A lot of what NASA does isn't just looking out at space, but looking back at Earth *from* space. For instance, how 'bout them forests?
A map released in 2010 showed forest heights around the world, with a particular focus on the continental United States. Using readings from reflected laser pulses ("LIDAR") collected by three satellites--NASA's ICESat, Terra, and Aqua--the agency was able to determine the heights of trees in forest, and compile that into a detailed map. The highest forests were found in the Pacific Northwest (yay! :) and parts of southeast Asia. Here's the map of forest heights in the United States:
image by NASA Earth Observatory/Image by Jesse Allen and Robert Simmon/Based on data from Michael Lefsky (source)
They went one better in 2011, putting together even more detailed maps, collaborating "with the U.S. Forest Service and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) to assemble a national forest map from space-based radar and optical sensors, computer modeling, and a massive amount of ground-based data." An estimated 5 million trees were measured! The "space-based radar" data came "from the Shuttle Radar Topography Mission, which was flown on the space shuttle Endeavour in 2000." Wikipedia says Endeavour was outfitted with two radar antennae for the mission: "One antenna was located in the Shuttle's payload bay, the other – a critical change from the SIR-C/X-SAR, allowing single-pass interferometry – on the end of a 60-meter (200-foot) mast that extended from the payload bay once the Shuttle was in space. The technique employed is known as Interferometric Synthetic Aperture Radar," which uses "differences in the phase of the [reflected radar] waves" to determine heights in great detail.
They combined that data with Landsat satellite images and on-the-ground measurements by the U.S. Forest Service to come up with a very detailed map of biomass across the country--not just how high the trees are, but how dense they are, so they were also able to map the overall carbon content of the forests. Here's the US biomass map:
image by NASA Earth Observatory; map by Robert Simmon, based on multiple data sets compiled and analyzed by the Woods Hole Research Center. Data inputs include the Shuttle Radar Topography Mission, the National Land Cover Database (based on Landsat) and the Forest Inventory and Analysis of the U.S. Forest Service. Caption by Michael Carlowicz. (source)
Here's a zoomed-in view of the Pacific Northwest:
image by Robert Simmon, based on data from Woods Hole Research Center (source)
Those grid patterns in the center (just below Seattle, which is on the mid-east side of that big inlet, which is Puget Sound) are from logging!
The coastal Pacific Northwest of the United States has the tallest trees in North America, averaging as much as 40 meters (131 feet) in height. It has the densest biomass—the total mass of organisms living within a given area—in the country.
A rule of thumb for ecologists is that the amount of carbon stored in a tree equals 50 percent of its dry biomass. So if you can estimate the biomass of all the trees in the forest, you can estimate how much carbon is being stored. If you keep tracking it over time, you can know something about how much carbon is being absorbed from the atmosphere or lost to it.
In a recent report by the U.S. Forest Service, researchers noted that while the federal government owns slightly less than 50 percent of the forest land in the Pacific Northwest, it controls more then 67 percent of the old-growth in the region. That percentage is rising not because of new federal acquisitions, but because harvesting removed about 13 percent (491,000 acres) of old- and “late-sucessional” forest on non-federal lands. (The main reason for old-growth loss on federal lands is forest fire.)
Here's the Seattle area at the released map's highest detail level; my biomass is just to the left of that biggish lake in the north central area!
A while back I posted a video of "Robojelly," a US-produced mechanical jellyfish. Well, German pneumatic and electric transducer manufacturer Festo has something much, much more impressive--the AirJelly:
And that flying robot jellyfish (they've got an aquatic one, naturally) isn't even the most impressive of Festo's robot creations; that would probably be SmartBird, a flight-capable robot bird. But they've got whole flocks of other amazing lighter-than-air robots, like these blimpy, self-navigating AirPenguins, their AirRay, which looks like a really creepy flat metallic balloon, and their SmartInversion, a flying...M. C. Escher-ish geometric thing that twists upon itself to generate propulsion--all constructed from ultralight materials, propelled with Festo's new line of pneumatic actuators, and mostly buoyed with helium.
Here's a video in which they describe how some of their "bionic" creations work:
The Hubble Space Telescope got a pretty good view of aurorae on the planet Uranus recently:
image by NASA, ESA, and L. Lamy (Observatory of Paris, CNRS, CNES) (source)
Not exactly where you'd think they'd be (at poles perpendicular to the ring), are they? NASA's caption says:
These are among the first clear images, taken from the distance of Earth, to show aurorae on the planet Uranus. Aurorae are produced when high-energy particles from the Sun cascade along magnetic field lines into a planet's upper atmosphere. This causes the planet's atmospheric gasses to fluoresce. The ultraviolet images were taken at the time of heightened solar activity in November 2011 that successively buffeted the Earth, Jupiter, and Uranus with a gusher of charged particles from the Sun. Because Uranus' magnetic field is inclined 59 degrees to its spin axis, the auroral spots appear far from the planet's north and south poles. This composite image combines 2011 Hubble observations of the aurorae in visible and ultraviolet light, 1986 Voyager 2 photos of the cyan disk of Uranus as seen in visible light, and 2011 Gemini Observatory observations of the faint ring system as seen in infrared light.
