyberpunk genre – one that has remained a cult classic to this day. In spite of that, no one has been able to create a live-action version in the almost three decades since it was released.

That’s where the Akira Project comes in. This non-profit, crowdsourced group launched their Indiegogo campaign in July 2012 with the intention of financing a live-action version of the film that was as true to the original material as possible. After spending three days shooting on location in Montreal, Quebec (go Habs!) and a year and a half in post production, and with the help of some 40 artists in 12 countries, they have finally released their version of a live-action trailer (seen below).

In addition to wanting to see a film adaptation that does Akira justice, this project is also a response to Hollywood’s abortive attempts to create their own adaptation of Akira. These began in 2002, when Warner Bros. declared that they had acquired the rights to the franchise. However, since that time, there has been a constant stream of news that indicate that the people meant to write, direct, produce and even star in the film keep changing.

akira_club03For example, from 2008 to 2011, it was rumored that the leading roles would be filled by either Leonardo DiCaprio, Zac Efron, James Franco, Keanu Reeves, Garrett Hedlund, Michael Fassbender, Justin Timberlake, Joaquin Phoenix, and Chris Pine have all been said to be the front runners for the lead role of Kaneda at one time or another, while Andrew Garfield and James McAvoy and Joseph Gordon-Levitt were all said to be considered for the role of Tetsuo Shima.

The names of those meant to director this film have also changed repeatedly. Initially, it was said that Stephen Norrington was on deck to direct, but in 2008, Ruairí Robinson was said to be the new front runner. In 2010, Warner Bros. was said to be in talks with Allen and Albert Hughes, but Lazar announced that summer that just Albert would directing. Most recently, Jaume Collet-Serra was said to be committed to the movie.

268170-akira06_superThe only name to stick to this project since 2008 is Andrew Lazar, who is committed to producing it. On top of all that, fans of the franchise have also been frustrated by apparent indications that the live-action Hollywood remake will be set in New York rather than Neo-Tokyo. This, combined with Collet-Serra’s apparent dislike for the original characters, has led to concerns that the movie that might result will be a bastardized, Americanized-version of the story that bears little resemblance to the kick-ass original.

Hence the Akira Project’s stated goal of being true to the original, as well as dedicated to making it happen. I tell ya, its a cool time to be alive when fans don’t have to wait for the major studios to get their heads out of their asses, and can make things happen on their own. For more information on this group and its progress, just head on over to the Akira Project website. And in the meantime, enjoy the kick-ass trailer:

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Judgement Day Update: DARPA Robotics Challenge!

darpa-robotics-challenge-conceptFor the past two years, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has been holding a series of trials where robots are tasked with navigating disaster areas and performing tasks with tools and materials provided. This is known as the Robotics Challenge, which took place from Dec.20th to 21st and was streamed live from Florida’s Homestead Miami Speedway.

And this year, Google’s Schaft humanoid robot took home the top prize after scoring 27 points out of a total of 32 points. IHMC Robotics, based in Florida, grabbed second place, while Carnegie Mellon University’s Team Tartan Rescue placed third. Eight of the top teams that participated in the challenge may receive as much as $1 million in funding from DARPA, ahead of further trials next year with a $2 million prize.

schaft_robotBuilt by a Japanese start-up – one of Google’s many recent acquisitions – the Schaft is an updated version of the Humanoid Robot Project robot (HRP-2), with hardware and software modifications that include more powerful actuators, a walking/stabilization system, and a capacitor instead of a battery. The robot stands 1.48 m (4.8 ft) tall, weighs in at 95 kg (209 lb), and is generally unappealing to the eye.

However, what it lacks in photogenic quality, it makes up for in performance. Over the course of the trials, the bipedal robot was able to bring stable walking and significant torque power to fore as it opened doors, wielded hoses, and cut away part of a wall. However, team Schaft lost points when a gust of wind blew a door out of the robot’s hand and the robot was unable to exit a vehicle after navigated a driving course successfully.

