Happy Deathday, Son

Photo by Hanna

My youngest had his deathday party last week. For you breathers out there, a deathday is just like a birthday, only instead of celebrating the anniversary of one’s birth, we celebrate—well, you get the idea.

But a good deathday celebration takes preparation. First I had to decide on the treat. Cupcakes are best for my children, so that nobody fights over who got a bigger piece. And store-bought cupcakes, I reasoned, were loaded with preservatives and chemical additives—not to mention almost entirely free of human flesh or blood. It’s not a deathday treat without flesh. So I took to the Internet in search of tasty cupcake recipes.
No luck. Not only could I not find a single recipe that included both human flesh and chocolate chips, but the sheer variety of designs and decorations overwhelmed my poor rotted brain. Cartoon characters, pop singers—and does any child really need a cupcake decorated to look like the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel?

Store-bought cupcakes it was. I decorated them with severed fingers and toes for party favors, and the little guy was satisfied. Even more so when the breather guests very nicely let them have their favors as well. We have such considerate friends.

Then it was time for the presents. The grandparents had gone all-out, as they usually do. A mace, a rack, two broadswords, and an iron maiden were his total haul from the extended family. I did make the executive decision to put the swords away until he’s older. Several years ago my older son got a similar gift. My poor husband still has the scars around his neck where his head was re-attached.

But the little shambler didn’t even notice the disappearance of the swords. His favorite present wasn’t one of the fancy weapons or intricate torture devices. It was a rusty old hacksaw that his father found on the side of the road while staggering home from work. When I gently removed the saw and pointed out his other gifts, he dove head-first—into the bubble wrap that the rack had come in.

It just goes to show—kids are never going to be impressed with the biggest or most expensive gadgets. It’s almost a natural law: the fancier the toy, the more entranced your child will be with the package it came in.

Human or zombie, living or dead, who doesn’t enjoy bubble wrap?

photo by: Hanna-
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Review: The Walking Dead Game – Episode Two

Axe to the KneeA few months ago we reviewed Episode One: A New Day of The Walking Dead from Telltale Games.  We were encouraged to see the undead given a sense of sympathy rather than used for cannon fodder as we often are in popular first-person shooters.  This time, though, the focus has shifted.  In Episode Two: Starved for Help, the emphasis is on people and survival.

Glenn and Hershel’s appearances in the last episode weave a solid thread through to the storylines of The Walking Dead comic and TV show.  At the end of Episode One, Glen, as he must, returns to Atlanta and we’re left with Lilly. In the comic book, she’s a minor character in the Governor’s camp, but in the game she rises to the leadership role in the three months that pass in game since Episode One left off.   Having someone other than Lee in charge feels realistic.  While we experience the story through Lee, we’re not the one calling the shots.  Lee is subject to someone else’s decisions and his choice lies in his reaction and response to fellow survivors.

The game does remember your decisions.  If you and Kenny are on good terms, you get a few friendly words.  I haven’t seen a game follow and apply the consequences of social interaction since Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic.  Episode Two felt more fast-paced.  Timers on your decision pour on the pressure to make a quick decision for good or ill and that’s where this installment shines.  This isn’t about hand-eye coordination.  Rather, it’s the story and experience that pulls you along.  At times, it pulls despite your objections.

With bandits and bear traps in the woods and conflict at the motel, the undead are the least of Lee’s problems.  Things start looking up when two men show up asking for gas and offer to bring a few from the group up to their dairy farm. Even if you have Lee object to going to the farm, he’s overruled.  While I understand that Telltale can’t code for every possible deviation from the main storyline, it starts to become deterministic and takes on a sense that the group’s fate has already been decided.  Lee is just there to bare witness.

The Walking Dead

The walk up to the farm is as picturesque as can be, but all is not well. This brings me to my second nitpick.  You can figure out what’s wrong at the farm long before the big reveal.  I won’t give away any spoilers, but you’ll unravel the mystery yourself before the story hits the crescendo.

As things go from Mayberry to mayhem, the weather goes from sunny skies to gathering clouds and a thunderstorm.  It’s a prefect background for the most dramatic scenes so far.  Lee is forced into morally ambiguous decisions that can shift alliances and fracture the group.

This time around, we don’t need to wait two full months for the next installment.  As of the time of this writing, Episode Three: Long Road Ahead is due to release in August.  This zombie will be eagerly waiting to bite into it.

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Long Haired Zombie-Killing Freak #6

“Pleased to meet you. Is there coffee?” Why bother to reiterate my name? She knew it. Get to the point. Simple. Clear. Direct.

“Instant.” Tracy replied to me without missing a beat. Cool.

“Better than being raped by goats.” I gave her my trademark smirk, and bent over to pick up my pistol.