Uranus' magnetic field is not only at a funny angle, it's also offset "from the center of the planet towards the south rotational pole by as much as one third of the planetary radius":
Weird! Wikipedia says "Neptune has a similarly displaced and tilted magnetic field, suggesting that this may be a common feature of ice giants. One hypothesis is that, unlike the magnetic fields of the terrestrial and gas giant planets, which are generated within their cores, the ice giants' magnetic fields are generated by motion at relatively shallow depths, for instance, in the water–ammonia ocean."
I came across a webcomic with really nice art! It's called Astray3, and it's a sorta science-fiction fantasy adventure type of thing, I think. Anyway, in the last four or so pages, which were coming out about once a month (and then stopped entirely, but a recent blog post by the author says new developments are in store, so we can hope), the inking and coloring really reached an awesome level of gorgeousness, almost getting semi-abstract in parts if you look carefully, but always coming together into a perfectly intelligible image. NICE.
I'm still working away at A*'s upcoming subscription mode on the weekends; this past weekend I got the thingy done that will let subscribers change their password. WOO. Next I have to do a thingy to let them change their email address, oh and also a thing so you can reset your password if you've forgotten it--that one's kind of tricky because you have to send them an email with a special limited-use URL that resets it when clicked or something, I guess... Anyway yeah that's the kind of fun stuff I'm weekending on! And just to be clear, the comic will always be free--subscribers just get access to the extra-large comic size, and get the ads removed. Also one nice thing the real subscription mode will do that the current preview mode doesn't (that link in the lower right corner of the comics) is that as long as you don't log out or clear your browser's cookies, every time you come to the site it will come right up with your previously selected comic size, so if you've been reading in the HD-size, you'll see that right away when visiting the site, without having to click something to embiggen them.
Are you ready for a Supermassive Black Pen Round-up? Well tough luck, because you've just landed on one! Starting at the end of the last episode and running a good way through this one, I was a bit obsessed with finding pens I could use to do the art for A*, either in tandem with a brush, or on their own. I'm pretty much back to all brush now, but I've got all these pens laying around, and some test sketches I did with some of them, so I might as well say a word or two about them. For the most part, the exotic ones can be found at Jetpens, and the rest at Dick Blick. Also for the most part, their ink isn't as black as say the inks I covered in my recent Supermassive Black Ink Round-up; all of them (unless noted otherwise) are quite adequately waterproof.
Here was the assortment I was thinking I might use for A* at one point (except the last one :p) (these photos are angled away a bit, so the upper pens appear slightly smaller by comparison to the lower ones than they actually are):
And here are the test sketches (on Canson Illustration paper, with finger smudge to test their waterproofness):
Kuretake Disposable Pocket Brush I found out about these fancy-looking yet disposable Japanese markers by asking comic book artist Mike Mayhew what he had used to draw this nifty sketch of Aquaman--he'd used these! Most disposable Japanese art markers, and especially brush markers, are not waterproof, but these are, and they're quite reasonably priced as well. The EF and F sizes have hard little conical tips that lay down very fine, even lines. High quality stuff, no doubt, and their solid plastic construction with gold embossed calligraphic lettering and gold sparkles only adds to that impression--the caps click on and off with a very satisfying firmness. There's a bit more resistance when moving the tip over paper than I would like--almost a rubbery stickiness, but not quite--but that's the only nit I can pick with these, although it is rather equivalent to a nails-on-chalkboard sensation for me compared with, say, a brush. Hm, I suppose you could say that they run a little dry, but I would find later that that's necessary for doing non-damaging work on paper. The tip of the larger M size is different--much bigger, and softer--and I found it much less pleasant to work with than the two smaller sizes; it's just an awkward balance between hard and soft, big and small--if I were gonna use these I'd use the two smaller sizes, and probably a Copic Multiliner M brush instead of the Kuretake one.
Platinum Carbon Desk Pen This is a pretty neat pen. It's actually a fountain pen! Rated EF (extra-fine), but apparently Japanese fountain pens are pretty much a size smaller than their Western equivalents, so it's more like a "super-fine" nib; normally, I hear, a nib this fine would feel pretty scratchy, but this pen is actually pretty smooth, and quite pleasant to write with. If I wanted to feel fancy while writing something, I would use this. Even so it isn't very expensive at all; in fact, the reason I got it was really just to try Platinum's "Carbon" ink that it comes with in a couple disposable refill cartridges, because this pen was cheaper than a small bottle of the ink alone. And it does lay down a very fine, smooth line, but I couldn't use it for A* because, like dip pen nibs, it tends to chew up the surface of the paper, especially if you're going over ink wash or something. The "Carbon" ink, which is apparently a super-fine India ink (even so, this pen supposedly needs its special wide feed to avoid being clogged by it), is quite waterproof, but not really very black. Being a "desk" pen, it's meant to sit holstered in a swivel cap attached to a fancy base sitting on your fancy desk, so it has a long, tapered body (with a hole at the end, it should be mentioned, so it can't be converted to an "eyedropper" pen by filling the body with ink) that doesn't allow "posting" of the cap. It's pretty light and comfortable to hold, though.
