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Sopranobits

In the first season of The Sopranos, Tony’s mother Livia enters nursing care, and is sitting up in bed reading when Artie comes to visit. This is her point of view shot: She’s reading the obituaries. HD now allows us a glorious glimpse of the pasted-up paper she’s reading, visible for a fraction of a second…unless you pause it on your iPad and take a screenshot. At first glance, one sees evidence of actual, old school cut-and-paste. But a closer read shows the two columns on the left had some actual work put into them. I’ve done my best to transcribe them below:

sopranobits

Julie Ross

[S]aturday. Chase Township. Julie

[R]oss, one half of the acrobatic

[t]eam of Ross and Toss, was found

[de]ad in a Queen’s NY mental

[ins]titution, apparently as an effect

…her attempting to juggle too

[ma]ny items at once. Ross and Toss

…e famous in the European

…s venues for their

…mplished act. In their most

…s feat, Ms. Ross would

[balan]ce an entire film crew on her

[shoul]ders while Toss would shout

[r]andom schedule changes to

[torme]nt the hapless crewmembers.

…survived by her acrobatic

…of 16 years. Toss, a full

…Cherokee Indian whose

…was knife throwing

…it was rumored for many

…at Ross and Toss were

…r. Toss denied that today,

…Ugh. Me-um and squaw

…just act for show. No

…kyum.” “But, he added,

…otice Me squaw Ross

…heap nice rack.

Services will be

…at the Juggler’s chapel.

 

Sunday. Brigantyne. Dr. Mitchell Burgess, the notorious “Shore Points Diet doc” was found dead of an apparent exploded stomach after chowing down to an “all you can eat” lobsterfest at a local Brigantyne bar. Burgess, whose controversial diet method, “Eat This Book” made the NY Times best seller list for seven straight years, preached that the fiber content of ordinary wood pulp as found in paperback books was more than enough nutrition for the average American. By eating his books, Dr. Burgess’ readers not only shed pounds, but kept buying more and more copies whenever they wanted a little snack. “He seems to have stumbled on the ultimate selling technique,” opined his Publisher, Robin Green of Random Thoughts Books. “By convincing his readers to eat the books, he kept on the best seller list for all those years.” On Sunday, Burgess, who practiced what he preached and demonstrated a voracious appetite for fine literature by once eating the collected works of [?] was innocently walking down the street [?] munching on a TV Guide…

New Story Alert: The Finest, Fullest Flowering

Just arrived in the June issue of Nightmare Magazine, “The Finest, Fullest Flowering.” It lurks behind a paywall until June 15th, which is not coincidentally the day I will be reading at the KGB Bar. Prior to that time, you can pay a pittance to read the entire issue, or, for a slightly larger pittance, subscribe for a year. I will post again when it goes live. Hopefully that opening paragraph proves so tantalizing you can’t resist supporting the Nightmare Empire with some inexpensive clicking.

image

Old School Selfie

When David Garnett was putting together New Worlds 2, he asked the authors to provide photographs of themselves to go with their contributions. For my story of ominous darkroom procedures, “Great Breakthroughs in Darkness,” I descended into my own ominous darkroom and put together this image by printing a negative through several layers of transparent collages while also moving physical objects through the beam to cast photograms. I’m still no good with Photoshop however.

great_break

Jacob T. Nicholson, R.I.P.

I was saddened and stunned to learn that one of Half-Life 2’s unsung and underappreciated creators passed away earlier this month at the age of 40. I was proud to work with Jake Nicholson on some of the most memorable and personally satisfying set-pieces of that game. I knew Jake as an animator, a core member of the “Choreo Team”–a group focused on the scenes where animation, character performances, level design and gameplay were most thoroughly integrated. I understood that Jake was an animator, but he was continually surprising and delighting me with touches of genius that went beyond what I thought of (in my limited way) as animation.

When we were making Half-Life 1, every time we wanted to give the player a new weapon, it had to be strategically placed on a table or a crate or simply on the floor. We had a crazy dream that maybe Barney could actually hand you a gun at some point, but it never happened. When, a few years later, I brought up this crazy dream again, I did so out of habit; it was just an old complaint that I had long since stopped taking seriously.

Then one morning I came in to Valve, fired up the latest version of the Black Mesa East scene, and there was Alyx Vance holding out the gravity gun. (It would be a while yet before she said, “You can call it the Zero Point Energy Field Manipulator if you really want to.”) I moved up to her and…she passed it to me. This sounds obvious now, and perhaps this kind of moment has become standard in first-person games, but at the time it was pure magic. It was code and animation, yes, but it was mainly magic. Jake understood the point of code and animation, the technical work, was to create moments of magic. That magic was pure Jake.

He put dozens of little touches like this into the game, inventive bits of detail and polish that were part of every scene he worked on. His character work was convincing and looked so natural; he brought Barney and others to life.

I was never close to Jake outside of work, but I sure enjoyed his company whenever we worked together–which, at that time, was often. He worked so hard, and was so unpretentious. I remember that we both played and beat Mario & Luigi Superstar Saga around the same time, and spent an afternoon sharing our enthusiasm for the “best evar” animated cut-scene at the end. I enjoyed the fact that a skilled 3D animator like Jake could go completely nuts for a 2D title sequence. He left Valve not long after Half-Life 2 shipped, went off to care for an ailing parent, and also I am told went back to school and gathered some more advanced degrees. I knew he was doing good things, but I missed working with him. And now I really miss him.