Review: The Invention of Hugo Cabret

The Invention of Hugo Cabret
The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Invention of Hugo Cabret, by Brian Selznick, is perhaps unlike any book I have read. Part novel, part picture book, aimed at young audiences highlighting a peculiar figure in cinematic history. To start, there is something beautiful about this book but I find it more difficult to articulate.

Many of the illustrations are exquisite. For me the best images were the ones that had the greatest scope, either interior or exterior. The more going on in the frame, the better the illustrations. Plus, there is a definite cinematic attempt being made that gives many illustrations a storyboard-like quality. Generally, this is remarkably successful. Yet, I felt the young characters, Hugo and Isabelle, looked terribly similar.

The prose narrative of the story is also clever. While the premise of a boy living alone in a Paris train station seems a slight stretch, the evolving relationships that Hugo develops with the other characters are built with care. The fact that Papa Georges is revealed to be the pioneer French filmmaker Georges Méliès was not something that I was necessarily expecting, but made the story all the more enjoyable. Being familiar with Méliès’ work and importance in cinematic history but not the man made me wonder how much of the story was true, if any. Even more surprising is how the fictional account mirrors the filmmaker’s life, giving the whole story greater appeal for me.

Even the themes of the automaton and magic was all enjoyable. These elements combined to make Hugo more interesting and well-rounded, more than a stock scamp of an abandoned kid. Plus, the weaving of cinema’s magician with a young would-be magician eased the tension between the two and made their relationship that much more authentic and interesting. Add the mysterious automaton from Méliès’ past and it is no wonder why the old man remained intrigued but the boy, even if at an arm’s length.

In spite of all of these things, something tells me that this book will be more important as a forerunner to other textual experiments of similar combinations of illustrated prose narratives. I am not sure that the two worked as seamlessly as I might have liked, but I admire the attempt immensely. Considering how much I enjoyed it and how distinctly different the reading experience was, I would like to see more efforts like this by Selznick or others. There is a lot of room for it to evolve as a kind of genre all its own, somewhere between traditional novel and the graphic counterpart.

View all my reviews

Messing About with Mood in Image Composites

Taking another stab at visual assignments, I opted for Switch up the Mood, mostly because I had a few photographs that I had taken with a colleague’s top-shelf digital SLR camera the other day. Consequently, shooting in RAW format, I would be able to crop with much greater ease.

In my first attempt I was really playing around with filters more than anything. I am not even sure that I really accomplished the assignment, at least how it was intended. Mood is kind of an ephemeral thing and perhaps this wasn’t the best image to use. Still, it was worth the experience of playing in Photoshop.

Four Flags Mood Composite

I started with the original image in the upper-left corner, very little adjustments made, save a few auto touch-ups correcting the color, contrast, and tone.

One of the initial problems was determining how large the final composite image would be and doing some of the basic calculations. Mat is not my strong suit, but I knew I was going to quadruple the original image size, even though I was going to do some cropping too for the additional versions of the image. This helped determine the aspect ratio that I would use in the cropped images.

At that point, I just started playing around with adjustment layers in a separate, mock-up window. In the upper-right corner, I was going for an older, darker feel with the cropped version of the two flags. So I played with the exposure settings to get darker tones and deeper contrast. I also toyed with the hue and saturation to pump up the color saturation. I even used a photo filter to enrich some of the warmer colors.

In the lower-right corner, I mostly amped up the saturation and pushed the red color as much as I could without completely distorting the image. I wanted the colors to be brighter and more vibrant, kind of overly rich reds. It was meant to be a riff of the original shot.

In the lower-left image, I had played around so much that I was kind of filtered out and wanted to drain a lot of color out of it. I didn’t really want to go black and white with a full grayscale. So I used a black and white filter, but then kept pushing out the gray until I got the stark, simple black and white look, kind of like old newspaper prints, which seemed fitting for the subject of an antique shop full of old items.

Playing around with all of the filters got a little overwhelming at some point. Without really knowing what I am doing other than trial and error, it does highlight the need to keep track of what I am doing to achieve certain effects. Otherwise, I would never be able to replicate the intended effect.

One of my original ideas was to just riff off of the red, white, and blue scheme in the flags, so I thought I would make another attempt. THe second time I simplified even further, again beginning with the original image. This time I chose to use the same cropping for the other three parts of the composite. This seemed appropriate since I was already thinking of working with three color tints.

Four Flags Mood Composite 2

This effort proved to be a lot faster and simpler. I had already been playing with the cyanotype option in the hue/saturation adjustment layer. So that produced a nice blue-tinted version. Thus, to get the red image I used the same adjustment layer with the cyanotype setting, but then adjusted the hue setting until I got the red look I wanted. The black and white image was adding the adjustment layer of the same name. Then I made a couple of minor adjustments to the contrast.