J. Herbin Glass Pen - Large I didn't even know these existed until I saw and heard (they make this great glass fluting sound as their tip moves across paper) them in this video; glass pens like this, apparently, are used for testing inks, since you get a good view of the ink as it sits and flows in the twisting channels on the large glass tip--so it works like a dip pen, ie you dip the tip into your jar of ink (I was using Yasutomo Waterproof Black Sumi), and then write with it until all the ink has been sucked off the fluted tip and onto the paper. Pretty neat! This French glass pen didn't seem to hold as much ink in its flutes as a standard dip pen nib does in its reservoir, and like a dip pen nib it did tend to scratch up the paper's surface. I tried rounding the tip--which came with a definite point--using some fine sandpaper, as suggested on the box, but didn't really manage to tone down the paper damage much. Unlike a dip pen, the glass tip isn't flexible at all, so you get no line width variation whatsoever; this does make them handy if what you really want is an even line, though. And they just look (and sound) darn cool.
Copic Multiliner 0.1 Multiliners come in a variety of somewhat odd, small sizes (like 0.03, 0.05, 0.1, 0.3, 0.5, 0.8, 1.0 mm), but of the various types of similar technical or whatever you call 'em markers that I tried (the others were Sakura Pigma Microns, Staedtler whatevers, and Faber-Castells PITTs), the Multiliners had the finest size (the others were 0.05 mm at the smallest), and possibly fractionally the darkest ink and most even lines. I used Multiliners on a good number of the pages earlier in this chapter. You don't really get width variation out of their hard conical tips, but they're actually pretty good at feathering, if you flick them just right. They may feel a little dry if you're used to regular markers, but--as I found with wetter technical markers (see the Tikky Graphic, below)--they're pretty much as wet as you can get without risking real damage to the paper surface due to saturation weakening the fibers of the paper, which would then yield too easily to the hard marker tip. I like the narrow, round bodies of these markers, and their dark gray, silvery sparkled surface, but it's a light plastic that feels a bit cheap, particularly with the cap, which just sort of snugs on and off rather than clicking, and which posts very fudgily on the end; I had a few dry out on me between uses, and I think that might have been because the cap wasn't really on as tightly as it needed to be. I also had a few just die on me rather quickly; these have no cartridge or visible reservoir, so you don't have any warning as to when one might expire. I also killed a bunch of them by getting the tips clogged with white ink, it must be said--even though no white ink might be visible on the tip, the marker would just never regain its full ink flow. A few of the mystery dead ones did manage to revive, however, after I left them standing upside-down for a day or two. When they work, they work well, but they aren't the most reliable pens around, and you can't do *really* fast lines with them without skipping, due to the carefully measured ink flow.
Copic Multiliner SP 0.7 These are the refillable, metal-bodied versions of the Multiliner, and are in theory the more economical (and ecological?) option in the long run since you can replace the tips and ink cartridges. I don't really like the metallic chill you feel when first picking one up that you haven't handled in a while, but they warm to the touch pretty quickly, and unlike the disposables, their small caps click into place with satisfying security--although they don't post as securely as one might like. Rather confusingly, the sizes they come in are slightly different than the disposables, in some cases.
Faber-Castell PITT calligraphy pen For a while I thought this was THE pen I was going to use--you can get a lot of line variation by using different edges or corners of the 2 mm, fairly hard sloped chisel tip, and it puts out a satisfying amount of ink--or more than the Multiliners, anyway. Very fun to play with a fresh one of these. But! I found that the tips are rather unreliable, and can lose their ink flow without warning; the one in the photo actually has a bit of masking tape around the far side, just below the tip, to remind me that that corner is pretty dead. Frustrating! They also sometimes shed a fiber or two--you have to go and pluck it off with tweezers or something--at the beginning. These may be even less reliable than the disposable Multiliners. Also, even the caps can be a bit flakey; the button at the end is a separate piece, for some reason, and it sometimes gets a bit loose, which somehow makes it so that the cap, which usually clicks firmly into place, doesn't click closed anymore unless you press the end of the cap down as you slide the cap into place; very surprising given how solid the rest of the body feels.
Faber-Castell PITT small brush Has a harder tip than Japanese "brush" markers, but it's so narrow that it tends to feel a bit woggley, whatever that means. Just didn't like the feel or the sort of intermediate size. Has the same flukey button cap as the PITT calligraphy pens.
Rotring Tikky Graphic 0.1 Another line of technical markers like the Multiliners, etc. I like that these come in regular, tenth-of-a-mm sizes, though. Though disposable, they feel extremely solid, and the large caps even have metal clips. They also have an ink reservoir view window so you can tell when you're running low; Rotring's marketing claims that the reservoir and feed design ensures they use every last drop of their pretty generous ink supply, but I haven't used enough to verify that. They also give out by far the most ink of any of the technical marker lines I tried; this is great if you're just doodlin', as you get nice even, wet lines even when moving quickly, but if you're really trying to go into some detail, or if you're going over paper that's been wet previously by a wash or something, the paper surface will tend to get oversaturated and then get chewed up by the marker's hard conical tip pretty easily. Also, they cannot do feathering at all; as soon as you touch the tip to paper to any degree, you get the full ink flow.
