Zoic Presents: The Creatures of ‘Fringe’ – Part 2

Originally published on I Design Your Eyes on 12/24/09.

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This is second part of a two-part interview with Zoic Studios senior compositor Johnathan R. Banta, about creatures designed for the Fox sci-fi drama Fringe. Be sure to read part one.

The Lionzard (from episode 1:16, “Unleashed”)

In this first-season episode, anarchists opposed to animal testing ransack a research laboratory, but get more than they bargain for when they unleash a ferocious transgenic creature. Later, Walter faces off against the creature in the sewers.

Banta says, “It was a lion-lizard combination, a chimera of a bunch of different creatures created in a lab. This also went through the ZBrush pipeline. There were no maquettes done for this particular one.

“This was a full-digital creature; luckily it did not interact too tightly with any of the actors. It was rigged up and had a muscle system that allowed for secondary dynamics. The textures and displacement maps were painted locally. There was some post lighting to add extra slime, with everything done inside the composite.

“It was actually very straightforward in its approach. The challenge of course was getting it to be lit properly and integrated in the shot. Compositing was a heavy challenge, as there was lot of haze on the set, a lot of lens flares – not direct flares, but gradients from different lights and so forth. We did our best to match the color space of the original photography. I think it was very effective.

“Another challenge was the bits of slime; it had to have slobber coming off of it. So we actually shot some practical elements; we did some digital cloth elements, a combination of things.”

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The Hand (from episode 1:12, “The No-Brainer”)

A seventeen-year-old is working at his computer and chatting on the phone, when a mysterious computer program executes. Strange images flash before his eyes, and the teen is drawn in, mesmerized. Something protrudes from the middle of the screen and impossibly takes the form of a hand. The unearthly appendage reaches forward without warning and grasps his face.

Banta explains: “This boy spends a little too much time on the computer, and a hand reaches out of the computer, grabs his face, and begins to jostle him around and melt his brain. Which is not unlike my experience as a youth.

“We made a series of maquettes and we photographed them, just different positions of the hand coming out; and we composited them into a couple of shots. At the same time the animation was being worked on in CG, so we could start previsualizing it and then composite it.

“A cloth simulation was used for the screen. The hand was coming out, and we would create several different morph targets based on that cloth simulation. There was a bone rig in there, so we could animate it grabbing the kid’s head. That’s some very effective work, especially when projecting the textures on. The side view of the hand coming out of the monitor is one of my favorite shots.

“What they had on set was a monitor made of plastic, and a greenscreen fabric with a slot in it [where the screen would be] – and they had some poor guy in a greenscreen suit shove his hand through and grab the kid on the head, and the kid wiggled around.

“So we had to paint back and remove the actor, whenever he was touching the kid; otherwise we would use a clean plate. But whenever he was touching the young actor, we would remove that hand and replace it.

“They were also flashing an interactive light on the young actor that was not accurate to what we were rendering. When the hand got close it would actually light up his face, because the hand was illuminated with television images. So we came up with a way of match-moving his animation, and using that to relight his performance. We had to match his animation for the hand to interact with him, but we also used that match move to relight his performance.“

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The Tentacle Parasite (from episode 2:09, “Snakehead”)

A wet, shivering man frantically combs the streets of Boston’s Chinatown. Gaining refuge, he suffers incredible stomach pains. His rescuer puts on heavy gloves and uses shears to cut his shirt away. The man’s abdomen is distended and wriggling as something crawls around inside him. A squid-like parasite crawls out of the man’s mouth, and rescuer retrieves it.

“Recently we just did yet another thing coming out of a poor guy’s mouth,” Banta says. “This time it wasn’t just nice little potato-shaped slug — it was long and tentacled, had sharp bits and just looked pretty nasty to have shoved down your throat.”

But there was an additional challenge on this effect. “You were seeing the creature moving underneath the actor’s skin; the actor’s shirt was off, and he was wiggling around on the ground as he probably would if this were happening, like a dead fish. He was shifting all over the place, his skin was moving all over the place, and we had to actually take full control of that.

“So we did match move. We went to our performance transfer system, which essentially takes tracking information from the original plate and assigns is to the match move. There are no specific camera set-ups; it’s just whatever they give us, and we grab every bit of information from the plate that we can, and use that to modify the 3D performances. These were then projected onto animation that we used to distend the belly and so forth, and up into the throat.

“The creature had 18 tentacles. Ray Harryhausen, when he did an octopus, decided to take two of the tentacles off, because he wouldn’t have to animate those, it would take less time. We didn’t have that luxury. There was no way to procedurally animate these things, and it had to interact with the guy’s face. So we had the exact same challenge we had with the slug coming out of the mouth, that we had to take this actor and pull his face apart as well, and make his lips go wider. But this actor was moving a lot more, so the performance transfer and animation tracking was more challenging.

But I’m very pleased with the results. We used fabric simulations for the different bits of slime again.

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Razor Butterflies (from episode 1:09, “The Dreamscape”)

A young executive arrives late to give a presentation. After he has finished and the boardroom empties, he collects his things, and spots a butterfly. It alights on his finger — and unexpectedly cuts him. The insect flutters by his neck — and cuts him again. After attacking a few more times, the creature disappears into an AC vent. The man peers into the vent just as a swarm of butterflies pours out. They surround him, cutting him all over his body — he runs in a mad panic, crashing through a plate glass window and falling to his death.

Banta says, “We tracked every camera in the scene and laid it out into one common environment, so we could reuse any lighting in any point in the scene. That gave us the ability to put the flock of razor-winged butterflies into the appropriate spot.

“A big challenge on its own was volume — controlling and dictating the flocking behavior, so the swarm would follow the actor, intersect with him in the appropriate parts and not intersect in others, and eventually chase him through the window where the would fall to his horrible demise.

“There was one close-up of a butterfly resting on his finger — it flew into frame and landed, it was brilliant – that was pretty straightforward in its execution. More often than not the hard part was controlling the sheer number of flocking butterflies, especially given our standard turnaround time.”

Banta is thrilled to be creating otherworldly monsters for JJ Abrams’ Fringe. “I like doing these creatures; I hope we get to do more!”

Read Part 1

Zoic Presents: The Creatures of ‘Fringe’ – Part 1

Originally published on I Design Your Eyes on 12/22/09.

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Part 2 of this post is now available.

Now in its second season, the Fox Network’s science fiction drama Fringe tells the story of three paranormal investigators for the FBI’s “Fringe Division” in Boston. Created by veteran television producer and feature film director JJ Abrams (Felicity, Alias, Lost; Star Trek), the cult favorite features a variety of bizarre and otherworldly creatures, many created with the help of Zoic studios.

Zoic senior compositor Johnathan R. Banta sat down with IDYE to discuss the creation of some of these monsters. His previous credits include Quarantine, The X Files: I Want to Believe, John Adams and V.

The Heartbug (from episode 1:07, “In Which We Meet Mr. Jones”)

johnathanbanta_300x400In this episode, a strange, other-worldly parasite mysteriously attaches itself to the internal organs of an FBI agent. The creature wraps itself around the man’s heart, and surgery must be performed to attempt to remove it.

Banta says, “We received artwork from production, done by a very good illustrator; and I set about making a maquette of the creature for two reasons. One, because it would help us understand what the form was — it was hard to figure it out from all the drawings, because in the multiple views we didn’t quite see how it meshed together at first. And secondly, it was fun. I just wanted to sculpt something and this seemed to be a prime opportunity for it.

“A couple of people did versions of it, one in [Luxology] modo, one in [Pixologic] ZBrush, just to kind of play around — they weren’t actually anything we used. The final model was made by [Zoic artist] Mike Kirylo.”

A great deal of work was done to allow the creature to move along with the beating heart. Scans of an actual beating human heart, provided by Zygote Media as a morph sequence, were used. “Mike had to figure out how to attach this creature to the heart,” Banta says, “and as it pulsated he would have a ‘softness’ in-between each of the hard shell [segments]. So there’s the hard carapace of the creature, and the soft squishy connective bits. Mike said he was able to find a way to make the bones between the different sections scale as the heart was beating. That way it stayed connected without being stretched.”

Everything we see inside the man’s chest is CG. “They had a prop on set that was over the top of an actor. Oddly enough, it was not in the place where the heart would actually be accessed. So for a wide shot we actually had to cut the actor down by a third of his original height, so that the hole would be in the appropriate spot to get to his heart. But for the close-ups it didn’t really matter. It was a piece of foam rubber with green paint inside of it, and we keyed that out and continued it into the cavity; and put in CG guts and an odd-shaped little bug.”

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The Virus Slug (from episode 1:11, “Bound”)

In a lecture hall at Boston College, a biology professor gives a lecture about pathogens. In mid-sentence, he begins to choke and falls over. While his teaching assistant watches in horror, the professor’s throat becomes enlarged, and what looks like a massive slug crawls out of his open mouth. As the slimy creature slithers across the floor, students flee the hall in a panic.

Banta explains: “It’s a super-sized cold virus – a giant squishy slug with little cilia across its surface. This thing pulled itself out of his mouth, flopped onto the floor and squished away as quick as it could. It’s quite disgusting, and was played for dinnertime theater.

“It was a fairly simple model – a slug with a couple of things sticking out of it. But it had to maintain its volume and look like it was a rubbery object moving around, so there was a lot of finessing in the animation. We didn’t use any form of volume-preserving algorithms — other than Mike Kirylo — so it was all based on a really good animator.

“But the [professor’s] face was the interesting portion of it. This slug is rather large, and begins to distend his throat and pull his face into contorted positions that it wasn’t in originally, as the actor just basically laid there and flopped his head over to the side.

“We had to do an exact match move of the actor. We used our performance transfer system; projected the footage frame-for-frame onto our digital actor; and then we had the ability to push him around anywhere we needed to. Add a little bit of clever compositing, and next thing you know there’s a creature coming out of this man’s mouth.

“His movements were not tracked on stage — no tracking markers on him. They were tracked in post and match moved. Basically, we used every bit of detail that was available on his skin. Unfortunately, most actors don’t have very bad complexions.

“That’s something we’ve been doing a lot of, actually — digital makeup [for Fringe]. That all plays into what we’re doing with the creatures, because most of the time they are interacting directly with humans. They’re not just in the room walking around; they are becoming, or coming out of, or in some way touching people, for the most part.”

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Porcuman (from episode 1:13, “The Transformation”)

In an airliner bathroom, a man shudders in pain as a hideous transformation begins. His teeth start falling out — then he screams in agony as giant quills pierce through the back of his shirt. The passengers on the plane react when the bathroom door splinters and a hideous, inhuman beast bursts into the cabin.

Banta: “This man on an airplane should learn not to experiment on himself; as a result he turns into a giant porcupine creature which brings the airplane down.

“It was in very few shots. It is originally modeled in ZBrush and Maya; we import the model, and it is rigged by our animation department and put through its paces. We run the standard passes that you would expect – diffuse, specular, ambient occlusion, fill passes, indirect lighting, those kinds of things, so that we can integrate it in the composite.

“A lot of times we’ll do what is called ‘RGB lighting,’ where every three lights will be either a prime red, a prime green, or a prime blue; and that way we have a lighting matte in every single render that we can use to do some tweaks in the composite. Also, since we’re getting normals rendered from our passes, we can use a plug-in from RE:Vision Effects to re-light the object. Whatever lighting passes that the CG department was not able to get to can be generated at the end.”

Banta notes that because of the nature of the effect, very little of the transformation involves practical, on-set elements. “This is all post at this point. They shoot it as if the creature were there — they just shoot it very naturally.

“Now that [Fringe has] a make-up crew that is known for doing creature work, there is a lot more practical stuff being done. But we have to exactly, precisely match with the practical elements when we do the CG. There are things that practical does so much better than we can do, and vice versa. It’s an all-in equation for me, because whatever works best, works best. There’s something about having a light bouncing off of a card onto a person on set holding this thing, which just gives it a sense of reality that we have to try to recreate.

“Porcuman was a combination of digital makeup with practical elements. It was a close interaction. During the transformation scene, we have a medium shot of the back, and then cut to a tight close-up of the shirt ripping as these giant porcupine spines come through it. They had an inflatable balloon on the back of the actor for the shirt; so we tracked that inflatable balloon; used our performance transfer to get that onto the back of the creature; and then animated spines coming out, and composited that underneath his shirt, which had a greenscreen on it.

“We had to do some warping of the cloth to get it to line up to the actual geometry of the creature. Then for the close-up of the shirt, instead of using the photography directly, we went with a cloth simulation of the shirt, and animated the spines. But we took sections of the torn cloth from the actual photography, and used those to sell that the tear is ripping a piece of fabric. This is a good example where something done practically pays off in spades, because we could just grab that tearing fabric and place it on each of the individual spines, and save ourselves a lot of simulation time.

Read Part 2!

The 50 Laws of Science Fiction Physics

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Inspired by such mainstays of geek humor as The Laws of Cartoon Physics and The Laws of Anime Physics, I have assembled the following 50 Laws of Science Fiction Physics.

This list was in part inspired by my previous post, Tired Sci-Fi Tropes That Must Be Retired.

Law of Selective Gravitation: All artificial bodies in space generate an internal gravitational field, equal to one gee, with “down” defined as the “bottom” of the body; this gravitational field somehow terminates exactly at the outer hull of the body, even if it is irregularly shaped.

First Law of Gravitational Irrelevance: a spacecraft may travel from a planet’s surface into space in the same manner in which an airplane gains altitude, ignoring the need to achieve escape velocity.

