Friday, February 26, 2010

A weekend in Wine Country...with Zombies!

This past weekend the wife and I, along with two other filmmaker couples that are great friends of ours, all went to Hermann, Mo for their Wine and Chocolate tour. Now, I realize that when you think of Missouri, wine is probably not the first thing that comes to mind. However, due to the ridiculously heavy german populations that settled along the Missouri river in Herman back in the day, that area is a veritible cornicopia of vineyards. The self guided tour itself consisted of 7 of the areas largest vineyards, with a free glass of wine and chocolate delight at each. Then, as is the marketing genius, once you have finished with your gratis goodies, then you can go on to sample all of the other wines they have to offer.

Now, I am generally far more of a beer connoisseur, give me a micro-brewed stout or doppel bock and I am a happy guy. But after a weekend where I sampled over a hundred different types of wine, I definitely developed a taste for it and, as they surely wisely expected, we came home with ten bottles of the stuff.

The town itself is pretty amazing. Lots of old world charm mixed with turn of the century architecture. While the eateries leave a heckuva lot to be desired (avoid the 'oldest continually operating bar west of the Mississippi' unless you like steak that tastes like cigarette ash), the bed and breakfasts were beyond belief. The one we stayed at was absolutely incredible. The Inn at Hermannhof was in a reasonable price range and the cottage we rented with our friends was as cozy and romantic as you could get. We were in Weinert Haus, Teresas Room as the rooms all had names and not numbers. Gas fireplaces in every room, four post beds, incredible showers and free wine. A Glorious nights sleep and highly recommended.

The weekend was finished up with the drive home during which we watched Zombieland in the vans little flip down lcd. Aint technology grand.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Movies, games and awards!

Lots of good news coming from knights end!

We are wrapping up the most recent Nintendo DS game that I was art lead on and I am getting prepped for the next project. As is standard for the type of titles Black Lantern develops, both are games aimed at the youth market. The one that is shipping soon is my all time fav that I have worked on thus far, Chuck E Cheese! Its a goofy property, and when I first heard I was gonna be the lead on the project I was a little disappointed (I had never been to Chuck E Cheese in my life, so only knew them from the commercials). However, thanks to good team communication, a solid gameplay design and a lot of artistic freedom from the publisher, UFO Interactive , I am extremely happy with the playability and overall look of this game.

Art was ahead of the curve for almost the entire dev cycle so I actually got to add in some swank ambient animations, a lot of flashing lights, character animations and random energy one could expect to find at your local Mouse run pizza parlor. In a nod to my own preferences as a classic gamer, all of the mini games are decked out to look like classic arcade cabinets with lots of references to classics such as Galaga, Super Sprint and Joust. I had a blast doing the visual research because it meant I could spend hours looking at and playing old arcade games. Thankfully, the arcade is just up the street from the office so I could go log some research time whenever I needed it. Due out on store shelves in late June, I look forward to see the reviews on this title. Its all entirely possible that it will beat out my old favorite game I worked on, Garfield's Fun Fest. Of course, that one was mainly my fav because I got to do some character design and get it approved by Jim Davis himself! Plus, he signed my copy of the game when it was all said and done. Hard to beat that!

Other big news! Last March the Ozarks were all a-buzz with a feature film that was shooting in our backyard, down in Forsythe, Mo. The flick was Winter's Bone, based off of a novel of the same name. The story follows a 16 year old girl, Ree, who has just found out that her Meth-cooking father has put their family farm up for bail and then disappeared. Either she finds him, or her siblings and half comatose mother are all going to be homeless deep in the Ozarks woods. The book was a great piece of country noir, incredibly well written by Daniel Woodrell. It wasn't an uplifting tale, but one a Missouri boy could definitely relate to and understand. The first couple of drafts of the film script that came across my desk via friends involved in early casting/location scouting were very rough indeed, but you could tell there was promise in the pages. The main failing of the early revisions were that those who had written the script hadn't had a lot of experience with the Ozark folks and their way of speech, so they went back to the way it was handled in the Beverly Hillbillies. However, by the time that filming started the cast and crew had spent a lot of time with some of the natives and when it came to roll sound they had it nailed! It was a pretty amazing process to see how the project developed and became more and more accurate to the way of life, regional vernacular and dialogue one could expect from Deliverance country.

The film had great talent both in front of the camera and behind. Past Sundance best director winner, Debra Granik, was helming the project, with Michael McDonough as DP, and Affonso Gonçalves taking care of the editing. In front of the camera were Jennifer Lawrence (and indie film favorite and actress from the Bill Engvall show), the incredible character actor John Hawkes (I guarantee you have seen him in something), and a Springfield local and good friend of mine, the beautiful and talented Lauren Sweetser. Lauren is the best actress in town (except for my wife, of course) and I am willing to bet she will be a household name within the next few years.

As for myself, I was only able to get away from the Nintendo projects I was working on long enough to be on set for a week. It was a great experience. The teamwork, respect for their fellow artists and talent that I saw on that set was staggering and set a very high standard I will set future productions too. As you can tell I am very happy that I got to be a part of the production.

Plus, Winter's Bone won the Grand Jury Prize at this years Sundance! Yup, the top prize at 2010 Sundance went to the one with the smallest budget that shot in the Missouri hallows. Not only that, but as I said by the time the cast started shooting, the script was pure literary honey, so naturally the film also won the best screenplay award. It was HUGE! Stupid amounts of excitement coming from the Ozark hills!

Look for Winter's Bone at theaters everywhere this summer and congrats to all those involved!