Chasing the Light, Flash Fiction, Stories

A Step in the Dark

This piece was inspired by the following painting.

'In Manus Tuas, Domine' Briton Riviere (1879) Manchester Art Gallery

‘In Manus Tuas, Domine’ by Briton Riviere (1879)

The horse’s hooves trembled on the misty rocks. Their sheen bolted in crackling sounds as the white beast slid on the frost covered earth. 

‘Quiet Edmund!’ the knight on its back whispered.

His armour was untouched, with the emblem of a double headed eagle on his chest. His eyes were weary and talked of nights of restless contemplation. A blunt sword served him as a cross, blessing the dark chasm that opened at his feet. 

Three bloodhounds followed their master with reluctant whimpers. Their tense, muscular bodies urged the man to retreat from his imminent fate. The knight spurred the horse’s sore flanks. His breath stopped in his chest as his left arm lifted his father’s heater shield.  

In a loud cry he entered the dark cavern of twisted trees and thorn bushes. A pair of fiery eyes glimmered in the belly of the chasm. The hounds howled but dared not follow in their master’s steps. The breath of fire pierced the knight’s pale skin, as he looked into the eyes of the Vasan dragon.

The sword was flung with the precision of an arrow into the creature’s scaly heart. Its dark grey head crushed the ash covered trees around it. The rider slid off his horse, under the weight of his burning armour. The horse bolted into the morning light as the knight whispered his forgiveness. 

With his last breath, the knight took off his helmet to behold the beauty that emerged from the ashes. A diaphanous nymph crawled from underneath the dragon’s pitch black claws. She ran to her saviour with eerie footsteps and gave him a kiss as his soul departed his chest. 

‘May our love be renewed when the sun will set over this world,’ she whispered and walked out of the darkness in silence.

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Thoughts About Life

The Start of a Year in Manchester

It’s been two months since I moved to Manchester and I’ve already had two colds and a flu. I guess the colder weather and the interaction with students can do that to you. As you may or may not know, I had previously lived in Bath, the posh little Las Vegas of the UK. I moved up north to start a 12 month contract as a lecturer in Character Animation Techniques and 3D Character Development at Manchester Met.

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3D model created for one of my lectures.

Although I knew I was setting myself up for a big challenge, I accepted the offer anyway. The old saying goes that “Those that can’t do, teach.”, but I would like to change that to “Those who teach have to DO more.”, because they have to keep ahead of the students. So how has it been so far, you ask? Hard to say. I do enjoy the interaction with the students who are curious and ask questions, but find it difficult to connect with the ones that just want a good grade. I enjoy preparing slides, but dread spending my nights finishing them. I am excited by the idea of doing my own research, but hardly find the time to do it. 

Other than that, I’m experimenting with various aspects of teaching. For example, I included some storytelling and improv in my 3D Character Development class. Students were asked to sketch out characters and storyboard their journey. They then shared their creations with their peers. In my Character Animation Techniques class, we recorded students doing various types of silly/normal walks to use as reference for the walk cycle part of their coursework.   

I’d also like to add some thoughts on the city. It is slowly growing on me and I am starting to feel less lonely, as I’m spreading my net over improv jams and writing groups. The practical, industrial buildings of Manchester are mixed with Victorian neo-gothic, Baroque and more old fashioned architectural styles. The brick walls are darker, skies are greyer, men have more tattoos and talk funny (to me). The Christmas market, parks/squares like St. Peter’s Square or Whitworth Park, the museums that I still have to visit (eg. Alan Turing was here!) and last, but not least, The Peak District, which is close by, bring a smile on my face.

To conclude, as I sit here sniffing my nose and drinking my honey and lemon tea, I am prepared to embrace this year. I would like to put my creativity to work at this university and see what good comes of it. However, I am still skeptical of the academic system, and its business-minded view of the students. Grades, the fees students need to pay, my not-so-perfect content, the amount of material already available online, make me feel that the university system in general is failing slowly, if not becoming deprecated.

I strongly believe education needs restructuring. Creativity should be elevated through fear-free, grade-free environments, where minds can thrive. To this thought, I bring Sir Ken Robinson’s view on education. I imagine a world where knowledge and resources are shared, affordable, if not free, rather than bottled up and sold by a company/university for impossible sums of money. My view of education is the old fashioned Aristotle with his students discovering the mysteries of life and sleeping under the stars…with a thermal blanket…it’s really cold up north. Alas, I am but a (hungry) dreamer.

