Friday, September 07, 2007

Life Update

My blog will live! This post is intended mostly as a friends & family update on where I've been all this time...

Over the past month I took a trip to San Diego for the SIGGRAPH Conference and a little exploring with friends, and I backpacked Half Dome at Yosemite. It was on the latter trip that I met a superhero, who demonstrated that people can, in fact, fly.

If you've never heard of "Birdman", take a look at this video. With a winged suit and parachute, Birdman (let's just say there's only one) can take an extended glide down mountains and across the sky before deploying a parachute for a soft landing. I thought this was strictly the stuff of Warren Miller films and insane Austrians, but little did I know...

Exhausted from the hike to our campground atop Vernal and Nevada Falls in Yosemite National Park, my camping group (Karen, Joey, Jenn, Troy, Mahyar, Andy and myself) decided to call it an early night on Saturday evening in preparation for a 3am night hike up the side of Half Dome. The timing would allow us to avoid the infamous summer crowds on that route, and arrive in time for sunrise over Yosemite Valley below.

The hike went very well: On time and with no bear encounters to stop us, we caught our first glimpse of Half Dome as a huge, monochromatic, arching shape reaching upward into the starred sky, with a short line of headlamps from other early risers slowly working their way up the steep cable climb. Sunrise at the top was beautiful (see pics linked above), and we relaxed up there for over an hour with a dozen or so other people, who gradually trickled off after sticking their heads out over the 5,000 foot tall cliff edge over the valley floor and braving up for the cable hike back down.

Eventually, only four from my group and a couple remained on the rock, finishing our packed breakfasts and preparing to make our own descents. The only person looking towards the valley at a time where everyone else just happened to be turning their SLRs to the sun, I was startled when, out of nowhere (my first thought: A climber?), a man in a helmet, goggles, and a bright red and yellow suit calmly walked to the outermost extreme of the cliff edge, about 25 yards away with a rock outcropping somewhat between us. He seemed perfectly at home standing at the edge, and as he turned to adjust his suit I caught the sight of his backpack. "A base Jumper!" I whispered and signaled to everyone else, keeping quiet such as not to startle the guy before he was all set. "He's going to jump!"

All six of us on the Dome got on our stomachs and crawled towards the cliff edge, holding our cameras out to get sight of the jumper as he made his final preparations. He didn't seem to mind us at all while he adjusted his goggles and some sort of camera on his helmet, and as we watched him we began to realize that this brightly colored suit was nothing ordinary at all: it had wings connecting his legs and armpits!

After a number of goggle tweaks, the man, who seemed about 40, turned to us for the first time and, with a thick European accent, said:

"Hey guys! Don't tell anyone about this, okay? It's a very severe penalty!"

I'm going to assume he was talking about the Park Rangers or Police so I can continue the story here. We all gave Birdman a flurry of support in reply, and he turned back to the cliff, toes to the edge. Then a one bounce, two, three, and... THE GUY JUMPED HEAD-FIRST OFF THE SIDE OF HALF DOME! WOW! He quickly fell out of sight, but that was immediately followed by a loud fluttering sound... at which point the Birdman absolutely soared out across Yosemite Valley, wings opened, flying far away from us before making a broad turn around a central rock face. He disappeared from view behind that face for a few anxious seconds, but re-appeared with parachute opened just in time to land in a small clearing in the forest at the opposite side. Within seconds, he was packed up and gone. His route expertly planned and executed, the Birdman showed off the closest thing I've ever seen to superpowers.

The four of us who witnessed this stunt wouldn't shut up about this for the rest of the day. Hopefully this explains why I questioned what actually caused the lunar eclipse that night...

Back on Earth (err...), I've also wrapped on my third (!) feature film assignment at work. My time on WALL-E's Characters Team felt extremely brief after spending two and a half years on Ratatouille (just a half year or so in this case) and it's too early to get into details, but it was great to be a part of something so unique. WALL-E will be a stunning film and I'm very curious to see how people will react as they learn more! Since wrapping on that project two weeks ago, I've joined the very small crew of the short film that will accompany it. It's been a while since I was in shorts (JackJack Attack on the Incredibles DVD, where my role was fairly small) so I haven't yet decided whether I should be terrified or excited over my very intense production schedule there now. Fortunately I do know that the film is gonna be sweet! :)

There's a small stack of drawings sitting on my desk that I'll try to scan in and share this weekend. If you know of any good getting-started web references for photoshop painting on top of drawings, I'd love to see them!

This post brought to you by the Buy n Large Corporation.

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