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Tag: animation

Talk the dog: Humanizing our pets

There are two main reasons I’m against humanizing our pets.

One, it’s messing with nature — dogs (ideal beasts, in my view) should stay dogs.

Two, portraying them as humans, giving them human attributes, or using them as our puppets, implies our species is superior, and worth imitating. Oftentimes, from what I’ve seen of it, it’s not. We’re are way too far from perfect to appoint ourselves role models for the animal kingdom.

I get slightly peeved when I see technology being used to make dogs more human — especially when, because we deem it cute and entertaining, we put our words in their mouths.

So, immensely popular as it is, I’m less than smitten with My Talking Pet, an app that allows us to take a photo of our cat or dog, record an audio message, and get a video of our pet — animated so that mouth, nose and eyebrows move as the pet appears to talk.

From the samples I’ve seen, the words we put in the mouths of dogs are only further proof that we’re not the intellectually superior species we think we are.

“People are obsessed with it,” said Iain Baird, who developed the app with his former school buddy, Peter Worth. “I think it’s really struck a chord with how close people are with their pets.”

The concept, he told Fortune.com, came while he and some friends were in a London pub talking about a YouTube video featuring a “talking dog” that had gone viral. They decided to come up with an app that would make it easy for any pet owner make their dog “talk,” and it hit the iTunes market in early 2013.

It wasn’t until after the app was featured on the “Ellen” show that it really took off.

Last October, Kat Dennings and Beth Behrs, stars of the CBS sitcom “2 Broke Girls,” praised the app while on the show. In the weeks that followed it became the most downloaded paid app in the Apple iTunes store.

Worth and Baird say their company, WOBA Media,  began thinking even bigger after that — including offering a “devil mode,” which adds glowing red eyes to the pet, and “angel mode,” in which the pet appears under a halo.

Taken alone, “My Talking Pet” is  just a little harmless fun — as is dressing the dog up for Halloween, treating the dog like a spoiled grandchild, or calling them “fur babies”.

The dangers come when our seeing them as humans sabotages our attempts at training, when we start assigning dogs human emotions they don’t have, and holding them to human expectations.

We should be close to our pets. We should see them as family members — only canine ones. To manipulate them, to turn them into something else (humans, or angels, or devils), to put words into their mouths, all takes away from appreciating them for what they are.

Just something to keep in mind as technology marches on — often making bigger inroads than we originally anticipated.

How long will it be, for example, before cutting edge, 21st Century technology, like that used in “My Talking Pet”  is turned around on us, and the app takes on a mind of its own, and our pets are giving us their unsolicited opinions on the best brand of dog food, cereal or car to buy?

That could never happen, could it?

One way Brian could be brought back

brian1

Brian, the family dog in Fox’s long-running animated hit “Family Guy,” died Sunday night when he was struck by a car.

The Griffin family’s faithful dog – a far more level-headed being than any of the human characters on the show — was killed off and, after some grieving, replaced with a new dog, named Vinny.

Brian’s multitude of fans want him back, and so do we (and at the end of this post, we have a suggested story line that would allow him to return, at least in a form).

The death of Brian came Sunday night in the sixth episode of “Family Guy’s” 12th season — and seemed to hit fans of the show hard.

A petition on Change.org is gathering thousands of signatures after being launched Monday by an Alabama fan asking the show to bring back Brian.

“Brian Griffin was an important part of our viewing experience,” the petition reads. “He added a witty and sophisticated element to the show. Family Guy and Fox Broadcasting will lose viewers if Brian Griffin is not brought back to the show.”

Brian, who was an aspiring novelist, was voiced by “Family Guy” creator Seth MacFarlane; Vinny, the new dog, is voiced by Tony Sirico of “The Sopranos” fame.

The Los Angeles Times wondered whether fans will get to see their beloved dog again, and didn’t rule out the possibility.

