Sunday, June 26, 2011

Couldn't think of any Aztec puns

An art post?! What?!    Yes. I know, it's a surprise. I still paint though.

These three pieces I did for the Aztec Empire book by Paradigm Concepts. (which has been released at Origins) They were painted a bit faster than I'm used to and through a few sleepless nights. Normally they'd be better planned, but I kinda like the spontaneous feel, where I just didn't have time to fiddle.
Also I finally got to paint a character wearing a human skin-suit. \o/

(all ArtRage as usual.)

Sunday, June 19, 2011

For a Few Sword Myths More

Because my sword related posts seem to be more popular than the rest of my rambling, here's a new one! ;)

Especially popular was my list of sword mistakes artists quite often make, so this is a bit of a sequel to that. Today we'll be talking about one general art issue and two specific fun bits from my favourite movies.

1) Cracked and chipped blades

Ryan A. Span suggested this and I thank him for that - it's a good one. While I couldn't find a good representative example of this issue right now, I'm sure you've all seen this a lot. Maybe you've even drawn this way? I know I used to. ;P

Nicks and cracks are painted or drawn on sword blades to make them look used, as real objects. To make the blades seem less boring and artificial.
I would suggest learning more about how real swords change with use in the hands of a person who cares about his tools, how they're sharpened and polished. (and what else you can do to your drawing of a sword to make the boring parts more interesting)

Nicks will happen even if you're careful, but one usually tries to grind them out if they're small enough. Cracks are not good, you do not use a cracked sword. Scratches happen too and while you could polish them out, they don't really hurt the blade much.
Any reenactor, or a sword enthusiast will tell you one thing - if a sword blade has a crack in it, or a large chunk chipped off, YOU SHOULD NOT USE IT. It is most likely going to break and even if the blade bits don't hurt you while flying off, you'll end up with a broken (useless) sword.

2) Conan the Barbarian - casting of the sword.

(roughly from 1:20)

(sorry, Blogger won't let me embedd this as a video.)

It's a well known scene - Conan's father makes a sword while Conan and his mother watch. First he casts the iron in a mould cut in a stone block. Then he beats it on an anvil and reheats it a couple of times. (Mysteriously, the engraving on the blade appears before one of these reheats, but we'll not talk about that.)

Can you in fact cast an iron sword?  The answer is complicated, as always with swords.
Yes, you could do it, but it wouldn't be a good sword, if you could use it at all.

Now we see the blade is getting some treatment after the casting, so that would be ok, that would produce a sword like object indeed.

The funny bit is the casting itself.
If we agree that what was used in history was something that was proven possible and useful at the time, we should conclude that casting iron swords is unrealistic.
I'm told that casting certain parts of swords can be done - crosspieces and pommels for example.
The problem with casting iron is the temperature. Iron's melting point ranges from 1200 to 1500 degrees Celsius, depending on the amount of other metals in the alloy.

("WAIT!", I hear you say, "iron is not an alloy!" Well, yes, but a swordmaker would not usually have a chunk of pure iron to work with, nor would he want to. We could call it steel, but that's another can of worms I'm not yet ready to open)

Achieving this kind of temperature for successful casting seems to be rather difficult (for the smiths of old, of course we do cast iron nowadays).

Here's an insteresting discussion on this topic:

edit: As pointed out in the discussion - beside the temperature, other problems arise while casting iron swords. Iron swords tend to be longer and thinner - you'd need to achieve such casting technology that you'd avoid bubbles/porosity and other casting artifacts. You would also figure out a way to cast iron so that it doesn't pick up a lot of carbon. 

Bronze for example melts at about 800 degrees Celsius, depending on the tin-to-copper ratio. (copper has a higher melting point than tin)
That is why bronze swords were indeed made by casting into clay moulds.

Smiths have always had a specific status in the society - very similar to shamans and mages. Alchemy itself arose from the practice of smithing. A smith, a metal worker is able to do transmutation - to change one substance into another. To speed up a process which was believed to happen over thousands of years in the vomb of mother Earth - the purification of metals.  (the common belief from antiquity to medieval times was that metals grow in the ground - from low metals like lead into perfect metals like gold)
What else do you call someone who takes a pile of rocks, puts them in a fire, performs a lot of strange actions and transforms these rocks into a shiny sword? He's a magician.

Steel/iron swords are not usually made by casting. (I'm not aware of any instances of that, please correct me if I'm wrong in thinking this.)

Then again, it'd be kinda bogus if Conan's dad taught him the "Riddle of bronze", wouldn't it? ;P

3) 13th Warrior - The Scimitar Grinding

I love the 13th Warrior. It's one of my favourite movies ever. And I love this scene - it's funny, but it also shows Antonio Banderas' character getting some respect from his viking companions.

