Shannon Larratt 1973-2013

“As the saying goes, “by the time you read this I’ll be dead.”

Toronto based artist and activist Shannon Larratt passed away last month. The word of his death was quickly passed on among the BME (Body Manipulation Ezine) community, a culture I don’t participate in but I respect for a number of reasons.

You can read his touching End Of Life document here.

On the topic of body manipulation, perhaps Shannon said it best.

“The fundamental question in becoming publicly modified is a question of finding a balance between how free you want to be and how hard you want to work. The more free you are, the more responsibility you have to take for yourself. The more you blend back into the crowd, the less freedom you have, but the ‘easier’ your life gets. But is it really your life if you’re not controlling it?”

You can read more about the community with a Google search for Shannon Larratt and BME. Warning: often NSFW with images I find disturbing.

So why the tribute?

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Monster Squirrel. 24×36 Acrylic on canvas. April 2006.

Shannon was also a father, programmer, artist and entrepreneur.

And he was good at all of it, so I admire him.

As the founding publisher of BME he created a community of acceptance and hygenic practices and built his ezine to create a safe haven for people interested in extreme body piercing and tatoos and other manipulation. Many online tributes have recently come in with the headline, “Shannon saved my life”. With memories of my awkward teen years still in my mind as a father of teenagers myself, I know how important it can be to have a mentor who understands what it’s like to be different. Shannon was that voice of reason for people who were conflicted about their bodies. The comments on his blog, tumblr and BME speak for themselves.

Copyright 2009 Shannon Larratt.
Copyright 2009 Shannon Larratt.

I came across the programming of Shannon the same time I was on sabbatical to re-learn programming myself, and in particular JavaScript. A consummate professional blogger, he was kind enough to tag the programming ‘tests’ separate from his BME logs. He was very careful to use open source HTML and JavaScript (as opposed to Flash) and pushed the limits of what a modern browser could effectively render. These days with Chrome and mobile apps, it’s common to see a web browser render text and images dynamically responsively, but he was doing it many years ago. And with considerable artistic panache. His Space Invaders / Missile Command Chrome Experiment game ‘Apophis 2009’ needs to be played to be believed (desktop only). And true to the spirit of mentorship and sharing, he posted the source code for everyone like myself to parse and learn from. I had no idea JavaScript was capable of doing this kind of animation!

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Uilenspiegel. Acrylic on wood. 12 x 16 October 2008

His playfulness was infectious. For example, check out the header on his blog, “The best thing about censorship is … “. Once you figure out the solution, you’ll smile with the little Easter egg you’ve uncovered.

But above all for me was his bold use of colour and line and shape as evidenced in his paintings, some of which he shared credit with his young daughter. I’m still amazed at how inclusive he was with her, and how much he loved her. In fact in his blog he credits ‘Nefarious’ for keeping him alive as long as he was.

As his eyesight and ability to read diminished, he turned to jewelry as his creative outlet, and opened an etsy store. Also, he finished a large book on body manipulation that he and his fiance hand-bound in their studio in Toronto. I can’t find the exact quote, but he said in the preface to his book, “you’re holding art that was actually made by hand by the artist”. I love hand-made.

We had a few exchange via email around the Chrome Experiment time, but I never met Shannon and doubt I ever would have. For me, he was one of those personalities that are larger than life that sometimes are best left online. I definitely didn’t agree with his opinions all of the time. I found his recent appearance challenging and not at all pleasant. His exercise in tattooing his actual eyeball is as cringe-worthy as it sounds. But it’s not for me to judge. I just wanted to take a moment to recognize the work Shannon did.

