Sunday, September 30, 2012

Like pulling teeth...

Wow, September has totally gotten away from me, especially this last week.  However, I am proud to report that I just sent in my final essay for my current class, so stick a fork in me 'cause I am DONE baby!  For the present, I'm going to ignore the part where I have another class starting in two weeks and just be glad that this one only involved four relatively short essays.  The one I turned in today was the longest of the lot and it was 6 1/2 pages.

Remember when I did my first essay for this class and I was bemoaning the fact that I did not manage to incorporate the word "abrogate" into it?  Color me happy, 'cause this time I did.  I'm such a word nerd.  I also used conciliatory, disillusioned, counterproductive, dubious, intransigence, vociferous (ooh, I like that one), incompatible (it took me a ridiculously long time to think of that word, I think at that point I'd been writing for too long and my brain wasn't working anymore), catch-22, inflammatory, counterbalance, equitable, supranational, retaliatory, rancor (not the Star Wars monster, that's a capital R), purported, ferocious, and dovetail.  How's that for an SAT vocabulary?

For the next two weeks, I plan to catch up on some projects in my stamp room, both cards and baby books.  And perhaps start watching the Ghostbusters movies on repeat, 'cause I like to do that every October.  Just so I don't leave you with nothing pretty to look at, here's a picture of one of the cards I made my friend Sarah for her daughter's first Halloween birthday:


And one more Halloween card for good measure!


I'm off to go veg out and watch some movies!

Monday, September 24, 2012

Miranda, Part 5

It's not the last day of the month quite yet, but we're breaking the rules today so here's a cross stitch update post for ya!  September's Scarlet Quince project, you may remember, is Miranda:


When we last left off at the beginning of June, I had 30,201 stitches completed out of 39,894.  On September 10, I was up to 34,838 stitches but my camera was out of batteries, so no photo.  On September 15, here's what she looked like:


That's 37,644 stitches down.  Getting close!  Well, as of last Friday, here's what she looks like now!


Ta-daaaaaaaaaahhh!  All 39,894 stitches DONE, baby.  Not the greatest picture since it's been raining here almost nonstop for two days, so natural light ain't exactly phenomenal, but you get the point.  I'm quite proud of her.  Now I just need to send her off to Mom to have her framed!  (And after that, Miranda will live at Mom's house until such time as we return to the States.)  This is the one that I started the same month that we moved to England.

If I may continue to pat myself on the back and toot my own horn (hehe), yesterday I sat down and managed to write a 3 1/2 page essay in one sitting and get it sent in to my professor.  I now have just one more essay left to go and this class is in the can, too. *happy dance*

And because I am not one to sit still when it comes to having an insane number of projects in the works (I already know I need my head examined, no need to tell me that), I am now prepping to start my next SQ project in January:


Hey look, it's raining in Japan too.  Pip pip cheerio, peeps!

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Harry Potter Tour, Part 3

I started this post several days ago...I think the pictures have been uploaded since Tuesday...but I've spent the week researching for my last two essays for my class and I haven't been feeling 100%.  Lee's had a cold so we're wondering if he shared it with me or what.  But whatever, I have the last batch of the Harry Potter tour pictures today.  I left off with Aragog, who was one of the last creatures we saw before we headed into Diagon Alley.


They had a small model of Gringotts and one that was much larger; the larger one (above) wasn't what you'd call full size but it still looked pretty cool.


Bellatrix Lestrange's "Wanted" posters.  I'm slightly disappointed the pictures don't move.


And here's a view down Diagon Alley.  You can look in all the shop windows so long as you stay behind the barricades...would have been totally AWESOME if we could have gone IN the shops but alas, it was not to be.


Would have loved to get a closeup of all the goodies in here!


There's the shop front for Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes, complete with 30-foot-tall Weasley twin mannequin in the front window.


I understand the desire to skip class, but Puking Pastilles are just...gross.


This is the shop front window to Madame Malkin's, who sells wizard robes.


I forget the name of the shop next to Madame Malkin's, but the front window is full of multicolored Pygmy Puffs, which remind me of Tribbles on Star Trek.  Only they have faces.

