Formal and Polite, Poetry

The Interview

Mr. Perkings is quite glad,
This could be the job he had
Were he rich and educated
At top schools that man created.

He puts on a long blue tie,
Shines his shoes with deep dark dye,
Perkings likes his long grey beard
Bank Deadend likes them quite sheared.

‘Good afternoon, you must be Mr. Perk!’
‘Perkings ma’am’, he gave a smirk,
Mr. Banks will see you soon,
Have a seat in the saloon.

As he sat on a small chair,
A dozen others turned to stare,
They were dressed the same as him
With a tie and chin quite trim.

One was counting notes with speed,
Another stacking coins with greed,
Perkings had nothing to count
That could add to some amount.

‘Perkings!’, ‘Yes sir! I am here,
Of assistance with great cheer!’
He then stepped through a grey door
Of an office with grey floor.

‘I can see from your CV,
You can count to level three.’
‘I worked hard, sir, to become,
Through this job a level one!’

Mr. Banks gave him one glance,
From his dyed shoes to his hands.
‘We want at least a level two,
Don’t call us, sir, we’ll call you.’

(From  Formal and Polite)

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Chasing the Light, Chasing the Light Poetry, Poetry

The Keeper of Light

The Keeper of light and all that is good,
Brought life to the faces sculpted in wood.
His breath is like fire, deep from the Earth,
Scorching the makings of inferior birth.

He sees not only the sharp witted mind,
But delves deeper his treasure to find.
For thoughts are mere shadows of a higher art,
Crafted and shouting from deep in the heart.

(From Voice Mountain and Chasing the Light)

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Chasing the Light, Stories, Thoughts About Life, Traveling

Lost in the Forest of Dean

Silence never felt so deep and yet, I was not alone. I looked up at the haunting sway of trees, their branches both sheltering and menacing me. A gun was shot in the heart of the forest. My heart stopped for a moment. My flee from the Dean’s castle had not gone unnoticed. But I could not marry this shadow of a man. He who had lurked in darkness, watching his own men die on the battlefield.

trees

I knew a place where I would be safe, The Speech House. The lady of the house would surely host me and send my pursuers away. I stepped over the moss covered branches, pressing them deeper into the mud. My feet were cold and wet, but eager to make haste. The sky was on the brink of sunset and I seemed to have lost my way.

A crow hissed a warning as I got closer to its nest. I took that as an omen to turn away. How long had I been running for? Hours, perhaps, but they weighed on me like days. At last I could see the welcoming lights of the manor house on top of a hill. The statue of a stag watched over me as I squelched my way up the hill. I could hear hushed voices amongst the trees.

My dress got hooked by a thorny branch. I turned to untangle it. My eyes filled with fright at the sight of four men with their hunting dogs on thick leather leads. As I forced myself free I could hear the sound of the leads being set loose. With the last bit of breath I flung myself over the massive oak doors of the Speech House. They were locked! ‘Let me in!’ I cried. The dogs were almost at my feet, their growls drew nearer with every pound on the door. I covered my face in anticipation of a fierce encounter.

*

The doors of the bus open. I have been waiting in the snow covered night for half an hour in front of The Speech House, in the Forest of Dean. ‘Are you going to Coleford and then Gloucester?’ I ask the driver, a young man, not more than twenty two. ‘Yes, there are no other buses coming this way.’ ‘You saved me!’ I say. ‘I would have been stuck here for the night if it wasn’t for you.’ I get in, shivering from head to toe. At least I can get home now. What an adventure it was!

 

 

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Animation

Tippy Tappy’s First Steps

Tippy is a tap dancer and is moving to the big city of Shuffelsville for his studies. You can follow his story in the storyboards section of my animation site here. Now I’m working on modelling, rigging and animating a few of his moves in Maya. Here he is taking his first steps, with his controllers on top.

Tippy Tappy’s First Steps (Neutral Walk) from Anamaria Ciucanu on Vimeo.

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Chasing the Light, Stories, Three Bridges

Three Bridges

‘Grandpa Ioan might not be with us for much longer.’ These words pounded in Peter’s mind as he struggled to get his train ticket to open the barrier gates. A wrinkly conductor watched him from under a pair of square spectacles.

