November 2013

Dreamworks’ Turbo

Some movies, you know exactly what to expect before it even starts. This was one of them. Story-wise, it wasn’t too bad, it’s just that most people over the age of 10 have seen it several times before. It’s derivative. Plus, from start to finish, I just didn’t care about the characters, or anything that was happening. I’m fairly easy to please when it comes to animation, but ultimately this film failed to be interesting.

One major knock against the film – the gags weren’t that funny. Part of this may be due to overexposure – all of the “good” jokes had already been used in the trailers, leaving little for the film itself. In fact, it felt as though the rest of the film was little more than filler – connective tissue between all the bits previously shown in the trailers.

Here’s one example of narrative failure: From the start, the film paints the top Indy 500 racer – Guy Gagne – as a good sport and an inspirational figure. And then – surprise – he ends up becoming the film’s villian. That is not a spoiler – nearly every trailer and tv ad had already spelled out very clearly that he’s the bad guy. The film goes through the trouble of setting up the switch, but it just doesn’t work because the entire audience already knows he’s a dick.

That really is my biggest complaint about the film – anything that might have been worth seeing had already been spoiled, thanks to the advertising. There really isn’t much more to see that can’t be predicted. From the trailers you already know Turbo dreams of being fast, gets his wish granted, gets found by some guy and introduced to a crew of racing snails, races in the Indy 500… And if you’ve seen any 5 average animated films from the last decade or so, you also know Turbo’s super-speed will eventually fail on him, but he’ll somehow manage to win the race without it, and maybe some sort of life-lesson will be learned along the way.

If anything, this film – or at least its epilogue – felt like it was paving the way for a tv show. Perhaps they should have skipped the high-budget feature, and produced a tv pilot instead. At least then its failure might not have been as much of a nut-punch to the studio.

As much as I didn’t care for the film, I felt it could have some redeeming value on video – I certainly have far worse films on my shelf as reference (looking at you, Ice Age series and Hotel Transylvania). After reading the short list of bonus features, I reconsidered this notion. Like the Croods before it, Turbo doesn’t appear to have any meaningful bonus features – no behind-the-scenes featurette (that doesn’t focus primarily on the voice talent); no “Animators’ Corner”, no audio commentary… Since Turbo and The Croods are the first Dreamworks films distributed by 20th Century Fox, I’m worried that this could be a pattern. On the other hand, this lack of extras has saved me from wasting money on an otherwise lackluster film.

Hands-on with the Surface Pro 2

If I could sum up the Surface Pro 2 in one word, it would have to be “disappointing”.

After purchasing the Surface and getting my software set up, I started to miss the simplicity of Sketchbook Pro on my Galaxy Note 10.1. One thing quickly became clear – the software I want to use isn’t designed for tablets. Maya and Zbrush weren’t so bad with screen scaling left at the default 150%. Photoshop, however, literally hurt my eyes – its UI looked absolutely tiny at 150%, smaller than Maya and Zbrush looked at 125%. A quick Google search revealed that Adobe’s software ignores Windows’ scaling.

At 10.6″, screen space is a commodity that cannot be wasted. As small as the UI elements seemed, they still took up too much valuable screen space. On a Cintiq, where you have a few programmable buttons, you could at least set up a hotkey to hide and unhide Photoshop’s UI, but the Surface only has one available hotkey – the pen’s side switch.

Pen accuracy was another issue – even after several attempts at calibration, the cursor always seemed to be slightly off from the tip of the pen, at least toward the center of the screen. It was slightly less accurate at the edges, but far worse at the corners. Even Wacom’s driver couldn’t fix this. The tiny UI elements didn’t help either.

And then there was a nasty bug when holding the tablet in portrait mode… seemingly at random, the cursor movement would be 90 degress off – moving the pen up would move the cursor right, right would move it down, and so on. I narrowed the problem down to the keyboard – the bug only seemed to happen if I was folding it behind the tablet. If the keyboard was forward or detached, the cursor moved properly.

I only had the Surface for a day before returning it. That’s how disappointed I was. The Cintiq Companion might be closer to what I’m looking for – larger screen, programmable buttons… But it’s also got a heftier price tag, and I worry that the screen may still be too small to work on comfortably. I’ve been waiting for years for a “perfect” artists’ tablet, I’ll just have to keep waiting.