A Trip To London

Late last month, on a bit of a whim, I decided to take a 5 day solo trip to London. I had been once before, just a bit prior to their hosting of the Olympics in 2012, as a part of a class in my senior year of college and I fell for the city in a big way. I went with one real objective in mind: take photos.

Fun, super nerdy aside: In the run up to the trip I sent out a tweet asking for recommendations of spots to hit when in the city and I mentioned Disney Imagineer and future Disney Legend Joe Rohde (@joe_rohde). He had just been to London and posted a bunch of photos on Instagram that immediately made my list of must sees, specifically Sir John Soane's Museum. To my surprise, Joe responded back with even more recommendations, check them all out in the conversations here. Unfortunately, I didn't get to make it to any of them as my trip was just too short and the restaurants were booked up when I could make it, but next time that list is coming out for sure. 

Unlike my usual trips, this time I opted not to take my usual Nikon D800 kit. With all the security just about everywhere regarding bags and my general laziness regarding carrying ~4lbs worth of camera and lens around my neck as I'm running around town, I opted to rent a Leica M (typ 240) and a Leica Summilux-M 35mm. At half the weight and size of my D800 with lens, this turned out perfectly. So much so that I will be ditching all my Nikon gear in the next few weeks so I can switch to Leica, but more on that at another time.

Below is a fairly chronological look at my trip in photos from that Leica M with some captions here and there. I should also mention that on this trip I focused a bit more on street photography, something that I found infinitely more comfortable with the Leica compared to the big SLR. On to the photos...

Kubo and the Two Strings Wallpaper

I managed to get my hands on a pair of the Kubo XV sneakers that Nike made to celebrate the release of Kubo and the Two Strings. Along with its foil stamped box, the dust bag that came with it made for some pretty beautiful photos, so I figured why not share them with you folks in the form of wallpapers. (Click the icons below to download in your preferred size)

D23 Expo 2015

I'm sure Comic Con is cool but D23 Expo is more my speed.

D23 Expo is a 3-day biennial convention put on by The Walt Disney Company to showcase just about every aspect of the company, preview things to come, and let you peer behind the curtain where ever possible. Not being particular well-versed in the happenings of a pop culture convention of this size, the D23 Expo app proved to be an invaluable resource for marking which panels I planned to hit and which booths I wanted to see. 

There was a ton to see this year so I'm going to run down my list, with my reactions:

Show Floor

John Lasseter's Hawaiian Shirt Collection

I've long admired John's Hawaiian shirts but the prohibitively high prices they regularly seek on eBay has kept me from getting any, so to actually see them up close and person was pretty neat. Not much else to say about this one, though this was billed as shirts coming directly from John's collection, I heard that a few were in fact from a certain Pixar archivist's closet.

Walt Disney Animation/Pixar

Greg Dykstra, sculptor at Pixar

Greg Dykstra, sculptor at Pixar

This was probably my favorite booth on the floor but not for the reasons you'd expect. Several walls in this booth were lined with maquettes from the recently released Inside Out while The Good Dinosaur, Finding Dory and a handful of other films. On top of all this though, the Animation booth had a small intimate demonstration area seating about 50 or so people where Disney Animation and Pixar employees gave talks on a wide variety of topics. My favorites of those talks being a few given by a few folks at Pixar. The first was by Danielle Feinberg and Michael Fredrickson, called "Lights, Camera, Coding". It gave a sort of 5000ft view of some of the ways coding (Python) is used while creating a movie at Pixar. The best part was a little reel Michael showed of programmatic mistakes made across a few productions. These clips included a particularly hilarious sequence where young Carl from Up had a slowly elongating neck and his facial expressions matched up with the glitch perfectly. My second favorite talk was given by Greg Dykstra, a sculptor at Pixar. In his demonstration, Greg walked you through his process of physically sculpting a maquette of Butch, a t-rex voiced by Sam Elliot in the upcoming film The Good Dinosaur. He started with an example of a armature, then moved to a rough sculpt that he actually put some clay on and showed how he would block in pieces of the sculpt. Finally, he pulled out a copy of the final sculpt of Butch which he had completed over the course of early production on the film. I'm not someone who is particularly good with my hand so to see how someone takes raw clay and transforms it into the essentially perfect looking 3d representation of something that only existed as sketches on paper was seriously impressive. 

Me and Nathan Greno

Me and Nathan Greno

Oh and I also met Nathan Greno, co-director of Tangled and director of the recently announced Gigantic, here.

