Super Celebrities at the Super Megafest

24-Nov-09 4:26 PM by
Filed under Celebrities, Potpourri; 2 comments.

The Super Megafest has become one of my many holiday traditions: the weekend before Thanksgiving, I head to the Framingham Sheraton for an unusual amalgam of sci-fi actors, classic celebrities, comic books, and cosplay. Though this year's event had fewer celebrities that personally appealed to me, those on the roster were ones I couldn't believe I'd have the good fortune to see in person. [photos after the jump]

Brent Spiner signs a photo for a fanUpon arriving, I made a beeline for the corner, where there was hardly no wait to meet Brent Spiner, who played Data on Star Trek: The Next Generation. Instead of a handshake, he offered a fist bump, citing a cold. Though I'm sure he was sincere, even if he wasn't, it seemed an effective tactic to avoid getting sick, given the number of fans I'm sure he was to meet at such an event. I had him sign a picture of Data as a poker dealer, though had I noticed that a shot of him as Sherlock Holmes on the holodeck was also available, I might've opted for that one. As he signed it, I told him how encouraging it was to grow up watching a show where an intelligent, socially awkward individual could be a respected and contributing member of a team. "Yeah, that's a neat thing they did there, isn't it?" he replied. While he next signed the insert from my CD of his 1991 album, Ol' Yellow Eyes Is Back, I commented that a film I rarely hear his fans mention is Out to Sea, a delightful 1997 comedy with Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau, and Dyan Cannon in which he played a fantastic villain. "I thought that was a great film!" I told him. "So did I!" he agreed.

James MarstersI next got in a rather long line for James Marsters, best known as the undead Spike on Buffy the Vampire Slayer. As with Mr. Spiner, I continued my trend of acknowledging the actors' lesser-known works, as I know from my limited experience in community theater that it's not always your best performance that's the one people remember. "I thought you were a great Lex Luthor," I told Mr. Marsters. He seemed genuinely surprised to hear that: "Oh! Thanks! It was particularly interesting to go back and do Smallville after that," he reflected, referencing his appearance on that show as Brainiac. He parodied a conversation with Michael Rosenbaum, that show's Luthor: "'So, you played my role, eh?'" Mr. Marsters told me he'll be doing more voice work on the Clone Wars animated series, though he doesn't yet know what part he'll play.

I hurried from Mr. Marster's table to the celebrity Q&A session, occurring every half-hour. I arrived a few minutes late to Mr. Spiner's session, at which point I was surprised to find fans asking not about his life on the Enterprise, but his life on the stage. Mr. Spiner is an accomplished stage actor, having appeared on Broadway before he did on Star Trek. He told us about his 1997 performance in the musical 1776: "We had the Tonies wrapped up… until Cabaret opened a week before the awards." Someone else also brought up Out to Sea, to which he said: "My life would be very different if people had seen that movie. My life would also be very different if Kevin Kline had never been born."

(more…)

Now for Some Real User Power

10-Jul-07 6:13 PM by
Filed under Celebrities, Films; 5 comments.

Yesterday marked the 25th anniversary of Tron, a film that is so many things to so many people: a milestone of computer animation; a staple of any geek's library; an element in the film studies curriculum I developed; another Jeff Bridges box office bomb. My love affair with this film spans multiple media:

I had to commemorate the anniversary of this cult hit with more than just a marathon session of lightcycling. After reading IGN's interview with Steven Lisberger, Tron's creator, I felt there must be better interview subjects out there.

So I instead got ahold of John Knoll, visual effects supervisor at Industrial Light and Magic. ILM was created by George Lucas for the original Star Wars films and has since gone on to become a powerhouse in visual effects. Mr. Knoll has worked on several of their best films, including Willow, The Abyss, Mission: Impossible, Star Trek: First Contact, the Star Wars prequel trilogy, and the Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy. And somehow, during all that, he found time to invent Photoshop.

On very short notice, Mr. Knoll generously donated a half-hour of his time to speak with me on the subject of Tron, computer graphics, and the industry's evolution over the last quarter of a century. The end result is a very satisfying transcript, even if some notable, general observations didn't make the final cut:

"Even today … filmmakers rely on the special effects to be the only appeal in the movie, and they don't try so hard on the movie because they figure the visuals will carry the film … For those of us who work in the industry, that's not something we encourage. It's just as hard to do the effects on a bad movie as it is the effects on a good movie, and we'd all rather have worked on a good movie."

Continue on to Computerworld.com to read the full interview.

A huge thanks to old LucasArts and ILM colleagues Tom Sarris and Ellen Pasternack, without whom this interview would not have been possible.

Update: the above article has been Slashdotted!

End of line.

11-Jan-07 8:27 AM by
Filed under Celebrities, Films; 3 comments.

TRON comic book cover

A TRON comic book! It's an original story set six months after the events of the TRON 2.0 computer game. I almost missed this book, and chances are I'm not the only one. Be sure to visit your local comic book shop to pick up the third issue, hitting stands on January 17th.

The original TRON is a must-have in any geek's library, such that I included it in the curriculum of the film class I taught, to ensure its legacy is not lost upon the next generation of geeks. I shan't waste time preaching to the choir, waxing its clearly evident values — but I will share my two favorite tangential memories it inspired.

I once got to see this classic film presented on the silver screen, "enhanced" by a pre-scripted, MST3K-style commentary written and performed by the crew of The Truly Dangerous Company, makers of fine Star Wars spoofs. I've asked many times if the script is available for public presentation, but no dice thus far.

Better still was when I attended the (now-defunct) Electronic Entertainment Expo in 2003. I knew Bruce Boxleitner would be on hand to promote TRON 2.0, so I brought my 20th anniversary TRON DVD set for him, Cindy Morgan, and Steve Lisberger to autograph. (As I waited in line, even at this nerd Mecca would passersby would ask me what TRON was. Isn't that grounds for expulsion?) Though I never watch television, my hotel suitemate had the news on as we got ready for the show that morning, and the marquee at the bottom of the screen displayed among that day's top headlines: "Bruce Boxleitner's birthday!" Why the continued existence of a relatively obscure actor was deemed noteworthy, I'll never know. But after Mr. Boxleitner signed my DVD, I shook his hand and sincerely wished him, "Happy Birthday!"

Upon hearing this, Ms. Morgan, sitting next to him, stopped signing my disc, turned to her former castmate, and punched him in the arm: "It's your birthday?! You didn't tell me that!" To Mr. Lisberger: "Hey, it's Bruce's birthday!"

I embarrassed an icon. How cool is that?