Hiatus – Update: Back to normal service!

UPDATE: Thanks to Shane G in the WordPress support forums, I have finally sorted the problem that was blocking access to big chunks of this blog, and I can now carry on posting as before.

I apologise to regular (and irregular) visitors for the lack of posts over the last week or two.
Some problems have occurred in the engine room of Articles & Texticles that need delicate tweaking to set right.

When A & T moved to its new web host, it left behind a few .htaccess files and some other settings were mysteriously changed. The result was that visitors were being barred from seeing the pages they wanted to, and instead of the normal 1500 – 2000 visitors a day, the numbers have now plummeted to ten or twenty. Not good.
Strong Bad even.

Plummeting visitor numbers resulting from badly written .htaccess files.

As soon as I can get my stupid head around these access files, abnormal service will soon be restored.

Laters, Michael

Art & Design in The British Film #28 – Duncan Sutherland

Continuing a series about Art Directors in the British film industry up to 1948, when the book containing these articles was published.

This chapter deals with Duncan Sutherland. (Born 1905 – )

Sutherland is another of those robust and jovial artists; like Vetchinsky, he bothers little about his drawings as such and depends for so much of his effect on the way he dresses his sets which, after all, is the only visible part of a character’s personality.

thumbnail of Thunder Rock - production drawing
Production sketch from “Thunder Rock” Charter Films, 1942. Pencil & wash.
(Click these thumbnails to enlarge them please)

thumbnail of Bedelia - production drawing
Production sketch from Bedelia John Corfield Productions, 1946. Pencil & wash.

DUNCAN MACDONALD SUTHERLAND was trained at the Glasgow School of Architecture and became assistant to G. P. K.Young, then President of the Scottish Institute of Architects.

Giving up architecture, he took to the stage and then to films as an actor.

Coming to London he worked for six years in the Art Department of the British International Pictures at Elstree, one of the first pictures he worked on being ‘Cape Forlorn’ under Alfred Junge.

Following this he did various films which he hopes ‘will always be shrouded in the mist of time’; all the same he established a reputation that brought him right to the forefront when he art directed Thorold Dickinson’s ‘Gaslight’ in 1940 and through his decor and set dressing built up an authentic Victorian atmosphere that could not have been bettered.

Then came ‘Pimpernel Smith’ and `Thunder Rock’, in which he built a lighthouse interior and a scene in one of the sheds in the Potteries during the industrial revolution that again came to life.

`San Demetrio London’ did not give him much scope, but on his new picture with Thorold Dickinson, ‘Then and Now’, it sounds as though he will again have an opportunity to make the past come to life.

Sutherland is another of those robust and jovial artists; like Vetchinsky, he bothers little about his drawings as such and depends for so much of his effect on the way he dresses his sets which, after all, is the only visible part of a character’s personality.

(Excerpted from: “Art & Design In The British Film” A Pictorial Directory of British Art Directors and their work. Compiled by Edward Carrick, 1947 )

The Kew Millennium Seed Bank Attains Its First Target

A couple of weeks ago an international team of botanists based at Wakehurst Place in southern England achieved their primary goal of collecting and preserving seeds from ten percent of the worlds flowering plants.

thumbnail of The Millennium Seed Bank
Click this picture to see it in vista-vision!

This important milestone is part of the Kew Millennium Seed Bank Partnership‘s attempt to preserve a quarter of the world’s flowering plants by 2020.

The seeds collected for the first stage amount to about 24,200 species, and, given that the field researchers needed to collect thousands of samples of each species, that’s a staggering number of individual seeds.
(I found mention of the total given as 1.6 billion seeds so far.)

The reason why so many seeds are collected is that project partners must set aside half of the total haul and periodically test the viability of these samples to make sure that they can actually germinate and grow.
The other half constitutes the bio-base of the seedbank that will be kept for long term storage – between 300 and 500 years.

That’s enough numbers for now.

I was able to take a few pictures deep inside the Millennium Seed Bank the other day, that show what that enormous quantity of seeds looks like once they have been cleaned, dried and chilled to minus 20℃.

A little context: I was part of The Bamboo Society annual general meeting, and Ray Townsend (Arboretum Manager at Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew) had kindly arranged for the AGM to be held at Wakehurst Place in a conference room within the Millennium Seed Bank.
After our meeting we were lucky enough to be shown round the facility by the international coordinator of Kew Gardens’ millennium seed bank project, Michiel van Slageren, a man gifted with a great sense of humour that rides easily upon his compendious knowledge of plants and the places where they grow.

Michiel van Slageren wrestling with a plant in the Namib Desert whose nourishment comes exclusively from fog.
Michiel van Slageren in the Namib Desert examining a Welwitchia mirabilis that subsists almost entirely on fog. Yes. Fog.
This weirdo of the plant world has only two leaves and can live anything from 1000 to 2000 years.

This next picture shows him unlocking the hefty security door of the millennium seed bank.
thumbnail of Michiel van Slageren
The seed bank is deep below ground level in what is effectively a blast proof bunker.

thumbnail of Temperature control at -20℃
-20℃ is the ideal temperature for longterm storage. – Click for bigger!

thumbnail of The long term storage room

The two rooms you can see here contain the seeds of one tenth of the world’s biodiversity. One is for long term storage, and the second houses the duplicate seeds whose viability will be regularly tested.
There is the capacity to extend more of these chill rooms into extra space within the bunker to accommodate future collections. There’s room to store up to half the world’s wild flowering plant species. We had better make sure that the money will be there to maintain this most precious storehouse.

thumbnail of These filing cabinets are designed to last
I admired the space saving devices that create instant corridors between the storage drawers. Just turn the three armed levers to move the racks.

thumbnail of Cold room number 2

Of course, Kew is not alone in building a seed bank. There are hundreds of long term seed banks throughout the world, but the vast majority of them are maintained for agricultural seed storage.

One of the most striking agricultural seed banks is in Svalbard, in the remote Norwegian island of Spitsbergen. It’s sited in a very dramatic location.

The Seed Vault has the capacity to store 4,5 million different seed samples. Each sample will contain on average 500 seeds, so a maximum of 2,25 billion seeds may be stored in the Seed Vault. The Seed Vault will therefore have the capacity to hold all the unique seed samples that are conserved today by all the approximately 1400 genebanks that are found in more than 100 countries all over the world.

thumbnail of Svalbard, Spitsbergen

Check out the amazing photos of this “Doomsday” project by clicking the link here.

thumbnail of Svalbard, Spitsbergen

Have a look at the Wikipedia entry here, and there’s a walk-through tour available here.
Last word: Don’t miss this amazing little gallery of seed photos.


Two Colour Keys From “Snowballs”

A little explanation: “Snowballs” was the original working title for “Balto“.
These two keys show the interior of a gold dredging machine in Nome, Alaska.
The quality isn’t great because they are from colour copies, but the vision is spot on.
Click ’em to enlarge ’em folks!

thumbnail of Workshop Interior
Workshop interior.

thumbnail of Gold dredger interior
Gold dredger interior.
Production designer Hans Bacher turned out hundreds of these small magic marker masterpieces at amazing speed.

I certainly learned a lot about the importance of tonal values from studying these keys.