After the stroll down Diagon Alley, we entered a section of concept art.  I love concept art--Ralph McQuarrie's concept art for Star Wars was stunning.  It's so interesting to me to see the earliest ideas for aspects of the movies.  I think they had a book of HP artwork in the gift shop but I'm sure they wanted gallon of Galleons for it.  On to what we saw:


View of the Owlery with the bridge in the background.  If you watch the first three movies, the Owlery isn't there; it was added in Goblet of Fire since there was actually a scene there (when Harry asks Cho to the Yule Ball).


Picture of Aragog on the left *shudder* and Aunt Marge when she got blown up at the start of Prisoner of Azkaban.  I noticed when we watched it last week that Dudley gets beaned in the head with buttons from Marge's shirt and falls down twice.


The Quidditch pitch during a storm.


And here's a portrait of Fawkes the phoenix--I tried several times to get a good picture but this is the best I could do.  The original artwork has Fawkes' front end in shadow anyway.


Painting of a little knit pegasus toy, which I haven't noticed so far in the movies.  I confess I *meant* to watch all the movies closely after this tour but when we put in Goblet of Fire I couldn't resist cross stitching during the movie : )


This is the statue of the architect of Hogwarts (seen in Chamber of Secrets I think, Harry and Ron hide behind it when they give Crabbe and Goyle the drugged cupcakes).  At his feet are the four animal mascots of the houses but there were too many people for me to stand back far enough to get a full-figure shot.


Here's the Fiendfyre serpent from Deathly Hallows Part 2.  Seriously, I could have wandered through the concept art for an hour if I hadn't been totally starving, but the last thing we saw was probably the most impressive of the entire tour:


That, my friends, is a scale model of Hogwarts, with individually hand-painted bricks, lighted windows, the whole shebang.  It took a team I think 8 weeks to build it and they would make changes to it as necessary like adding the Owlery or touching up the paint.  For most of the movies, when you see big panning shots of the castle, it's this model.  I can't remember when they switched to a digital rendering, I think maybe Half-Blood Prince?  Or else Order of the Phoenix, but no earlier than that.


These photos cannot convey how incredible this model is; Lee and I were in awe.  It's huge and tiny at the same time--if you look at how big the individual steps are in the staircases you can see on the outside, they're tiny, but the model as a whole is ginormous.


I kind of wish this was a real place so we could go there and see it all, know what I mean?  Eventually we had to leave the model room and head towards the exit (and their cafe).  The last bit we saw was a room where all the wand boxes are:


You know the scene in Ollivander's in Sorcerer's Stone where Harry tries out all the wands?  Each of the boxes was really decorated and they have names on them of people associated with the making of the films.  Check it out:


I really, really, *really* wanted to pull one down and see if it had a wand inside, but I managed to restrain myself.  The room had thousands and thousands of boxes in it, imagine that wall behind Lee multiplied by four.


Last up was a quote from J. K. Rowling, and in case you can't read it in the picture:  "The stories we love best do live in us forever, so whether you come back by page or by the big screen, Hogwarts will always be there to welcome you home."

Awww.

We ate a very late lunch in the studio cafe and then I roamed around the shop, which turned out to be much larger than I thought at first.  It was like they crammed in all of Diagon Alley, Honeydukes from Hogsmeade, and a Muggle clothing store into one huge shop.  You could buy replicas of the wands owned by Harry, Ron, Hermione, Dumbledore, Snape, Voldemort, and others; the Marauder's Map (I got an oversize coffee mug with designs from the map on it, and on one side it says "I solemnly swear that I am up to no good"), books, movies, video games, keychains, postcards, and allll kinds of stuff for each of the four Houses.  They had a myriad of candies from Honeydukes and a menagerie of stuffed toys:  just-hatched Norbert with his shell, Hedwig the owl and all her owly friends, dragons, Pygmy Puffs, unicorns, and on and on.  I managed to be a good girl though; I only got the mug, a few postcards, and a magnet...the magnet has the kids' first view of the castle, from the first movie when they approach it on the boats with Hagrid.  I chose that one because I think that seeing the castle for the first time would just epitomize the magic of going to school at Hogwarts.  And I kinda wish I could go there...I'd even write scrolls and scrolls of essays for Professor Snape if it meant I got to study magic there : )