Rotring Rapidograph 0.25 I included this since I had it laying around, although I knew from when I covered it previously that its hard metal tube tip can't draw lines very quickly without skipping, and chews up the paper like nobody's business. It can't really be beat for fine, even lines, though. I don't think I'll ever get used to the screw-off cap on this thing--I keep trying to yank it off. :P
Alvin Penstix No. 3013-EEF 0.3mm Saw this in a local art store; it is shockingly awful. The ink is brown! I had to double-check that the pen body said "black"; it does (although I notice now that the "India ink quality" after that is in quotes ;P), but man that ain't no black. The small cap with sharp fluting doesn't snap into place, and the narrow body with fixed plastic clip at the end and 90-degree edges toward the tip doesn't feel engineered for any kind of pleasant user experience. The tip is of the small, hard, conical (and spongey) variety. Do not get this unless you really need a brown, uncomfortable small marker.
So of those I felt the Kuretake EF and F, Pitt calligraphy pen, Multiliners, and J. Herbin glass pen were the best with an eye toward A* work, so I did another, slightly larger set of sketches with those finalists:
The PITT calligraphy pen was by far the most fun to use, and you can see there that I was getting the most solid lines out of it.
Here's another crop of pens I have laying around from my pen-speriments:
Copic Multiliner Brush M I felt this was worth mentioning on its own, because the large, somewhat soft "brush" (it isn't really like a brush at all, mind you) felt or whatever tip has a kind of pleasing squishiness and wetness to it. I don't really like it for doing big line work, because it doesn't feel firm enough to me for a really reliable line, but it's very good at filling in large areas. These only come in the disposables--the metal "SP" line just has the small brush, which isn't nearly as satisfying. The soft tip *does* tend to fluff out and lose its shape fairly quickly--well before it ran out of ink, for me--which is a shame, but I haven't found a soft marker tip that has found a way to avoid that problem.
Staedtler Calligraphy duo 3002 There aren't really many waterproof black pigment ink chisel tip markers out there, so when I saw this I figured it was worth a shot even though dual-tip pens drive me buggy for some reason. The clear plastic caps can post to each other, so *that* isn't a problem, at least. The 3.5 mm and 2.0 mm chisel tips are harder than the tip of the PITT calligraphy pen; I'm not sure if that means that they're more reliable, but they *are* more prone to chewing up the surface of the paper. Other than that it seems like a very solid pen.
uni-ball Signo broad White I was turned onto this white gel pen--which I thought might be useful for touch-ups--by a couple white pen reviews I found after I got the Sunburst (see below) and wanted to see how it stacked up. The Signo seems to be the most highly recommended white gel option, and it is indeed much more generous and opaque than the Sunburst. It is not (and doesn't claim to be) waterproof at all and, being a ball point, runs into the problem where the generous line of somewhat thick ink is divided by the metal tip laying it down, so you get a kind of two-line effect, which probably isn't desired in most cases.
Pentel Sunburst Med Picked this up on a whim at a supply store; does offer some non-waterproof white gel ink coverage, but the ink isn't quite as thick or as opaque as could be; also seems to dry up slightly more easily than the Signo, and shares the two-line problem with the ball point tip.
Faber-Castell PITT big brush Of all the pens here, this is the sole one that I'm really still using, if just for sketching (I did do a page or two of this episode with it almost exclusively, though). The large brush tip is quite firm, which doesn't seem nice at first if you're used to softer Japanese large "brush" pens, but it holds up very well with use, taking much longer to lose its shape. Faber-Castell claims these carry something like four times the ink of their regular-sized PITT markers; I'm not sure about that, but I can say I haven't "hit bottom" on one yet--they seem to run into a diminished ink flow some time before that, at which point I don't like them anymore and have to go get a new one. Until that point, though, they put out a very nice, even wet line. The ink is not of course quite as dark as brush inks, but if you layer it up--which is easy to do thanks to the large tip and generous ink flow--it can achieve this kind of nifty, velvety black gloss, which is nice to look at even if it doesn't scan well due to being somewhat reflective. I was a bit wary at first of the large, firm tip, fearing it would be clumsy, but while it can't make a *very* thin line, you can get a reasonable amount of width variation by holding it at different angles, and it is by far the best of any of the markers I tried at laying down big, fast, long, solid lines, and it is of course great at filling in large areas--this is really the only marker I've found that can keep up with my frenetic, heavy sketching. The hard plastic body feels very solid, the thick cap clicks into place definitively, and I haven't had one have the loose-button-cap problem the smaller PITTs sometimes have. Very reliable and quite affordable for how much pen you get.
Pentel Pocket Brush This brush pen actually has individual brush hairs at its tip like a real brush, although they're nylon or something, and actually cut and angled inward to form a sharply tapered point; this seems to mean they always keep a very sharp tip, but at the cost of overall brush strength: there's no real snap or flex here--they're either dragging a loose line, or squooshing into the paper. They're very popular for their portability, though--no having to carry ink and rinse jars around with you--and some webcomics get good results with them. Their ink is waterproof and surprisingly dark--I wish Pentel sold the stuff in bottles! Alas, it only comes in small disposable cartridge refills. The pen body, though plastic, feels very solid indeed, but with a graceful, rounded, stylish exterior--top marks there. In theory these could be converted into eyedropper pens, I think, and I *have* read of some people using Platinum Carbon ink with them, although in theory that risks clogging issues. The small, black Selenis sketch above the other pen test sketches earlier in this post was done with this pen; as you can see, it is pretty handy at big black fill, and feathering, but I at least am pretty much unable to get hard, even lines out of the weak tip. (The big face next to that sketch was done with PITT big brush and calligraphy pens; it was an early attempt at I think page 26.)