Second Law of Gravitational Irrelevance: a spacecraft may fly directly towards or away from a planet or other large celestial body, ignoring the fact that objects in space must describe elliptical orbits about each other.

Law of Inertial Dampening: No matter how much kinetic energy is directed at an inhabited body (in space or on a planet), the resulting disruption will be enough to jostle the inhabitants and cause minor structural damage – nothing more or less.

Law of User Interface Equivalence: When a spacecraft or space station takes damage to any structural component, the computer screen or workstation used to monitor that structure from the bridge or engineering center will explode.

Law of Ethical Xenopolymorphism: While malevolent aliens come in many forms, beneficent aliens are always humanoid.

Law of Sexual Xenopolymorphism: Humanoid alien females will always have mammalian secondary sexual characteristics (breasts, wide hips, full sensual lips), even if they are non-mammalian (lizard, avian, piscine, insectoid, etc.).

Newton’s Fourth Law of Motion: In space, constant thrust equals constant velocity.

Kubrick’s Law of Motion in Microgravity: all motion in a “zero gravity” or microgravity environment will take place at 22% of the speed it would occur at sea level; this applies to animate persons as well as inanimate objects.

Exception to Kubrick’s Law of Motion in Microgravity: persons in a “zero gravity” or microgravity environment may speak at normal speed.

Allen’s Law of Motion in Microgravity: objects freely floating in a “zero gravity” or microgravity environment will behave as if suspended from a transparent thread within a full gravity environment.

Law of Sound in a Vacuum: Despite the lack of a medium for transmission, sound will travel in a vacuum, with precisely the same properties as in the Earth’s atmosphere at sea level.

First Law of Combustibility: Anything important – spaceships, planets, robots – explodes when it is critically damaged, whether any combustible material is present or not.

Second Law of Combustibility: When anything explodes, the mass of the resulting ejecta will be less than 2% of the object’s original mass; the remainder of the mass ceases to exist.

Third Law of Combustibility: When objects explode in space, all matter that makes up the object comes to a complete stop relative to the observer, whatever its previous velocity. The explosion will then expand in an equal sphere away from the point where the object stopped.

Fourth Law of Combustibility: All objects that explode in space produce a discrete ring that expands ahead of the main shock wave; this is a fundamental principle of Aesthetic Physics.

Fifth Law of Combustibility: The shock wave of an explosion is confined to the visible fiery ball of the explosion; and both will move at 98% of the speed of anyone attempting to fly, drive or run from the explosion. After a certain distance, the speed of the shock wave will quickly drop off for no apparent reason.

Sixth Law of Combustibility: The destructive force of a nuclear warhead, and the resulting deadly radiation, cannot penetrate the skin of a typical 1950s consumer-grade kitchen refrigerator.

First Law of Practical Stellar Physics: as an observer approaches a star, the brightness of the visible light it gives off diminishes proportionally.

Second Law of Practical Stellar Physics: a star will produce no radiation except for (1) visible light and (2) a variety of heat that behaves identically to heat convection in an atmosphere, despite the lack of a transmission medium.

Third Law of Practical Stellar Physics: the dangerous or destructive region of a stellar body ends abruptly at the outer termination of its photosphere, except for the heat and light described in the Second Law.

Law of Teleportation: the amount of energy produced when converting matter to energy for the purpose of teleporting that matter to a distant location is an insignificant fraction of the amount predicted by Einstein’s mass–energy equivalence equation; this is a fundamental principle of Convenience Physics.

Law of Technological Complexity: No matter how advanced a technology, anyone who needs to use it will be able to deduce its basic functioning within a few minutes – even if the person belongs to an alien or less-developed culture, or comes from the distant past.

First Law of Aerodynamic Irrelevance: Objects designed to travel solely in space may nonetheless be designed with aerodynamic properties.

Second Law of Aerodynamic Irrelevance: objects designed to travel in solely in space, and which therefore are highly non-aerodynamic, may still travel in an atmosphere as if they were perfectly aerodynamic.

Corollary to the Laws of Aerodynamic Irrelevance (The O’Brien Rule): any object in space that is not designed to alter its velocity, vector or location, such as a space station, may alter its velocity, vector or location through a minor, previously unrealized engineering trick.

First Corollary to Einstein’s Theory of Relativity: Einstein’s Theory of Relativity may be ignored at any time, for any reason; this is a fundamental principle of Convenience Physics.

Second Corollary to Einstein’s Theory of Relativity: when light, or any form of electromagnetic radiation, is employed as a weapon (such as with a laser or blaster), its speed is reduced to approximately 35 miles per hour.

Personal Equivalency Many-Worlds Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics: alternate universes and timelines do not follow the standard laws of contingency – rather, the same individuals will be born in the alternate universe as are born in ours, although their life paths may diverge; this is irrespective of any other changes, major or minor, to historical outcomes.

Ethical Determinism Many-Worlds Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics: alternate universes and timelines do not follow the standard laws of contingency – rather, historical outcomes are determined by the moral choices of the identical version of the visitor from our universe.

Abrams’ Many-Worlds Interpretation of Quantum Mechanics: in an alternate universe or timeline, events will conspire to place equivalent persons into the same social groups they occupy in our universe.

The McFly Rule: If a time traveler prevents a key historical event from occurring, he or she has one week to arrange an equivalent event that will restore the timeline.

First Law of Convergent Evolution: any alien species, regardless of the environment in which it evolved, will morphologically resemble an extant Earth species, albeit with changes in size, color, bodily features and level of intelligence; aliens may also resemble chimera of multiple Earth morphologies.

Second Law of Convergent Evolution: despite the fact that closely-related species from the same planet cannot produce viable offspring, any two humanoid species from different worlds may produce viable offspring that will bear blended traits from both species.

Law of Convergent Visemes: when a technological device is used to translate the speech of a humanoid alien, that alien’s lips and mouth movements will nonetheless appear to match the English speech of the translation.

Omegan Law of Convergent Social Evolution: a humanoid species on a distant planet is likely to pass through exactly the same historical eras, and evolve precisely the same social institutions, as the human civilizations of Earth.

Law of Extraterrestrial Euhemerism: any primitive human superstition is the result of contact with advanced alien technology; this includes psychic powers, magicians, ghosts, angels, fairies, vampires, werewolves, demons, dragons, messiahs and gods.

Law of Technological Trajectory: the more hyper-advanced an alien or future technological artifact, the more likely that it will resemble a large, illuminated crystal.

Law of Irradiated Macrofauna: due to mutations triggered by artificial radiation, animals may grow to enormous sizes normally ruled out by the surface-area-to-volume ratio.

Corollary to the Law of Irradiated Macrofauna: irradiated macrofauna will invariably seek out large human population centers and battle each other.

Influence/Malevolence Relationship in Science: the greater a scientific or technological achievement, the greater the probability that the scientist responsible for it suffers from a mental illness and/or ethical deficit.

Diamond’s Law: an advanced spacefaring species will always oppress, absorb or destroy any less advanced, non-spacefaring species with which it makes contact.

Anthropocentric Exception to Diamond’s Law: an advanced spacefaring species will always oppress, absorb or destroy any less advanced, non-spacefaring species with which it makes contact, unless that species is humanity.

Roddenberry’s Law of Cybernetic Omniscience: any sufficiently advanced computer system will contain the sum all of human knowledge down to the most inconsequential detail, even if the computer was constructed by and for aliens.

Gill’s Law of Alien Impressionability: any humanoid alien species will, upon being introduced to some detail of human history or culture, reconfigure its entire society based solely upon the human example; also known as the Iotian Law.

Law of Atmospheric Inexhaustibility: on a spacecraft, space station or other artificial habitat in a vacuum or near-vacuum, no matter how much air is lost when an airlock is opened or the hull is breached, after the air loss is terminated there will still be sufficient atmosphere to comfortably support the survivors.

Doctrine of Human Psychological Infortitude: any human gifted with transhuman abilities by an alien or future intelligence will initially attempt to perform good works with his or her new-found powers, but will be eventually driven insane and commit destructive acts; also known as the Mitchell Effect.

Doctrine of Hostile Alien Tourism: when technologically advanced spacefaring aliens initiate a war or invasion against the Earth, their first strategic maneuver will be to destroy a number of famous human landmarks, usually ones with no strategic or defensive value.

The ForbinCameronWachowski Corollary to Turing’s Test of Machine Intelligence: it is possible to demonstrate that a machine has achieved genuine intelligence or sentience, as its first act upon gaining self-awareness will be to attempt the annihilation of humanity.

The Lucas-Asimov-Herbert Model of Human Galactic Societal Development: any vast, galaxy-spanning interstellar human civilization will resemble in many or all respects the empires of the species’ ancient pre-technological past.

And… number 51:

Even’s Revision to Clarke’s Third Law: Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from lazy writing.

Feel free to add your own Laws of Sci-Fi Physics in the comments below.

‘Atheist Mythology:’ or, Speaking Truth to Crazy

Updated 1/21/09.

I have gone through several phases in my various ill-fated efforts to debate Creationists. At first, I made the freshman error of debating the facts, learning too late that theists have no interest in facts, and freely invent their own (as do conspiracy theorists and UFO believers).

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Then I switched to contempt and ridicule, as theist propositions are invariably contemptible and ridiculous, whether involving Creationism or not. Unfortunately, third parties who have yet to form an opinion tend to view such dismissive and seemingly hostile tactics as de facto evidence that one has no substantive arguments to make. Said parties need only to spend sufficient time with theist arguments to reach the stage of contempt and ridicule themselves; but by this point all they remember is that the atheist was a jerk, and decide erroneously that (impossibly) both sides are equally wrong.

So I reached the third and final stage of anti-Supernaturalist pose, that reached by most professional scientists who lack the intestinal fortitude of a Dawkins or a Shermer – ignoring the idiots.

But a while back a friend emailed me a link to a blog post entitled “Atheist Mythology.” My friend knew quite well I would take the bait, and I did. In recent years I have been dragged back into anti-Supernaturalist arguments by my girlfriend who, while not exactly a believer in Astrology or Homeopathy, will vehemently defend these thoroughly discredited ideas, and views my supposed lack of open-mindedness as a character flaw.

So why am I reproducing my Quixotic efforts to debate “Atheist Mythology” here on my blog? The reasons are made clear below, but to summarize: the author of said blog post suffers from a genuine character defect common to a certain brand of theist, the apparently uncontrollable urge to censor and misrepresent the arguments of one’s challengers. He has confused the ability to edit the comments of one’s visitors with permission to do so. It reminds me of a common moral defect amongst those who self-identify as “Conservatives,” the idea that if something is legal (in the secular sense, such as profit maximization, or in the religious sense, such as child abuse) then it must be moral; and if something is illegal (in the secular law, marijuana use; in religious law homosexuality), then it must be immoral. Because the post author’s blog platform allows him to edit visitor comments, he assumes it must be ethical – otherwise, wouldn’t the God of the Internet prohibit him from doing it?

Below is the original “Atheist Mythology” post; all other visitors responses in the form in which the blog author published them; and my responses in their entirety, with the portions removed by the blog author in bold.

Atheist Mythology (the original post on BuyThe Truth)

Every belief system has an account of origins, and atheism is no exception. Narratives for atheists include the Big Bang (origin of the universe) and evolution (origin of variety and complexity of living organisms). Instead of man being formed out of the dust of the ground by God, man is formed out of the dust of the ground by evolution. It never ceases to amaze how those who espouse naturalism can poke fun at the Biblical account of origins, and yet be unable to see the ridiculous nature of their own position.

One who has studied a great deal about mythology is Raphael Madu. In his work African Symbols, Proverbs, and Myths: the Hermeneutics of Destiny he refers to earlier work by Earl MacCormac in Metaphor and Myth in Science and Religion, and Madu points out (footnote, page 96):

Because men have traditionally assumed a dichotomy between myth and science, it might be shocking to talk of scientific myths… Scientific explanations are known for being falsifiable and thus temporary, but to forget these qualities of science and assume that they are absolute and final, is to create a myth. The dissimilarity between religious and scientific myths is largely on the level of content. While the former are replete with descriptions of legendary heroes and deities, the latter are filled with mathematical symbols and references.

Evolutionists have forgotten about falsifiability, and present evolution as a dogma, and are thus creating myths. One of the most prolific popularizing narrators is Carl Zimmer, and he is going into overdrive with evolution mythology this year. He writes for the New York Times, as well as magazines including National Geographic, Discover, Scientific American, Science, Popular Science and Time. His books include Evolution: The Triumph of an Idea; At the Water’s Edge: Fish with Fingers, Whales with Legs, and How Life Came Ashore but Then Went Back To The Sea; and the Smithsonian Intimate Guide to Human Origins – you get the idea.

The staggering thing about popularizers such as Zimmer and Dawkins is that though what they write is great narrative, it’s indistinguishable from fairy tales and ‘just so’ stories. What is lacking is any evidence and rigour. They simply recycle suggestions and postulates, and weave them into a narrative to be accepted as fact. It’s the stuff of myth. Indeed, one of Dawkins’ books is entitled The Ancestor’s Tale: A Pilgrimage to the Dawn of Life, complete with prologues, and a last chapter entitled Canterbury, so giving more than a nod to Chaucer’s Tales. It’s a tale indeed, far, far away from anything like science, but it goes down a treat with the atheists. Zimmer is also preaching to the converted, because for all the accolades showered upon him by atheists, what he writes sounds plain goofy, but they can’t discern it. Listen to some of his pronouncements from a recent article entitled Evolving Darwin in Time magazine.