Walt Disney Imagineering

Me, a Na'vi bust, and Joe Rohde

Me, a Na'vi bust, and Joe Rohde

First thing Saturday morning I rushed over to the Avatar exhibit to get a peak at the upcoming "Pandora - The World of Avatar" land coming to Animal Kingdom, the line had been substantially long on Friday. The model of the land that they brought was gorgeous, I just wish we could have walked all the way around it instead of just seeing it from one angle. But what was at the end of this exhibit really stole the show, Joe FREAKING Rohde was hanging out talking to people as they exited. Joe Rhode is to a level at Walt Disney Imagineering where you would think they would just wheel him out on stage at the Parks and Resorts presentation and once he was done he'd go back to his Imagineering duties, but no I walked by on a few occasions and there he was just hanging out by the exit of the booth chatting with people.

On top of this Walt Disney Imagineering also brought a whole slew of artwork and maquettes from Shanghai Disneyland, which is opening sometime next year. The concept artwork and designs here were really impressive (I want that Tron coaster) but I didn't spend all that much time in this exhibit.

Disneyland 60th Anniversary Archives Exhibit

1955 Disneyland Entrance and Attraction tickets

1955 Disneyland Entrance and Attraction tickets

There really isn't all that much to say about this one, it was phenomenal.

Shopping

The Cyclops Print Works Booth

The Cyclops Print Works Booth

So, um, Disney fans really really like to buy things and as you would expect the lines to get into the stores to buy things were extraordinarily long, the Disney Store, where I hear much of the limited edition merchandise was on sale, regularly had a 4+ hour long line. I like buying things too, but not quite that much. Sunday morning, as soon as the doors opened, I quickly queued up for Mickey's of Glendale (a store typically only open for Cast Members) to snag up some Walt Disney Imagineering merchandise. I ended up waiting something like 45 mins and walked out of the store with a few t-shirts and a handful of pins, which I don't even collect but they were too cool to pass on.

I am a clinically diagnosed poster addict, so it should come as no surprise that my favorite place to spend money on the show floor was at Cyclops Print Works, a division of Disney Fine Art. For the expo, Cyclops released 7 full-sized prints from a bunch of artists (Tom Whalen, Dave Perillo, Mark Englert, JC Richard, etc) based on a variety of Disney Properties (Fantastia, Inside Out, Beauty and the Beast, etc) as well as over a dozen smaller handbills. They also did a bit of a scavenger hunt on social media where they were giving out free handbills based on the Disney Animation Shorts. If you collected the handbills for all 12 shorts, you got a free uncut sheet of them as well and I managed to get the job done.

Presentations

Disney Animation

Having seen it in the afternoon of the first day, this presentation set a pretty extraordinarily high bar of everything else I was going to see. You've probably read about most of the stuff announced here a week ago, so I'll just stick to my opinion on everything.

Zootopia

This movie looks funny as I'm sure you've probably already heard but unlike some of the other people I've read it's certainly not my favorite of the bunch shown here and the some of the sequences seemed to stay on the same bit for too long. That all said, Nick Wilde's son, is going to be everywhere once this film is released. Him in the elephant costume may be the cutest thing Disney has every created.

Gignatic

A new take on Jack and the Beanstalk, and with the twists the revealed, I'm in. Nathan Greno is directing this and I just so happened to meet him and get a sketch, a few days after this presentation.

Moana

A big fan of the South Pacific and Lilo and Stitch, I was really intrigued by this movie when they released some concept art a while back. The clips and musical performance they showed has bumped up my excitement even more. One specific clip, where they explained that the Pacific Ocean will be an integral character to the story, had me fighting back tears. It was visually beautiful, the way they made the ocean interacted with a young Moana, but it was just as emotionally striking having known nothing about the character.

I never really got into professional wrestling, but I totally get why the Rock was so huge in the 90s that got is damn good on the mic. Oh and he's also voicing a character/god named Maui in the movie.

Inside Out: Riley's First Date?

Pixar announced a new short was accompanying the DVD/Blu-ray release of Inside Out and they showed it to us in it's entirety. It is just as charming and entertaining as the movie and the subject matter is very funny.

The Good Dinosaur

Having gone through so many production woes, I haven't had much excitement for Pixar's next release The Good Dinosaur. These concerns have vanished after seeing a few clips of the movie and crying during one. Based on the clips shown, this movie reminds me a lot of Finding Nemo, as we follow the two main characters on an epic adventure with the heart of the first act of Up thrown in (hence my crying). It's also worth noting the visual style of the movie. The characters are more simplistic and stylized while the background are super-detailed and highly-rendered. This reminds me a lot of Sleeping Beauty and Earle's very detailed backgrounds against those simple characters.

Finding Dory

I used to have a tropical reef aquarium because of what I saw in Finding Nemo, so I'm totally in on Finding Dory plus the voice cast is phenomenal.