Update 5/29: Since I've mostly moved away from regular pens now, I've found myself going to the Pocket Brush lately when I want to do a quick sketch, or even just for when I need something brushy and fast, like for signing paintings. It is quite a handy thing! I should note that although the ink is darker than most of the marker-type pens, it isn't nearly as dark as a good stand-alone ink such as you would use with a regular brush.
Pentel Color Brush - Black Larger, uglier cousin of the Pocket Brush. The Color Brushes are not waterproof, but come in a variety of colors, and I guess they're meant to be used as portable watercolors, sort of. Should be able to hold much more ink, too, because the large, squeezable body is a single large refill cartridge. You're suppose to squeeze it to get ink to flow--unlike the Pocket Brush, which just flows at a set rate automatically--and in theory this offers much more control and variety, as you could use it for dry brush, spatter, and so forth; when I tried it, though, instead of saturating the tapered nylon bristles all the way to their tips, the ink just gushed out the sides and dripped in a big slash right onto the page below. :o And again, the weak tip isn't my thing, but some people get pretty darn fine black and white sketches out of them.
Yasutomo YC Permawriter II FS - 0.05 Saw this at some local store and figured it was with a shot since I was using Yasutomo's sumi ink anyway. The design of the pen body is uncomfortably severe, and the line its fine conical tip puts out is a bit squishy, and not up to par with other technical marker lines in that respect. It was, however, the most waterproof of any of the pens I tried--supposedly they're even permanent on CDs and so forth.
That ends the Supermassive Black Pen Round-up! I will probably not bother you with pen talk for a while as I'm back pretty happily with the brush these days, but I suppose you never know what the future holds!
The Egg is a star in the "preplanetary or protoplanetary nebula stage," and that is actually an awful name for it because it makes it sound like a young star with a protoplanetary disc, whereas it is actually an old, dying star, perhaps once around the size of the Sun, which exhausted most of its hydrogen fuel, shrunk to a small, hot, helium-burning core that blew the outer hydrogen layers far out to form a huge red giant, possibly with a radius as large as the distance from the Sun to Earth, used up its helium, resumed burning of the remaining parts of the large hydrogen outer shell, and now, having lost maybe 50-70% of its mass, has a very disrupted outer shell which alternates with the inner helium shell in burning, every 10,000 to 100,000 years--this is called "helium shell flash" or "thermal pulse." As part of all these goings on in the dying star, jets and material are being ejected pretty frequently, forming this agitated nebula around the star. In the case of the Egg, the cloud of ejected material around it is so thick we can't see the star itself, but we can see "searchlight" beams from it, perhaps shining through holes in the clouds poked by jets from flashes or pulses. The name "preplanetary/protoplanetary" comes from this being the precursor to the "planetary nebula" stage, where a very extended, ring-like cloud has been pushed far out and heated to a glow by the very hot exposed core of the star that remains.
What with the dying and the cloud of material around them, preplanetary nebulae are quite dim; unlike the later planetary nebula stage, the cooler clouds around the star in the preplanetary stage do not glow on their own, but only reflect light coming out from the central star; the Egg may be within 3,000 light years of Earth--although its exact size and distance is by no means certain, maybe at least partly because so little is known of this phase of stellar life that there isn't much in the way of a "standard candle" with which to compare its luminosity and size, from which you could estimate distance--but it wasn't discovered until 1996 (although the NASA post says "was first spotted less than 40 years ago," so I'm not sure if that means it was spotted in old photos but not identified, or if their number is just a typo) because it's so hard to see.
More preplanetary nebula photos, swiped from Wikipedia:
A Hubble photo of the Egg from 2002, with color filters tinting light vibrating at different angles; the caption notes the material from which it is reflecting is mostly carbon:
image by NASA and The Hubble Heritage Team (STScI/AURA) (source)
Orange and infrared false color Hubble photo of preplanetary nebula IRAS 13208-6020, released in 2011:
This space.com article describes an interesting observational experiment that will be run with Hubble next month, when Venus will pass between Earth and the Sun: sunlight coming to us through the clouds around the rim of Venus will carry spectral data revealing elements of the Venusian atmosphere; Hubble is far too light-sensitive to survive being aimed directly at the Sun, though, so instead it will be aimed at a fixed point on the Moon for the full seven hours of Venus' solar transit, and will be trying to pick out the tiny, tiny Venusian light components among the regular sunlight reflecting off the bright lunar surface: "...they're looking for extremely faint spectral signatures. Only 0.001 percent of the sun's light will filter through Venus's thick atmosphere and be reflected off the moon..."