The fossil record points to hippos and other hoofed mammals as being the closest living relatives to whales. So does their DNA.

Yes, evolutionary biologists really do believe that – both the blue whale and the hippopotamus are conjectured to have a common ancestor, a cloven-hoofed beast like a tiny deer, no bigger than a domestic cat, that lived in Kashmir and Pakistan. This is one of Zimmer’s hobbyhorses, and he has written extensively about it. Only when you accept evolution as a dogma does such a narrative makes sense – otherwise it is fantastic.

The slavish reliance on DNA (their newest toy) and the acceptance of evolutionary dogma is little different from the discipline of higher criticism in the literary world, which seeks to use ‘scientific’ methods and analysis to show the origin and evolution of texts. Applied to the Bible, this produced wacky assertions in the late nineteenth century that John’s gospel, the Johannine epistles and Revelation were written by authors who never knew Jesus, and the letters of Paul were written by the heretic Marcion. The Higher Critics built their fantastic theories, and had University faculties teaching them as facts, but a lot of these theories now look very, very silly. But we digress; Zimmer continues

Our own DNA contains clues to the bonds we share with the rest of life–it turns out, for instance, that we are closer kin to mushrooms than to sunflowers. It’s been 1.5 billion years or more since our ancestors split off from our fungal cousins. How did the genome of our ancestor change so that it could produce two-legged primates?

“There was an old lady who swallowed a fly. I don’t know why she swallowed a fly. Perhaps she’ll die.”

…Some 2 billion years ago, one of our single-celled ancestors took in an oxygen-consuming bacterium. That microbe became the thousands of tiny sacs found in each of our cells today, known as mitochondria, that let us breathe oxygen.

So there you go. Once upon a time your ancestor was a primitive microscopic one-celled entity, which swallowed a bacterium, which exchanged and scrambled some genetic code, which enabled your ancestor to evolve into a system that could breathe oxygen. Just add a couple of billion years, give or take, and some of your ancestor’s descendants evolved into magic mushrooms, and some evolved into man.

Evolutionists now teach that both the fungal kingdom and the animal kingdom are merely sub-groups of the ‘opisthokonts’, cells that have a single posterior flagellum (as animal sperm cells have), which plants lack. Cracraft and Donoghue in Assembling the Tree of Life state

The sisterhood of animals and fungi is now well accepted by evolutionary protistologists.

Well, only in the last few years as the myth has matured. To suggest that man is closer kin to a fungus than to a flower is like stating that the computer you are reading this on is more akin to a grain of sand than a snowflake because there is silicon in semiconductors, and sand contains silicon, but there’s no water in computers. But what about the fact that a snowflake has form, as does a computer, whereas sand is amorphous? It all depends what attributes are compared. Comparisons between things that are so different in their structures and complexities are meaningless. If you take evolution as a fact, then it necessarily follows that you will try to force all living things into a ‘Tree of Life’ that supports your presuppositions. Anthropologists are still arguing, based on DNA studies, about the relationship between modern man and Neanderthal man (who, it is said, disappeared only 20,000 years ago) – whether there was any interaction between populations. Yet Carl Zimmer can confidently assert that all the mitochondria in our cells, and our ability to breathe oxygen, came from an invasion of bacteria into a single-celled mould that was once the common ancestor of us all two thousand million years ago.

The same myth appears in Dawkins’ Ancestor’s Tale, and is traceable to the endosymbiotic hypothesis proposed by Wallin in the 1920s, and popularized by Margulis in the 1970s. No experimental evidence has been or can be presented to test it, so it is just another of those unscientific untestable hypotheses beloved by atheists, and it has now entered the mainstream dogma of evolutionists as it provides a rough and ready just-so narrative of how things came to be – without a designer. Myths about origins always seem so far fetched, don’t they? – except to those who believe them.

I should like to know how this yarn differs from any of the fantastic myths about origins found amongst different peoples and cultures. In essence, it is little different from Sumerian, Egyptian and Hindu mythology: it is a makeover of ancient myths dressed up to appeal to modern man. Atheists are developing their religion and straining every nerve to play catch up with the other faiths, and we now have the myths of atheism, which sit neatly alongside the myths of so many other religions. We have the myth of evolution, and we have the myth of the Big Bang. And we have wonderful storytellers.

What we are seeing and dealing with here, when we read their writings, is evidence neither for the evolution of the universe, nor for the evolution of man, but evidence for the evolution of atheist mythology.

Previous comments:

Moses Presley
I think you are right to lump science and myth into the same category. Certainly, science is often a ‘job for the boys’ from the right background along with jobs in the media, the established church and the political institutions. You need to be careful, however, not to suggest the existence of a ‘supreme being’ or omnipotent ‘God’ as originator of all things… now that would be ‘barmy’!
Moses Presley (space cowboy)

ScientistForTruth responds
True science, of course, properly conducted, is not myth. But there are a lot of ’scientific’ narratives being spun today that are myth. When entities such as dark matter and dark energy, which nobody knows anything about, have to be invoked to constitute 96% of the universe (the remaining 4% is the real type of matter and energy that we know about) just to keep the Big Bang theory afloat, then you know you’ve entered the world of myth. The Ptolemaic system had its equivalents: the dark matter was the crystal spheres and the dark energy was angels pushing the planets round. You can’t see crystal or angels, of course, just like we can’t see dark matter and dark energy. Oh, but you can see their effects, they cry, so that proves they are there! Unfortunately the medieval entities had to be conjectured because for two thousand years the world was hamstrung by Aristotle’s physics, taught with authority. If you get the basic scientific principles wrong, everything else will be wrong.

I read your last sentence as tongue-in-cheek – I hope that’s right.

Marc
At last some sense. I was so pleased to read this page. People should remember, Darwin’s theory of evolution is just that a theory.

Also remember science is just one way of looking at the world, like wearing a pair of spectacles.

Darwin’s theory of evolution failed completely for me in 2005. Before this I had accepted the theory. After ten years of deliberation / reading / modelling I reached a conclusion in 2005. It became clear that it just does not add up.
In the same way that we need invisible dark matter and dark energy to make our physics formulas work Darwin’s theory relies on the unseen past.

What is visible to us all is just how often “true” statements in science are later found to be incorrect. Science thought that DNA would be the answer, provided by the genome project. Great claims were made. The result of completing this work was that science realised it was more complicated than it thought and each strand needs to be broken down into millions. Great, anyone notice the scope creep here. And all the big talk on this research being used to bring cures to us humans. Nonsense. We have seen few cures for human ailments but many many green mice, human ears grown on mice and modified crops (which when trailed destroyed the ecosystem it was grown in).

I’ll make some outlandish statements here just for fun which are an alternative representation of scientific fact. Monkeys evolved from humans, can you name a creature that has successfully evolved but its old version still walks the planet?

Dinosaurs were so big because gravity on earth was stronger back then than it is now.

My First Comment:

Here is my first comment, in its entirety. The blog author’s additions are in italics, and the portions he edited out are in bold.

Sometime [sic] we receive comments that are antagonistic towards the position presented in the post, yet which by their very nature and content actually prove and demonstrate the point being made in the post. The following is a good example. I have snipped parts which refer disparagingly to comments made by others.

The studied ignorance and anti-intellectualism displayed on this page, as well as the egoism, are breathtaking.

I am always astounded when theists are so eager to ensure their beliefs are not denigrated as inferior to scientific concepts, that they will willingly denigrate BOTH to make them equal. The author’s argument is based on two transparent fallacies: (1) all statements not proven absolutely true are equally true, and (2) if the author cannot imagine an idea is true, then it cannot be true. Anything the author doesn’t like (evolution, biblical exegesis) is “wacky.” Well, I guess if this writer, an individual with no education (not even self-education) in science or comparative religious studies, says it’s wacky, it must be wacky.

Of course, the author has not created a situation where science is proven false and their own personal religious bias is shown as true, which one would assume is their goal. Instead, in the author’s universe, nothing is true, ever. All “truth” is a matter of personal preference. This is because all the author can muster to defend their worldview is personal preference.

“Moses” suggests that science must be false because scientists largely work within established academia, and anyone who works within a traditional, established framework must be corrupt. This is equally as absurd as assuming that anyone working within a traditional, established framework must be a saint. Science does not claim truth from status, any more than it claims truth from revelation.

The “Scientist” for “Truth” incorrectly labels dark matter and dark energy as “myths.” They are hypotheses, which explain data that has not been otherwise accounted for. Whether they prove to describe real phenomena or not, they are useful in developing whatever eventual theory explains the data. Supernatural explanations explain nothing.

“Marc” makes several ignorant comments. In science, “theory” does not mean “guess.” No evolutionist, ever, has suggested that humans evolved from monkeys. Not even once. “Can you name a creature that has successfully evolved but its old version still walks the planet?” Sure. YOU. Mammals evolved (through countless intermediaries) from single-celled organisms, which still “walk” the planet. I don’t understand the gravity comment — scientists have never seriously considered such a claim. Are you trying to be sarcastic? And finally, your personal disappointment in DNA research does not constitute evidence of anything.

You people all seem disappointed that the universe does not conform to your personal expectations. I do not understand why you ever thought that you, personally, were so important that it should.

ScientistForTruth responds
We presume the commenter means ‘egotism’. This comment itself is breathtaking for its ignorance and egotism. The fallacies referred to don’t appear in the post. The author neither believes nor asserts the things attributed to him. The commenter is literally ignorant of the author, and yet asserts that the author is “an individual with no education (not even self-education) in science or comparative religious studies”. The commenter, Erik Even, is a copywriter with an arts degree, and perhaps not best qualified to make such a judgment. Confusing egoism (= a concern for one’s own self-interest) with egotism (= a belief that one is superior to others) isn’t a very promising start on a copywriting career, either. The author of Atheist Mythology, on the other hand, has an honours and masters degree in science and engineering, having read physics at Oxford University and engineering at Southampton University, been published in learned journals, been granted more than 40 patents, been awarded the Queen’s Award for Technological Achievement, and has 30 years’ experience practising science and engineering, specializing in magnetics. Perhaps he knows a little more about science than Erik Even. Just perhaps.

The commenter’s assertion that “in the author’s universe, nothing is true, ever. All “truth” is a matter of personal preference” is a falsehood. Even the title of the blog implicitly declares that truth is objective.

Dark matter and dark energy ARE myths. It is a particular blindspot of atheists that they cannot see that many of the things they believe are acts of faith, and self-deluding myths. The claim that “They are hypotheses, which explain data that has not been otherwise accounted for. Whether they prove to describe real phenomena or not, they are useful in developing whatever eventual theory explains the data” exemplifies just how confused are those who do not understand epistemology and evidence. Angels and crystal spheres were “useful” to the false model of the Ptolemaic system insofar as they kept the false model from being abandoned – they were useful at perpetuating error. Dark matter and dark energy play a similar role in the theory of the Big Bang, a thoroughly discredited model as unscientific as any explanation of the cosmos ever made by the most primitive religions. This theory survives only due to the myths that have to be invented to prop it up. Now here is a real logical fallacy: “they are useful in developing whatever eventual theory explains the data”. That is a fallacy known as begging the question. They are not at all useful if they are invoked to prop up a false model. They then don’t help develop a more realistic model, but serve to underpin a false one. They are invoked to put the Big Bang on life support, rather than letting the disproved theory die. The final phrase tossed in, “Supernatural explanations explain nothing” is cheap ignorant rhetoric. Since no one has the slightest idea what dark energy and dark matter are, and they cannot themselves be detected, other than by the supposedly inferred effects they have on ordinary baryonic matter (just like the inferred effects of angels and crystal spheres), then the conceptual entities are currently indistiguishable [sic] from being supernatural themselves. Mathematical entities invented to fill in the gaping holes in a discredited theory may have no real and natural existence whatsoever.

My responses:

Here is my response, in its entirety. I posted it in two parts.

Part 1 (which the blog author deleted in its entirety – therefore it is in all bold):

First, an ethics lesson.

You are free to moderate your own site, but since the “Wild West” days of the Internet, a code of etiquette has developed. This code has been formalized as the Creative Common licenses – but even people who do not subscribe to the CC are expected to show common courtesy.

You are free to delete any comment you feel is inappropriate, but editing a comment for content is unacceptable. Some sites use silly tricks, like disemvoweling; or they will notify the commenter of their objections, and permit the commenter to edit the comment. These practices constitute a worse kind of censorship than mere deletion, as they strongarm the commenter into conforming to editorial policy. If you want a contributor to edit their work to adhere to a policy, then pay them. Otherwise, just delete comments. Or be brave and intellectually honest, and publish comments you disagree with in their entirety (barring profanity, defamation and illegal content).

But what you did not even rise to that level. You edited the original comment for content, and then repackaged it within a comment of your own. Now, as a professional blogger (that means I get paid a full salary to write for a blog full-time by a corporation), I do this all the time. But I always link back to the original source; if this is not available, I credit the source and if possible quote it in full. Anyone who sees my edited version can immediately see the original, to check if I misquoted it, or if I took quotes out of context. You eliminated the original from the Internet, after editing it to conform to your own argument.

Your “snipped” sections contained no profanity, no ad hominem attacks, no factual errors. They were merely responses to the comments made in this thread. If it is this blog’s policy that commenters should not respond to other commenters, well, that would be a bizarre policy – but it should be posted on your blog’s (nonexistent) About Me page, (nonexistent) FAQ, or (nonexistent) Moderation Policy.