In each of these images, I had to work with each of the images on separate layers. So I would basically mock-up the look I wanted in a separate window, only to paste them into the window where the final image would be built.

In order to get all the adjustment layers and looks, I would have to flatten the mock-up version before copying and pasting into the final image window. That was a lesson re-learned for me, since I had forgotten some of those little wrinkles.

Originally, chasing some stars in the assignments, I had not at all considered doing the same assignment more than once. It just kind of worked out that way, because I don’t think I was completely satisfied with my original attempt. Also, I did want to see if I could do the red, white, and blue thing relatively easily and quickly, more as proof to myself than anything.

I know just enough about Photoshop to make me dangerous and routinely get frustrated knowing that there is definitely a way to achieve the look I have dreamt up in my head, despite not necessarily knowing which combination of options to use to make it happen.

Still, these were opportunities to explore some of the tools and options that are available. Plus, it was a great reminder of the importance of narrating the work, in part as a way of keeping track of what and how I am getting certain results, even if sometimes they are happy accidents.

After Christmas and Monthly Pics

While Christmas has come and gone already, it has not passed without being documented. The kids were spectacular through everything, all the challenges and anticipation. Hadley was delighted with her gifts, as well as Fritz’s. Likewise, he too was delighted with his gifts and hers. They have even been playing quite nicely together with those gifts of dual ownership, despite the concept being a little lost on the two of them.

Get the flash player here:

One of Hadley’s favorite items was a digital camera all her own. So undoubtedly, at some point in the near future, some of her work will be featured. She is currently working on holding it steady, ling enough to actually capture an image that resembles what she was aiming to get. Still, she is thrilled to be snapping away with abandon.

Apart from that, stay tuned for some images of the Boxing Day Blizzard that is rocking the East Coast. Sadly, the real snow didn’t really begin falling until the evening. So tomorrow’s digging out should provide some pics.

We’re on a New Kind of Clock

When I now think of how often I thought time was elusive before having a child I just have to laugh. What has become more obvious than anything is that Ali and I are simply no longer on our own time. Time is all about Hadley now. Of course this is particularly challenging to Ali and is a difficult thing for anyone without a child to completely understand.

I always hated the pretentious way that sounded when I would hear that sentiment in the past, but our daughter has brought an onrush of realizations that I don’t think I gave enough previous consideration. Preparing to leave the house for any reason is now logistical mobilization. Moreover, once we are ready to go we have a fairly limited window before Hadley needs some kind of tending. It is definitely an adjustment.

One of the fascinating things about when we do take Hadley with us out in public is what a magnet she is. I mean I always knew babies possessed such power, but it is different being the parent as strangers arrive to ogle your kid. In fact, I find myself being sucked into another line I previously dismissed pretty readily, “They grow so fast.” Yet, it is already proving to be so true.

I am gaining some powerful insights into the notion that there will just simply never be enough time, because it really moves so fast.

But enough of all this rot, here are some pictures of the kid. I have to say number 3 “What Are You Lookin’ At?” has to be my favorite picture of her yet, goofy, cute, and lots of personality.

Of course the above images are linked to the original files, but click below for a short video collage. What you think of this?

Yet Another Distraction from Frequent Posting

While the turmoil of change this summer has been documented, one of the things that has been occupying some of my time and keeping me from posting is research. Once again I have been steeped in technology research on the web. Mostly, I have been trolling for things that could enrich my classroom practice, but as I have immersed myself in podcasts, rss feeds, and the like I keep stumbling on more and more cool tools and gadgets. Some things I have been on to for a while but hadn’t really had an opportunity to play with much and others are just popping up everytime I sit down at my computer for longer than ten minutes. For instance, the way I embedded the gallery of images of UMass – Boston from the last post is a new tool I recently discovered.

There are so many cool bits exploding all over the web right now, take that new embedded iPod at the top of the right-hand column as another example. Initially, I only harvested some songs in the preexisting gallery to play with it and see what it was like, because it just looked so cool. Now I have uploaded a small sample of songs by artists that most of you haven’t heard but happen to be some of my favorites. So press play and have a listen and let me know what you think about the music, the new items that I am sprinkling on the site, anything.

I love it when people leave comments. It makes the whole site a cooler place to visit. Fortunately, Blogger (the service I have been using to post content) has made leaving comments a whole lot easier.

Reception 2.0 – Massachusetts Style

Still haven’t got many additional photos from the wedding, but my guess is they will be rolling in now that we are back in town. However, I do have a few images from our reception 2.0 at the home and garden of Ali’s dad in lovely Marlborough.