Check out the video of the Schaft in action:


Initially, over 100 teams applied to compete when the challenged was announced in April of last year. After a series of reviews and virtual challenges, the field was narrowed down to 16 competing in four “tracks. On Track A, Schaft was joined by the RoboSimian, the robot recently built by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). Another primate-like robot was the Tartan Rescue CHIMP, a red headless robot with rollers on its feet.

At the other end of the spectrum was the Johnson Space Center’s Valkyrie, a biped, anthropomorphic robot that honestly looks like something out of anime or Tony Stark’s closet. This latter aspect is due largely to the fact that it has a glowing chest light, though the builders claim that it’s just a bulge to make room in the torso for linear actuators to move the waist.

Valkyrie_robotOfficially designated “R5” by NASA, Val was designed to be a high-powered rescue robot, capable of traversing uneven terrain, climbing ladders, using tools, and even driving. According to the designers, the Valkyrie was designed to be human in form because:

a human form makes sense because we’re humans, and these robots will be doing the jobs that we don’t want to be doing because they’re too dangerous. To that end, Valkyrie has seven degree of freedom arms with actuated wrists and hands, each with three fingers and a thumb. It has a head that can tilt and swivel, a waist that can rotate, and six degree of freedom legs complete with feet equipped with six-axis force-torque sensors.

Unfortunately, the robot failed in its tasks this year, scoring 0 points and placing amongst the last three competitors. I guess NASA has some bugs to work out before this patently badass design can go toe-to-toe with other disaster robots. Or perhaps the anthropomorphic concept is just not up to the task. Only time and further trials will tell. And of course, there’s a video of Val in action too:


The B and C track teams are often difficult to tell apart because they all used Atlas robots. Meanwhile, the D track teams brought several of their own robots to the fore. These included Chiron, a robot that resembles a a metallic sea louse; Mojovation, a distinctly minimalist robot; South Korea’s Kaist, and China’s Intelligent Pioneer.

DARPA says that the point of the competition is to provide a baseline from which to develop robotics for disaster response. Events such as the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster, which not only damaged the reactors but made it impossible for crews to respond in time, demonstrate that robots have a potential role. DARPA believes that robots that could navigate the ruins and work in radioactive environments would have been of great help.

DARPA Robotics Challenge The problem is that current robots simply aren’t up to task. Specialized robots can’t be built to deal with the unpredictable, full telepresence control is neither practical nor desirable, and most robots tend to be a bit on the delicate side. What’s needed is a robot that can work on its own, use tools and vehicles at hand, deal with the unpredictable, and is durable and agile enough to operate in the ruins of a building.

That’s where DARPA Robotics Challenge comes in. Over the next few years, DARPA will use the results of the competition to draw a baseline that will benefit engineers working on the next generation of robots. For now, the top eight of the teams go on with DARPA funding to compete in the Robotics Finals event late next year, for a US $2 million prize.

DARPACourseIf there’s one thing the current challenge demonstrated, its that anthropomorphic designs are not well-suited to the tasks they were given. And ironic outcome, considering that one of the aims of the challenge is to develop robots capable of performing human tasks, but under conditions considered unsafe for humans. As always, the top prize goes to those who can think outside the box!

And in the meantime, enjoy this video of the Robot Challenge, taken on the second day of the trials.


Sources: gizmag.com, news.cnet.com, wired.com, IO9.com, theroboticchallenge.org

Favorite Cult Classics (Part The First)

It might be that I’m feeling nostalgic, or it might be that since my wife and I sprung for Netflix, I’ve been finding my way back to several of my favorite old movies. Hard to say exactly. All I know for sure is, I want to talk about the cult classic movies that I like best. You know what I’m talking about! Those rare gems, those diamonds in the rough, the movies that few seem to know about, but those who do always seem to love.

