December 21st, 2010
11:09 AM ET

TRON: Legacy - How to Look 28 Years Younger

From Disney Motion Pictures

When I first saw the graphic theme for News Stream, it took about 10 seconds for me to think 'TRON', so it's hardly surprising that the team have been eagerly awaiting the neon-lit cyber-sequel to the 1982 classic. It seems other people shared our sense of anticipation too - 'TRON: Legacy' powered up for a number one box-office opening weekend, pulling in $43.6 million at theaters across the U.S. and Canada.

I'm yet to see the movie myself - it hasn't hit cinema screens in Hong Kong yet - but even from the trailers and the clips I've seen there are plenty of water-cooler moments to talk about: the light-bikes, the killer frisbees...

But the thing that got our geek senses tingling the most: a Hollywood lesson in how to look 28 years younger. The idea of pitting a movie star against their younger self is nothing new, but 'TRON: Legacy' is the first to take the plunge. Thus Flynn, played by Jeff Bridges v.2010, is at war with Clu, played by Jeff Bridges v.1982, a digitally youthful chip off the old block.

Effects like that take a lot of work. According to 'TRON: Legacy' Animation Director Steve Preeg, Jeff Bridges started work with the animation team in mid-2008. They created a cast of his head, and digitally compared his face now with that in the original 1982 'TRON'. On set, Bridges had to shoot his scenes whilst wearing a helmet with four cameras mounted on it, and with hundreds of motion-capture dots attached to his face. As for the Clu you'll see on the silver screen, yes it's Jeff Bridges with a digital face-lift, but from the neck down, it's a younger body double.

Steve Preeg admits that following in the footsteps of 'TRON' was "very frightening".

"The entire industry that I work in owes its creation to 'TRON'", he told News Stream. "They were so cutting edge that they were disqualified from being nominated for Best Special Effects at the Oscars because using as computer was seen as cheating".

Check out more of our interview with Steve Preeg here:

As you might imagine, for some fans 'TRON: Legacy' is a must-see movie, and fans of the original film don't come much more devoted than Jay Maynard, otherwise known as internet sensation 'TRON guy'.

In a review for Wired.com, Maynard calls 'TRON: Legacy' "visually stunning, intellectually engaging, and emotionally exhausting". Apparently, it brought him to tears.

There's already talk of a third 'TRON' movie in the Disney pipeline. Who knows, maybe this one will feature Maynard.


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Filed under: General
November 22nd, 2010
01:39 PM ET

Heaven's Above: that is one big statue!

Polish town consecrates giant statue of Jesus

If I asked you to think of a giant statue of Jesus, I bet your mind would jump to Rio de Janeiro and the towering "Christ the Redeemer" that stands high on a mountain over the city.

But the town of Swiebodzin in western Poland is hoping to change all that.

This Sunday, thousands of pilgrims flocked there for the consecration of a statue they hope will be Brazil's famous religious icon.

The Polish creation stands 33 meters tall; that's one meter for every year of Jesus' life. Then you can add on an extra two meters for its golden crown and the mound it sits on. That brings its total height to a potentially record-breaking 52.5 meters.

Now, as you know, here at News Stream, we're all about visualisation. So we wanted to know how the Swiebodzin statue measures up to other effigies of religious figures:

  • As I mentioned, Rio's "Christ the Redeemer" is one to beat. It stands 39 meters tall and was voted one of the "new wonders of the world" in an online poll.
  • The "Cristo de la Concordia" in Bolivia is even bigger at 40.4 meters.
  • The "Giant Buddha of Leshan" in China's Sichuan province may not be free-standing (it's carved into a cliff-face) but it still comes out as the tallest stone buddha in the world, at 71 meters.
  • The world's largest statue of Lord Shiva measures up at nearly 20 meters, and you can find it in Bangalore, India.

There's no doubt that all of them cut an impressive sight.

But at least in Poland, such a large-scale religious icon has caused controversy; underlining the deep divide between a deeply Catholic population and an increasingly confident secular society - with many people mocking the project as "tacky".

All I can say is "Heaven's Above, that's one big statue".

I'm sure I'm not the only one amazed by the ingenuity and innovation required to build a statue that big.

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Filed under: General
November 19th, 2010
01:19 PM ET

From a Galaxy Far, Far Away...

Artist's impression of exo-planet HIP 13044 B: a planet from another galaxy. From European Southern Observatory.

It's not often I get to write a story that involves "cosmic cannibalism" - in fact before today, I had never written a story like that. But times change, and intergalactic discoveries are made.

Okay, so in these days of hyper-science the discovery of yet another planet orbiting yet another star may not be anything out of the ordinary. Unless, of course, the planet and the star come from a galaxy far, far away.

The rather unromantically named HIP 13044 B is the first planet to be discovered in the milky way...that was born outside of our galaxy. The extra-galactic exo-planet (I love all this space speak!) was spotted by scientists at the European Southern Observatory in Chile. It's 20% bigger than Jupiter and orbits a dying star that first got devoured by our galaxy six to nine-billion years ago. Yes, that' s where the "cosmic cannibalism" comes in.

What makes the newly discovered planetary pairing so fascinating to scientists - and to space geeks like me - is that the star is burning up, meaning exo-planet HIP 13044 B may soon become an ex-planet, engulfed by its host star.  That gives us all tantalising clues about the future of our own solar system.

