Archive for the ‘Videos’ Category

critical-role-castI’m only 65 episodes behind the curve, but I’m a fast learner when it comes to the fun, entertaining, and surprisingly heartfelt Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) web series, Critical Role. A live broadcast and weekly peek into a world beset with ancient dragons, barbarian hoards, and some rather unconventional gnomes, Critical Role follows the exploits of Vox Machina, a group of mostly heroic adventurers as they traverse the fictional land of Tal’Dorei. The intrepid band of misfits, however, are brought to life by an equally, and mostly, heroic group of dice-slinging voice actors, all of whom have been playing their characters for three years; two on the live stream and one year prior to the inception of the show. The characters and their actors are as follows:

  • Vax’ildan “Vax” (Liam O’Brien) – a half-elf rogue/paladin and twin brother to Vex’ahlia
  • Vex’ahlia “Vex” (Laura Bailey) – a half-elf ranger/rogue and twin sister to Vax’ildan who also has a pet bear named Trinket
  • Grog Strongjaw (Travis Willingham) – a goliath barbarian
  • Keyleth (Marisha Ray) – a half-elf druid
  • Percival de Rolo “Percy” (Taliesin Jaffe) – also known as Percival Fredrickstein Von Musel Klossowski de Rolo III, a human gunslinger
  • Scanlan Shorthalt (Sam Riegel) – a gnome bard
  • Pike Trickfoot (Ashley Johnson) – a gnome cleric

And guiding our heroes in their exploits is the world-building powerhouse of a Dungeon Master (DM) that is Matthew Mercer. Pulling some impressive double-duty, Mercer not only crafts the realm of Tal’Dorei but he also effortlessly voices all of the non-playable characters (NPC), running the gamut of high-born ladies, lowly orcs, and a thoroughly confused bear.

I’ve only played D&D, and some other tabletop games, a few times in my life with varying degrees of DM and party performance, but I can say wholeheartedly that this is the first time in a long time that I’ve ever wanted to get back into gaming. Hell, this is the first time in a long time I’ve wanted to join somebody else’s game just to experience the energy and absolute fun they have for roughly three hours every Thursday night. The camaraderie of the players and the DM is infectious because they’re just as invested in the welfare of their characters, just as shocked when a plot twist occurs, and just as devastated when events go horribly, horribly wrong. To put it another way, they love their characters and it shows to the point where even a husk of human emotions like myself can get a little teary-eyed.

So, really, this is just an overblown, non-ranked list of reasons why I’m now obsessed with Critical Role. Trust me, it doesn’t disappoint.

Oh, and SPOILERS for the series. Just in case.

 

The Gameplay

 

This seems like a no-brainer, but a significant portion of what makes Critical Role such a success comes from how the players, and by extension the characters, interact with their fictional environment. Setting aside the little character moments and exploratory missions (we’ll get to them in a bit), when Mercer tells the party to roll initiative to battle some greater foe, they’re in it. No one slouches, everyone pulls their weight to support the success of the group in destroying beasts and baddies alike. The physicality of the players speaks louder and louder as the battle rages: eyes wide, mouths agape, everyone fidgeting with nervous energy at each role of the die. Full sessions have been devoted to taking down one enemy (to be fair, it was a dragon) until Mercer asks, “How do you wanna do this?” and the whole group explodes with excitement knowing that the killing blow is just moments away. I’d be lying if I said my own erratic movements didn’t mimic theirs. Even smaller, more desperate, moments are rife with tension as the characters struggle against mind control or frantically try to resurrect one of their own.reaction

There are a couple of episodes that stand out in particular regarding moments of triumph and potential tragedy. In the case of the former, I’d recommend episode 52, “The Kill Box,” wherein Grog, unable to defeat his uncle, leader of the barbarian herd, in single combat, calls upon his friends for help. There are plenty of moments where each character shines but the best bit of teamwork comes when Vex flies in on her broom (long story) and sucks a badly beaten Grog into her necklace (just go with it) to get him somewhat out of harms way. She then releases Grog from high up in the air, giving him the advantage needed to deliver the deathblow to his uncle. It’s definitely an engaging three hours of fictionalized combat and by the end even the players look exhausted. In the case of the latter, it would have to be episode 44, “The Sunken Tomb,” that finds the party searching for enchanted armor beneath the city of Vasselheim. Neglectful in the wake of defeating a Beholder, Percy accidentally sets off a trap that kills Vex, but the party, joined by some guest adventurers, springs into action to bring her back. It’s really more about Laura Bailey’s reactions as well as the other players. The second she realizes what negative hit points means there’s this gutted look on her face as the others search for spells to resurrect Vex. Everyone’s practically in tears until Mercer informs them that she’s alive again.