‘Wait a minute, boy!’ he began gravely after Peter had snatched his violet ticket from the other side. ‘How old are you?’

‘Fourteen.’ Peter gulped and slowly raised on his toes.

‘Are you – really?’ the conductor squinted and shuffled slowly towards him as if wearing slippers.

Peter stood firm on his toes, trying to appear larger in his oversized wool coat. His chestnut hair curled as a steam engine puffed its way into Blue District station. Peter’s dark brown eyes turned towards the seven carriages that followed.  

‘Let’s see your age card.’ the wrinkly conductor demanded and placed a heavy hand on the boy’s right shoulder.

Peter tapped and searched his pockets with the air of a businessman. Frantic crowds of well dressed grown ups surrounded the rusty entrances of the train. The green paint cracked as a round passenger opened the first carriage door. A dozen more grown ups, some with children, followed.

‘I don’t have it.’ Peter said in desperation. He watched the passengers swirl through the train doors like water in a sink.

‘You’re not allowed on this train, by the underage decree of Queen Avrig the Barren!’ the conductor coughed with content, as if finishing a speech. He then turned to a younger conductor who had just arrived for his morning shift.

‘Charlie’ he said, his hand tight on Peter’s shoulder, ‘take this boy back to his care house.’

Peter’s breath rose quickly, similar to the frantic ashes bursting out of the whistling chimney. He sprung from under the conductor’s grip. The wheels screeched, pushing the giant metal train forward. ‘Pedal faster!’ Peter’s mind bellowed as he ran across the platform. He remembered his grandfather teaching him how to cycle. ‘Pedal so you don’t lose your courage!’

Peter grasped the handle from the last carriage door and leapt inside. The two conductors were left waving furiously on the platform. The boy sighed heavily, but cautiously as he hoped no one had noticed his abrupt entrance.

The carriage seemed empty. It was padded with lacquered wood boards and smelt of pine. A small grey stove puffed slowly, in time with the train. Its zig zag funnel had colourful crystals hanging from it, on wool threads. Peter walked towards the stove, admiring the silk embroidered cushions on the seats. The chairs were made of solid oak, with curved handles and wave-like backrests. Golden plates with engraved names shone from their tops.

Peter’s heart jolted. In a far away corner of the carriage, he saw an old lady dressed in pink and white furs. She was knitting what looked like an old fashioned scarf with flower motifs. She gave Peter a quick glance as he quietly sat next to the fireplace. He suddenly remembered something and searched his pockets. The old lady croaked as Peter took out his violet train ticket.     

‘That’s Lord Fagurash’s seat, my boy.’ she said calmly. ‘Come here, in Lord Petal’s seat. He won’t be travelling with us any time soon.’

Peter obeyed, fighting his anxiety in silence. As he sat facing the old lady, he noticed a golden ring with the word “Privilege” on her right hand. They were both quiet for an uncomfortably long time.

‘My name is Lady Daria Petal’ she began after a while, ‘daughter of Lord Rosemund Petal II, in whose place you are seated.’

‘I am Peter Arinis, ma’am, pleased to meet you.’

‘You must be one of the care home children.’ she said matter-of-factly.

Peter lowered his head, but said nothing. Lady Petal smiled and opened her purse. She took out an old letter with a golden wax seal on it. She opened it easily, as the seal had been torn, and took out a set of green and violet tickets, similar to the one Peter had.

‘You must be rich!’ the boy gasped in amazement, leaning towards Lady Petal.

‘My parents were.’ she sighed. ‘Now there is not much need for their money, I have my own.’

‘Did you get to spend a lot of time with your parents then?’ Peter asked with anticipation.

‘Too little time, my dear boy. You only realize what you had after you lose it. I see that you know the value of time well spent.’ she ended with a bittersweet smile.

‘My parents work very hard to send me a green ticket every now and then. I miss them most of the time, but when a ticket comes, I can go and see them and that is all that matters.’