Given that the planet is some 2,000 light-years away from Earth, it gives the phrase "distance-learning" a whole new meaning.

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Filed under: General • Personal musings
November 18th, 2010
07:29 AM ET

Narco Guerra: Finding the Footage

We've all heard tales of terror from Mexico's drug wars and seen the pictures of the blood spilled on the streets. So it goes without saying that reporting on the "Narco Guerra" is dangerous. It can also be difficult to get to the facts.

Take the recent killing of drug cartel leader Antonio Ezequiel Cardenas Guillen, also known as "Tony Tormenta" or "Tony the Storm". His death – in an operation that reportedly included 150 marines, and was the result of more than six months intelligence work – saw frightened residents holed up in their homes. So how to find out how the sting actually happened?

Well, surprisingly you don't need an embed with the Mexican military, or a contact inside one of the cartels. The key to unlocking the clues: smart use of the internet.

On YouTube, CNN's Karl Penhaul found footage of the aftermath of the gun battle that killed Cardenas Guillen.

"This video offers us clues to the kind of weaponry that was involved. We can see that a huge hole has been blown up in a wall and the rest of the wall is heavily pockmarked. Now a private security source that works in that area that I have been talking to tells me almost certainly that 50 caliber heavy machine guns have been used here, and almost certainly two rocket-propelled grenades. We can certainly see from the images that this was not a surgical strike against the cartel but it was an absolutely slugfest, an out-and-out battle on the street of a city of half a million people just steps away from Brownsville, Texas".

According to Karl, Cardenas Guillen's death is "the equivalent of an earthquake in the narcosphere, and right now what is happening is that the tectonic plates of the drug underworld are shifting". A source tells him that a period of in-fighting between the gangs is expected, after which a new supreme leader will emerge.

As the drug turf wars continue, it's thought Reynosa could be the next target. In investigating that, information from blogs proves enlightening. There, frightened residents are using Twitter as a kind of early warning system, with neighbours letting each other know what's going on near them and offering support.

That's a crucial lifeline when traditional media are staying away from the area because of safety concerns.

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Filed under: General
November 11th, 2010
02:09 PM ET

Baidu: innovator or Google clone?

Baidu is often referred to as "the Google of China", and recently it's got a taste of that Silicon Valley search giant's success. It's one of the best performing stocks on the NASDAQ at the moment: up more than 170% so far this year.

Flourishing finances aren't the only similarities between Baidu and Google. Both have minimalistic, white homepages with search boxes in the center.

So is Baidu simply a clone with a homecourt advantage, or an innovator in its own right?

Baidu's Director of International Communications Kaiser Kuo insists it is the latter. "I think Baidu has gotten a bad wrap for an awfully long time about simply being, at the most complementary, a fast follower...even from the really early days it was never a merely derivative company."

And Kaiser Kuo makes no secret of Baidu's plans to expand upon it's dominance in China to become a global brand. "Robin Li (Baidu's CEO and Chairman) has said before that in ten years he hopes that Baidu is a household name in half of the world's internet markets. I don't think that's an unrealistic goal at all. We are developing in in nine different languages besides Chinese and English. We're looking at some developing world markets, especially in Latin America, South East Asia, the Middle East. But none of this is really near-term. I think that we're very much still focused on the domestic Chinese market."

Sounds like wherever you are in the world, you may be seeing more of Baidu on a computer near you sometime soon.

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Filed under: China • General • Titans of Tech
November 9th, 2010
02:59 PM ET

What makes a video go viral in China?

It's a good question: the ingredients for viral video success in the world's largest internet market aren't what you might think.

Admit it, we've all spent hours online checking out videos sent to us by our friends. I'm thinking the cutesy "Charlie Bit My Finger", the classic "Evolution of Dance", or even the video that put some sex appeal into the last U.S. Presidential campaign "Crush on Obama". Most people will have clicked onto YouTube to get their viral video fill.

But just a glimpse of the front page of Tudou.com, one of China's foremost video-sharing sites, and you get a glimpse of a different kind of online community.

The CEO of the company, Gary Wang, doesn't like to compare his site with YouTube too much. He told News Stream "On YouTube it's more often about dancing babies and cats and dogs and that kind of stuff, more cuddly subjects. In China, there's a fair amount of unsatisfied feeling".

That's clear to see when you look at a number of videos on sites like Tudou.

I'll give you an example. There's been huge outcry online against a police official's son in China's northern Hebei Province. He allegedly tried to flee the scene of a fatal car accident last month crying out "Sue me if you can...My father is Li Gang!". That's become a catchphrase for abuse of power among China's estimated 420-million netizens, and there are poems, music videos, raps and cartoons posted online all using that same ironic rallying cry. Chinese artist-activist Ai Weiwei has even uploaded his own contribution.

But it's not all anger. There's a lot of love on China's video-sharing sites too. One grassroots fundraising campaign has so far raised around $3000 for a grandmother forced to deliver heavy water bottles by bicycle in order to care for her disabled son.

As Gary Wang succinctly put it, in China "the Web 2.0 phenomenon is actually becoming a lot more powerful than it probably is in the U.S."

Something to think about next time you're watching Keyboard Cat.

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Filed under: General • Titans of Tech
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