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Portugal, Traveling

5 Life Lessons from a few Surf Waves in Sagres

Surf Buddies

Great adventures build great friendships! (photo by some dude)

Was I always this scared? I remember roller skating down a massive hill in my home town and dodging cars when I was a kid. I remember falling off a high speed sleigh with my cousin, being dragged a few meters down from the impact and then laughing at each other with our noses filled with dirt and snow. When did I become so comfortable, that I found being safe is better than being alive? I’m not talking about putting yourself into dangerous situations, but about getting out of your comfort zone, pushing at your own boundaries a little at a time.

I’ve wanted to try surfing since watching Stoked on Cartoon Network as a kid. The Black Sea in Romania was always a great escape as a child, but it didn’t have surfing. Also, we could only afford to spend two weeks per year in its presence. After moving to England even swimming in the ocean became a challenge, since the water was so cold. I remember a freezing and tiring surf class in Bournemouth a few years back. It did, however, plant a seed of joy that I wanted to return to one day. This summer, that seed finally came out of the ground. I decided to change my strategy and go to a warmer climate to properly try out this seemingly unattainable sport.

Tonel Beach

Tonel Beach, Sagres, Portugal

I chose Sagres in the wild Algarve region of Portugal, at the recommendation of a friend (thanks Ingrid!). I went alone, not knowing what to expect except a lot of paddling, falling in the waves and hopefully standing on the board. The surf camp I went to was Wavesensations, with chief surf dude Nelson Silva. All the instructors there seemed super chilled, with a few teaching surfing as a passion summer job. They even had a surf dog that hates water, named Joao, but who is great at giving energy cuddles!

Bordeira Beach

Bordeira Beach, north of Sagres

Surfing Buddies

Surfing buddies from France, Switzerland, Spain and England.

The Longboard Van

Nelson getting the boards down from the rockin’ surf van.

Margaux and Joao

Joao giving Margaux (surfing buddy) an energy cuddle (photo by Ian)

I could talk about the beautiful beaches, the hippie town of Sagres, the friendships I’ve made, the freedom (and fear!) I felt in the ocean or even the joy of listening to rock songs on our way to the beach. I decided to choose 5 life lessons that all of those experiences taught me about being human. Surfing is not only beautiful due to its apparent simplicity, but because it is a metaphor for life. So here goes.

 

1. At the root we just want to be kids again

Kids are fearless because they don’t know they have boundaries. They walk full speed ahead in front of a monster wave and smile. They get their first pair of arm floats and paddle to the deepest part of the pool. As we grow older, society teaches us to be cautious and we lose some of that childlike courage. Surfing is a sport that revives our fearless inner child. It teaches letting go and enjoying the ride on the back of a friendly giant, the wave. It also makes us curious about the ocean, its rhythms, tides and winds. So I can say I experienced ocean science hands on and was a child of the waves for a little while.

Surf Babies

Surf babies at Tonel beach braving the waves.

 

2. Great adventures build great friendships

Being vulnerable with someone is the best bonding experience you can have on your adventures. Sure, at the beginning, everyone tries to seem cool and in control, but the ocean is so unpredictable that you have no choice but to be honest. ‘The waves look scary.’, ‘I hope we don’t hit those rocks.’ and ‘It feels like I’m in a washing machine.’ were things me and my surfing buddies passed around. These words and our shared experience of battling the waves and sometimes standing on their crests, spurred friendships that will be remembered forever.

Fun times with my surf buddies

Don’t forget to chill with your new friends in the evening! (Photo by some dude)

 

3. How you deal with the waves is how you deal with life

After 5 years of doctorate I must admit my confidence has decreased more than it has increased. And since our outwards behaviour is deeply linked with what’s going on inside, this was the first observation I got from my instructor, ‘Be a bit more confident about what you want.’ Wow, he nailed it on the head there! I realized I had no idea of what I was looking at when seeing a wave. I was also passive, saying, ‘Nah, maybe the next one.’ But this is exactly how we treat opportunities in life! They come in waves and we don’t even try to pursue them!

Once I managed to stand on the board, the next pointer was, ‘Why do you jump so soon?’. Instead of doing my best to balance on the board and take the bumpy ride, I preferred jumping off, just in case it doesn’t work out. This is so much like the fear of failure we experience in life! The scary thing is not taking the opportunity, but sticking with it for as long as the ride lasts.

Vehicles for Opportunities

Wavesensations 8 foot longboards or vehicles for opportunities!

 

4. Hesitation makes you sink

Surfing is about the (technical) details more than it is about your strength. Every wave is different, your weight will never be in the exact same place and even the tiniest forward tilt in your board can result in a nose dive. A split second of hesitation is very likely to result in just another wipeout. But if that moment is used to rebalance, to move forward with confidence, you’ll be standing in no time!

