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Ruminations: Rex Steele & Harry Potter

Ruminations: Rex Steele & Harry Potter

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This coming Sunday sees the sixtieth anniversary of the Normandy landings of 6 June, 1944. D-day

While I may not have a personal connection to events that took place, I do consider it as the single most important day in modern history. The actions of the men and women of the Allied nations involved in Operation Overlord undeniably did make the difference, and turned the tide against tyranny.

So, if you find yourself with a moment or two, I would hope that you might offer thanks for all of the sacrifices made (and still being made) that we might live in freedom today.

Well, what do you know? Something actually went off as planned! I got the chance to take in some of the events at the 2004 Danville International Children's Film Festival on Saturday, May the 22nd of. I hadn't been here since the old days (maybe twenty-five years ago) when it was the Village Theater showing second run films at a cheap price. Hey, it was a great place for that high school date way back when...

Observant readers of this page may recall that among those events was to be two showings of "Rex Steele: Nazi Smasher" . While I didn't get the chance to view all of the animated (or live action for that matter) entrants, "Rex" was clearly one of the higher quality two-dimensional projects. Another animated entrant was shown before, "Rex". The minutes spent watching seemed like an eternity; almost painful in length and story. By the time it was done, I felt like I had been through a long viewing of really bad animatics.

However, the highlight of the trip was meeting "Rex" co-creator, Bill Presing . We watched the showing and then chatted over lunch at fine British pub, "The Crown" , just around the corner from the theater.

It's been an interesting couple of weeks since I first introduced you all to "Rex". Bill set up a well attended screening at Pixar where it was well received. And the awards seem to keep on coming for this film, too. On May 18th, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced the winners of it's 31st annual Student Academy Awards competition . In the Animation category, "Rex Steele: Nazi Smasher" was one of three winners. The awards presentation on June 13th will reveal the placement of Bronze, Silver or Gold Medals with cash prizes as well. Now from their site:

"The June 13 Student Academy Awards presentation ceremony begins at 6 p.m. It is free and open to the public. Clips from the bronze and silver medals will be shown and the gold medal films and Honorary Foreign Student film will be screened in their entirety. Seating is on a first-come basis only and early arrival is suggested as once capacity is reached, no one will be admitted, even with a ticket. To request a maximum of four tickets, call the Academy at (310) 247-3000, ext. 130. The Academy is located at 8949 Wilshire Boulevard in Beverly Hills."

If you're in the neighborhood, that's something you might want to consider for a Sunday evening. Free is always good! But if you can't make it for that event, "Rex" has a few more screenings in store. Try one of these:

2004 Asian Film Festival of Dallas
Date: June 4th-10th, 2004
Location: Dallas, Texas

2004 Boston International Film Festival
Date: June 26th, 2004 9 a.m.-11 a.m.
Location: Heinz Center (BWAY 7 Theatre) Boston, Mass

2004 Fantasia Film Festival
Date: July 8th - 31st, 2004
Location: Montreal, Canada

And check the Woohoo Pictures website for more dates to be added (hopefully)!

Chatting with Bill over lunch, he related some of the tales of how "Rex" came to be. As he had always liked the classic serial films, he had thought about making his own on Super 8 but never got around to it. Later on as a class project, he needed to draw three pages of a comic and that's where "Rex" finally was born. Matt Peters came on board and took on the writing for those pages. Bill and Matt both graduated from the Joe Kubert School of Cartoon and Graphic Art in Dover, New Jersey in 1996 and then found their way into television animation.

Bill worked on a variety of television projects for Disney, Cartoon Network and won a Daytime Emmy for his work on the animated opening of the "Rosie O'Donnell Show". He found his way west and into Pixar as a story artist. He owes that (somewhat) to a Christmas card with a hula theme that he had sent to a friend working there. Seems that someone else liked the card enough to photocopy it, and when his portfolio was shown around, that drawing was remembered enough to help him on his way. Bill admitted he liked the change in pace of working on a feature rather than television.

He's busy doing a new "Rex Steele" stand alone book (that may turn into a three or four issue series), which he hopes to have done in time for the San Diego Comicon later this summer. If all goes well, "Rex" will likely be available on DVD at the same time. As we parted, he was headed home to finish up on the artwork for the cover.

The world's largest operational steam locomotive is out on tour again, back to Texas for the second time this year. Union Pacific's #3985 (a Challenger steam locomotive) is headed to Houston to pull trains for several charitable events associated with the George Bush Presidential Library, M. D. Anderson Cancer Center and Points of Light Foundation. There is something majestic in watching this locomotive do the job it was designed for. The Union Pacific deserves major points for keeping this heritage program going, year after year.

Currently the only other Class 1 railroad with a steam program is the Canadian Pacific but for the most part that operation has been staying pretty much close to home in Canada. The UP isn't shy at all about their operation. For a number of years, they have sent their steam locomotives (they have one more -- #844 -- undergoing repairs in Cheyenne, Wyoming) out touring the nation. Even though the railroad ended passenger operations in favor of Amtrak, the UP owns and operates an impressive fleet of passenger cars and dedicated locomotives . In any given week, it is not uncommon for some of them to be in operation anywhere on the UP system for corporate events. When it is all assembled in one train, it faithfully recreates the railroad's fabled "Streamliner" trains such as the "City of Los Angeles" .

The 3985 will head home to Wyoming from Houston in mid-June. In July, it will make a pair of round-trips between Cheyenne and Denver to pull the Denver Post's train to and from Cheyenne's "Frontier Days". A tradition for over 60 years, it was revived in 1992 as has been immensely popular with folks in the Mile-High City ever since. The Union Pacific has used both the 3985 and 844 as well as diesel locomotives from it's historic fleet on these trains every year since.