Reuters reported that Brian appeared in more than 200 episodes of the show, which averages 6 million viewers an episode.

brian2Brian’s final words were: “You’ve given me a wonderful life. I love you all.”

At Brian’s funeral, Peter Griffin noted, ”Brian wasn’t just my dog, he was my best friend in the whole world.”

We don’t know how much memories of Brian are going to play into upcoming episodes, but we’d guess that — as with any dog owner — it’s going to be hard for the show to just let him go.

And, while it’s too late, we can see some great opportunities — story-line-wise — growing out of his death.

For one, an exploration of what really happens at “Rainbow Bridge.” MacFarlane’s mind, and writers, could have some fun with that.

Better yet, what if it turned out the Griffins had hung on to a hunk of Brian’s tissue, and sent it off to South Korea for a clone to be created. It happens in real life, and it sounds like just the sort of thing Stewie would go for.

Having written a book about it, I don’t favor cloning pet dogs, and generally don’t see it as a laughing matter. But “Family Guy” has always had a way of making things that aren’t laughing matters pretty laughable.

If a clone of Brian were created in a lab, and the family “reunited” with him, would it really be Brian, brought back to life — as those behind cloning initially would have us believe — or just a similar-looking dog with his own distinct personality?

And, assuming writers followed a factual route, and Brian’s clone was not the same character Brian was, how disappointed would viewers be?

It could be a funny and informative route for the show to follow.

As many problems as I have with dog cloning, as blanketly against it as I am, I would have to be in favor of reanimating Brian.

“Sometimes love really is a bitch”

“My Dog Tulip” — J.R. Ackerley’s classic account of how a dog entered his life, stimulated his curiosity, broadened his horizons, and brightened his otherwise cranky golden years — is now out as an animated movie, and the book has been reissued in paperback.

“Unable to love each other, the English turn naturally to dogs,” the British writer wrote in what’s perhaps the most famous line of the 1956 book about the bond between dog and man.

“Sometimes love really is a bitch,” reads the tagline, updated for the times, of the new movie.

The movie came out late last summer, directed by Paul and Sandra Fierlinger, who are also responsible for the hand-drawn animations that, on screen, are like a New Yorker cartoon come to life.

The film is narrated by Christopher Plummer, in the role of Ackerley, and also features the voice of Lynn Redgrave, who died in May and to whom the movie is dedicated. One review called it “the most sophisticated dog movie ever made.”

It tells the story of a lonely gay man who has all but given up on finding a longtime companion and “ideal friend” in the human world.

Enter Tulip, or, as was her name in real life, Queenie, a German shepherd Ackerley acquired from his neighbors when he was “quite over 50,” and with whom he would spend the next 15 years.

“She offered me what I had never found in my life with humans: constant, single-hearted, incorruptible, uncritical devotion, which it is in the nature of dogs to offer.”

Ackerley died in 1967, and though the book is now 55 years old, it retains a sense of freshness attributable to the fact that Queenie was his first dog. His keen observation of inter-species interaction is that of someone who just landed on the planet, as opposed to being an old hand with dogs.

“It seemed to me both touching and strange,” he says at one point, “that she should find the world so wonderful.”

We long-time dog lovers know exactly what he means. It’s what makes dogs so lovable — they see the world as wonderful, and, no matter how curmudgeonly we may be, they help us see it that way too.

The astounding “animals” of “Avatar”

Contrary to what many, including PETA, might think , animals were used in the making of “Avatar” — but none were harmed, according to the American Humane Association.

“American Humane applauds ‘Avatar’ director James Cameron and the production for earning our highest rating by ensuring the safety of the animals used in the filming,” said Karen Rosa, vice president of American Humane’s Film & TV Unit.

While PETA has recognized the film and its director for using computer-generated images instead of live animals, American Humane says filmmakers also used live animals for motion capture, and explains the process on its website.