Hope you enjoyed the tour!  Seriously, if you get the chance, you should totally go see it for yourself.  Totally worth it.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Harry Potter Tour, Part 2

Wow, I whined a bit and then woke up yesterday to 4 comments on my blog.  You guys realize you're rewarding bad behavior, right?  : )  Even more surprising is that all those comments were from people I've never actually met...I'm still slightly surprised that anyone I do know takes the time to read this (other than my mom, who has to because she's my mom, HI MOM) so having anyone else read it is pretty cool.


Vader says hi.  He's currently staring at me like he expects me to do tricks, or maybe feed him my lunch (nice try, little dog--the taco soup is MINE!!).  I think he just pulled a trick on me; the doorbell rang and no one was there when I went to answer it in my purple snowflake pajama pants.  I just don't know how Vader and Sadie could have pulled that one off.

But anyway, let's return to the world of Harry Potter, shall we?


This is a terrible picture of the Horcruxes; all the non-living ones were in this glass case:  the diadem, the ring, the locket, the cup, and the diary.  I hope I'm not giving away too many plot points here.  If I am, then you've obviously been living under a rock for the last 10 years or so.


You may recognize this as the door to the Chamber of Secrets.  This was one of those things that you would think would be an all-CGI effect, but in fact it was a mechanical rig.  I'm not nearly as keen to have one of these in my house as Dumbledore's gryphon.  Also a mechanical rig was Lupin's suitcase from Prisoner of Azkaban, you remember the one that opened its own drawers and pushed out books and moved shoes?  They had it on display and you could press a button to make all the parts move to either pack it all up or open it and display all the contents.


In one corner, they had a bunch of vehicles like this one (the Gringotts cart from Deathly Hallows) and they showed several short films about special effects, including one on what they call "invisible effects".  That's when they have to do effects that you hopefully don't notice at all and wouldn't think are effects; for example, when Harry and Hermione are in the graveyard at Godric's Hollow, it's snowy out so you'd expect to see their breath when they talk or breathe.  That was filmed on a soundstage though so they had to add in the breath clouds to make it look right.


Hagrid's motorbike complete with sidecar; of course it originally belonged to Sirius.  They built several since they got kind of distressed during the shooting of the movie.


Here's another one of the sets, the Burrow where the Weasleys live (my Splitcoast profile lists my location as "at the Burrow with the rest of the Weasleys".  I wish!)  They had little kiosks where you could press a button to make the pan in the sink wash itself, or the iron move to press a shirt, or the knitting needles to go to work:  all mechanical effects.  They also said that the set was designed to have pretty much zero right angles and it's meant to look as if this is something that Arthur Weasley built himself.  I heart that table with the mismatched chairs.  (And I'd totally love to have self-cleaning dishes...I hate scrubbing muffin tins.)


Another set, this is Umbridge's office at the Ministry of Magic in all its pink frou-frou glory.  See the kitten plates on the wall?  They said everyone's favorite day of shooting is when they brought in all the kittens for the kitten plates; most of the animals were rescues who got to be in the movies and then were adopted out afterwards, which is pretty cool.  Save a life, adopt a pet from your local animal shelter (that's where both Sadie and Vader came from).


Several of Umbridge's costumes...as she rises in power at the Ministry, her clothes get progressively pinker.  Lee thinks she's the worst kind of villain (and I kinda have to agree):  the type that acts all nice but really she's a viper behind the veneer of civility.


Offices in the Ministry of Magic.  They're full of cardboard furniture and filing cabinets since real props would have been too heavy for the construction.


More of the Ministry of Magic.  The walls look like marble or something, but it's actually thin pieces of wood treated with a gazillion layers of paint and finish to make them look like that.  It's pretty impressive, even the small piece they still have standing; I bet when the whole set was there it was amazing.