As for Internet privacy, I posted here under my widely and professionally-used pseudonym “Kunochan.” I did not use my real name. Honestly, I don’t care – I have never made an effort to hide my identity online, and my Kunochan WordPress identity has my real picture and links to my personal blog. Other users of your site, however, may not expect to be “researched” and have their name repeated. Many people have much stronger expectations of Internet privacy than mine, and although I find their arguments somewhat foolish (both unrealistic and unnecessary), I nonetheless respect their wishes out of simple politeness.

Finally, the blog editor has misrepresented my education and professional background. I only have an “arts” degree in the sense it is a “bachelor of arts” degree – in Anthropology, which is a science. I would have earned a bachelor of science degree, but that program was discontinued while I was at UCLA, and I chose to complete the BA program rather than switch to another department. Furthermore, I have been employed both as a museum educator and a high school biology teacher. I have never worked as a professional scientist, but I am well educated in Biology, Evolutionary Sciences, Astronomy & Cosmology, Physics, Anthropology, Primatology, and Archaeology. I follow journals and attend conferences.

None of that makes me a scientist. But neither would a career in engineering. An engineer is no more a physicist than a medical doctor is a biologist, or a biology teacher is a biologist. And a person with Physics and Engineering training is not necessarily trained in Organic Chemistry, Evolutionary Theory, or Atmospheric Sciences.

Of course, I could research your real identity, “ScientistForTruth,” but it is nowhere on your blog. The post above was not even written under that name, but is anonymous. I could probably figure out your identity by examining your posts, or with Google, but I shall refrain, since you seem to desire privacy.

However, your scientific background does not matter to your arguments. You may well be widely read in all the above topics. Simply put, your arguments against science are not based in science.

But now I am veering out of my ethics lesson and into my actual response, which is the next post.

Part 2 (as before, the blog author’s insertions are in italics):

ScientistForTruth says
Kunochan attempted an ethics lesson asserting that it was unethical to snip out parts of his comments (those parts that commented on other commenters) without allowing readers to see the whole unexpurgated comment. We don’t agree, and will not be following that advice. There are thousands of blogs out there where commenters are trading comments and insults between each other with no reference to the matter in hand. This blog is not a free-for-all. Comments are welcome, but will be moderated. They may appear in whole, in part, or not at all, and may or may not be accompanied by responses by ScientistForTruth. Deleted portions will be designated by [snip] or the ellipsis, or some other obvious means. Comments that appear, with or without deletions, do not imply that we are in agreement with them. Please try to restrict comments to the material on the post itself.

The following is from another comment by Kunochan. Because of its extreme length we have interlaced responses at appropriate sections

SFT: “We presume the commenter means ‘egotism.’”

No, we presume the commenter meant egoism. “Egotism” is the attempt to build yourself up to others. “Egoism” is the actual belief in your own superiority.

My experience with theists is that they tend to disdain egotism, while succumbing to an incredible egoism. In this case, I am characterizing the idea that the Universe must conform to an individual human being’s hopes, desires, wishes and biases as egoism – indeed, the greatest egoism ever experienced. Every religion, every supernaturalist belief system places human beings in general, and the system’s followers in particular, at the center of the Universe.

I honestly do not understand this egoism – I personally have never needed nor desired for the Universe to care about me or cater to my wishes. In fact, I’m quite glad that the Universe does not grant wishes to some people but not others; that it does not threaten us; that its laws can be deduced without the need for special revelation.

Anyway, I won’t tell you how to build a magnet, if you don’t tell me what words mean.

ScientistForTruth responds
Egoism is a technical word in metaphysics (which can variously be ethical egoism, psychological egoism, philosophical egoism, normative egoism, rational egoism etc) and means a concern for one’s self-interest, and it is an antonym of ‘altruism’. It is essentially a valueless word. You said that egoism is the belief in your own superiority, which is a value claim. The Encylopedia of Philosophy warns against this error, saying ‘“Egoism” should be distinguished from “egotism,” which means a psychological overvaluation of one’s own importance, or of one’s own activities.’ So if you actually mean ‘a belief in one’s own superiority’, then you mean egotism.

The only sense in which I can see your use of egoism as being consistent with what you write (though inconsistent with the facts) is in the sense of epistemic egoism. But epistemic egoism (=accepting no truth authority outside oneself) is the philosophy of atheism. By definition, no Christian theist can be described as an epistemic egoist – he can’t be a Christian at all if his epistemology doesn’t make room for divine revelation. American Baptist Fundamentalist Creationists (no, I’m not one of them) are certainly not epistemic egoists as they accept the Bible as an external authority. Roman Catholics additionally accept papal authority. Christians don’t believe that ‘the Universe must conform to an individual human being’s hopes, desires, wishes and biases’, they believe that an individual human being’s hopes, desires, wishes and biases should conform to the will of God as he has revealed it. It is completely the opposite of what you assert. Augustine – probably the greatest and most influential Christian figure in the western world in the last 1900 years, and accepted by the Protestant and Roman Catholic traditions – certainly asserted it. Read his Confessions. And of course the Bible asserts it.

In the same vein, your assertion that Christians put themselves at the centre of the universe is entirely false. In spite of your anthropological studies, you have been badly misinformed here. On the contrary, atheists put themselves at the centre of the universe because they see no external authority, no external rational mind beyond themselves or mankind, and therefore they (or mankind) are the sole arbiters of truth, ethics and reality, and are masters of their own destiny, with responsibility to no creative power. One really can’t get more self-centred, egotistical and epistemologically egoistical than that. Contrariwise, Christian theology teaches that man was created in the image of the eternal Godhead, is not the measure of all things, must accept certain truths by revelation, is essentially infinitesimally weak compared to his creator, who knows and upholds all things, and that man is ultimately subject to the will and judgment of God, whom he is to serve, and who is to be the ultimate object of his love. If you think that puts man (in the context of Christian theology) at the centre of the universe, then your understanding of Christian doctrine is pitiful.

SFT: “The commenter is literally ignorant of the author, and yet asserts that the author is ‘an individual with no education (not even self-education) in science or comparative religious studies.’”

You are right, I should not have written that. I apologize. I was then unaware (and still cannot be certain) of your educational background.

But it is clear from the above post, and from several other posts on your blog, that you have arbitrarily and unilaterally dismissed entire academic subjects as unworthy of consideration. I know you do not see these dismissals as “arbitrary,” but I am having trouble characterizing them in any other way.

What I should have said was, “an individual with no interest in science or comparative religious studies.” I know you won’t see it this way, either – you allege a strong interest in science. But you reject science, almost in its entirety. I can hardly evince a strong interest in English literature if I refuse to acknowledge the existence of anything written after 1550.

ScientistForTruth responds
I strongly take issue with this. To say that I have “arbitrarily and unilaterally dismissed entire academic subjects as unworthy of consideration…[have] no interest in science…[and] reject science, almost in its entirety” is scurrilous nonsense. None of those assertions are true in the slightest degree. Like your ideas about words and Christian doctrine, you clearly delight in declaring falsehoods.

SFT: “The fallacies referred to don’t appear in the post. The author neither believes nor asserts the things attributed to him.”

I just conducted an interesting intellectual exercise – I’d like to teach it to you. I temporarily accepted your criticism of my post as fact – that I had misrepresented fallacies in your post – and reread my own post on those terms. Here’s what I learned.

My statement (2) “if the author cannot imagine an idea is true, then it cannot be true” holds up perfectly. In this post, you make no scientific or rational arguments against the Big Bang Model or Evolutionary Theory. You do not even refer to such arguments. You simply dismiss your own characterizations of those theories as incompatible with your own expectations. I think you’re even attempting to make the theories sound silly, but you fail, because you actually characterize them rather well. Nothing you quote sounds like a “fairy story.”

My argument for statement (1) “all statements not proven absolutely true are equally true “ is much weaker, as it comes from reading between the lines. You characterize scientific concepts as myths, and religious concepts as myths. Then you imply, although do not state, that the latter can replace the former.

I think here I may be attributing to you an argument often used by anti-science theists, which you may not consciously be recapitulating. But I suspect that, like the “Intelligent Design” movement to which you may or may not subscribe, your railing against the whole of Cosmology and the whole of Biology hides an agenda not only of supernaturalism, but specifically of American Baptist fundamentalist Creationism. One crutch used by those who argue for Creationism is to attempt to level the playing field, by presenting theology and science as equivalent and overlapping magisteria. They are in fact overlapping, but they are not equivalent.

A better way to phrase the fallacy, which may apply more closely to your own ideas, would be, “all statements not proven absolutely true are of equally unknown veracity, and therefore equally worthy of consideration.” This is fallacious and illogical.

Please attempt to consider your own ideas within the framework of the two fallacies above, rather than simply dismissing them outright. You may be surprised at the extent to which you have fallen prey to them.

ScientistForTruth responds
The reason I’m not giving an alternative worldview in this post is because the post is about Atheist Mythology, as it is entitled. Exposing atheist myths and not providing an alternative does not imply that the writer has no defensible worldview. That is an illogical fallacy. Moreover, because the writer is critical of certain aspects of science (very few have actually been tackled on this blog), this does not imply that the writer believes that all science is myth, or that he has no interest in science, or that he almost entirely rejects science. That’s another illogical fallacy. On the contrary, the author considers it a great privilege to be involved in scientific endeavour, and believes that it is possible to obtain a better understanding of truth and reality in the natural realm through pursuit of the natural sciences. The author does not believe, in spite of the assertions of Kunochan, that an imperfect and partial knowledge is a knowledge not worth having. He can try to put words into my mouth as much as he likes, but I shan’t be repeating them. Like many areas of life, there is corruption is science, and it is rife within the scientific community. I have being pointing this out since the 1970s. Corruption is most likely to take hold in those areas where experiments cannot be conducted: for example, we cannot experiment on anything outside the solar system, nor (realistically) on the earth as a whole, nor on events in the distant past. Of all the sciences, astronomy is perhaps the most corrupt. For a hundred years it has been out of the reach of impartial observers to view deep space objects. Even within the profession, telescope time is often granted only by committee, and it is now normal practice not to allocate telescope time to astronomers who do not subscribe to the prevailing dogma.

SFT: “Angels and crystal spheres were ‘useful’ to the false model of the Ptolemaic system insofar as they kept the false model from being abandoned – they were useful at perpetuating error.”

This entirely misrepresents the history. Medieval models based on Ptolemy were the earliest European attempts to build a rational model of the Universe. Philosophers postulated crystal spheres because they viewed “action at a distance” as irrational. One of Newton’s greatest breakthroughs was to demonstrate that action at a distance was not irrational, and it occurred all around us all the time as gravity. The mathematically accurate and scientific theory of “fields” (gravitational and electromagnetic) is an attempt to explain and visualize action at a distance. (Of course, gravity and electromagnetism are “just” theories.)

Newton made the crystal spheres obsolete. Without the spheres, Newton may not have had a suitable theoretical framework in which to form his own theories. We often build new hypotheses based on the flaws in old ones.

Your preconceived bias seems to be that if an idea is wrong, then it has no scientific or rational value whatsoever. This is simply incorrect. Your quote by Madu only states that sometimes people (lay people or scientists) refuse to let go of discredited scientific hypotheses. It’s the fact that they are discredited but still believed that makes them “myths,” not the simple fact that they were incorrect guesses. The luminiferous ether, Steady-State Cosmology, Lemuria, homeopathy and irreducible complexity were all once scientific theories, compatible with existing data; and they were all useful in developing Relativity, Big Bang Cosmology, Plate Tectonics, Chemistry and Evolutionary Theory, respectively. They’re only “myths” if you still believe they’re true.

ScientistForTruth responds
It was Brahe and Kepler, not Newton decades later, who obviated the crystal spheres. By observing comets, which did not crash through spheres on their way to the sun, they concluded that there was nothing solid that could be constraining the motion of the planets. As far as action at a distance is concerned, the phenomena of electrostatic and magnetic attraction and repulsion (with no obvious intervening medium) had been known since the ancient world, so action at a distance was established. The charges against Newton for occultism in other respects, were, as we know, well founded.

As far as engineering is concerned, it is true that principles and understanding can be scientifically erroneous, but technically useful. This is a view of science known as instrumentalism. It is the success of instrumentalism that gives non-scientists the sense that science must be advancing rapidly, when the truth is it has been in the doldrums since the 1920s. However, I do not consider that, in scientific realism, the espousing of false views can be said to be ‘useful’. They can surely only be useful in an instrumental sense.

This is getting too long, so let’s end with:

SFT: “Dark matter and dark energy play a similar role in the theory of the Big Bang, a thoroughly discredited model as unscientific as any explanation of the cosmos ever made by the most primitive religions.”

There is no sense in which the Big Bang Model can be honestly described as “thoroughly discredited.” The greater scientific community, the Physics community, and Cosmologists all accept the Big Bang Model as the correct general model of the Universe. Serious scientific objections were all silenced by the COBE data, and by a dozen subsequent experiments, all of which subscribe to standard scientific rigor. No one has been able to cobble together another theory that can explain the data – and many have tried. (I’d like to hear yours.)

The world secular community has no problem with the Big Bang. The Catholic Church, the world’s largest single religious group, reconciles the Big Bang (and Evolution) with a Creationist philosophy. Some Muslim countries suppress science, including the Big Bang and Evolution; but some countries with large or majority Muslim populations (China, India, Turkey, Indonesia) have modern scientific education.

You can dislike the Big Bang Theory all you want (I have no idea why) – but you can’t honestly call it discredited. It’s the second most established theory in science. (Guess which one’s the first?)