 

Character Moments

 

It would either be awfully dull or too stressful to watch a group in a constant state of combat. Luckily, the players are actors and they act the shit out of these characters. While some episodes are combat heavy, there are others where the most action that happens is the group goes shopping and some epic haggling ensues. The breathers are needed, though. It gives the party time to rest and recuperate and it gives us, the audience, a few moments alone (so to speak) with the characters, all of whom have their own little story arcs, wants and desires, that tend to overlap with the main story. There are too many character moments to name, and all of them have landed some fantastic one-liners or shared some tears, so here are a few favorites:tumblr_nl9tzk10pe1r201t0o2_1280

  • Vex and Vax – pretty much every episode has a nice moment or two between the twins, Episode 40 has a brutally emotional scene as Vax pleads with Vex not to stray too far from his side in the wake of a dragon attack, but one of my favorites involves some boots, ghostly servants, water and flour, and some brother/sister heckling (Episode 56, “Hope”).
  • Grog and Pike – after Grog purchases a new, badass hat, Pike decides to try it on and takes it for a run (Episode 57, “Duskmeadow”).
  • Keyleth – I’m pretty partial to the druid princess’s awkward high fives after some kind of emotional admission (Episode 44, “The Sunken Tomb,” and Episode 65, “The Streets of Ank’Harel”)
  • Scanlan – any time Scanlan sings to inspire. Anytime (All episodes) Also…Spice? You spice? (Episode 65)
  • Percy – there are a lot of very sweet moments where Percy waxes poetic or wallows a bit, but it’s really when he’s acting like a spoiled rich kid that he shines. His attempt to get Scanlan’s daughter out of prison is a particular favorite (Episode 39, “Omens”)
  • Group Effort – that time opening a wooden door was a nearly impossible task (Episode 29, “Whispers”)

 

Matthew Mercer is Amazing!

 

This can’t be effectively described in words. You have to see and experience just how great of a DM Mercer is. Just know that his character work, as well as his world-building, is phenomenal.

Charity

 

The cast and crew of Critical Role have been supporters of the charity 826LA since the beginning, encouraging fans to donate during the broadcast on Geek & Sundry and thanking those who do on air. However, due to the overwhelming generosity and creativity of their fans that made for some sweet Critmas day unwrapping, the players each chose a charity for fans to support in lieu of the money going to smaller items like dice bags or gigantic bear statues that take up space and are hard to store.

D&D For The Good of All

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We’ve definitely come a long way from the days of Mazes and Monsters, but there are still certain stigmas associated with gaming and gamers that keep people who might find RPGs to be a pleasant experience. Currently, we’re in a bit of a cultural upswing in regards to D&D-style role-playing. I don’t know what, if any, influence Critical Role has had where the bigger picture is concerned, but it’s certainly at the forefront of the pro-gaming change to the status quo. Not only do we have Critical Role, but Matt Mercer and Ashley Johnson are part of the Force Grey filmed RPG show for Nerdist. There’s also Dan Harmon’s Harmon Quest on Seeso that mixes live role-playing with animation and one of the best shows on Netflix, Stranger Things, features the main characters playing D&D as bookends to the series. Small steps, yes, but important nonetheless.

So those are the reasons why I’m currently obsessed with Critical Role. Maybe this encouraged you to check it out or maybe you’re already a fan. Either way, what are your thoughts on the show? What are your favorite moments? Characters? I’m eager to know.

Oh, and…Is it Thursday yet?

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This has been the week of announcements surrounding Hamilton creator and star Lin-Manuel Miranda. Not only will he be co-starring in Disney’s Mary Poppins sequel/continuation/re-imagining alongside Emily Blunt, but his first Broadway hit In The Heights will be coming to the silver screen courtesy of the Weinstein Company. Sadly, this means he’ll be leaving his Pulitzer Prize and assuredly Tony award winning musical when his contract expires in July in order to pursue said projects as well as a other creative ventures. Miranda isn’t going anywhere if our collective fandoms are concerned, so I wanted to focus on one of many avenues in which Hamilton has inspired people creatively: animatics.lin

If, like me, you watched a lot of behind the scenes or making of featurettes for animated movies, then you’re probably aware of what an animatic is. For those who don’t know, animatics are basically animated storyboards that can be utilized for anything from pre-visualization to timing out musical sequences. Thanks to the internet, a lot of people experimenting with animation, whether for school projects or as part of their career, put their work on YouTube, which means I end up spending a lot of time going down the animatic rabbit hole.