“This film was created using motion capture technology, in which performers wear miniature computerized motion sensors near joints and facial areas to capture the movements and facial muscle nuances that occur with each gesture, motion or expression. The live action was performed in a motion capture studio covered in dark fabric and carpet  and then recorded as computer animation data, which was then mapped onto a computerized 3-D model.

“In this technology, humans wear a bodysuit for the ‘capture,’ but animals need to be ‘captured’ differently because of their body shapes, fur and other characteristics. To prepare the animals for having their motion data recorded, trainers shaved small areas of fur or hair where the movements would be recorded, such as near joints and on the face. Velcro pads were attached to the shaved spots with a nontoxic, nonirritating silicone adhesive. White light-reflective balls were placed onto the Velcro to capture the motion data onto the computer. The exception to this was horses’ tails, which were not shaved, but wrapped in a sensor-laden material. The adhesive and any additional markings were washed off each evening after filming ended.

“Throughout the film, horses are seen outdoors standing or being ridden at a walk, canter or gallop. We also see people mounting, dismounting and falling off horses. These scenes were all filmed inside the capture studio. Horses were given ample room to start and stop running. …For scenes in which horses appear to be near fire, trainers cued them to ‘dance’ or act skittish or afraid — the horses were not actually agitated nor were they ever near fire.”

American Humane monitors the use of animals in movies, and, when merited, bestows the trademark “No animals were harmed in the making of this film” certifcation.

American Humane encourages moviemakers to use computer generated images to increase safety.

“If, upon review of the script, American Humane believes there to be any dangerous animal action, American Humane will strongly encourage simulating the action through the use of computer-generated images, animatronics or fake animal doubles to minimize the risk of injury to animals,” the organization’s guidelines state.

Christmas countdown: Happy holidays to all

Today we begin our Christmas countdown — an eclectic mix of videos that will serve as our way of wishing you the happiest of holidays.

Of course, we’ll still be bringing you dog news as well this week — along with some possible posts related to my Christmas guests, all of whom are canines. In addition to my dog Ace, I’ll be hosting three other dogs this week whose owners are off to visit family.

There’s Lucas — an old yellow Lab who huffs, puffs and dawdles almost as much as me on his walks in the park. There’s Darcy, a young Boston terror, I mean terrier, who is a perpetually bouncing bundle of energy. And there’s Cheyenne, a sweet 11-year-old yellow Lab who, though bred to be a guide dog, didn’t make the cut, then at age 5 began going blind herself.

The more the merrier, I figured.

But back to our holiday greetings. We’ll be bringing you one a day all week, starting with this vintage R.O. Blechman animation that CBS aired in 1966 as a Christmas message to viewers.

The only stimulus package you can count on

(To see more of Allen Mezquida’s “Smigly” animations, visit smigly.tv)

G-o-D and D-o-G

This little ditty is quickly approaching the one-million-view mark on YouTube.

Between that and five different people having sent it to me in the past couple of weeks, I thought this would be a good time to share it — if it hasn’t already showed up in your inbox.

The artist is Wendy Francisco, who you can learn more about  on her website.

Wendy was born in 1955 in Boston, grew up in Del Mar, California and graduated from San Diego State University. She has been been involved with music, art, writing, photography, nature and animals since she childhood.

She learned guitar at age 8 and began to write her own songs. She was asked to perform often and in 1979, was signed to Sparrow Records. Wendy has since traveled all over the United States and beyond doing concerts. Her voice was used at the opening of ”Dear John” with Judd Hirsch.

In 2008, she participated in the editing of the book ”Wesley The Owl” by author Stacey O’ Brien. Most recently, she created this You Tube video, her first animation.

Wendy, according to her website, struggles with modern day religion which she believes limits most people and women in particular. Wendy believes that religion often masks the character of G-O-D.

Wendy is married to singer/songwriter Don Francisco, and lives in the mountains of Colorado where she continues to produce art, writings, and music. She also raises Friesian cross horses, Ragdoll cats, and Colorado Mountain Dogs.