ScientistForTruth responds
The argument from authority or consensus is not a scientific argument but a political one. The persistence and extent of a myth among those who believe the myth is hardly suprising and can never be adduced as evidence that the myth represents truth and reality. It should be obvious to anyone looking fairly and impartially at the empirical evidence (and it would be better to be looked at by those who are not so close to it, to avoid conflicts of interest) that observations have disproved the BB hypothesis repeatedly. The BB hypothesis survives because of the enduring power of myth, and because entities can be multiplied to try to pretend that the train is still on the rails when it spectacularly crashed and disintegrated years ago. It is now a myth supported by dogma – that should help it. What do those who espouse the myth and pronounce the dogma do with the evidence that shatters it? – they ignore it, they describe it as coincidence, they persecute those who hold contrary views, they refuse to investigate it, they refuse telescope time to those who have doubts about the standard model, they get angry and make ad hominem attacks, and they club together to ensure that no heretics will ever prosper in their realm, and marginalize any mavericks. Not surprisingly, many observers can’t be blamed for believing that the BB is an established fact.

The BB is in fact discredited as a hypothesis under the normal terms of scientific enquiry, but you are tying the concept of whether something is discredited to the opinion of a large body of people. In terms of opinion, yes, it is still a powerful force. I was meaning discredited in the sense that a belief has been demonstrated to be untrue in the sense of scientific realism. Sure, there are a whole host of reasons why folk choose to continue to believe passionately in something that is demonstrably false – that is exactly why the BB is most appropriately called a myth according to your own definition.

The problem began in the 1920s when Edwin Hubble’s made empirical measurements of red shift of nearby galaxies. Hubble was a great astronomer, for whom I have considerable respect, and I generally accept his findings that for certain classes of object (local galaxies) there is a relationship between redshift and distance. I don’t know of anyone who disputes this. But Hubble was too good an astronomer to suggest that this necessarily implied a relationship between distance and velocity. Estimates of distance were measurable by comparing size, luminosity, Cepheid variables etc. But velocity was not, and never has been measurable. So, so-called Hubble’s Law, which Hubble himself never espoused, was promoted off the back of the Belgian priest Lemaitre’s questionable ‘solution’ to Einstein’s equations to propound a Big Bang (though not called that at the time). Lemaitre’s solution is questionable (but still espoused by the BB theorists) because it allows for singularities – division by zero in ordinary understanding. Einstein himself thought this was cranky. This led to fanciful ideas such as black holes and the universe emerging from an infinitesimal point. There are far more reasonable solutions that don’t involve breaking the laws of physics. However as a very tentative hypothesis – that redshift was a result of Doppler shifting, and that therefore the universe was expanding – it was acceptable to see where it could take us. However, when evidence has arisen, as it has since the 1960s when highly redshifted objects were detected, that all was not well with the original assumption, and one could see that it was going to become a train wreck, the whole basis should have been re-evaluated, especially as it was built on a solution that broke the known laws of physics. Since then, evidence has poured in confirming that the assumptions in the 1920s were incorrect, yet the BB is still propounded, and all manner of esoteric mathematical fixes (none of which has been found to have any physical reality) have been introduced to pretend that the train wreck didn’t happen, or that the train miraculously sprouted wings and flew over the hazard. So we have inflation (which supposedly saves the day by proposing a scalar field, which has no known physical objective reality), dark matter, dark energy, and a mass of other practically supernatural entities that are now supposed to make up 96% of the universe and break the known laws of physics. They are practically supernatural because they have never been detected themselves, no-one has the slightest idea what they are, and there are no known laws of physics applying to them. In that sense, they cannot be demonstrated to be any less supernatural than angels and demons, which apparently do not have to comply with our laws of physics either, but can interact with real baryonic matter, and have real existence, since they were created. If it is asserted that these cosmological mathematical entities are not supernatural, but some form of ‘natural’ substance or energy that we don’t know about, so be it: but then angels and demons and any other created spiritual non-baryonic entity can be put in the same class, and such a class has traditionally been called supernatural. The thing is, atheists are so afraid to be classed as supernaturalists that will try hard to wriggle out of such a connection – they can denounce angels and demons as supernatural, but can have like entities so long as they are not branded supernatural – how deceitful! Of course, any discredited theory can be rescued by continually multiplying supernatural entities and varying the laws of physics to keep everything jogging along – this is what happened with the Ptolemaic system, but William of Ockham has something to say about that.

The COBE measurement of the cosmic microwave background (CMB) radiation was simply a more accurate measurement of what had been measured since the 1940s, and only connected with the BB since the 1960s. This is regularly trotted out as a proof of the BB, but that is both farcical and hilarious. Those who held the BB cosmology did indeed propose a background radiation, but what was their proposed thermal temperature? Well, it climbed from 20K in the 1940s, to 20-30K in the 1950s, to 40-50K in the early 1960s. When Wilson and Penzias measured it at around 3.5K in 1964/5 it was hailed as a confirmation of the BB. The COBE measurement was around 2.73K. Now let’s see: the difference in energy density terms (i.e. something that has physical reality, since energy density is the fourth power of temperature according to Stefan-Boltzman law) between the accurately measured level and what was the BB prediction by Robert Dicke and George Gamow just before Wilson and Penzias stumbled upon it (without knowing what it was) is a difference of over 100,000 times – 5 orders of magnitude. Do you think an error of 5 orders of magnitude is confirmation?

Wilson and Penzias asked Robert Dicke for help to understand what they were measuring and he told them it was what was expected from BB cosmology – except it wasn’t: Dicke had estimated it as over 27,000 times too high from orthodox BB cosmology, so he was – to say the least – being completely disingenuous

Now, compare this with the predictions made by those not working from the BB hypothesis: first proposed at 5.6K in 1896 by Guillaume, refined by Eddington in 1926 to 3K and by Regener in 1933 to 2.8K; and measured and estimated at 2K by McKellar (1941) and 3K by Tigran Shmaonov (1955). The twentieth century predictions and measurements average at 2.7K, which is very close to the measured 2.73K. Given that non-BB concepts predicted almost exactly what was measured, whereas the BB proponents were many orders of magnitude out, wasn’t it the height of dishonesty for Dicke and the BB proponents (and all others since) to claim that this result was predicted from BB orthodoxy? As a plain fact of history, it wasn’t, and as a plain fact of history the non-BB proponents were extremely close – in fact Gold’s work in the 1950s (he espoused Steady State) predicted 2.78K, which is exceptionally close to what is measured. None of this proves that the Steady State or other cosmologies were correct – the point is that those who try to falsify history to underpin a false dogma are liars. Of course the BB was ‘fixed’ after the measurements were made (4-5 orders of magnitude of fixing is really something) as it always has – the lesson is, never throw out a convenient myth or question its assumptions (as it’s now dogma), in the face of inconvenient truths – always fix it by inventing and multiplying entities.

Now, the isotropic nature of the CMB radiation was for a long time an embarrassment, as it was thought that there should be significant anisotropy to account for the settlement of the universe into galaxies. The COBE measurements showed that the temperature fluctuations were of the order of +/- 0.00027 degree, equivalent to energy density variations of +/-0.04% across the whole sky. Again, this almost insignificant anisotropy was taken to be a confirmation of the BB hypothesis. But an impartial scientist, seeing that the universe is visually inhomogeneous, and the sky visually anisotropic will have no difficulty seeing that a connection between +/-0.04% anisotropy of any measurable phenomenon and an expanding universe (where the predicted energy density was 5 orders of magnitude out, not to put too fine a point on it) is nothing less than charlatanism.

My response. It is entirely in bold, because ScientistForTruth refused to publish it.

Between arguing with you (not debating – too many of your responses are mere negation to constitute a debate) and conversing with certain other magical thinkers recently, I have become aware of a new (to me, anyway) strategy in magical thinking. The major strategies of which I was previously aware are (1) make rational and irrational thought equivalent, something you do but vehemently deny; (2) hide behind specialized jargon, whether theological or philosophical, and deny the equivalence of certain words and concepts (again, you are guilty); and (3), misrepresent your opponents arguments even more than you misrepresent your own (SUPER GUILTY!).

The new, alarming strategy is to not merely couch supernaturalist fallacies in scientific language, but to insist that magic is science. Not like science, or better than science, or compatible with science – but actual mainstream science. Homeopaths, osteopaths, and subluxation chiropractors do this; Ramtha-ites and transcendental meditation practitioners do this; Intelligent Design frauds do this; and you do this. You have adopted the persona of “scientist” into your self image almost as strongly as you have adopted the persona of believer in magic, and the effort to reconcile the irreconcilable has led to you a cognitive dissonance so extreme that one of your identities, scientist or theist, had to go. So (and pay attention here, this is the root of your entire problem) instead of abandoning your identity as a scientist, you decided that EVERY OTHER SCIENTIST IN THE WORLD is not a scientist; indeed they are all corrupt, and out to get you.

Some points:

“The argument from authority or consensus is not a scientific argument but a political one.”

With whom are you arguing? You said that the Big Bang theory was a thoroughly discredited model – yourself making an argument from (lack of) consensus – and I corrected you. There is no sense in which an honest person, even an opponent of the theory, can call the central tenet of Cosmology “thoroughly discredited.” By characterizing the Big Bang as widely accepted and well supported, I was not making an argument from authority – I was discrediting yours. Thoroughly. And since belief in a Christian god is the ultimate “argument from authority,” I find your criticism ironic.

“But epistemic egoism (=accepting no truth authority outside oneself) is the philosophy of atheism… Christian theology teaches that man was created in the image of the eternal Godhead…”

Oh my God. I invoke “God” ironically, of course. There’s almost too much here to get my head around. At least you finally got around to admitting that your “dissent” against science comes from typical 19th century Christian biblical literalism, and nothing interesting or new.

1.) Why would you choose to misrepresent atheism to an atheist (Huxleyan agnostic, a more extreme position, but that’s semantic nitpicking), who knows many atheists, and reads many atheist works? It’s only going to work on someone who doesn’t know what atheists think. Atheists don’t accept any truth authority whatsoever, whether inside themselves, or the kind you believe in which is inside yourself but you pretend it’s outside. Atheists accept reason and observation only. Scientific consensus is accepted provisionally. Atheists have taken a good hard look at the universe, and figured out it has no anthropomorphic qualities. Atheists look to humanity to develop morals and meaning, not because we applaud ourselves or the human race, but because there’s simply no one else to do it. That’s not a “myth” – it’s an observation. An observation you have also made, which is why you expend so much effort to maintain your “faith.”

2.) You claim you’re not guilty of egoism, because you supposedly subordinate yourself to a magic creature. Yet this magic creature, which in your cosmology not only made the universe but is the universe, loves you individually; loves humanity out of all the vast universe (you accept that the universe is incomprehensibly vast, right? I know the conspirators won’t let you use a telescope); is concerned with every detail of your life; will give you specific instructions on how to live, if you ask right; will violate the laws of physics on your behalf; and thinks you are so damned special, it will preserve your existence for all of infinite time.

But no, you’re not an egoist.

“..we cannot experiment on anything outside the solar system, nor (realistically) on the earth as a whole, nor on events in the distant past”

Ah, the Laboratory Fallacy. I see you skipped Science 101. Scientific inquiry is not, has never been, and cannot be confined to simple laboratory inquiry. Laboratory experiments are not the only way to prove hypotheses and develop theories. General Relativity was demonstrated by Eddington through an observational experiment. Events in the distant past are observed by the effects they leave behind in the universe today. Hell, we can SEE events in the distant past through the telescopes that you claim a vast international (no doubt Jewish?) conspiracy keeps from honest inquirers such as yourself. It is not necessary to place a black hole in a beaker to know that certain radio objects have exactly the characteristics predicted by black hole theory. You don’t have to smash a fossil in a rock tumbler to count strata and figure out how old it is. It’s funny that someone who believes in a firmly Hard Anthropic Universe trots out the Soft Anthropic Principle to try to disprove every scientific advance since Alfred Russel Wallace was hit in the head by a flying frog.

I have examined your diatribe against the Big Bang theory, and understood more of it than I thought I would. I should thank my college Cosmology professor. But it is littered with statements that are inaccurate at best, lies at worst. Velocity is measurable. Black holes have been observed thousands of times. There is no relationship between singularities and “dividing by zero;” singularities have been successfully described mathematically – in fact, they were invented mathematically. You seem to be confused about how scientists characterize dark matter and energy, as if they weren’t disturbed by their ignorance in these areas. You commit fallacy number one above by equating dark matter and energy, which if they exist must conform to physical law, with angels and demons, which are the very fairy stories you mock elsewhere. The difference is that, despite your mischaracterization, dark matter and energy must adhere to science, while magic does not. Then, amazingly, you quote Occam’s razor. Unfortunately for you, the most convoluted amalgam of inflation, dark thingies, string theory and quantum nonsense is by definition far simpler than the “God hypothesis.” God is the most complicated thing imaginable, since it must contain all other systems. And of course, it explains nothing.

Saying that “’supernatural explanations explain nothing’ is cheap ignorant rhetoric” is cheap ignorant rhetoric. I know because your response constitutes nothing more than “nuh uh uh.” Supernaturalism can explain nothing because explanations require logic and reason, or they are not explanations by definition. Magic denies that logic and reason can explain the universe – by definition. Once you define a magical space creature, a Jewish zombie or otherwise, as the ultimate cause of reality, the obvious question, raised by every schoolchild, is what created the zombie? When you reply that the zombie is uncreated, or (in the ultimate abandonment of logic and English syntax) self-created, the more intelligent schoolchild simply points out that if the Great Space Ghost can be uncreated or self-created, then so can the universe – we just cut out the middleman. Occam’s razor.