(from about 1:20)

(again, can't embed this video. Sorry!)

Sadly, as with the rest of the film, it's not very historically accurate.

A) He grinds the sword into something resembling a shamshir/scimitar - a curved sword we westerners associate with islamic warriors. BUT, by this time and a few hundred years later - Arabs were using straight swords - very similar to their western counterparts.

The dimensions of the sword were fantastical to begin with, real viking swords of this time were rather smallish.

B) Grinding is a useful technique which has been used in sword making and which is in fact prevalent in sword making today!

But considering the construction of viking swords of that time, grinding it down to this shape would mostly likely ruin the blade and make it near useless as a sword.

Pattern welding (often wrongly called Damascus steel) is a huge topic which could easily take a whole post to explain at least roughly, so here's a link that explains it rather well:

If you ground off the hard steel edges, you'd end up cutting with the twisted core. While I'm not sure what the exact result would be, it wouldn't be pretty I think.

That's it for today. If you have any questions, if you think I'm wrong and want me to know - the comments are right below. :)

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

WIT - The Source Code

How disappointing is it when a movie highlights its own plotpoints? How contraproductive when it shows how dumb a supposedly genius character is?

I've watched The Source Code and I'm sad to say I predicted my disappointment right from the trailers.

Now, I quite liked the idea of having 8 minutes to find something out in someone else's body. But bits here and there suggested the parallel worlds idea won't be convincing. And it isn't.

My main problem with the film lies in the character of the crutch-using scientist.

He constructed a device that supposedly allows a brain damaged person access to another dead person's brain and its 8 minutes of short term memory. Words like "quantum physics" were thrown around a lot, but what on earth does it have to do with that? What does this device actually do? There are two possibilities presented and I believe both of them are ridiculous:

a) It allows access to the memory of the deceased person.   If so, the dreamer should not be able to do anything else than what the dead person did - from what we know of brains, any other action would be in fact dreaming - interpolation between bits of information stored in the memory.

A person familiar with door handles would know he can pull a door handle, but if the dead person didn't know what was behind a door, the dreamer wouldn't know it either.

Depending on the interpretation of this "science", the dreamer could see absolutely nothing, he could be prevented from opening the door, or he would make up something that would make sense to be in behind the door. But it wouldn't reflect the exact reality - the dead person's brain doesn't have the knowledge.

Now the movie itself acknowledges that this is not in fact what is happening. I ask - how dumb is the scientist who built this device then? His credibility as a character drops to zero the moment he implies it might have something to do with alternative universes, but still insists that it's simply a memory we can access. These two are exclusive.
Even if we accept this technology exists, it doesn't make a lick of sense.

b) It allows access to a parallel universe some time ago, it's real.    If so, HOW?! I'm sorry, but saying "it's very complicated" doesn't cut it. I don't require techno babble and explanations for everything in movies, I'm perfectly fine with Inception's "yeah, we have this technology, it works".

But if you're going through the trouble of explaining the stuff with the brains, why not follow through with this too? The technology is constantly described as a brain link, a simulation - hence the idiotic name "Source Code" (which is dumb, because a source code is something you need to compile for the program to run, it's just a lame name picked to sound IT-ish)

The parallel universe aspect is completely missing and it's an incredibly stupid idea - if we establish the fact there are parallel universes, the universe where Jake Gylenhall saves the train ALREADY EXISTS SOMEWHERE!!! Him "going back" and "saving the girl" does exactly nothing. I'm no physicist, but if anything, he simply jumped from one universe in which he doesn't save the girl to another, where he does. Nothing is accomplished - congratulations! (except for him "getting that kiss" (oh Holywood) and LIVING ON, which also happens in an infinite number of universes beside the one we see in the movie) And he gets to stay in this poor guy's body after Jake dies? Wow, because we couldn't let the film end on a bit of a downer, right? How is Jake going to teach history anyway?
"Do you believe in fate?"  Yeah. Screw science. It was fate.

I suppose we are to be astonished by the fact the army lady reads Jake's message, that it all happened. But if we're still going with the parallel universes hypothesis, ALL OF THAT ALREADY HAPPENED IN A PARALLEL UNIVERSE!

The army lady is not the same one we've been seeing through the movie, it doesn't matter that she thinks the device works - she still cannot change anything in her own universe. And all the changes she might want to make in the other universes have always been done in an infinite number of these universes. That's the bloody point of the multiverse theory.
The ending scene changed nothing and is, as the whole film, pointless.

It's a mediocre film and I'm sure everyone with a basic knowledge of physics, brain biology and logic will see the gaping holes in its plot and characters. It doesn't deserve to be praised.
The actors weren't bad though.