Pretty wild. And this isn't even being done really to learn about Venus' atmosphere, which is already pretty well known--the US and especially the Soviets have landed unmanned spacecraft on the planet, after all (interesting note: 1982's Soviet "Venera 14" Venus lander missed its chance at a soil sample because its probe, striking for the soil, was blocked by its own ejected camera lens cap, which happened to lay exactly where the probe tried to strike). So this elaborate lunar mirror experiment is being done as a test of the quality of data gathered from sunlight filtered through planetary atmospheres--they'll compare the results with what's already known about Venus' atmosphere to see if the readings are good--in the hopes that it can later be applied to detect the atmospheric content of planets around other stars: one main method of detecting planets around other stars is to spot a regular periodic dimming of the star's light caused--in theory--by one of its planets moving between it and us, so I guess the idea is that maybe we could also get useful spectral data about the atmosphere of the planet from that dimmed light.
I came across another comic with interesting art! This one is (warning: mature language and themes) The Ballad of Frank Sartre, and the best description I can come up with is that it's kind of like an ultra-noir "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" with intensely brushy black and white artwork.
The group art show I'm in opens tomorrow--er, tonight...Friday May 11th from 6-9 pm, at any rate! I will be milling around trying to look like I know what I'm talking about with the other artists, probably, so I will be ripe for the plucking if you want to stop by and bend my ear for a while. :) There will be lots of artists and art to see in this "portrait"-themed group show (my dad has a couple photos there!), so it should be a lot of fun!
This is all at the Chocolat Vitale fancy chocolate drink shop in Seattle's Phinney neighborhood:
My contribution is a signed and framed print from my digital A* days, as well as one from "The Princess and the Giant." So probably nothing you haven't seen before, BUT there will be lots to see from other artists, and probably loads to talk about. Probably also free tasty snacks of some sort, if you get there before the starving artists snarfle them all! :d
Also keep in mind I'm going to be having a solo show at this same location a month from now--yep, I'll have the place all to myself then! That's when I'll have a bunch of stuff on show, particularly original A* ink wash paintings, yay. =) There is a little more info about these shows here.
Private company SpaceX just showed off their "Dragon" space capsule at the "first annual Spacecraft Technology Expo" (hm convenient! :D) at the LA Convention Center. There's a photo in that linked article, but eh it just kinda looks like a rounded-off and smoothed-out Apollo capsule, really. BUT the interesting parts start soon: on May 19th, one is flying up to the International Space Station on a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. This trial flight will just be carrying cargo to the station, but it will (if successful) mark the first time a commercial spacecraft has docked with the ISS. And of course THE DRAGON (man it would be way cooler if they painted it with scales or something :|) is really intended for manned spaceflight, so the idea is for it to go on to bigger and bolder things, providing it passes little tests like this one.
A workshop apparently used by ancient Mayan astronomers has just been found among "a large complex of Mayan ruins in the rain forest at Xultun in northeastern Guatemala." The walls of the 6-foot square room are covered with 1,200-year-old astronomical tables and figures in the Mayans' complicated calendar and numbering system, and include calculations of dates spanning about 6000 years; these newly discovered astronomical tables are by far the oldest found so far--600 years older than the previously oldest known ones. The article has some photos!
A* forum poster AndToBeLoved just pointed out a surprisingly A*-esque comic series that ran from 1984 to 1986 in the British "2000 AD" comic magazine: writer Alan Moore and artist Ian Gibson's The Ballad of Halo Jones. Looks pretty neat! It's new to me but the resemblance probably isn't all that coincidental, as glimpses I've been getting over the past couple years of other, older British adventure serials--Jeff Hawke, primarily, and also tiny bits of things like Dan Dare and Garth--have increasingly been inspiring my work on A*. Those old strips really had something special about them--zest, spirit, and wonder combined with absolutely superb and even daring artwork--and they certainly seemed to have inspired a good deal of this latter-day "Halo Jones" as well.
(Let me not forget to mention that AndToBeLoved happens to be the writer of a couple fine webcomics: the eponymous young adult tale (some mature language) And To Be Loved, and the classic newspaper strip format humor comic, My Girlfriend's Dog.)
I do think we should always be a little skeptical when men undertake to write women. Since I would be the last person to claim any particular insight into this endeavor, I just have to settle for trying to make my female characters interesting people (shock!).
There is one way in which I try to leverage my ignorance when it comes to writing Selenis, however, and that is to rely on the smoke and mirrors of mystery and distance--which is where a good deal of the whole femme fatale archetype has come from in our cultural output, I would guess. So we don't tend to hear her thoughts directly, unlike Vero's case with his frequent self-narration. This often forces long periods of silence on the comic, which worried me at first but which I have actually grown to enjoy, as it gives lots of opportunities to play at guessing what she's thinking. We have learned at least one thing about her, though: she is fiercely independent and determined to be second to nobody--not even the Grim Reaper!
The group art show opening tonight was a whole lot of fun! And one of my two pieces even got bought on the spot--okay so it was a very generous friend of my mother, but hey. :D Also they had some really nice refreshments AND they gave me a free cup of their delicious hot chocolate. And there was hob-nobbing and art materials talking (one guy used to run an art supply store!) with the other artists, not to mention getting to hang out with the shop owners and their visitors. Oh and they had a constant custom soundtrack spinning from a multitude of old vinyl albums, like oh say, this one from this. Ha! We are talking some good times!