This is a metaphor for so many life experiences! Just like Peter, when he hesitated while walking on the water towards Christ, we find ourselves sinking in our doubts. In improv theatre if your body wants to move it means you should have moved already! If you don’t jump on stage, the moment passes and a new scene needs to be built. In life, we let moments of hesitation deny us meaningful journeys. Have you never regretted not asking for that phone number from your crush before catching the bus?

Me acting cool

Make sure you don’t sink 😛

 

5. Be a pillar of strength so that others may grow

I’ve always liked learning. A lot of my passion for knowledge came from inspiring teachers who love what they do. We were lucky enough to have one of those teachers for our surf classes. Nelson didn’t give us time to be afraid and reassured us when we looked anxious. ‘All good?’ he used to say to wake us up from our thoughts. He put us between himself and the waves, although it was risky for him, but safer for us. If you teach, be more like Nelson! If you don’t teach, love what you do and others will follow!

Nelson the man, the legend

Nelson, our very cool surf instructor.

So next time you’ve had too much office time, remember life should be more outdoors than indoors. Nature is our natural element as human beings. Travel, meet people, surf some waves if you get the chance! See what they teach you about your own life. Don’t forget to take it all in at your own pace and enjoy the ride, wherever it may take you!

Bye Bye Tonel Beach

Bye bye Tonel beach, you beauty!

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My Little Adventures, Poetry

The Little Surfer

Waves crash against my heart
With the strength of a hundred voices
From the deepest ocean part
Giving me strength to make bold choices.

My nimble limbs hang onto thee,
Oh smallest of all ships of man
And though you bruise and twist my knee
You take me safely to dry land.

A wave is like a thousand tales,
With many plots and twists and turns
Some raised with offshore veils,
Others bold from ground swell storms.

The captain of the ships stands strong,
With the whole sea against his chest
‘Don’t be afraid to get it wrong.’
He gives us courage when we rest.

Why do we ride the waves?
Are we worthy of their strength?
We can’t tame them, only gaze
How our spirits bind at length.

Now I sit here, on this train,
Filled with bruises, cuts and burns
But the biggest wound of all
Is leaving heaven at Sagres.

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Animation, Character Essences, Research & Coding

Character Essences Begins

After a few years of improv theatre, animation research and coding I think it’s time to begin my dream project. Character Essences will combine theatre techniques of character creation with traditional and procedural animation. Drawing on character archetypes from Commedia dell’arte and the physical theatre methods of Jacque le Coque and Rudolf Laban, the main focus is to find movement parameters (constants and variables) that define well established characters.

Once the parameters of movement have been identified, they can be manipulated to create a large variety of characters procedurally. The uses include video game automated character generation, extra characters in films and autonomous robot movements. One of the goals is also to simplify movement patterns without the need for large data sets like in machine learning. My belief is that by focusing on the intrinsics, rather than the extrinsics of character movement one can better identify the corresponding building blocks.

Characters can range from simple primitive models to animals and humans. Early experiments included Expressing Emotions Through Mathematical Functions (see description HERE) for primitive models. I found that combinations of fast, sinusoidal movements can create the illusion of joy in spheres and cubes, for example. These observations are linked more to psychology and to the Heider-Simmel experiment. If human emotion can be identified in such simple entities, surely adding a recognizable shape to the character (eg. biped, quadruped) will produce more relatable experiences with the observer. Let the adventure begin!

Keywords: Archetypes, procedural animation, psychology, biomechanics, equations, theatre, characters

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Chasing the Light, Chasing the Light Poetry, Poetry

The Invisible King

Light, light of the heavens above,
Where shinest thou, we are bare of love.
Light that fillest the earth,
Invisible king of wisdom, give birth
To hearts that will lead us on the path
Which shows a calling we had before wrath,

Darkness approaches but we are aflame,
Hiding our voices in the howlin rain,
Our minds bring words to search for your face,
But our hearts sculpt your likeness in the hidden place
You are forever silent but we know how you speak,
Holding the keys to the kingdom we seek.

(From Voice Mountain and Chasing the Light)

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Chasing the Light Poetry, Poetry

They Speak of Truth

Christ my Lord, my love, my truth,
In my heart you are forever king,
But people try to lock your voice
In endless chains of suffering.

They speak of virtue, art and meaning,
But are afraid to speak Your name
They seek the light and softly mould their words,
And drown Thy presence in names of fame.

I ache, for I have been transformed,
Through crafts of men that seek the truth,
My friend, it is not you that brightens up the day
But thy eternal Father, who brings you youth.

So I must speak…Christ, Christ, Christ!
The sweetest Word in all the world,
I need not movement nor technique
To weep in silence at Your feet.

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