Yes, THOSE movies! Sure, we’ve all seen plenty of big hits, but these movies are the ones that occupy a special place in our hearts. Perhaps it’s because they are not so widely known, like the Star Wars’ and and Indiana Jones‘ of our time. Perhaps it’s because they didn’t get the recognition or the money they deserved, at least in their own time. Or it could be that they were simply the kind of things that got better with time.

In any case, I’ve compiled a list of my top 10 favorite cult classics, movies which I saw during my childhood, teen years and even in my twenties, and keep coming back too. Some were adventurous, some were funny, some were downright cheesy. But all have two things in common: One, none of them are known beyond a select group of appreciators, at least in this country. And two, those who like them, like them a lot! Check out the list below and see if you agree, and feel free to tell me your own favorites as well. I know we all got em!

Akira:
One of the greatest animes I have ever seen, and with a very poignant and intriguing story to boot, Akira starts this list off right! The movie adapted several volumes of manga to screen, and did so in such a way that didn’t skimp on either story or detail. Even shortened, the plot still manages to convey the sense of awe and dread of atomic war, revolution, and evolutionary cataclysm. And the fact that the bulk of it is told from the point of view of disillusioned orphans who are all part of a bier gang only heightens the sense on confusion and angst of little people being thrown into situations far greater than they can handle.

And then there was the quality of the movie itself. Having seen this movie several times now and different versions thereof, I can tell you that no matter what the format, every single frame was animated in such a way as to be saturated. And not with digital effects, mind you, but with hand-drawn animations that really manage to capture the post apocalyptic and cyberpunk feel of Katsuhiro Otomo’s original graphic novel.

All in all, I consider this movie to be compatible in many respects to 2001: A Space Odyssey in that they both deal with grandiose of questions of existence, biological evolution, and both managed to blow my mind! And having first been exposed to both of them in my teen years, they are partly responsible for kindling my love of science fiction.

Army of Darkness:
Here’s a movie I kept being told to see, but did not get around to seeing until I was in university. And truth be told, it took me two viewings to really get the appeal of it. After that, it grew on me until I finally found myself thinking it hilarious, and quoting from it whenever I could. “Come get some!” “Groovy!” “This be my BOOMSTICK!” and “Good? Bad? I’m the one with the gun!” All classic lines!

Yeah, this movie is definitely filed in the guilty pleasure section, the space reserved for movies that are deliberately cheesy, over the top, and have a robust sense of humor about themselves. It’s also one of the many that gave Sam Raimi (director of the Spiderman trilogy) his start, and established Bruce Campbell (who appeared in all three) as a gifted ham actor.

Taking the position that decapitations and flesh-eating demons can be funny, this movie tells the story of a blue-collar, rough and tumble, one-liner spouting man named Ash who’s been sent back in time to fight an army of the undead. Automatically, hijinks ensue as he tries to convince people he’s not a demon himself, but instead chooses to establish who’s boss by demonstrating the power of his chainsaw and “boomstick” (aka. his sawed-off double-barrel shotgun).

But predictably, this anti-hero rises to the challenge and becomes a real hero, and does so with as little grace as possible! And of course, there’s a love story as well, which is similarly graceless thanks to Ash’s lowbrow romantic sensibilities. Nothing is left untouched by the ham and cheese! And all throughout, the gun fights, duels, and confrontations with creepy, evil forces are hilarious, made possible by Campbell’s hammy acting, facial expressions, one-liners and some wonderfully bad cinematography. Think Xena: Warrior Princess, but with guns and foul language!

Blade Runner:
Another personal favorite, and one which I wish I had come to know sooner. But lucky for me I was still a teen when I saw this movie, hence I can say that I saw it while still in my formative years. And today, years later, I still find myself appreciating it and loving it as one can only love a cult hit. It’s just that kind of movie which you can enjoy over and over again, finding new things to notice and appreciate each time.

And once again, my appreciation for this movie is due to two undeniable aspects. On the one hand, Ridley Scott created a very rich and detailed setting, a Los Angeles of the 21st century dominated by megastructures, urban sprawl, pollution and polarized wealth. It was the picture perfect setting of cyberpunk, combining high-tech and low-life.