I also scored some stuff I can actually share with you! The theme of the group show was "portraits," and among the exhibits were piles and piles of old film studio publicity shots--mostly from the early '50's, but some going back into the '30's (and a few from the '70s but the less said about those the better ;P). After I'd almost poured through all of them, one of the owners mentioned they were for sale (and placed the price tag among them :P -- $5 a piece or I think it was $20 for six), so of course I had to root back through them to dig out my favorites to claim as my own--and now I'm scanning them and showing them to you!
The first one that really struck me was this one, because it was one of the few in which I actually recognized the person:
Yes it's Nova Pilbeam! I've seen her an early Alfred Hitchcock movie--back when he was still in England, you know: the 1937 film Young and Innocent. She did a bang-up job in a starring role in that, and although I'm pretty terrible with names I think I remembered hers because it's so unusual. Heck it's almost super-sci-fi at that: just change it to oh Nova Drillbeam for instance and away you go.
What I found especially amusing was what someone--at some time--had written on the back:
Well *I* think it's a super name, and she's a good actress. She was just 17 at the time Young and Innocent was made, and I realize now I'd seen her--but hadn't known anything about her, or realized it was her later--a bit earlier, as she has a smaller role in Hitchcock's 1934 film The Man Who Knew Too Much. Mrs. Pilbeam, who is still with us at the sterling age of 92, left acting in 1949, before she'd even reached 30, so her body of work is pretty brief! And the only clue as to what year this photo might have been taken was that it was from "GB Pictures," which a little searching turned up must have been the British studio Gainsborough Pictures (closed in 1951).
... Okay so the other clue was the actual "NOV 29 1936" stamped on the back, but I'd forgotten about that. >_> So I compared the list of Mrs. Pilbeam's movies with the movies produced by Gainsborough, and the only overlap was the 1936 film Tudor Rose (called Nine Days a Queen when it came to the States, since obviously we can't be expected to know what a "tudor" is :P), in which she played Lady Jane Grey. That publicity shot isn't exactly period clothing, so I guess it was just a general shot around that time for their "Junior Star" lineup or something.
As a bit of a personal aside, Gainsborough was widely known in England--apparently--for their "series of morally ambivalent costume melodramas" that ran from 1942 to '46 (including 1945's flamboyantly ambivalent The Wicked Lady, which Queen Mary surprised everyone in thoroughly enjoying despite the scandalously low necklines of its period dresses, which were hugely censored in the US release and I guess maybe that still accounts for it being pretty impossible to find in a modern region 1 release ;_;) largely sharing a concentrated cast of stars, one of whom was the marvelously wicked lady Margaret Lockwood who, as it happens, beat out Nova Pilbeam for the leading role in Hitchcock's (and Gainsborough's) 1938 The Lady Vanishes, which very well could be my favorite movie of all time. Would it have been as good or even gooder if Mrs. Pilbeam had been the star? It's hard to imagine but I'll try!
~~EDIT 2: The Lady Vanishes is claimed by archive.org to be in the public domain, and you can watch it there. I wonder if this means the other Gainsborough Pictures films are public domain as well... Tudor Rose/Nine Days a Queen and The Wicked Lady have been released on VHS, and Region 2 DVD in the latter's case, but all by different companies--so maybe they *are*! But they aren't on archive.org at any rate, alas.~~
~~EDIT 3: Ah, although a Federal Register Notice of 1997 ordered US copyrights restored on The Lady Vanishes and Tudor Rose based on an overseas copyright claim by Carlton Film Distributors, Ltd (producers of The Wicked Lady region 2 DVD). So technically it probably shouldn't still be on archive.org. =p And I wonder if this means Carlton also has the rights to Gainsborough production photos from the time? Well if you are from Carlton lemme see the paperwork and I can take the photos down. :D~~
The other photo that really struck me was much more mysterious because I had no idea who it was, but it sure was a nice photo:
Well I guess I might be in trouble with Loew's Incorporated since I'm not quite a Newspaper or Magazine--except that Loew's Incorporated hasn't existed since I think 1959, when the 1948 Supreme Court Ruling in the film-studio-system-busting United States v. Paramount Pictures, Inc. case finally resulted in splitting it from its film production arm, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer ("MGM"), which Marcus Loew had formed in 1924 by merging Metro Pictures, Goldwyn Pictures and Louis B. Mayer Productions with his line of theaters, Loew's Theatres Incorporated. The remaining Loew's Corporation was otherwise just a holding corporation for various non-film business activities when Tri-Star Pictures (jointly Coca-Cola, CBS, and Time) "acquired" their theater chain in 1985. In '88, Tri-Star (now just Coca-Cola) merged with Columbia Pictures (which Coca-Cola had let go the previous year) to form Columbia Pictures Entertainment. Sony bought Columbia from Coca-Cola in '89 and merged it with Cineplex Odeon Corporation in 1998, resulting in Loews Cineplex Entertainment...which declared bankruptcy in 2001 due to Cineplex's inherited financial problems. It was bought by several corporations in 2002, who then sold it to "investors" in 2004...who succeeded in merging it into AMC Theatres in 2005. So AMC Theatres, if you need me to take this image down, let me know.