‘You visit them, but you should let them come to you. I believe fourteen is the visiting age for the Green District? At least that is the impression the conductor gave me when he held you hostage just now?’

She gave a high pitched laugh which erupted as abruptly as it stopped a few seconds after. Peter paused for a few seconds and then replied. ‘I am ten and a half and my parents can scarcely spare any time. They are very busy in the Green District. I know my way around well enough by now!’ he concluded with the air of a well established grown up.

‘I need to get to the Violet District, though, by sunset.’ he then whispered in one long breath. ‘My father wrote that grandpa Ioan is very unwell.’ Lady Petal gave him a long stare and sighed.

‘You disapprove?’ he noticed.

‘No,  but I do recall that children can’t visit the Violet District alone.’ she grinned. ‘I suspect your parents knew that when they sent you the ticket?’

‘They didn’t send me the ticket.’ Peter admitted bashfully. ‘My father’s salary isn’t due until the end of the month. That is usually when they send tickets to our child care house. Lady Footstool is good to us and gives us our tickets even if we are smaller than the legal age for visits.’ Peter sniffed a couple of times and then gave Lady Petal a quick glance.

‘You stole it!’ she rang.

‘I…borrowed it, from Henry Hayworth. He owned me one.’ Peter resolved with higher spirits. ‘I didn’t tell on him when he…well I can’t tell you. So now he’ll just tell his parents he lost his ticket. Now, we’re square.’

‘I see.’ Lady Petal stretched her legs and put her knitting aside.

‘Are you disappointed?’ Peter asked humbly.

‘No. I just wish I had had your courage a long time ago.’

‘Did you lose someone?’

‘Yes.’ she replied curtly, looking at the golden name shining above Peter’s head. ‘My grandfather actually. He was more like a father than a grandfather to me. I never knew my father, well not the real Rosemund Petal II, anyway. He was always too busy with his perfume business. He also didn’t let me see grandpapa before taking him to the Grey District.’

The train whistled wildly as it entered a deep valley covered with birch trees. Their golden and red leaves burnt brightly against the dark grey clouds. Soon they were replaced by a hill of stumps and waste. The train turned and out of the smoke stained windows Peter could see the tall metal buildings of the Green District. Dark green pipes encircled them, with their mouths pouring out white smoke and ash.

The train stopped in front of a large golden gate. Beyond it Peter could see a manor house shaped like a round bottle. Its roof was pointy and had a pink cloud hanging over it. A strong scent of rose and lemon came in through the carriage door as it was opened from the outside.

‘This is me!’ Lady Petal rang joyfully.

‘Wait!’ Peter cried. ‘What is the Grey District?’

‘You can just sit on that chair until the Violet district. Feel free to take one of my patron crystal rocks from the stove. That will be proof that you are under my protection today.’

‘Thank you ma’am. But what is it ma’am? The Grey District?’ he ran to the door to hear her answer.

Lady Petal was helped down the steps by two stern looking valets. Her frilly pink and white dress made wavelike patterns as she descended. She then turned towards Peter. ‘I hope you never find out.’ The door closed with a loud thud.

(…)  

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Research & Play

MIG18 in Cyprus

I wake up at 6am with the sound of a mandolin in my ears. Russian voices can be heard from next door. I turn in my bed thinking ‘For a five star hotel, they don’t have thick enough walls.’ I finally get up and look outside, ‘but they do have a five star view.’

morningView

View from my room at St. Raphael

This is how my first day in Limassol started, at St. Raphael’s hotel, with a spectacular view and russians playing the mandolin. The sea looked so inviting, but I spent most of the day preparing my presentation. ‘Ah, this is torture, but it must be done.’

Although I’m in my natural element walking around the stage pretending to be a pirate and giving orders to my ship mates, I don’t like presentations, at least not formal ones. I guess I haven’t convinced myself yet that although people may judge, they really want you to succeed. I didn’t know what to expect from the conference I was about to attend, I just knew that the mustard suit my mum made me buy would be like a kangaroo sticking out from a flock of sheep.