You keep referring to metaphysics. Although this is a traditional branch of philosophy, which counts scientific Cosmology as a sub-discipline, it is entirely inappropriate to introduce metaphysical concepts into a scientific discussion. Metaphysics has yet to abandon supernaturalism; therefore it has nothing to say about science. It is, for all intents and purposes, theology.

You write of a conflict between science and “atheistic naturalism.” Science IS naturalism; its original name was “natural philosophy” for good reason. Science is materialism; to assign science a supernaturalist component is to destroy it. Naturalism and supernaturalism, science and religion are opposites by definition – your misuse of these terms renders them all useless. This is not a matter of taste, nor of philosophy – adding magic to science would be the same as removing magic from religion – science wouldn’t be science just as religion wouldn’t be religion. The very definition of science is the search, through rational investigation, for materialistic laws of the universe. If you posit a magical universe, then you must also posit a universe without science – after all, magic has no rules, the incessant efforts of theologians to invent these rules out of thin air notwithstanding. Since you completely misunderstand what science is, I’m not surprised that you also misunderstand Biology and Cosmology – mo matter what education you claim.

As an analogy, a Marxist economist may disagree with Capitalism, may even despise it. But if he or she does not understand what Capitalism is; misrepresents it; refutes that its principles even constitute economics; then that person is not an economist. They are not even a Marxist, since Marxism relies on Capitalism as its basis.

You say you are someone who “considers it a great privilege to be involved in scientific endeavour.” Your lack of understanding of the most fundamental principles of science; your willingness to discard any scientific evidence or conclusion that conflicts with your bias toward magical thinking; your habit of opposing scientific conclusions based not on evidence or reason, but on their perceived incompatibility with Conservative politics; these make your statement not merely incorrect, nor a faulty opinion, but an outright lie, of which I believe you are consciously aware.

You have reached the erroneous conclusion that you can’t be a good, moral person unless you adhere to a fictional magic worldview. This is nonsense. And as long as you pretend that you are some kind of scientist, you are not only a liar, but also a fraud.

Perhaps you will view this as an insult, and not print it. That would be in character, but certainly ironic – you already characterize all atheists, all liberals, and most scientists as liars and frauds on your blog.

I’m sure you will continue to misrepresent science on your blog, and to suppress dissenting voices, as you seem to lack the bravery and moral character necessary to examine your own worldview critically. But I’m hopeful that someone visiting this site who is confused on these issues will learn enough to seek out genuine information.

UPDATE: 12/17/09, Davy left a comment, into which ScientistForTruth inserted a reply.

Full disclosure: Davy is an offline friend of mine, who found this post via my Facebook page.

Davy
Why have Kunochan’s comments been censored? It’s dishonest to edit out the parts of his arguments with which you can’t contend, but respond to the rest as if it were the whole of his argument.

I see also that you’ve deleted two of his replies to you in their entirety – but he’s posted them elsewhere, and it does you poor service, and quite undermines any attempt at intellectual honesty you might make, to eliminate his polite disagreement with your thesis.

ScientistForTruth replies
You are misinformed. I have not deleted two of his replies. Firstly, I’m not obliged to put up any or every comment received here. Secondly, the whole post not put up was referred to in my reply to another comment of his – it was a rather silly comment hectoring about the ethics of editing comments, and frankly unworthy to be put up here. You’ve seen it elsewhere so you can judge for yourself. I don’t go round changing people’s wording, and tampering with comments like that. If I remove parts it is because they are abusive, off topic, prolix etc, and removal is shown by the ellipsis or [snip]. The two parts I removed from his comment related to comments on other people’s comments, nothing to do with the content of my post. I will continue to use my judgment to remove such comments in future.

By the way, his disagreement is far from polite. His characterization of the Christian God as a ‘magic creature’ and Jesus as a ‘Jewish zombie’ is completely out of order.

Moreover, his making false assertions of what people believe, when he either does not understand or is wilfully misrepresenting, is disgraceful and dishonest.

Final Response to ScientistForTruth (1/21/10):

Well, it’s clear that ScientistForTruth isn’t going to reply to my last post. That’s his right, I guess. (Online handles are funny. ScientistForTruth is as much a scientist for truth as I am a female Japanese child — as “Kunochan” implies, at least to the
anime-impaired.)

But I want to say one thing in response to Davy, who privately contacted me to concur with ScientistForTruth on a single point, that certain phrases I used in my reply were disrespectful, or at least counterproductive. (I don’t remember Davy’s exact words, and if I’m misconstruing his message, I apologize. If he corrects the record by commenting below, I promise not to censor him.)

Theists need to control language, for the exact same reasons that Ingsoc invented Newspeak. For simplicity’s sake, I’m going to address this as it regards Christianity – but every single supernaturalist belief system, from Buddhism and Islam to Homeopathy and Paranormalism, does precisely the same thing.

When I say “Jewish Zombie,” I am saying something accurate about one aspect of the messy pantheon of supernatural entities that Christians believe in. “Jesus” is described as “Jewish.” That’s the Greek Scriptures, not me. (The name “New Testament” is anti-Semitic, so I tend not to use it.) Jesus is described as undead. “Undead” means one was alive, then died and became a corpse, then came to life again. This is the precise sequence of events in the Christian myth. Yet even the neutral term “undead” is unacceptable to Christians. “Zombie” is right out.

I can also say “Space God.” The God of Christianity, a kind of vague, dumbed-down version of the ancient Jewish Yahweh-El, is said to be omnipresent. Well, 99.999-add a few thousands 9s-% of the universe is empty space. So, “Space God.” Accurate, but they won’t have it.

Christians worship a pantheon of Six-Limbed Bird-Men. They will object to “worship” and “bird-men” – I don’t know about the “six-limbed” – but all these characterizations are perfectly accurate. Some Christians even believe you turn into a Six-Limbed Bird-Man when you die, giving you the power to watch over and grant wishes to your descendants, just as in Shinto. But call it “granting wishes” or compare it to Shinto, and Christians get their knickers in a twist.

I can call all of these beings “creatures,” because that’s what they are. They’re not humans (not even the dead humans, not anymore) and they’re not animals. But Christians don’t like “creature,” although they are strangely okay with “being.”

Christians cast spells. They never, ever call it that. They call it “prayer,” or “blessing.” But a prayer is still just a ritual meant to
appease a supernatural entity – a spell. A blessing is still a ritual meant to imbue an object with supernatural power. It’s all meant to get one of the three gods, or one of the pantheon of spirits, to violate the laws of the universe for your convenience.

(By the way, and this is an aside, but using that last line, which paraphrases the comedian Emo Philips, reminded me that I discovered who popularized ScientistForTruth’s unattributed quote about black holes “dividing by zero” – Steven Wright. You know, the imminent cosmologist and mathematician Steven Wright.)

If you don’t use the precise terms the theists use, you will “offend” them. ScientistforTruth says it’s “completely out of order.” He
doesn’t even defend this, not just because he can’t, but because he doesn’t think he has to do so. In polite society, one doesn’t
characterize religious concepts in any fashion that is not approved by religious persons.

This is ridiculous. Seriously, it needs to be ridiculed. It deserves no respect.

It comes out of the reprehensible idea that some ideas are special and cannot be questioned or examined. Two types of belief systems adopt this idea: religions and dictatorships. Religions call it the “sacred.” “Sacred” means “question this and I’ll kill you.”

And remember, the entire point of ScientistForTruth’s original post above was to ridicule scientific theories. He fails, because
scientific theories are not sacred. He can’t offend anyone. He just sounds silly. But it also shows that ScientistForTruth affords this special sanctity only to his own ideas, and no one else’s.

What’s most bizarre, at least with Christians, is the whole idea that calling their beliefs “magical” is somehow offensive. It’s the perfect word. God is magic. And if that bothers you, then STOP PRETENDING THERE’S A GOD.

ScientistForTruth claims I’m “demonstrating the horrors and the delusional nature of the atheistic mindset.” He hasn’t been able to identify any delusions, unless accepting an idea that ScientistForTruth finds personally distasteful for undefined reasons
counts as delusional.

But what are the “horrors” of the atheist mindset? Here they are:

  1. Humans are not the center of the Universe, nor the reason for its existence.
  2. The Universe operates according to set and relentlessly fair laws; it was not created and is not operated by creatures that can violate these laws.
  3. The Universe will not provide humans with a list of rules for organizing their society; humans must invent these rules themselves.
  4. The nature of the Universe will not be revealed by revelation; it must be discovered through the hard work of rational inquiry.
  5. Humans deserve to forge their own destinies, and not be trapped by the whims of fictional supernatural creatures or the humans who pretend to represent them.
  6. Humans cannot violate the laws of the Universe by concentrating really hard. They may, however learn the rules under which the Universe works and through this, accomplish amazing things.
  7. You are going to die.

These are the ideas that horrify ScientistForTruth. I’m not being sarcastic – they really do horrify him.

ScientistForTruth claims I don’t know what he really believes, and that I misconstrue his beliefs. Of course I don’t. I know exactly what he believes, because I have been bombarded by these beliefs my entire life. It’s not hard. A theology degree is not necessary – in fact, it would get in the way.

ScientistForTruth just doesn’t like the words I use to describe his beliefs. They are accurate words, but not the words he wants to use. So he tells me I’m wrong.

It’s a Jewish Zombie. If you like worshipping a Jewish Zombie, then don’t deny it, don’t apologize for it. If you don’t like worshipping a Jewish Zombie, then STOP.

I’m going to post this to the original blog, where he won’t approve it. But fair is fair.

This has been interesting. The whole point has been to work on my rhetorical skills, which are admittedly weak; and to try to find ways to ridicule the ridiculous without alienating the open-minded. I’m not there yet, but I’m working on it.

And ScientistForTruth – in the end, I feel sorry for you. Not because of all your hate and paranoia, or the delusional refusal to view the world as it is. I feel sorry for you because Science is WONDERFUL.

Ripomatics and Animatics: Storyboards for the 21st Century

Originally published on I Design Your Eyes on 12/11/09.

A screenshot of a “test” animatic produced by Zoic.

In the beginning was the storyboard, a series of illustrations displayed in sequence to pre-visualize a screenplay or teleplay, and to map out such elements as camera moves, blocking and effects. The modern storyboard was pioneered by one of the entertainment industry’s greatest innovators, Walt Disney, specifically for traditional cel animation. But the technique soon moved into feature film production, and later television, commercials, interactive media and video games — even web site design.

The next evolution in previsualization also came from animation. An animatic is a series of storyboard illustrations arranged on film or video, incorporating timing, simple movement, and sometimes dialogue and music. By making editing and story decisions at the animatic stage, animators can avoid the wasteful process of animating scenes that would eventually have been edited down or cut entirely.

More recently, ripomatics have evolved to help filmmakers design and express the look and feel of a project before any shooting or animating takes place. Originally developed in the commercial production industry, ripomatics are like animatics, but assembled from elements of previous films, television shows, and commercials; plus still images and other preexisting assets. A ripomatic for a television commercial might be composed entirely of clips from other commercials for similar products, combined with new music and messaging. They are often used to pitch projects to clients.

Zoic Studios is pioneering the next phase in storyboard evolution, offering a new kind of animated storyboard that lives halfway between existing animatics or ripomatics and a full 3D animated previsualization.

Zoic Studios compositor Levi Ahmu says “ripomatics were originally designed to make a moving storyboard. And when I got here [to Zoic], I thought it would be cool if we could enhance it a little bit.

bullet_630x354A screenshot of an animatic created by Zoic for a commercial,
for Guerrilla Games’ Killzone 2, entitled “Bullet.”

“The problem with storyboards and making them move [is] the storyboard is very flat. By cutting up the storyboard into layers, you can give 3D motion to it, which is what you’re eventually going to be doing anyway. It gives artists and clients a better sense of what’s going to happen. It also helps you time things out better; you have actual motion in the storyboards, so you can get a more relative frame count of what the product will be.”

But even these animatics gave only what Ahmu calls a “vague representation” of the final product. “So what we ended up doing was creating these 3D environments in a 2D setting. We’re taking 2D cards and arranging them so they’ll represent a room or a street or any kind of environment; then having a virtual camera move through that environment. You can take the 2D actors from the storyboard and put them in this environment; and the advantage of doing it this way is you’ll be able to have a [virtual] camera, with lens properties and animation curves that are more easily equated to what the 3D artists will wind up having to do.

“It’s all being done in Adobe After Effects, which is not at all what the software makers were intending. But the cool thing about doing it in After Effects is that you can put in particles, stuff you would never get in traditional previz, that enhance the experience. “

Some more elaborate ripomatics prepared by Zoic have included 3D vehicle models composed from 2D drawings; rough motion capture; and dialogue, sound effects and music.

Zoic executive producer Aaron Sternlicht, head of the studio’s Games Division, has supervised Ahmu in the production of a number of advanced ripomatics for a variety of clients over the last several years.

saboteur_630x354A screenshot of a ripomatic created for Pandemic Studios’ The Saboteur.

“It’s kind of like a 2½D ripomatic or animatic,” Sternlicht says. “We actually do all of our storyboards so that they’re laid out in layers, which actually allows us to get into production a lot more easily. We’re able to have an edit that is exciting, entertaining and really good to look at, for our clients to view within a few days, as opposed to having a rudimentary gray-shaded previz or just edited storyboards.