A quote from his EOL message that spoke to me as a father, husband, son, brother, volunteer, world traveler, business owner, mentor and friend:

…seize every opportunity that’s in front of you and live life to the fullest. Even with everything I’ve done, there is so much more I wish I’d squeezed in. Don’t let a single day (well, maybe a single day) be idle. Have every adventure you can, and explore every street — although treat the one-way streets with caution. Don’t fritter you life away into television, random browsing, and pointless substance abuse (I have at times been guilty of all of these) — although remember there are valid uses for them, both for growth and entertainment. Have passion about the future, and in the present. Especially if you’re young, push your education and your skills to their limits on every level. Don’t just graduate highschool, get a degree, get a doctorate if you can. I know these things aren’t for everyone, they they are for most, and they also open doors to some of the most special adventures. Even if you can’t afford proper schooling there are many, many ways to learn, free courses to volunteering, and so on. Value your health, and the health of our planet, and strive beyond its borders. We have such a glorious future, but never forget that your part in that future could end at any moment, so live a life that you can be pround of. And of course love and treat each other well.

Flying Spaghetti Monster, February 2013
Flying Spaghetti Monster, February 2013

May he rest in peace.

Bikini Party Massacre: Indie Horror Film from 2001

[tube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=54PjxXlOXyY[/tube]

Preface

I’m fortunate in that I don’t have a very long bucket list. I’m pretty passionate about things that I like, and tend to just go for it first and think about it later. This strategy doesn’t necessarily make me a popular ’employee’ or ‘team player’ most of the time, but on the other hand I’m never short of collaborators or business partners looking for a breakout idea, in particular in the world of indie horror film.

Rick Dolishny
Here’s me in 2001 happy to see my name on a DVD box at Blockbuster.

Way back in 2001, there really wasn’t any internet. There wasn’t really digital filmmaking. And there definitely wasn’t a way to get your film seen without a distributor. Interestingly though, I owned and operated a very popular film festival, was doing some work demoing cutting-edge new Non Linear Editing Solutions for Autodesk (Discreet Edit), and I developed an app for Palm for film festival promoters and attendees. It was in many ways the best summer of my life, where everyone was lighting up to the opportunity that computers and the internet could offer to indie film-makers.

At that time, the seminal book ‘Rebel Without A Crew‘ by Robert Rodrigues was embedded into every film student’s must-read list (and shunned by old-school film vanguards), and the notion of shooting a film in a weekend just started to pop up. Could it be possible to have a small crew and digital gear capture and edit an entire movie? It’s hard to imagine these days, but just the idea that you could shoot a feature in a weekend caught the imagination of absolutely everyone.

But it’s one thing to think about doing something crazy like that, and quite another to assemble a crew and actually do it. Remember, there really wasn’t any semblance of the internet that we know today, and certainly no way to see examples of what a film shot in a weekend actually looked like. YouTube wouldn’t happen for another two years (imagine!).  Still, with my film festival connections and by working with some very talented people as an Autodesk reseller,  the idea that a film could be shot in a weekend quickly germinated among a handful of creative artists including myself.

joseph_axThe director/writer/star Joseph Clark was the greatest visionary of us all. A skilled actor but novice director, Joseph was unencumbered with the reality that even proposing a film like this was ‘impossible’ by any authority on the subject. He had a great can-do attitude that I admire to this day.

graham_composingI was recently contacted by Doug Tilley, a writer with www.dailygrindhouse.com, who shares my enthusiasm for low-budget horror films, which prompted me to dig into the archive at dolish.com and pull the original content I created to promote the film. Interestingly enough, this website was the first web site I ever worked on. I now recall the drudgery of using Photoshop to convert the 1M digital stills into 32 colour .gif files because they loaded faster on dialup.

Watching the film again I will say it doesn’t age very well. One of the biggest criticisms I’ve heard or read is that the first half is a bit slow, and I cannot disagree. But believe it or not, back then you absolutely needed a distributor to get the film in front of any eyeballs, and you HAD to have at least 90 minutes of content. Interesting to note, my first cut of the film was only 39 minutes. We did a reshoot and let a shot go for about five minutes that would have made a great 5 second flashback, but we were working under a difficult deliverable constraint.

So, without much editing, I present the original articles and pictures from 2001. Enjoy!