Photo: Party Patio

I must say that it was actually a pretty entertaining bash, considering the heat was mind numbing. Had it been a little cooler methinks that we all would have had even more fun. Still, to all that headed out west for our suarez, many thanks. We were so pleased that so many people could be there. While we are extreemely grateful for the wonderfully generous gifts, we really were most glad that we got to see you all, break bread (or naan as it was), and chat while imbibing some cool adult beverages. I do sort of selfishly wish that I had not been so hobbled by the untimely ankle sprain, but I tried not to let it slow me down. I may have paid the price on that a little but it was worth it.

Photo: Woodbridge Staff Escape

So I guess it bodes well that in our young matrimonial life we have had the luck of throwing two parties, both under extreme conditions, and we haven’t looked to cancel the deal yet. From buckets of rain to the most dogged days of summer our receptions were memorable to say the least. And to think that we had liquor left on both occasions, suprisingly. Plus, I think we ate Indian food over the next five days; it’s a good thing we like it so much!

Photo: Pin the Ring on the Groom

Photo: Blindfolded Victim

As the pictures clearly show fun was had by all, eventhough they may have felt a bit like a melting popsicle. From a pinata full of candy to stick the ring on the groom (a spin on pin the tail on the donkey), those that endured the heat longer were rewarded with more of such good wholesome fun. In fact, some people were even known to make bufoon’s of themsleves!

Photo: Badminton

Ali Takes a Haas-band!

First let me apologize for the duplicate photographic images in the previous post. What a knucklehead. I am happy to say that they are all fixed, if you scroll down and have a look.

Well, it is now official, as the evidence below proves. Ali and I are definitely hitched, some twenty-two years after first meeting in Señora Rosen’s Spanish class (a class in which I would not finish the year, as a result of growing animosity between me and the aforementioned señora).

Who could have thunk it, especially after our dramatic collegiate break-up, the culmination of a high school romance during what Ali refers to as the “too-too” adolescence? Of course, everything in adolescence can be said to be prefaced by the word “too,” and yet one never seems quite enough when you’re that age. Still, it happened in a strange twist of fate. So here is a visual and textual sampling of the recent event.

Photo: Ken, Keri, and I wait for the Bride

If the old adages are true, then we should have a glorious future ahead of us, no doubt. Our week leading up to the big day in Chicagoland went exceedingly well. We were busy but managed to address all details ahead of schedule. The weather was glorious. Both the day before and the day of the event things had cooled from their high 80°s-low 90°s, to a very lovely low 80°s. Everything was set for a magnificent event as we left to get dressed at our hotel room for our auspicious return. Then the thunderstorms materialized, positively out of nowhere, and commenced with not severe but rather steady rains, just as we got out of the car to get things going. Being an outdoor wedding this was a wrinkle we had anticipated, but were convinced would not be an issue. Surprise, surprise!

Photo: View of the Ceremony

Needless to say, there was a great deal of activity upon our arrival. My second family the Eastman’s rushed into action-mode, calling in in-law Eddie who lives just down the street. Before most people were the wiser, a team of Eastman relatives were assembling an additional tent where we were to have a front lawn ceremony. Bravo!

Photo: First Married Kiss

In a short time, we were able to rally the event and make due with some make-shift alternative arrangements. Everyone was really rather sporting about the whole thing. They must have been taking their cue from Ali, who was positively unfazed by the circumstances. In fact, she was even quite jovial about things, a mood which I must admit I did not share at the time. Fortunately, with so many people rushing to assist, it was hard for me to stay so dour.

Delayed and a little wet, we were married under the big tent in the backyard, amidst thunder and a gentle shower, which even produced a rainbow we were told. Everyone huddled under the canvas and helped us celebrate a fantastic ceremony, courtesy of my long-time friend Joanne, performing as minister. Joanne was marvelous, as were my Best Man Ken and Maid of Honor Keri. Our little bridal party made sure everything went smoothly amidst the circumstances. Before it was all over, Ali took me as her Haas-band, her new turn of phrase that she has become quite fond of using.

Photo: Traditional Toast

From then on, it was barbecue and cake, combined with the meet and greet. Ali and I were so busy we were barely able to stuff a few of our designer cupcakes down our cake holes, and we still didn’t get to everyone. Again, everyone was amazing and really made the day memorable and, more to the point, extremely special for the both of us. So thanks to all that were present. Hell, we even managed to celebrate the birthday of Ali’s sister and father!

Photo: Keri and Henry with Birthday Cake

Unfortunately, the images are still slowly rolling into my mits. So this is just a taste. The official pics should arrive in a couple of weeks. Thus, this is simply the first post that will cover the event. Hopefully, these will give those of you not in attendance a sense of what it was like.

Photo: Me and Ali - Newly Married

More on the big day to come.