Unsurprisingly, Hamilton has inspired quite a few artists to storyboard and animate snippets and/or full songs from the musical. The contemporary vibe of Hamilton’s hip-hop origins lends itself to animation, but what makes these animatics stand out are the variety of visual translations. It isn’t hard to find video of Hamilton performances, so the aesthetics of the costumes and the performers’ faces are used at the discretion of the artist, but the animation adds a distinctive layer of scope and scale that the musical can’t achieve. Live performers and a stage present physical limitations on what the actors can do and how the story can be told, but with animatics artists can blend the music with dynamic shots that match its energy or reinterpret how aspects of the song can be visualized.

I’m certain that there will come a point where all of Hamilton’s 46 songs will have some animated flair attached to them, but for now here are the pieces that caught my eye during my latest rabbit hole session. Some are rougher than others in terms of animation, but I think they find the essence of the song while remaining visually captivating.

“Satisfied” Animatic by Jade Butler

It starts around the middle of the song, but I dig the Disney-esque style. I especially love the vision Angelica has in her champagne of the scenario in which she and Hamilton are together and Eliza steps aside.

“Non-Stop” Animatic by lifewhatisthat

One of many vignettes in the song, I think the lighting effect with the purple coloring is great. I’m also a sucker for great expressions and this video has some great ones for both Hamilton and Burr.

“Burn” Animatic by Xena Achilleos

It’s a gut punch of a song that breaks my heart every time thanks to Phillipa Soo’s amazing voice. The video really captures Eliza’s emotional status with the large, gloomy, and empty room emphasizing her betrayal and heartache.

“Farmer Refuted” Animatic by Von Muren

This has some great crowd art and camera angles. I love the opening shot melding into the crowd. Where this video really shines is in Hamilton’s interaction with the crowd and Samuel Seabury, circling the man like a predator as they debate.

“Congratulations” Animatic by coma

This is actually a cut song from the musical, though a few pieces were cannibalized for “The Reynold’s Pamphlet.” It’s a shame because Angelica really lays into Hamilton about how he’s monumentally screwed up and Renée Elise Goldsberry kills it. The animation is fantastic with the character expressions selling the moment of confrontation and the conflicting emotions of Angelica and Hamilton.

“Your Obedient Servant” Animatic by Soleildiddle

This artist has a whole bunch of Hamilton animatics, which I recommend watching, but this one is my favorite because it turns the letters of Hamilton and Burr building up to their duel as a dance with each man taking the lead when it’s his turn to respond.

“Aaron Burr, Sir” Animatic by Erin Shin

The style of this piece reminds me of Saturday morning cartoons, in a good way. It’s fitting since this is the song right after the opening number, so Hamilton is still full of optimism and delusions of grandeur when he encounter Burr for the first time. I love the contrasting expressions as well; Burr is calm and amused while Hamilton is frenetic and intense.

“The World Was Wide Enough” Animatic by NMS Video

I love, love, LOVE this animatic because it perfectly encapsulates how storytelling changes based on the medium. Hamilton is seeing his life flash before his eyes and, via the stirring and frantic singing of Lin-Manuel Miranda, the animation pulls us through each moment and interaction significant to him. My favorite transition is young Hamilton laying in his mother’s lap only for his young hand to grip the soil as he rises up into his days as a soldier. It works so seamlessly.

These are only a small sample of what’s out there and hopefully there will be more to share in the future. Until that time, I want to thank Lin-Manuel Miranda and the cast of Hamilton for being so inspirational that people are bringing more amazing art into the world everyday.

That’s right, you. You’re the one who’s still obsessed with the greatest musical that ever musicaled. Not me. You. You’re the one who goes to bed singing “The Schuyler Sisters”. You’re the one who wakes up with Washington’s rap from “Right Hand Man” bouncing around your skull. You’re the one who uses the Aaron Burr, Sir rhyming scheme nonstop. You’re the one who referenced another Hamilton song within a sentence about your obsessive need to incorporate the previous song into your daily life.AR-AK469_Theate_P_20150806131612

Okay, that escalated quickly.