– Rick Dolishny, March 2013


bpm_logo

Bikini Party Massacre

firescarboro_girlsGet a couple of guys, some hot girls, a Betacam, a few bikinis … and you’ve got one of the greatest low-budget horror films ever made! Shot over the course of a long weekend July 2001, the feature film Bikini Party Massacre (US: Joseph Clark’s Massacre) is the realization of the dreams of the cast and crew. I was the Editor and Visual Effects Supervisor for the feature.

The Story

Take a group of three hunky guys, three girls in bikinis, and a hot weekend up north and what do you get – Bikini Party Massacre!

As the story unfolds, we find our young campers making their way up to Upstate New York for “a weekend we’ll never forget”. The long trip into the wilderness allows the audience to learn more about the characters and very quickly we determine they they all carry some pretty heavy emotional baggage.

That’s me on the boom (right).

The music is a very enjoyable mix of 70’s Classic Rock and modern ambient electronic music. Much of the music was created for exclusive use in the film, or was commissioned from Paije’s (Phil Jacob) prior CD releases.

Stories with “twists” are pretty common these days, and BPM is no exception. The ending is satisfying and enjoyable. Plus, watch out for some pretty funny bloopers and deleted scenes on the DVD.

Production

The biggest problem in making a film in a weekend is getting everyone together and managing the inevitable cancellations and changes that come with paying everyone next-to-nothing. Our adventure began at the Scarborough Town Centre and surprisingly everyone showed up! 

Shooting was to take place at a snowmobile camp in northern Ontario, near Pembroke, about an hour west of Ottawa. That meant about a four hour drive from Toronto through some of the most beautiful wilderness we’ve ever seen.

Here, the guys ham it up in front of a spectacular rock bluff just north of downtown.

Our days comprised of waking up at 6AM and shooting until 1AM. We shot for three days in one of the most brutal heat waves ever seen in this neck of the woods. Temperatures quickly rose above 30ºC … and let’s not talk about the black flies!

I was the on-set Visual Effects Supervisor (which was good, because when we got back to Toronto I was the Visual Effects Everything). My ass was on the line! But when we were shooting non-effect shots I was the boom operator. There is nothing more torturous then holding a boom for a three minute take while black flies gnaw away at your legs. Graham the DOP didn’t do much better holding his camera. Remarkably very few shots were locked-off, and they look amazing!

BTW, we used a regular old analogue BetacamSP camera with an exceptionally nice Fuji lens. I prefer working with analogue video rather than DV for effects work because of the better keys I can pull. Plus, the film was destined for film-look and we were going for a nice organic quality. PLUG: You can hear more about the art-direction of the shots by picking up the DVD and selecting “Director’s Commentary.”

The hunting camp was our source of power, food, and shelter for the cast and crew who weren’t sleeping at a small hotel 30 minutes away. There was a wonderful clearing where we shot into the forest. Virtually all of the shots were set up within 100 feet of each other. Some great hand-held chase vis was shot just a few hundred yards into the forest (as the flies ate us alive).


The red rental van (left) served many purposes. Not only did it transport us to the camp, but it served as the van that transported the characters in the film plus it was a great jib for the beautiful shot that pulls to the title sequence … just don’t tell the rental guys!

Some shots took place far from the camp … Joseph’s dad (at the helm, that’s Joseph on the left) motored the cast and crew for one of the last shots of Day 1 on a private, secluded beach on Golden Lake.

Look at Joseph – shooting a film in a long weekend. Wonder what’s going through his head right now!

This was one of the fastest setups I’ve ever worked on in my life. We all motored out to this lovely beach, shot the beach shots, shot some water play, and even got coverage from the boat towards the shore. Within 40 minutes we were all done and heading back for night shooting!

Post-Production

The film itself was shot in a long weekend (plus a weekend of pickups). The editing was another story: taking up the entire summer of 2001.

Rick in Post on another project. Note the little CGI dog. There are no CGI dogs in Bikini Party Massacre but the shot of me and a Director (Scott Dobson) is cool.

We cut the entire project on Graham’s Discreet Edit system which performed flawlessly. I’m a big advocate of (the now defunct) Edit system and it handled everything we threw at it. Plus, for a feature film with some elaborate effects, its integration into Paint, Effect and Combustion was crucial to the success of the entire film. 3D animation was done in Lightwave and Animation Master.