On the other hand, there was the story. Loosely adapted from PKD’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, this version of a future differed greatly in that the artificial humans, the antagonists of the original story, were about the only sympathetic characters in the story. The result was not a cautionary tale on the dangers of creating life in our own image as much as a commentary about the line between the artificial and the real.

The question it asked was: if you overcome all boundaries, if machines possess memory, feelings and a fear of death, is there anything at all to separate them from the rest of us? Will their lives be worth any less than ours, and what will it even mean to be alive?

Conan The Barbarian:
Here’s a movie which has appeared in some friends “guilty pleasure” list, usually next to Predator, Commando and other Anrie classics. But I am here today to tell you it really doesn’t belong. Unlike many 80’s Arnie movies that were so bad, they were good, this movie had some genuine quality and depth to it.

Examples? Well, for starters, this movie was a faithful adaptation of Robert E. Howard’s original concept, Conan the Cimmerian, which was first published in 1932. This franchise, which went through countless adaptations over the ensuing decades, wove real history and myth together with fantasy to create a tale of a bronze age adventurer who traveled across the ancient world, seeking fortune and glory.

One can see this in the movie as well. To create the setting and the various people that make up the universe, imagery, mythology and even names were borrowed from various real sources. For example, the Cimmerians (Conan’s people) were inspired by Celtic and Norse sources. The followers of Thulsa Doom, black-clad warriors from the East, were meant to resemble the Huns, the Goths, and other Eastern invaders. There are also several scenes showing a warlike people meant to resemble the Mongol Hoards, and much of the setting was made to resemble ancient cities of lore – Babylon, Jerusalem, Antioch, et al.

Add to all this some pretty damn good writing and good storytelling, and you can see why this movie has remained enduringly popular with many people over the years. Arnie excelled as the stone-faced barbarian of few words, but who made them count when he chose to spoke. James Earl Jones was exceptional as the amoral, Nietzschean warlord Thulsa Doom, and the production value was surprisingly good for a low-budget flick.

Serenity:
Yeah, I get the feeling everybody knows what I’m talking about with this one! After losing the wonderful show in the midst of its first season, every fan of Firefly was pleased to know that Joss Whedon would be making a full length movie. And personally, I th0ught he did a pretty good job with it too!

Picking up where the show left off, we are reunited with our favorite characters as they continue to work freelance jobs and try to stay one step ahead of the law and the expanding Alliance. From the outset, it is clear that things are getting desperate, as the jobs are proving more risky, and the Reavers are moving in from the Outer Rim. At the same time, a new threat has been thrown in in the form of an Alliance agent known only as the “Operative”, who has made it his business to bring River in at any cost.

And I personally loved how all these threads came together in a singular way, showing how the Reavers, River’s condition, and the Alliance’s ultimate agenda were all connected. Not only was it a tight and entertaining plot that captured the same sense of loss and desperation as the show, it also gave a sense of closure to the series, which ended before its time.

Yes, for myself and many fans, this movie is a way of commemorating a truly great show and idea that faltered because of insensitive boobs couldn’t see the value in it. But that seemed thematically consistent with the series itself, which was all about rebels in a hopeless fight against an evil empire. Take a lesson from this Fox Network, sooner or late,r the bad guys lose!

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For brevity’s sake and the fact that I’m a busy man, I’ve decided to divide this list in half. Stay tuned for entries six through ten, coming up tomorrow! Happy Thanksgiving y’all!

The Future is Here: Real Mechas!

It’s official. Now you can buy a real mechanized suit of armor… provided you have 1.3 million dollars just lying around. Unveiling their latest invention this past weekend during this years Wonder Festival in Tokyo, Suidobashi Heavy Industry has created the world’s first fully operational mecha! It seems that all that anime was right after all.

Unlike their previous work – the giant robot named Vaudeville which could only move it’s arms – the new Kuratos model can moves its arms, torso, and even wheel itself around, though only at a modest speed of 10km/h. Still, beats the hell out of walking!