“The big reason we like working this way is that we’re able to have clients pretty much sign off on shot design, composition and pacing of camera work in 2D before we ever go to 3D. That allows us to be a lot more efficient once we go to 3D, and [to] give our artists a real clear path of what they’re supposed to be doing once we start building the scenes. So it’s a tremendous tool for us.

“Clients love it because they quickly get to see a massive leap from looking at storyboards to really understanding what the quality of the piece is going to be, the timing, and how exciting it might end up being. So we’re pretty psyched by the whole process.”

Ahmu agrees that clients are benefiting from the new technique. “As opposed to a traditional previz, which is all gray-shaded, and doesn’t have very much ambiance to it, a ripomatic the way we’ve been doing it can have stylized textures, rough animation, that will get the point across in such a way that it’s not like previz where it’s the first step. This is our goal, to have this motion, with these effects on top of it. You can get a rough idea of what the whole thing is supposed to be.”

falling1_630x354Another screenshot of a “test” animatic produced by Zoic.

Sternlicht is quick to point out that advanced ripomatics not only better represent the final product, but also save both Zoic Studios and its clients time and money. Even a complex animatic composed of multiple, animated elements can be produced in only a few days. And because the client is able to sign off on so many elements of the final product while still in the 2D stage, Zoic saves time and effort, and can pass that savings along to the client.

Zoic has applied the technique to video game and commercial projects, and plans to offer advanced ripomatics to its feature film and television clients where appropriate. “We have just had more opportunities for video games to implement it,” Sternlicht explains, “because we often are responsible for direction and creative.

“I think it’s already being used [in TV and feature work]. The technique we’re using is a little more advanced than what is commonly done. But we’re really pushing our ripomatics more towards motion comics, than necessarily your standard edited storyboard. So, full animation of characters, full animation of vehicles, full animation of camera, full animation of effects. It’s really kind of the whole package.

“It’s part of our service. It’s part of working with Zoic and being creative.”

Syd Dutton: Matte Painting from Traditional to Digital

Originally published on I Design Your Eyes on 12/4/09.

syddutton_630x354

It’s a cliché to call an artist “legendary,” but sometimes the word fits. Syd Dutton has been a leading matte painter for film and television for over three decades. His credits include Dune, The Running Man, Total Recall, the Addams Family films, Batman Forever, Star Trek: First Contact and Nemesis, U-571, The Fast and the Furious, The Time Machine, The Bourne Identity, and Serenity.

The Emmy-Award winner co-founded Illusion Arts in 1985, which created thousands of shots and matte paintings for over 200 feature films over 26 years. When Illusion Arts shut its doors earlier this year, Dutton and Zoic embraced the opportunity to collaborate, and Dutton became part of the team.

When I sat down to interview Dutton over coffee, it was with the intention of putting together some kind of grand post about the history of matte painting. But it’s far more interesting to let Syd speak for himself.

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When I looked over your credits, I saw you worked on one of my favorite movies, Real Genius (1985).

That’s one of my favorites too. We did a practical matte for the B-1 bomber. [Val Kilmer and Gabe Jarret sneak onto a B-1 bomber on a military base.] In those days it was still paint on glass, and to get a sharp line for what was supposed to be the underbelly of the bomber, it had to be really sharp. But we were shooting at night. In order to black out the film, to do an original negative – you know what original negative work is, we needed two exposures — to get a real sharp line the matte had to be 50 feet out and 40 feet long. We spent several hours making it, putting cardboard where the belly had to go, making sure people would be underneath that line all the time. It was pretty fun.

But that was the coldest night of my entire career. I’ve been to some cold places, like Prague, but on that Van Nuys tarmac, that was the coldest ever.

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You also worked on David Lynch’s original Dune (1984). Can you tell me about the matte painting of the Harkonnen city on Giedi Prime?

Basically this was just a big painting. The people who are moving around were shot in a parking lot at Estudios Churubusco in Mexico City. Just one smoke and fire element was used over and over again. And then a car on a cable goes through the shot. The car was created by model maker Lynn Ledgerwood (The Bourne Identity), and measured about 8″ long.

The difficult thing about that was my partner and Al wanted to keep [film] as much as possible from being duplicated… we wanted to keep the painting on original film. So [we were] shooting the painting and making a very crude motion control frame-by-frame move; taking the film into an optical printer, trying to match the move through the optical printer; and then we put the people in and the smoke and the cable car. So we had to do a lot of adjustments, and we found that it had to be so exact, if we waited to shoot in the afternoon, the concrete floor had expanded. We had to shoot at a certain time in the morning, before the expansion occurred. So it was complicated, but we seemed to have lots of time in those days, and it was a fun painting to work on.

David Lynch would come by when I was painting it, and he would say “I like it, I want it dirtier.” He was always a nice guy, really a gentleman.

In your experience, what is the difference between working with traditional mattes versus digital?

There was a wonderful thing about doing original negative matte shots. You had to prepare the shot, and then you had to be committed to a matte line.

You had a whole bunch of test footage, and when the painting was completed you had to re-expose the same film, and hope that light bulbs didn’t burn out when you were shooting, or that the glass didn’t break. But it had a completeness to it, and so when you finished a matte shot, and when it came out like the ones in Real Genius — I thought they came out pretty well — there’s a great sense of completeness.

You made a long matte, you worked out the problems, you’ve been cold, you’ve endured that process, and you’ve gone through the photochemical process of developing the pieces of film, and working the matte line until it has disappeared. And finally you take a deep a breath and expose the two or three good takes that the director likes. And you put the worst one through first to make sure everything is working well, show it to the director, and then put the hero take through. Of course nobody had seen any footage unless they were shooting a B-cam, which they never did; and so it was kind of like the Catholic Church, where the director had to trust you that in two months or so you would have a finished product they would approve and like.

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Did you ever experience any disasters in that realm?

The only near disaster was when Tony Perkins — we were the first shot up on Psycho III (1986), that he was directing, and he was a real nice guy — and the first shot was this girl leaving a nunnery, and there was a piece of string that she had to follow so she would be on the [right side of the matte line].

And we had everything ready, the camera blocked off, and Tony Perkins came on the set. He came over to the camera, he looked through the lens and said “that’s perfect,” and then put all his body weight on the camera to lift himself up. And we said “we can roll in a few seconds!” I didn’t want to say “oh, you just [expletive deleted] up the shot!” We said, “oh, we need just a few more minutes of adjustment.” So we lied – we had to reset the matte, readjust the camera. If we had told him he had just screwed up the first shot of his movie, it was really bad luck. But that’s another shot that turned out well, I liked that shot a lot.

I can’t remember who the production designer was, I think it was Henry Bumstead [it was]. Everyone should know who Henry Bumstead was. He just died a while ago; he worked until 90, and died when he was 91 [in 2006]. He was Clint Eastwood’s favorite production designer, and in his 80s he designed Unforgiven — beautiful production design. Henry always made everything easy. Of course he had worked on Vertigo (1958).

According to IMDb, your first movie was Family Plot with Alfred Hitchcock?

Well, that was uncredited. I was hired by Albert Whitlock to work on The Hindenburg (1975) as a gopher, primarily, but then I came up with some ideas of my own, and Al liked them; so after Hindenburg Al made me his assistant. And Family Plot was again Henry Bumstead. Al really didn’t want to do the matte shot because he felt that it was – Hitchcock just wanted to show [actress] Karen Black what a matte shot was. It was a police station in San Francisco, a pretty easy matte shot; adding a second story, putting some what I would call “intelligent nonsense” in the background. So I painted that.

You had a fine art background?

Yeah. I went to Berkeley. Had a master’s degree. Had a wonderful time. Everything I learned, except for a sense of color, was totally useless when it came to matte painting. But it was still good to have that background. The best thing about going to Berkeley in those days was everyone wanted to be in San Francisco in the ‘60s. So I met people like Mark Rothko, pretty famous painters.

So what was it like to transition to digital, to have to train?

Oh, for me it was really hard. Rob Stromberg (2012, Avatar) was working for me at the time, and he embraced it really fast. I was just sort of afraid of it. I got used to it – it took me a while.

The people I know who were able to make the transition faster were people who like to draw things out. Bob Scifo (Fantastic Four: Rise of the Silver Surfer, The Abyss) for example is a wonderful matter painter. He has worked here for Zoic a couple of times. He came from the school where you drew everything out, and then painted it in. But he still got this incredible emotional result.

The way I learned to paint was the way Al Whitlock painted and Peter Ellenshaw (20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, The Black Hole) painted — you just started painting. Sometimes you didn’t know what you were going to paint, exactly; you knew what the subject matter was going to be — it might be a castle — but you just push paint around, and you start seeing things materialize – oh! I can see it now – and you let it dry, and try to bring all of it out of the fog. And that was a wonderful way to paint.

And in Photoshop, at least in the beginning, I couldn’t paint that way. I couldn’t make a big mess – it just stayed a big mess, I couldn’t refine it. The only way I could discover things and make a big mess was with Corel Painter; you can blend colors together and have accidents happen. And then at that point I usually finish the work in Photoshop.

When painting matte backgrounds now, you’re painting a painting, but there’s also the approach where you’re creating a 3D environment and making a 2D image from that.

Yeah. And there’s also projection – projecting a 2D painting onto objects. That’s another way to get camera movement. There’s no such thing anymore as a locked-down shot — that’s what matte paintings used to be. You would do everything in the world to make sure the camera didn’t move. And now people consider it a locked-off shot if they just hold the camera steady.

In the early days, you got to go out on location, sometimes to some really adventurous environments – a rock in the middle of some bay in Mexico; on a hillside in Europe somewhere. It was very physical, so you had that physical part. That part is now gone. Now I have to exercise to stay in shape, rather than just work. It was kind of dangerous, really – I didn’t think about it at the time.

There are no circumstances where they want you to go out and see the original location?

Not anymore. The visual effects supervisor will go to the locations, take photographs. He becomes the point man for every other department.

Does that feel like less involvement on your part?

Well, that’s the trade-off. The trade-off is that we can do now what we used to dream about doing. Which was, wouldn’t it be great if we could paint a grand, futuristic city and loop through it? Wouldn’t it be great if we could have a huge crowd running towards us in that shot? Rotoscope in a thousand people or something?

Things that we used to dream about, we can do now, but the trade-off is we don’t get to be as involved in the production as we once were. I talked to [Zoic co-founder] Loni [Peristere] about that. I said I feel bad for some of the kids here, that they’ll never be on the stage. It’s fun to be on location. He said the trade-off was they have all the tools to make their own movies. So, everything has a trade-off.

More info: Syd Dutton on IMDb.

Sauron’s Blog Gets New URL and WordPress Theme

I just received this mysterious press release, left under the door. The hallway is filled with a foul odor and sticky hoofprints.

The Mouth of SauronGreetings, foul subcreature. I am The Mouth of Sauron, Lieutenant of Barad-dûr, Herumor’s Heir, and Rightful Chief of the Dúnedain. It is my task to communicate to you the commands of Sauron, Lord of the Earth, as well as to share news and recent happenings.

First — there is a new URL for Sauron’s Blog. Although http://kunochan.com/sauron will still work, the proper address is now http://www.sauronsblog.com. Use this URL. The Eye commands it.

Second — Sauron’s Blog has a new WordPress theme, one much more severe and imposing than the previous theme. In fact, the Orcs and Wild Men responsible for the previous theme have been tortured and sent to the mines.

Third — by making purchases via Amazon links from this site, you support not only Lord Sauron’s blogging activities, but also His efforts to destroy the corrupt Elves and Men of the West, and unite all The Earth in peace and prosperity. Even if you do not plan to purchase any of Tolkien’s books of Elvish lies, you can click through from Sauron’s Blog any time you plan to purchase from Amazon.

Needless to say, The Eye commands it.

Now, get back to work! Where there’s a whip, there’s a way!

Visit Sauron’s Blog here. Start from the first post here. By the way, those same Amazon links support kunochan.com as well!

Why Are Firefly/Serenity Fans So Devoted… Even After All These Years?

Originally published on I Design Your Eyes on 12/1/09.

A model of Serenity.

Last month, the Los Angeles Airport Marriott hosted Creation Entertainment’s Salute to Firefly & Serenity, a small but well-attended fan convention featuring appearances by series actors Jewel Staite, Adam Baldwin, and Morena Baccarin & Alan Tudyk, both also from ABC’s V.

Of course Firefly is the science-fiction dramatic series broadcast on the Fox Network in 2002-2003, created by Joss Whedon of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel fame. Canceled after only 11 episodes aired, the show has since engendered a major Hollywood motion picture (2005’s Serenity), a novel, a role-playing game, two comics series, soundtracks, a slew of merchandise & collectibles, and countless hand-knitted orange “cunning hats.”

I stopped by to get an idea of what’s going on with Firefly flans*, and to find out the answer to the question, Why are people still so devoted to a show that had only 14 episodes (and a movie), after nearly a decade?

Here are some answers from convention-goers, from commenters on fireflyfans.net, and from Zoic Studios co-founder Loni Peristere.

The Browncoats, a Firefly-themed band.
The Browncoats, a Firefly-themed band from St. Louis, Missouri.

Some credited the show’s realism, like Co-Pilot Gary Miller of The Browncoats, a Firefly-themed band from St. Louis. “[It’s] because Firefly feels so real. It’s a sci-fi show without aliens. It’s about real people and real-life types of situations — in the future. Not to mention the dialogue, the acting, and the story are all brilliant.”