For the most part the film was a one-take wonder, but even then we logged over 6 hours of footage.

Still, 6 hours of footage for a feature film is ridiculously low, but it’s what we shot. Graham brought to the production a career’s-worth of experience shooting news for CNN and other in Russia, Lebanon and the Middle East, so he knows a few things about getting the shot right the first time. His footage was amazing. 

Near the end of editing I used a feature in Edit that pulls all unused sources, and when I executed the command the bin came up completely empty. I used every setup!

Sound was a lot of fun. As a freelance editor I have a small library of sounds I always have on-hand, and I massaged and looped and generally mixed everything I had in the category of Horror, Gore, and Special Effects. I’m particularly proud of the sound of an ax chopping off the head of the police officer near the end of the film. Listen for it and let me know what you think!

9-11

Probably the most interesting little twist happened in the fall after spending two months editing the feature. It was the weekend of September 8th 2001 and I just finished a critical matte painting of New York City that opens the film. I set the move to render in Combustion (there were a few layers) and took off to the cottage for a couple of days to unwind. With this matte painting I would be almost done.

When I returned to civilization on Tuesday September 11 you can imagine my surprise listening to the WTC attacks on a static laden AM radio station broadcasting out of Peterborough, Ontario. I turned the car around and spend another day with my wife and kids in the woods before returning to the city. Who knew what would happen in the coming days?

My Combustion render finished almost the same time the towers fell. I called Joseph and we discussed what to do, and we decided to re-render the shot without the Towers. A bit of Photoshopping and the comp was re-rendered in time for the final picture lock. No one recognized the skyline.

Once the picture was locked the process of film-looking the feature began. It turns out very few people have tried to film-look an entire feature (it’s used all the time for commercials or music videos).

I can see why after completing the film I got calls from people asking how I did it. Honestly, it was a combination of off-the-shelf film-look software, some custom filter writing, and a network render farm of over 20 computers rendering full time for over 10 days.

Don’t tell the boss but used his laptop to render, too! 🙂

All tolled, it was 144,000 frames rendered at over 20 seconds per frame.

I mastered the project to DVCPRO and Shon at www.imcvideo.com in Toronto handled the conversion from 16:9 to letterboxed 4:3. The DVD Director’s Commentary track was mastered at Avtel Media, Pickering Ontario, and the DVD authoring was done in Los Angeles by the Distributor.

eDiscovery

This 15 minute video kept my crew and I busy for a few weeks this summer. Produced in association with the Canadian law firm McCarthy Tétrault, this hybrid video/kinetic type animation explains in simple terms the reasoning behind proper record keeping in the modern age.

It also serves to introduce best practices as defined by The Sedona Canada Principles, Working Group 7, and practicing lawyers and judges in the field.

Software used included Lightwave, 3D Studio Max, After Effects and Sony Vegas. Hosting is provided by the new Vimeo Pro service.

Voice: Andrew Hanna, PNA
Written by: Kyla Schmidt, Thomas NT Sutton
Animation: Rick Dolishny, Todd Morgan
Camera: Adrian Parks
Directed/Edited by: Rick Dolishny
Produced by: Thomas NT Sutton, Partner, Litigation, McCarthy Tétrault

Radiohead Animation Contest: I’m In


Many of you who follow my posts on Facebook know I’m a big fan of bands like Nine Inch Nails and Radiohead for their progressive stance on artist rights, new-media distribution, and DRM-free music.

You also know I’m a closet animator and take on projects for No Particular Reason, or just for fun.

So thanks to Toronto-based actor and video producer Richard Pierre for sending me this link to Aniboom’s latest contest.

I’m looking to get together with illustrators or artist to go over a concept, and take it to a treatment … and start animating as soon as possible. Deadline is April 2008! Comment here or email me at my dolish dot com address today.

If you have a favourite RadioHead track let me know though I’m partial to “Nude” and “Reckoner”.