It also comes equipped with a full-on master-slave control system, a state-of-the-art display and targeting system, an integrated cockpit with display devices, and even some curious weapons! This includes an H2O rocket launcher, perfect those summer water-pistol fights, and two arm-mounted Gatling guns that are capable of firing 6000 BB’s a minute. Oddly enough, the gun’s controls are linked to the cockpits interactive display device which fires the gun when the pilot-controller smiles!

Oh God, that’s going to be hard to control! One minute, you’re walking along in downtown Tokyo, the next minute, you’ve triggered a shooting spree because you can’t stop thinking about that funny joke somebody told the night before. You ever try not laughing in church or some other public forum? Well, it’s a little like that, except with heavy firepower!

And given the nature of this invention, it’s only a matter of time before someone puts some serious money into weaponizing it. For the rich and world-weary, it’s also the perfect toy for alleviating stress and making an impression on those snooty neighbors. I don’t envy the traffic cops which have to pull them over and issue a ticket though!

And yes, it’s not exactly Macross or Full Metal Panic material, but once again, it’s a step in that direction. Soon enough, we may be seeing mechas designed for the military use and crowd control. I can see how those water rockets would prove useful, and if the BB guns were upgraded to fire rubber bullets instead of tiny, put-your-eye-out shards of metal, then so much the better. And Robocop would have his work cut out for him having to compete with SWAT mechas like these!

Below is a helpful instructional video provided by Suidobashi. Enjoy and try not laugh. It makes the robot open fire!

Top 15 Things You’ll Never Hear a Geek Say

white-and-nerdyThis really doesn’t happen, but it seems I gave myself an idea with that last post. And to think it all came of an inappropriate joke! Essentially, I began to joke about the kinds of things geeks never say and even listed a few. And it got me thinking, one thing this blog has been missing up until now is a top ten list of things you’ll never hear a geek say. Well, I tried to limit myself to ten, but it was impossible. And so I expanded it a little to incorporate just a few more. I know, top 15 lists aren’t as impressive, but what can you do? Sometimes, you just gotta be inclusive!

Oh, and word of warning, if you’re not a fan of inappropriate jokes, back yourselves up now because you don’t want to see some of the things I’ve written here. As a self-professed geek, I can say these things, but rest assured, my test audience (my wife) didn’t exactly react well 😉 You’ve been warned! Anyhoo, here they are, the top 15 things geeks never say, in ascending order:

15. “Jane Austin is a far superior writer to Ursula K. Le Guin”

14. “I would have liked to have seen less cleavage and more character development from 7 of 9” (substitute any female lead from Star Trek)

13. “The blue chick from Avatar was so not hot”

12. “George R.R. Martin didn’t hit his stride until the third book”

11. “There’s no way I’m paying 50 bucks for a video game!”

10. “I can see no difference between Captain Kirk and Picard”

9. “Blade Runner totally needs to be remade”

8. “I have no strong opinions either way on the remake”

7. “They made a show called The Big Bang Theory?”

6. “I didn’t see the new Star Trek movie, but I hear it’s good.”

5. “Frank Herbert would be so proud of what’s become of the Dune franchise”

4. “You’ll never catch me jerking off to anime!”

3. “The prequels are just as good as the original”

2. “The movie was just as good as the book”

1. “George Lucas didn’t rape my childhood!”

And I’m still thinking of some doozies! Oh well, maybe this can become a thing, but only top 10 lists from now on. 15 at a time is not a pace I foresee being able to keep up for long. Until next time, geek out, get your geek on, and keep on geeking in the free world! Have I found enough ways to work that into a cliched saying?

Awesome Video: Akira meets Metallica!

Awhile back I caught this amateur music video that a certain anime/heavy metal fan managed to make. Not only was it an awesome visual experience, but I found that it masterfully mixed two of the most awesome things ever! You had scenes from the landmark anime Akira with “No Leaf Clover” by Metallica. What’s not to like?