“You’ve been raped by goats? Did it scar you for life?” Her tone was flat, so I couldn’t be sure if she was serious until I stood up.

“Not as much as being fleeced by a herd of sheep.”

Push a pun until it breaks, and you’ll know how serious someone is. That is one of my personal laws of the universe; it even works on occasion. She must have been serious as hell: she ignored it.

“My aunt and uncle were right about you.” She told me, sliding her blade back into the wooden scabbard in her belt.

“Really?” I was legitimately curious to hear more. “What did they say?”

“That you’re smart, cocky, and a complete jackass.” She related with a smile. “They also said that you’d be the guy to call if they were in trouble.”

I nodded. Truly, I’ve always been aware that my sense of humor was a social hurdle I’d yet to saw up for kindling… didn’t give me any reason to change, but I wasn’t unaware. I turned, spotted the giant can of instant coffee, and excused myself from the conversation so I could attend to my caffeine addiction.

Moments later, I was making one of the most disgusting beverages in creation: cold instant coffee. Screw it. I need to feed my monkey, just like any other addict, and at least this drug is socially acceptable.

“Does that taste as nasty as it looks?” Tracy asked me, from over my shoulder. Either she moved very quietly, or I was completely off my feed.

“Yes.” I tried not to show how much her stealth bothered me. “It tastes awful.”

“Hm.”

“What?” I hate it when people give you unspecific noises by way of acknowledgment.

“You’re either a serious caffeine addict, or a masochist. I was trying to decide which one would be more interesting.” She smiled at me.

“Yes. You are related to Shirley. This is only more proof.” I downed the rest of the cold mess, and considered my next move towards completing my breakfast.

“I started heating up the squirrel stew that was on the fire,” she said, “in case you’re hungry.”

Marvin had altered the kitchen in the early days of the emergency. He’d added a second steel sink near the far wall, and a vent hood that went directly outside. The sink’s drainpipe had been altered to accept a foot-pump bellows, so the intensity of the fire in the basin could be regulated. That way they could keep a fire, coals, or whatever, going all the time.

Sure enough, I spied the pot on the grate, and thanked Tracy from the bottom of my heart. While squirrel stew wasn’t my favorite dish, it beat the hell out of going hungry. Truth be told, we were pretty lucky, suburban wildlife was plentiful.

My friend Scott, over in Fairfax, often ate goose. There were flocks of them near his place thanks to the insane development of the 1990’s. A lot of man-made lakes were created around shopping centers and condo developments as “water features”. Canadian geese, migrating to and fro, decided that they could spend all year in Fairfax. Food was thick on the ground, and the temperatures were comparatively mild.

Why bother with arduous travel, when you could get it all in one place?

The hunters who supplied our local trading economy usually brought in rabbit, squirrel, fox, and deer. A family across the way, near the hardware store/treasure house, raised goats. Other families nearby grew veggies. There was plenty to eat, if you expanded your mind, and traded well.

A side benefit of the ongoing apocalypse: people were losing weight. The obesity epidemic was being replaced by work-toned physiques… or people who couldn’t rub two sticks together, and just gave up. Most communities didn’t have room for people who just threw up their hands and couldn’t cope. The “do-nothings” were usually ejected by force, and ended up dead or dying.

There was a time I saw as many bodies of zombie victims as suicide. It didn’t take long for the curve to swing back to zombie attacks, though.

I mused on all of these things as the stew came up to bubbling from the sustained simmer it had been enjoying all night. The veggies had given up their shape long ago, but I could still make out the occasional chunk of potato in the pot. Damned strong potato!

Tracy and I sat quietly, eating our breakfast in the kitchen, while the horse gave me funny looks. I tried to ignore the big guy—he was clearly male—and consider my reconnoitering plan for the morning. I couldn’t do it.

“Tracy, why does the horse keep looking at me like I’m a patch of grass?”

“Galen is sensitive.” It was a terse reply, but a reply none-the-less.

“To what?”

“He’s not really fond of men with long hair. I guess he’s deciding whether he’ll get in trouble if he nips you, or tries to make you more presentable.” She looked up her horse with a critical eye. I imagine she was trying to read his mind.

“More presentable?” What was the animal going to do, whip out some scissors after giving me a shampoo and blow-dry?

Tracy looked at me, and gave me one of those utterly meaningful, and completely meaningless “Mona Lisa” smiles.

“He’s bitten my hair off before. That’s when I take the hint and trim it a little. He’s very particular.” She said, twirling a lock of her hair around her index finger.

I looked at her. I looked at the horse. Nice horse. Pretty horse.

I grabbed my hair, and stuffed it down the collar of my shirt. The nice horse turned back to the pan of water.