But fear not, readers, for I have come here to curate a sampling of Founding Fathers/American Revolution themed media that’s sure to continue enabling my obsession. I mean your obsession.

#Ham4Ham

Let’s start with an easy one. Perhaps this obsession has also become entwined with your love of Broadway and musicals in general. Well, never fear, you can fall down the rabbit hole of Ham4Ham videos on YouTube where the cast and crew, under the direction of Lin-Manuel Miranda, perform for an audience of hundreds participating in a lottery for tickets to the show. A mere ten dollars gets you a five minute performance from the stars of Hamilton or from some of the many familiar faces from Broadway’s past and present.

Drunk History

The one that started it all. Need I say more?

Histeria

As I mentioned in the latest podcast, Histeria was a show created by the same teams responsible for Animaniacs and Pinky and the Brain. It was a show designed to – get this – make history entertaining for kids and pre-teens. Weird, right? It only aired for two years and it has yet to be released on DVD, but you can watch the episodes on YouTube for free! Best of all, they have several episodes devoted to the American Revolution featuring a very Bob Hope-esque George Washington.

Schoolhouse Rock!

It was a simpler time…

Founding Fathers Rapping

Need more Revolution Era rap? Looks like JibJab might have beat Lin-Manuel Miranda by a few years…

1776

In need of more Founding Fathers singing that isn’t rap? Okay, I guess that’s cool. Well look no further than 1776, a musical about the creation, ratification, and signing of the Declaration of Independence. You won’t find any signs of Hamilton here, but John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and Benjamin Franklin sure now how to…sing about eggs.

HBO’s John Adams Mini-Series

Wondering why Alexander Hamilton had such a problem with John Adams? Well maybe watching a bunch of clips from the miniseries will make clear what’s only glossed over in the musical. Adapted from David McCullough’s biography of John Adams, we see the Revolution and the Early Republic through the eyes of one of the less popular presidents. Paul Giamatti carries the miniseries deftly upon his shoulders, but he’s also surrounded by an impressive cast of amazing actors, including Rufu Sewell as Hamilton.

 

That Time George Washington Totally Fought Robin, the Boy Wonder

You heard me.

Well, hopefully that keeps me you satisfied for the time being. Lord knows it’s hard to say no to this craving for more Hamilton oriented media, but I’ll you’ll just have to hunker down and wait for it to calm down. Then, maybe, we can get some work done around here, people!

Hark! A Vagrant by Kate Beaton

Hark! A Vagrant by Kate Beaton

While I recover from three days of exhaustion and sheer joy, and begin the process of transcribing some interviews, here’s some video taken by yours truly of the D20 Brass Band performing outside the Washington State Convention Center at Emerald City Comicon!d20-brass-band-mugshot

I’ve been a bit slack on post lately, but January hasn’t turned out to be the greatest start to the new year like I thought it would be. Plus, I’ve been busy with other projects that are a bit time sensitive. Regardless, posting should pick up a bit soon but until then I thought I’d share some videos that highlight the comedic awesomeness that is John Larroquette.635538201565431802-VIP-Larroquette-121414.JPG

Why?

Well, mostly because The Librarians just wrapped up on TNT (no idea if it’ll get a second season) and a co-worker and I had a recent conversation about Night Court that stuck with me. Or rather, the theme song for Night Court stuck with me. So I’ve had Mr. Larroquette on the brain and now you all will as well!

Bwahahaha! Enjoy!

Dan Fielding – Night Court (1984-19992)

John Hemingway – The John Laroquette Show (1993-1996)

Lionel Tribbey – The West Wing “And It’s Surely To Their Credit”

Tony Lewis – The 10th Kingdom (2000)

J.B. Biggley – How To Succeed In Business Without Really Trying

Himself – Futurama “Luck of the Fryrish”

Saturday Night Live

Jenkins – The Librarians

Over the last week fans of the accordion-wielding, Polka-powered musical god of parody that isweird-al-yankovic-mandatory-fun-album-cover “Weird Al” Yankovic were treated to the release of eight new music videos, one video per day, in celebration of Yankovic’s 14th studio album, Mandatory Fun. The videos debuted on different outlets across the internet and showed that Weird Al is still the king of musical comedy as his parodies and pastiches invoke as much laughter as they do bits of social commentary.