Coco

Out of all the announcements at D23 Expo, including Star Wars Land, this is the one I am most excited about. I love the brightly colored Dia de los Muertos look and the 'diorama' (an early sequence meant to showcase the look and feel of the film) that director Lee Unkrich showed knocked my socks off. It had this Skeleton Dance mixed with a 'dark ride', because of the continuously moving forward camera, that I adored. How awesome would a Dia de los Muertos dark ride in Disney World(I'd say Epcot but I'd probably get in trouble for that) be?

Toy Story 4

People are worried about this, but I have faith and Lasseter is directing, what could go wrong? 

Randy Newman closed out the presentation performing "You've Got A Friend In Me". I love Randy Newman. 

Disney Animation Shorts

A panel of people involved in the Disney Animation shorts were on hand to discuss their associated shorts and how important doing shorts has become to the company. Clips were shown, things were said, just nothing particularly insightful.

Pixar Living Archives

Christine Freeman, lead archivist and historian at Pixar discussed the work that the Pixar archives does and how they serve as essentially a reference library for Pixar employees as well as preserving the company's history

Thoughts on the next D23 Expo

I will 100% be at the next D23 Expo, I just may be paying substantially more money to get it. The Sorcerer's Pass, a VIP pass, gets you reserved seats at every presentation, early entry, special shopping times and more. To my eyes, bypassing all the lines and being able to get into every presentation is worth the $2000 they are asking.

Next time I'd love to see something akin to Animation stage but exclusively for Imagineering. The number of Imagineering presentation was supremely lacking. I want to see engineers discussing designing ride systems. Fireworks people discussing how they put on a nightly fireworks show. Sculptors discussing how they create fake rocks. You get the idea.

All in all, if you are a Disney fan I can not recommend D23 Expo enough.

iPhone 6 Plus Wallpaper

Got myself an iPhone 6 Plus earlier this week and found myself in need of some wallpaper, so I chopped up some of my photos and here's what I've got.

These should also work on the iPhone 5 and iPhone 6 as the aspect ratios are all the same. Be sure to turn off perspective zoom.

Animal Kingdom Ribbons

Animal Kingdom Ribbons

Cinderella's Castle

Cinderella's Castle

Dr. Doom

Dr. Doom

Epcot Squirrel

Epcot Squirrel

Firework Bokeh

Firework Bokeh

Harambe Theatre

Harambe Theatre

Hogwarts Express in the rain

Hogwarts Express in the rain

Main Street at night

Main Street at night

Spaceship Earth

Spaceship Earth

Dirty Foot Pirate

Dirty Foot Pirate

Symphony in the Stars

Symphony in the Stars

WDW Railroad

WDW Railroad

WDW Manhole Cover

WDW Manhole Cover


Universal Orlando using iBeacon

Just got home from a trip to Orlando, doing the whole Disney and Universal deal and one of the things I was most excited to try was Disney's new MyMagic+. The ability for me to use my phone and accompanying wristband to unlock my room, get in the parks, charge purchases, link ride photos amongst many other things is something my nerd self loves. This experience worked just about flawlessly with a hiccup here and there. The thing that makes it all the more impressive is going from Disney to Universal, where there is a card or piece of paper for just about everything (room key, park ticket, Express Pass, and if you are on the dinning plan, a separate card per person per day). Every day I had 4 cards or pieces of paper in a lanyard around my neck. (Side note: why is it that the park ticket is regular old paper and not plastic like your customized room key?)

Just a few days before I departed for Orlando, Universal Orlando released their official iPhone app and I jumped on it right away as it offered real-time wait times. Fast forward a couple days, I'm walking around Islands of Adventure and curious of a ride time, I pop open the app and I'm greeted with a Location Accuracy popup that stated "Turning on Bluetooth will improve location accuracy".

Knowing my Apple technology my immediate thought was iBeacon and a quick google search verified my assumption and brought me to the Terms and Use at UniversalOrlando.com which explicitly mentions 'Apple iBeacon' under (d) Location-Based Features:

... This data may be retained by NBCUniversal and may be used for, but is not limited to, internal and analytical purposes to ensure the integrity of the wireless network and Apple iBeacon system, to identify wait times and visitation trends for rides, shows and attractions, and to improve your experience within our resort destination. We may use aggregate information to better understand guest behavior and make improvements to the guest experience (e.g., managing queue line wait times and improving traffic flow).
— Universal Orlando Terms of Service

In my travels around the parks I didn't notice any iBeacons like Estimote's, so this could be something they are just starting to roll out but they could just as easily be very well hidden. Technology-wise these are essentially the same thing as Disney's implementation except instead of wearing the 'dumb' device around your wrist, it will be mounted on a wall in a shop or in a queue and your phone will see it and notify you via your Bluetooth-equipped phone phone of any pertinent information.