“You’re quick. Most people don’t come up with a solution that fast.” She complimented me, and slurped another spoonful of stew.

“Did I just pass some kind of test I wasn’t aware of signing up for?”

“Yes, Frank. You did. Good job. Finish your stew before it grows hair.”

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Blobageddon Wins at Blobfest!

BlobfestAppropriately, this year’s Blobfest celebration in Phoenixville kicked off last Friday, July 13th.  Blobfest celebrates and commemorates the filming of the original Blob with Steve McQueen in the 50s.  It was shot in and around the western suburbs of Philadelphia.  The final confrontation with the Blob takes place at the Downingtown Diner, but it’s most iconic scene was captured right in the heart of Phoenixville at the Colonial Theatre.  After making a movie snack out of the projectionist, it oozes out into the audience.  The survivors run out of the front doors of the theater screaming in terror.  Friday night’s event kicks off the weekend-long celebration with a re-enactment.   This year, tickets for the run-out were sold out a month ahead of time.  Nonetheless, the For Zombies team was able to score a few.

We happened to win two distinctions in this year’s Blobfest short film competition for Blobageddon with both the judges’ vote and the fan favorite vote.  The short film is on the right-hand side of the page listed among our YouTube videos.  The award came with a few free tickets and we were able to bring our friends and neighbors along.  Putting the film together was more work than we originally anticipated back in March, but seeing it up on the big screen with a few hundred people in the audience made it all worth it.

The Beast from Twenty Zillion Years Ago was a worthy competitor.  It received an honorable mention and was played first.  The Infectious Blob won in the 12-18 age category, then came time for ours.  Just as the prior film ended, someone yelled out “Blobageddon!” and it didn’t come from our group.   We knew we had at least one fan who’d already seen it.

We were called to stage to receive our award and groaned our acceptance and appreciation behaving ourselves all the while.  No audience members were eaten.

And here’s the proof it was screened before our largest audience to date.

Blobageddon now has its own IMDB page and has been screened at the Trenton Arts All Night Film Festival and will be screened next month at the Mascara and Popcorn festival in Montreal.

Blobfest is one of those wonderful events where you can walk around as a zombie and no one seems to think it’s odd.  The next day we were among Gort (The Day the Earth Stood Still), a Creature from the Black Lagoon, various tiki monsters, a Blob cheerleader and a few fellow undead.  We entered the costume contest and rightfully lost to more worthy competitors.  Clearly, we’re better film makers than we are costume designers.  It did afford the opportunity to make a few contacts and encourage participation in our comedy-horror short film project in November. By the way, we have an open call for an independent short film.  Just in case you missed it, it’s linked at the top of the page under “Want to be in a Zombie Movie?

We’ll leave you with a few images from our misadventures at the event.

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How To Make Your Own Mad Scientists Lab – Part Three

In the previous post in this series we covered how we managed to make our mad scientists lab appear to go into red alert after Bob the hapless technician pressed the Big Red Button to start an antimatter reaction.  The climax to the red alert is the earth exploding, but we needed a transition from the lab to the explosion.

Earth Exploding

Boom!

Having watched far too many sci-fi and horror films over the course of our lives, we decided to simulate the start of the antimatter reaction by having the scene go fuzzy like a television with bad reception and then fade out, like an old school cathode ray tube television being shut off.

First off, we created a freeze frame and exported it as a black and white image.

John, Sanj, Bob - Freeze Frame

Freeze!

We then created a composition consisting of two White Solid Layers.

Grainy Effect Layers

I see white, and a little more white…

We took the layer called “White Solid 1″ and applied an effect called Fractal Noise:

Horizontal Lines Settings

Making lines

This created a series of Horizontal lines rippling vertically on the screen.

Rippling Horizontal Lines

It’s all getting wavy.

We took “White Solid 2″ and applied a variation of the same Fractal Noise effect:

Fuzzy Effect Settings

Fuzzy Settings

This created fuzzy static:

Fuzzy Effect

Who called the fuzz?

We then applied the fuzzy static over the horizontal lines using an Overlay to create:

Grainy Effect

Warm and fuzzy.

We created a new composition called Freeze Frame with the static image as the first layer and the Grainy Effect composition applied as an overlay.

Freeze Frame Layers

Almost there…

This created the final effect:

Grainy Freeze Frame

Maybe we shouldn’t have done that

Next, we animated scaling the picture down to a tiny dot and then fading out, just like an old television being turned off.  If you zoom into the little dot, you’ll actually see a very small version of the above image.

Lab Fades Out

All gone.

Finally, we added a silly static sound effect from Garage Band and, poof, no more mad scientists lab!

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