The first video released was “Tacky“, a parody of Pharrell’s monster hit “Happy”, followed by “Word Crimes“, a parody of Robin Thicke, Pharrell, and T.I.’s “Blurred Lines”, “Foil“, a parody of “Royals” by Lorde, “First World Problems“, a tribute to the Pixies, “Handy“, a parody of Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy”, “Sports Song“, a parody of college fight songs, “Lame Claim to Fame“, a tribute to Southern Culture on the Skids, and “Mission Statement” a tribute to Crosby, Stills, Nash, and possibly Young.

In order to maintain the uniqueness of his songs, Weird Al made sure the videos were just as engaging, making more traditional music videos with the help of some celebrity guests and procuring the talents of animators for others. The animated videos specifically serve the purpose of bringing the songs to life in ways that live action would’ve faltered. For example, “Word Crimes”, an admonishment of the grammatical errors, syntax, and text speak that’s invaded our virtual lexicon, incorporates hilarious visual elements to point out just how lackadaisical we’ve gotten in our ability to write simple sentences while also incorporating the ridiculous flashing hashtags from Word Crimesthe source video. Even though “Blurred Lines” was released last year, Weird Al still manages to make the song relevent despite the gap between when the song was deemed a hit and the more current parodies on the album.

The inclusion of songs parodying hits like “Blurred Lines”, “Royals”, and “Radioactive”, though, shows the pitfalls of creating studio albums based in musical comedy. Now more than ever music and comedy have become mediums where relevancy is based in moments rather than the long-term. This is due in part to social media and our massive cultural Attention Deficit Disorder. A YouTube video or an article may get heavy rotation one day and, suddenly, the next day we’ve moved on to the next cat video or BuzzFeed quiz. We consume media as quickly as it’s produced and just as quickly discard it for the next shiny thing that comes our way. So one can imagine that crafting an entire album of parody songs is difficult when you have to pay attention to the Billboard charts for the hits you can work with as well as keep as up-to-date as possible. Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy” is the most current songweirdal referenced on Mandatory Fun, released in February of this year, and the inclusion of its comedic twin, “Handy”, on the album was more about having a song that was a current hit, which shows in comparison to the other eleven songs that were given more time and production value.

The album, however, doesn’t suffer when it comes to the timeliness of its songs. Yankovic, his band that still consists of Jon “Bermuda” Schwartz, Steve Jay, and Jim West, as well as the marketing team behind Mandatory Fun were smart in utilizing social media to launch the album via the eight videos. Not only did the videos individually saturate the internet, but the combined efforts and instant visibility of eight videos in a row catapulted Mandatory Fun into the #1 spot on Billboard, the first time in Weird Al’s 30 year career that one of his albums has charted so high in its debut week. And while there is some level of nostalgia surrounding Weird Al, there’s also genuine love and interest for the man behind the accordion and which songs he’ll tackle next. What Mandatory Fun’s marketing shows is how essential social media has become to the music industry and Weird Al as an artist.

tackyMandatory Fun has been confirmed to be Weird Al’s last traditional studio album with RCA Records, which is probably for the best if Yankovic plans to stick around. On a recent episode of Comedy Bang Bang, Yankovic was very candid about the fact that he’d rather have the freedom to produce a parody video or song around the same time the hit comes out as opposed to waiting and compiling songs for an album that can take up to two years to produce and distribute. With his plans to go completely digital, Weird Al will be able to create and distribute his work instantaneously, similar to the South Park method of animation production.

What does this mean for the viewing and listening audience? Simply this: more Weird Al!

Podcast Party

So while I have my own podcast over at Word of the Nerd called That Girl with the Curls (which I highly encourage you to check out), I was fortunate enough to get some screen time with Andy Suriano (Samurai Jack, Cosmic Scoundrels, Liberty Justice), Daniel Freedman and Sina Grace (Burn the Orphanage), Tyler Shainline (Liberty Justice, The Beef), and Image editor and accounts managers Branwyn Bigglestone. This was a special event, one that I hope you’ll watch and enjoy. We talk about all aspects of the comic book industry and I encourage you to check out their books and find them online!

And big thanks to Andy Suriano for getting us all together!