The next day (08/11/2018) was the first day of MIG18 (ACM Siggraph’s Motion, Interaction in Games conference). I was in limbo state, not too nervous, not too calm. I went to the sea to rest my thoughts, as the sun was slowly lifting its head over the morning sky. My room card had stopped working by the time I got back from the sea and a light breakfast. Reception quickly sorted it, but it was 8:30 and I had to dress up for my presentation at 9:00. Guess what? The maid was in the room, making my bed. ‘Erm, do you mind if I change in the bathroom.’ I said, holding my mustard suit, which had been dry cleaned the previous day.

It turned out I didn’t have to hurry so much, Prof. Nadia Magnenat Thalmann wanted to swap presentations with me, since she had a plane to catch. It’s funny that she presented exactly what I wanted to hear: a way of classifying (salsa) dancing using simple motion features. Yes, salsa can be decomposed into simple patterns of movement, emotions can be decomposed into action features. What else can be simplified and understood about the human nature? What are the invariants to human perception as Rogelio Cardona-Rivera implied in his wonderful keynote on The Science of Game Design. I go deeper and ask myself, what are the simple patterns of movement that unite us all, that move us to tears, that enhance our empathy towards one another. Can we use technology to understand such patterns and, subsequently, understand one another?

Machine learning is the hot topic of the day (for how long I wonder). It also was ridden all over the conference, with topics like Data-driven Autocompletion for Keyframe Animation by Xinyi Zhang et. al,  Physics-based Motion Capture Imitation with Deep Reinforcement Learning by Chentanez et. al, two very good key notes on ML by Daniel Holden and Jungdam Won etc. Although my initial attitude towards ML was skepticism, I must confess I finally saw what all the fuss is about. If my interest is to understand behaviour from the intrinsics of a character outwards, ML was doing the opposite.  Since capturing the complexities of human nature in a closed form equation is virtually impossible, why not humbly understand its approximations by analyzing as many people as can fit in a database? Yes, I’ll think more about it…

Now for some cheese:

The number of surprises was endless, but I’ll just mention a few wonderful events and people that made my experience at the conference worthwhile. I loved how friendly everyone was, people really were curious and wanted to help eachother out. The organizers, Panayiotis Charalambous, Yiorgos Chrysanthou, Ben Jones and Jehee Lee were very welcoming and down to earth, always making sure we were having a good time. I loved Matthias Muller’s keynote on Physics Based Dynamics. I realized I had quoted him in my thesis as he was awkwardly receiving a fertility totem as a thank you gift for his talk.

I was humbled and happy to meet the charming, smart, warm and confident Xinyi, Athomas, Bea, Anastasia, David, Usman, Luis, Loic, Daniel, Philipp, Dario, Yuri, Jason and many, many others :). Sorry I haven’t managed to talk to everyone!

mig2018

MIG18 people (picture taken from MIG18 Facebook Page)

 

Last but not least, the day out in Nicosia and the two amazingly cypriot dinners really got everyone to socialize and loosen up. Do I even need to mention the cypriot dancing? It was nice to see people volunteer and do curious glass balancing or oversimplified zorba moves around the restaurant. It was funny that every type of dance had some form of courtship: courting in the wheat field, courting by the well, showing off glass balancing in front of the young bride to be :))

glasspeople

Traditional cypriot glass balancing.

 

Our Nicosia tour guide reminded me of a confident cypriot granny who knows exactly what to put in her meze dishes. She walked us around Nicosia and shared the city’s disputed history. Probably the most haunting moment was when we saw the green line wall separating the greek and turkish cypriots. The police there seemed friendly enough, however, which gives me hope. I loved the quaint, narrow streets with fairy lights illuminating the pavement, the local crafts shops and the friendly people around. It was nice to see young people trying to revive the old market place with art.

All in all, MIG18 in Cyprus was awesome and I hope to come again! Thank you for the adventure!

 

greenwall

Green line wall between the greek and turkish cypriot sides of Nicosia.

police

Green line wall police seem ok. 🙂

guide

Our Nicosia tour guide.

wax

Local wax crafts shop.

coolkids

The cool kids in the local market in Nicosia.

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