For me, it was all about the writing. The dialogue, and the way the characters were developed through dialogue, were just brilliant. I especially loved the dialogue for River Tam (Summer Glau of Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles), the ship’s ultra-violent fugitive waif — she rarely spoke, but when she did, it was always a bizarre window into her disordered mind. And usually either disturbing or hilarious.

On fireflyfans.net, hughff says: “I agree that the writing is the key. Too frequently today, television and especially film concentrate on the visual image. However, great films/shows recognize that it’s a synthesis of both visual images and dialogue.

“There was never any doubt from the very start that Firefly had the dialogue right. More than what it told us about the characters per se, I liked what it showed about their interrelationships. The verbal exchanges between Mal and Inara; the way Jayne treated Kaylee like a little sister, the way that Mal’s trust and respect for Simon grew incrementally — these were important to the flavor of the show.

“The show didn’t avoid complexity — these were real people living in a messy (i.e. real) world (alright, worlds) and as such, things were never simple.

“Finally, and Zoic can take more than a little credit for this, the show did have some great visual images: the Reaver ship sliding past in absolute silence; Crow disappearing through the air intake; Serenity rising up the cliff after the bar fight. The off-center and shaky ‘hand held’ camera work, even in the CGI, began a trend that has become everyday (Bourne Ultimatum, Battlestar Galactica) but broke new ground for me. When I first saw the first episode I thought, ‘How could they be so amateur?’ But by the end I was hooked into the vision and never let it go.”

Firefly-themed collectibles on sale in the dealer’s room.
Firefly-themed collectibles on sale in the dealer’s room.

One of the most interesting answers came from Dwight Bragdon, Board Member of the California Browncoats, a San Diego-based non-profit that promotes Firefly and Serenity fandom through charity. Since 2007 they have raised over $100,000 for charities like Equality Now and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. “We are still in love with Firefly ten years later because of the type of people the show attracts. We’re smart, funny and caring, and we took our energy and enthusiasm for the ‘Verse and turned it into a community of giving….

“We can also see how much the cast and crew cared about the ‘Verse too… They lead by example too with their charity. [Actor] Nathan [Fillion] co-founded Kids Need to Read with author P.J. Haarsma; [actor] Adam Baldwin shows great support to the Marine Corps – Law Enforcement Foundation; Joss [Whedon] is a great supporter of Equality Now; and the list goes on.

“These guys and girls are people that I am proud to call friends, proud to call family and I wouldn’t trade them for the world.”

For Beth Nelson, Chairman of the Austin Browncoats, another charitable non-profit based in Texas, the message of Firefly is hope. “People want to root for the underdog, because for many of us, we’re the underdogs right now. Firefly gives us that hope and inspiration. Firefly and Serenity tell the story of people who might have been forgotten, left behind, taken for granted — but if they work together, they can accomplish anything…

“So much of it has to do with how well the characters were developed and how sincere and believable the dialogue was – which is something Joss is known for… We’re all flawed; we can all identify with characters who… sometimes pick the wrong path, even with the best intentions.

“In the end, though, I think we all love what Firefly has become. Firefly went from being this amazing space western to so much more. Outside of the ‘Verse itself, the fans have become a family, a movement that got together to do more than just love a television show or a movie. Numerous fans are working towards charitable goals – ending violence and discrimination or making sure every kid has the wealth of knowledge literature can bring them.”

The dealer’s room.
The dealer’s room.

Loni Peristere was directly involved in the production of Firefly and Serenity, as visual effects supervisor. He created the Firefly-class spaceship Serenity, along with Whedon and production designer Carey Meyer. “When Joss first told me about the new show,” Peristere said, “he told me to read The Killer Angels,” the 1974 historical novel by Michael Shaara, which tells the story of the Battle of Gettysburg from the Confederate perspective. The novel inspired Whedon to create Firefly.

Firefly is about not fitting in, about finding a place for yourself in a world where you don’t fit, finding a family and making a living,” Peristere explained. “There are very few shows out there where the stars are outcasts, who join together as a family, which as Joss says is what ‘makes them mighty.’ None of the characters fit in – Nathan is a Browncoat [stand-in for Confederate]; Morena [Baccarin’s character] is a whore; there’s the fugitive; the tomboy; the interracial couple; the weary shepherd; the mercenary who’s incapable of doing anything else. They would all be loners, if they didn’t band together.

“How Zoic was part of that, is we made the viewer a ‘welcome voyeur.’ The camera followed the emotional beats. By using a handheld camera on-set and a ‘handheld’ camera effect for the CG exteriors, we put the viewer in the emotional center of the story. The viewer is a voyeuristic participant – another outcast, a part of the crew.”

Peristere also feels a special kinship with the Firefly cast and crew. “We knew it was important. We fell in love with it because it was a great story to tell. The show was made by creative people we loved and respected for their bravery, because they embraced the outcast. All the creative people I respect the most come from the cast and crew of Firefly. It was a moment that’s impossible to recapture.”

One last reason the flans and Browncoats stay devoted – because Firefly died too soon. From Jaydepps on fireflyfans.net: “Another reason it is still relevant is because of how abruptly it was cut [off], and it never received closure. We’ve been thirsting for more. A good TV series goes for a decent amount of seasons until the story is filled in, mostly. Then the series leaves TV… Firefly was never given the chance to do this.”

More info: Creation Entertainment; the discussion on fireflyfans.net; The Browncoats website and on MySpace; California Browncoats; Austin Browncoats.

If you want to know why they call us “flans,” just read this aloud: “Firefly fan.”

Zoic Breathes Life Into Cartoon Network’s ‘Ben 10: Alien Swarm’

Originally published on I Design Your Eyes on 11/27/09.

Ben 10: Alien Swarm

This week, Cartoon Network premiered Ben 10: Alien Swarm, its second live-action movie based on the popular animated children’s series Ben 10: Alien Force. Alien Swarm is the sequel to the first live action film, Ben 10: Race Against Time; both were directed by Alex Winter (Freaked, Fever).

Alien Swarm continues the story of ten-year-old Ben Tennyson, an ordinary boy who becomes part of a secret organization called “the Plumbers,” which fights alien threats. He possesses a wristwatch-like device called the Omnitrix, which allows its wearer to take the physical form of various alien species. Ben, now a teenager and played by 23-year-old Ryan Kelley (Smallville), defies the Plumbers to help a mysterious childhood friend find her missing father.

Winter, an experienced director more familiar to fans as an actor from the Bill & Ted films and The Lost Boys, chose effects supervisor Evan Jacobs (Resident Evil: Extinction, Ed Wood) to oversee the movie’s many effects sequences. Jacobs worked with Culver City, California’s Zoic Studios to produce character animation and particle work for a number of key scenes.

Ben as Big Chill, using his freeze breath.
Ben as Big Chill, using his freeze breath.

Zoic worked on three main characters – Kevin “Kevin 11” Levin (Nathan Keyes, Mrs. Washington Goes to Smith), an alien-human hybrid who can absorb properties of matter; Ben’s cousin Gwen Tennyson (Galadriel Stineman, Junkyard Dog), another hybrid who manipulates energy; and Big Chill, one of Ben’s alien forms, a creature that breathes ice.

Zoic’s Executive Creative Director, Andrew Orloff (V, Fringe), says that for the production, the filmmakers chose to stay away from motion capture as “too limiting.” With all the jumping, flying and other stunt work that would be required, performers hanging from wires would not produce as realistic a result as traditional keyframing, in which every frame of a computer animation is directly modified or manipulated by the creator. “All the characters were traditionally keyframed and match moved by hand,” Orloff says.

Orloff collaborated with Winter and Jacobs to turn the Big Chill from the cartoon, an Necrofriggian from the planet Kylmyys, into a 3D, realistic breathing character. Working with a model created by Hollywood, California’s Super 78 Studios, Orloff developed character and motion & flying studies for Big Chill before the filmmakers ever hit the soundstage.

“It was very important to Alex [Winter] that we stay true to the original series, and give it a little something extra for the live action series that’s a real surprise for the viewers, to see their beloved cartoon characters finally brought to life,” Orloff says.

Gwen blasts the alien swarm, as Big Chill hovers nearby.
Gwen blasts the alien swarm, as Big Chill hovers nearby.

“Based on the visual choreography of the scenes, we didn’t really do previsualization as pre-development of the character. We talked about the way that [Big Chill] can fly, the maneuvers it could do; and that allowed Alex to have in his mind at the storyboard phase a good idea of what the kind of movement of the character was going to be.

“He’s a seven foot tall flying alien, so to create that realism was definitely a challenge. To take a two-dimensional character and turn it into a three-dimensional character, you have to maintain the integrity of the two-dimensional design, but make it look as if it’s realistically sitting in the environment. So we added a lot of skin detail, we added a lot of muscle detail and sinews; it was tricky to get the lighting of the skin exactly right. We just had to make sure that the skin had that ‘alien’ quality, so it didn’t look like a manikin or an action figure. We wanted to give a realistic feel to the skin using Maya/mental ray to render that subsurface scattering.”

Much of the footage with Big Chill involved the character flying and fighting inside a warehouse. It wasn’t possible to shoot plates that would track exactly with the as-yet unrendered character, and the filmmakers could only guess how the character would move, and how quickly. So Jacobs provided Zoic with a variety of plates of a number of different moves, plus some very high resolution 360° panoramas of the warehouse interior. Zoic then used these materials to produce its own plates, rebuilding the warehouse from the set photos and creating the shots needed to flesh out the sequence. This process was time-consuming and difficult, as much of the blocking and choreography was highly detailed.

In addition to designing the character’s movements and rendering his actions, Zoic created the freeze breath effects for Big Chill. The character’s power required two kinds of effects. First, Zoic used heavy-duty particle and fluid simulations in Maya and mental ray to create the chunks of ice, smoke and liquid nitrogen that blast from Big Chill’s mouth. Then Zoic produced quite a bit of matte painting work to encase objects in ice, icicles and frost. These include the chip swarm tornado; the interior of the warehouse; and the villain, Victor Validus (Herbert Siguenza, Mission Hill).

Kevin, having taken on the properties of the metal girder, attacks the alien swarm.
Kevin, having taken on the properties of the metal girder, attacks the alien swarm.

The main antagonist in Alien Swarm is the alien swarm itself, a cloud of thousands of intelligent, flying alien chips that work together to harm the good guys.

The alien swarm was also created in Maya and mental ray. According to Orloff, “there needed to be thousands of chips that swarmed with a random yet directed attack. The idea that the chips were learning, so they would group together – first they try to go at Gwen and the kids, and Gwen blasts them away — then they reconfigure into a buzz saw and try to attack the kids that way — then they configure into a large tornado – you have to give a personality, but an evolving personality, to a swarm of objects.” In predevelopment, Zoic looked at fish schooling and insect swarming behaviors in nature, to give the swarm movement that felt organic without seeming contrived.

Zoic also produced the effects for Kevin, who absorbs the properties of matter from objects. “Kevin was a big challenge,” Orloff says, “because what we ended up doing was scanning the actor; as he touched something we would put a CG version of the model over the top of him; rotoscope those few frames where the transition occurs; take that model and map it with whatever the material was – a rusty metal beam, a wood desk, a concrete floor. We rotoscoped the CG version over the top until the transformation was done, and then we transitioned from the rotoscoped animation, based on the actor’s performance, to a fully CG character animation.”

The energy manipulation effects for Gwen were “a ‘two-and-a-half-D’ effect, using 3D particle generators and 3D scene-tracked cameras in Adobe After Effects to create the energy bolts and energy fields that Gwen uses. We wanted to give it a ‘Jack Kirby’ kind of energy feel to it. So it has a lot of character to it, it looks very organic, and it affects the background objects and produces heat ripple effects.”

Frost effects in the warehouse. All of the frost and ice are VFX.
Frost effects in the warehouse. All of the frost and ice are VFX.

While Zoic was providing visual effects for the movie, Zoic’s Design Group worked directly with Vincent Aricco and Heather Reilly from Cartoon Network’s On-Air department, developing both the show and promo packaging for Ben 10: Alien Swarm. The package was used to promote the film both on-air and online – as well as in the Comic-Con preview this past summer.

Design Group Creative Director Derich Wittliff worked with Zoic’s internal production team, lead by Producer Scott Tinter and Designer Darrin Isono, creating 3D environments and models based on the movie’s 2D logo and other references from the film. Elements were created in Maxon Cinema 4D, Autodesk Maya and Adobe After Effects. The final product was a show open and modular promo toolkit which allowed Cartoon Network’s in-house team to create custom endpages, IDs, bumpers, and other elements.

Because the Zoic Design Group worked under the same roof as the team that produced effects for Alien Swarm, they had access to the best elements available from the show, like the “swarm” effect itself, as soon as they were created, allowing for an efficient process which produced finished elements for special uses – like Comic-Con – far in advance of customary production schedules.

Zoic Design Group Executive Producer Miles Dinsmoor says Zoic was excited to have the opportunity to work directly with Cartoon Network, acting as both a visual effects and digital production studio for the main production, and as a creative design shop for the promotional package, exploiting Zoic’s fully integrated media and design department. His goal is to offer Zoic’s in-house design and creative expertise industry-wide, and not just to Zoic’s existing VFX clients.

Orloff says he is proud of the work Zoic did on Ben 10: Alien Swarm, and looks forward to future collaboration with everyone involved – and hopefully, another Ben 10 movie.

More info: Ben 10: Alien Swarm at Cartoon Network; on Amazon.