~~EDIT: Oh wait! I was probably looking at the wrong side of that--maybe it would be the MGM side that has the rights. Their lineage up 'til now is *slightly* less convoluted--in the hands of various moguls in the late '60's, acquired United Artists in 1981, owned by Ted Turner for 74 days in 1986 (he had financial troubles :p)--oh! Except he held onto their film and television library. Okay, so Ted Turner, let me know if you need me to take the photo down. :)~~
One other interesting thing about these old publicity photos was that "exploitation" seemed to have a different meaning back then; some of them had labels with wording along the lines of "FOR EXPLOITATION ONLY."
Oh yeah, and they would also touch up the photos with white or black ink to make highlights, shadows, or profiles pop a little more, or to adjust the cropping, for when the photo would be reproduced in shrunk-down form in newspaper articles--the actual original ink touch-ups were on a few of them!
It seems like at least partially a Marvel Comics-produced effort as it focuses on Jack Kirby's time at Marvel, and isn't reluctant to pile both him and Marvel to the ceiling with praise, but there are still some interesting things to be found in there. I hadn't known Kirby worked in animation and strips early on, for instance, and you get to hear about how he worked, what his peers thought of him, and so forth, oh and they have some interesting insights from other Marvel artists, including some whose work I like a lot--people like Walt Simonson and Neal Adams.
Although his "blocky" style certainly looked as though it followed the geometric construction techniques described in Stan Lee and John Buscema's well-known 1978 guide, How to Draw Comics the Marvel Way, to hear the eyewitnesses in this video tell it, Kirby, legendary for churning out five or whatever full comic pages in a single day when necessary, appears to have drawn with little or no preliminary layout phase--just going straight from blank page to final pencils, and not necessarily doing those in any sort of structured order, but maybe putting in a hand here, a head here, and so on until they all connected.
That explains why his proportions were sometimes a bit loosey-goosey, and eh well it sounds kind of like how I'm drawing A* now, frighteningly enough. Come to think of it in fact, on today's page I drew the shoulders, then the hands, then the arms in between them--all directly in ink with no preliminary sketching, of course. >_> I can't say I recommend drawing this way (and I'm unbelievably worse / slower at it than Kirby, certainly!)...but it is kind of fun. ;)
Kirby, mind you, mostly worked in pencil, leaving the inking part to be completed by others as he churned away on more and more pages--which, from the looks of the many penciled pages they show in this video, is in some ways a real shame, because his pencil work has a really gorgeous, subtle range of tone in it that was ENTIRELY lost in the flat and minimalistic inking that was usually laid over it; just look at his pencil renderings of the Thing (the orange rocky guy in the Fantastic Four) in there, for instance: almost every little flat facet of his body is carefully shaded in a slightly different tone of gray, yielding a really great volumetric effect--pretty much reduced to black and white by whoever would come along and ink it, no doubt. Jeepers.
Oh, and all those times in the video that people say Kirby invented that "Kirby Krackle" bubbly energy effect--well, he very well could have come up with it on his own, but similar patterns had been used by others to illustrate space energy in comics well before Kirby popularized it in the States.
I have some other artists I've been wanting to talk about for a while so I may as well do it now! I've mentioned Travis Charest's "Spacegirl" before--a single wide black and white panel science fiction comic :o--and some time after that I found his blog, which is conveniently called Travis Charest's Spacegirl. There you'll find links to semi-recent continuations he's made in his Spacegirl story, new stuff about what he's working on these days, and links to other slideshows of his work, including a fascinating compilation of his art from the Weapons of the Metabaron graphic novel, as well as some of his older work on Jim Lee's Wildstorm Comics series, WildC.A.T.s.
But not...a whole lot else. See, Charest's career took an unusual twist when, in 2000, just as his hyper-detailed, bold pencil and ink work had been getting him noticed in American comics, Charest...moved to France. From what little I know of European comics, they emphasize a rather more fantastic artistry than one finds in the typical American superhero comic style, and I suspect that's what attracted Charest, whose style was starting to go beyond the norm over here. So he went to France, started work on the latest graphic novel in this "Metabarons" series...and seven years or so later, he had about thirty pages done.
That's about a page every three months--not exactly a Kirby-esque page rate. :P If you look at the Metabaron art in his slideshow, you'll see that it is incredibly detailed, but still, that isn't going to keep a publisher satisfied at the rate of one of those pages every ninety days. So the second half of the book was finished by someone else (the difference in art was explained away--apparently somewhat awkwardly--as a flashback sequence or something), and Charest came back to the States, where he's finally started working on a few comic pieces here and there.
Charest's weapon of choice is the Rapidograph technical pen, and finding that out was what got me interested in the things, as I thought gee it would be super if I could get so detailed and cross-hatchy like he does. And his ink wash, like he did with Metabaron, is done with "Rapidograph" ink, which I *think* is probably Ultradraw like I tested recently. Even so, the slow, patient movements the Rapidograph requires are not for me, as I discovered, so I have to admire what he can do with it all the more. Hopefully he'll keep Spacegirl going too!
In my ink device investigations I had someone mention to me that artist Jae Lee had inked with a razor. That mystified me for a while--how would you get ink flowing down the blade? :o--but I guess maybe what that meant was using the blade to shave away bits of black inked paper surface, to create white blast effects and the like, as demonstrated in this video. Maybe?