Personally, I'm all for anything that will make the park experience more enjoyable whether it by tracking or any other means but there are some who aren't a fan of being watched, so just remember in order for any of this tracking to happen you have to install the Universal Orlando app other wise you're all safe and the eye in the Universal Orlando sky has no clue where you are.

It will be interesting to see what Universal can do with this, surely managers in the soon to open Diagon Alley will happily take as much crowd information as they can get. That being said, I'm not sure it can completely match the functionality of something like Disney's MagicBands but it's certainly nice to see them taking a step in the right direction.

Review: MoviePass

I've always enjoyed movies and even had aspirations of one day working in Hollywood so I'd consider myself a bit of a movie buff but, unless their was a movie I was really interested in, I always found the cost to be a bit of a barrier from me going to the theaters regularly.

The Premise 

MoviePass is a subscription service that allows you to see every movie once, while it is in participating theaters, so long as it is not 3D or IMAX (they say that options for those two will be coming in the future though). The fee that is charged seems to fluctuate based on where you live and when you signed up. I seem to have gotten in on the ground floor and I'm paying $25/mo but I've heard others being charged as high as $40. It is also worth noting that you get your first month risk-free and can cancel at anytime but after that you are locked into a year commitment. Any cancellation during that first year will cost you a cancelation fee plus any savings you incurred during your usage, its a bit confusing but they explain it here. MoviePass' rationale for makes a lot of sense especially during this time of the year, "We need to protect against fraud and from those who might abuse their membership privileges by seeing a bunch of movies within a short span of time, and then cancelling their membership."

The premise of MoviePass is pretty straight forward. You sign up online and they mail you a Discover card. When you are ready to see a movie, you fire up their app on your iPhone (or visit their website from your phone) and using the GPS in your phone 'check-in' at the theater and let them know what movie and at what time you will be attending. This 'check-in' then activates your Discover card for a period of 30 mins at which point you go into the theater, buy your ticket and enjoy the show.

The Experience

Looking at the MoviePass app on my phone, I signed up on 10/8/12 but my next billing date is on the 15th which means my card took a week to get to me. (You are not billed until you activate your card.) So from 10/15 to 11/10, I have seen four movies with the help of my MoviePass:

  • Looper
  • Cloud Atlas
  • Wreck-It Ralph
  • Skyfall

With the exception of Looper, which was my first experience with MoviePass (where I had a bit of trouble with the app getting stuck while loading), the process has worked exactly as billed. I show up at the theater, check-in while still sitting in my car and buy my tickets from the automated ticket kiosk inside. This whole process works so easily for me because every time I've gone I have been alone. The experience for someone bringing a date or significant other who isn't a MoviePass subscriber would have to involve a separate transaction. I don't see this being a huge deal, but it would be neat if you could just buy the second ticket with your MoviePass card and then have MoviePass throw that cost right onto your billing credit card. 

Pro Tip: Check to see if the theater you frequent has a rewards card (like Regal Cinemas), you could rake up 'free' points for free popcorn/soda while using your MoviePass card.

The Numbers

In the month that I've had MoviePass, I have been to the theater every Saturday (this will probably change to Sat & Sun once football season ends) and for the most part I have been hitting matinees, which at my theater are $9.50. So if we do a little math:

$9.5 matinee x 4 movies = $38

$11.50 evening x 4 = $46

I've seen $38 worth of matinees for $25 and saved $13. Had I seen those and payed the normal evening price of $11.50, I would have saved $21 over the course of the month. If we multiply these out over the course of a year:  

$25/mo x 12mo = $300/yr for MoviePass

$38 x 12mo = $456/yr of matinees ($156 in savings)

$46 x 12mo = $552/yr of evening showings ($252 in savings)

When you spread out the costs over the course of a year and assume your always seeing movies at the same price point, the savings are even more noticeable. 

Conclusion

I picked the perfect time to start a subscription movie service like this, the Academy Award caliber movies are all being released, so it is really easy to get a good bang for my buck out of MoviePass. I will be interested to see how many movies I actually get to the theater and see at the beginning of 2013 when the pickings get a bit slimmer.

Whether or not you are avid movie goer, at the $25-30/mo price point, I think signing up for MoviePass is a given. But at the higher end $40/mo, I'm not sure I would have signed up as it would seemingly be a chore to get your full money's worth.

Overall, the service works surprisingly flawlessly and its forcing me to watch more movies, which is something I can't complain about.

If your interested in signing up, use my invite link here.

Welcome to Blogville

Hey internet, this is Matt.

I've been itching for something to do in my free time, aside from seeing movies with my MoviePass (more on that later), so I'm going to try to reboot this whole blogging thing. 

I'm not going to guarantee a regular schedule but watch this space for many things to come.