There's a courtyard between the two soundstages where they have items like this motorbike.  I kinda wanted Lee to get in the sidecar but apparently that wasn't cool enough, he had to drive the bike : )  You can see the Knight Bus in the background; you could step up onto the back end of it where Harry boarded the bus and take pictures there, but you can't go inside.  We did look in the windows though and it's totally got beds and chandeliers in there.


We had forgotten that Number 4, Privet Drive totally looks like the front of our house (terrible picture taken when it was getting dark but what can you do).   The diamond pattern on the windows, the tile roof, the color of the brick...all of it is just like our house!  (We're much nicer than the Dursleys though.)


This is a bit of the bridge at Hogwarts.  It was never mentioned in the books, but Alfonso Cuaron (director of Prisoner of Azkaban) wanted to have it to make scenes in that movie more dramatic and visually awesome, so they built this.


Here is the Potters' house that Voldemort attacked when Harry was a baby (though if you watch Sorcerer's Stone, the house in the flashback scenes looks totally different than this one).  From reading the books I kind of think the upper floor should have been more dilapidated and blown up.


They had another line of the Sorcerer's Stone chess pieces along the wall next to the door to the next soundstage.


The faceless thing is kind of creepy.  Then we went in the second soundstage to the Creature Effects department and saw some creepy faces!


Here I think the creep factor is that they have no eyes and I totally took a picture up that goblin's nose.  The dude in charge of this department said that by the time they got to the Gringotts scene in Deathly Hallows Part 2, their techniques had advanced so much that even the goblin extras' faces were better than the best goblin face produced for Sorcerer's Stone.


They also had a bunch of wigs on display (though I didn't take pictures of them).  I still wonder why they gave Narcissa Malfoy skunk hair.


This is one freaky-looking merperson from Goblet of Fire.  I can imagine playing a prank on someone and holding this over their face when they wake up--AAAIIIEEEEE!!!


A momma thestral (minus the wings) and her baby.  They had the Hungarian Horntail dragon's head on display above the thestrals but my picture came out totally crappy.


On the left is the shark head rig from Goblet of Fire when Viktor Krum partially transfigured himself for one of the tasks in the Triwizard Tournament.  On the right, of course, is an electric blue Cornish pixie from Chamber of Secrets, though you also see one or two in Deathly Hallows Part 2...the cool thing about these movies is they never got rid of ANYTHING so they were able to reuse a lot of stuff and you can find all kinds of things in the Room of Requirement that you'll recognize from the earlier films.


Last shot for today is Aragog the acromantula, another terrible picture but it looks kind of cool.  Originally it was almost all black and when I did auto-correct on it, this is what the computer gave me.  I know it's not a real spider but he's still plenty creepy to me...I saw three giant spiders in my house last week though thankfully none of them was the size of Aragog.  *shudder*

So there's Part 2, and believe it or not I still have more pictures for Part 3, coming soon!

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Harry Potter Tour, Part 1

I kind of feel like I'm talking to myself here (that's totally your cue to leave me a comment, like my girl Sadie I am a shameless attention hound) but I'll post something new anyway.  Last weekend, Lee took me to the Warner Brothers studios outside of London so we could see...


Woot woot, it's the making of Harry Potter studio tour! Squee!


Here's me (and my brand new short 'do) eagerly waiting opening time so we could go inside.  And that's one of the chess pieces from Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone (hey, that's what they call it everywhere but the US).


Once we got inside, we queued up (Brits are big on queues) and walked past this, Harry's first home in the cupboard under the stairs.  We had a closet like that at our house in Japan and we always called it the Harry Potter closet.  In our house now though it's just a little cubbyhole so there's a squishy dog bed in there.


This is the main entryway; click any of the pictures to see them larger.  Note the pictures of the HP characters all around the room.  So once you queue up, they let you into a room where you get a brief introduction to the studio and then you watch a short film.  Then they more or less turn you loose to do your own self-guided tours around the two sound stages; average tour time is 3 hours but since I wanted to see EVERYTHING we took more like four and a half.  Lee got us the audio guides (totally recommend if you go to this) and so we wandered slowly around just taking it all in:  props, costumes, entire sets, you name it and it was there.  And it was AWESOME.


The lighting conditions weren't real conducive to good photographs, so we'll just have to make do with what I got.  This is the dress worn by the Gray Lady in the first movie (you see her and the other ghosts swoop in during the first feast at Hogwarts after the sorting).  (I find it interesting that my computer thinks so many real words are misspelled when they aren't, but it has no problem recognizing Hogwarts or Vader.  Hmm.)


The first place we saw was the Great Hall, which is pretty huge and awesome (did I say that already?)  They wired up the whatever-you-call-these-guys so they had fake flames in the braziers.  They had several costumes set up on either side of the hall (like the Gray Lady's above) and we got a good look at the fireplace.  You can never really see it in the movies, but the Hogwarts crest is inside the fireplace.


This is where they keep track of the house points; we watched Prisoner of Azkaban (ooh, computer doesn't like Azkaban) and you can catch a glimpse of this in that movie though I didn't see it in the first two.  Since we did this tour, Lee and I decided to rewatch all the movies in order.  Anyway, green is Slytherin, blue is Ravenclaw, red is Gryffindor, and gold is Hufflepuff.


There's the second Dumbledore at the lectern.  Interesting note on costumes:  the first two movies, Richard Harris had medieval robes, but when Michael Gambon took over the role, his costumes were much more "hippie wizard" (that was the term used by the costume designer).  And Snape's costume did not change for 8 films, except that they made his cloak longer in the last movie so he'd look cooler going out the window.

After the Great Hall, you go through some doors and into the sound stage, where you just walk around and look at all the stuff on display and you can stay as long as you want (or until you're starving, which is what made me finally hurry up).


Here are the costumes for Harry, Hermione, and Cho Chang at the Yule Ball in Goblet of Fire.  I always wanted a better look at Cho's dress, isn't it gorgeous?  And you can buy a replica of Hermione's dress in the shop for the paltry sum of 265 pounds, or just her little beaded handbag for 70 pounds.


This was the table centerpiece at the Yule Ball.


I forget which feast this was from.  Most of the food you see in Hogwarts feasts is fake (there are a few real items though).  I think the chocolate phoenix cake is actually chocolate...I'm not going to try to taste-test it though.


More costumes, the bright green lining on the inside of the Invisibility Cloak is for when they do the greenscreen effects.  Aww dang, looks like I didn't take any pics at all in the Gryffindor common room or Harry's dorm.  The funny part about Harry's dorm is they made the beds like 5 1/2 feet long, so by the time the last movie was made, all the actors' feet hung over the bottoms of the beds.


This is a prop cage; it had all kinds of fun stuff to look at.  Here you can see elf armor next to troll armor.


The giant clock pendulum from Prisoner of Azkaban.  It took lots of tries to get even a crummy picture of this.


On my way to the headmaster's office...they said the phoenix guarding Dumbledore's office was one of the most difficult mechanical contraptions they made.  They made two, one that spun and one that just looked cool.


Kind of want one in my house...


There's the bottle of Skele-Gro from Chamber of Secrets when Professor Lockhart de-boned Harry's arm after a Quidditch match gone wrong.


There's the gramophone that Professor McGonagall used to teach the Gryffindors how to dance in Goblet of Fire, and in the case you can see the board that Sirius holds up in all his mug shots.


This is how they kept track of all the wands; each wand was assigned a number and at the end of the day each actor had to turn his or her wand back in.


Inside Dumbledore's office, this is the ornate case where he kept all the memories he collected.  There are over 800 vials inside, each one hand-labeled.


Inside the Potions classroom; only half the set is still up, and there are around 500 jars along the walls.  In the original set they had over 1000, containing baked animal bones and all kinds of funky-looking plants and other stuff.


And here's Professor Slughorn's costume from Half-Blood Prince.

Well, since I like to drag things out, and since I already shared over 20 pictures today, that's all she wrote for now.  And I'm not sharing anymore unless I know someone is out there reading!  Aside from Lee, who always reads the blog so he can find out what he's been doing.  Nox!