The paper has tickets available online. A sixteen-car train is planned to leave Denver at 7:00 a.m. on Saturday, July 24 with an approximate 9 p.m. return. The trip is expected to sell out, so if you are interested, make haste! The $225 price is actually quite a bargain for the full day of events and the train ride.

Updating another column from last year, it is again the airshow season. The Collings Foundation continues to tour both it's Boeing B-17 Flying Fortress "Nine-Oh-Nine" and Consolidated B-24 Liberator "All-American". This particular weekend finds them (and 300 other vintage aircraft) in Merced, California for the Merced Antique Fly-In (at Merced's Airport). The Merced Chamber of Commerce offered the following info from their web pages:

"The Merced Antique Fly-In is on of the oldest continually running exhibits of antique airplanes in the Western United States. The 2003 show will be the 4th annual event held at the Merced Airport. The Friday night dinner is the one of the highlights of the show and the many fly-bys have the audience's admiration. The event is always held the first weekend in June. If you would like more information on this event please contact the chamber at 209-384-7092."

Sadly, all is not well with another Boeing B-17 that was out on tour. The Experimental Aircraft Association's "Aluminum Overcast" was damaged following a landing at the airport in Van Nuys, California. According to the information on their web page, the landing gear collapsed after the planed had landed and was taxing from the runway. No passengers were aboard during the incident, and the crew was uninjured. If you are so inclined, you might wish to consider a donation to the EAA or purchasing a souvenir of some kind from their online store to help fund the repairs to get this one back in the air...

In case you've been living under the proverbial rock, you might recall that the latest "Harry Potter" adventure comes to the big screen today. A tale from the production worthy of mentioning. Seems how the train used in the role of the "Hogwarts Express", the "Olton Hall" created a somewhat embarrassing moment during filming. Almost taking the title of the latest novel ("Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire") literally, a spark from the locomotive or the train managed to set fire to almost 500 acres of heather and trees on the moors near the famed Glenfinnan viaduct . That was back in February of 2003 during a rather unusual winter drought in the area. Here's a link from a local newspaper with all the details and a photo.

It's not unusual for steam locomotives to travel this route as there is regularly scheduled service between Fort William and Mallaig. During the summer months "The Jacobite Steam Train" is a great way to take in this very scenic part of Scotland, even if you're not a "Harry Potter" fan...

But if you are, well here's some good news:

Mon 31 May 2004

Hogwarts Express on track to pull in tourists


"POTTERMANIA is expected to fuel a record season for the Highland steam train linked to the Hogwarts Express, as services are launched a week early to meet demand from children - and adults - inspired by the release of latest film in the series.

This year's steam-hauled trips on the Fort William to Mallaig railway start next Monday, a week after today's much anticipated release of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, the third adaptation from JK Rowling's books.

The Jacobite, which operates Britain's only scheduled main- line steam service, carried some 25,000 passengers last year - the highest yet. However, its owners expect the new film will help increase numbers even further during the service's tenth season, which continues until October.

The National Trust for Scotland said visitors to the Glenfinnan monument, close to the 84-mile line, had also increased. The trust is waiting to see whether more tourists will flock to Glen Coe, where part of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban was filmed last year.

In the films of JK Rowling's best-selling books, the Hogwarts Express conveys Harry Potter and fellow pupils to wizard school.

A sister train to the Jacobite was used in the films, but the two have become intertwined after the Hogwarts Express was seen crossing the Glenfinnan viaduct in the last film, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.

During the making of the latest film last year, a spark from the train is thought to have caused a blaze which devastated about 500 acres of moorland. The Glenfinnan Estate was reported to have lodged a claim for £100,000 because of the loss of thousands of young trees.

The West Coast Railway Company, which operates the Jacobite, said it expected the 'Harry Potter effect' to cast its spell on the train's fortunes again.

Company spokesman James Shuttleworth said: "The films have definitely had a knock-on effect on patronage. We had a very good season last year and had to turn people away for the first time. The Jacobite was originally regarded by tourists as something to do when they were in the area. Now it is proving to be a reason for them to visit in the first place."

The train will travel from its base at Carnforth in Lancashire - of Brief Encounter fame - later this week. Weekday services will be supplemented by Sunday trips in July and August.

Francoise van Buuren, a spokeswoman for the NTS, said the last Harry Potter film had boosted visitor numbers to the Glenfinnan monument by 25 per cent to about 200,000 a year.

She said: "We expect that after the new film is released even more people will come."

However, she said that NTS staff were unsure about its likely impact on Glen Coe.

The Scottish Highlands and Islands Film Commission has calculated that the filming of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban enhanced the region's economy by £3 million, with more than 400 cast and crew involved in the location work.

Visit Scotland said it would be working with Scottish Screen to assess the impact of the film following its release.

Sharon Makepeace, a spokeswoman for VisitScotland, said: "This next film is meant to be Scotland's big thing, with the country featuring more visually in it, so we expect it to benefit tourism."

The Highlands of Scotland Tourist Board said the Jacobite and its Harry Potter connection had been included in its accommodation guides.

Dot Ferguson, an economic development official with Highland Council, said the previous Harry Potter films had provided a "very positive spin-off" for the region.

This increased every time they were released in a new format, such as DVD and video. The first two films broke worldwide records, with a combined box-office gross of nearly £1.2 billion.

The Harry Potter books themselves have sold more than 42 million copies in more than 40 countries since the first book, Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, was published back in 1997. "

Looking further into the crystal ball, if the fates are kind, I'll be joining Jim and the rest of the team during the upcoming series of Disneyland tours later this month. And next week, it's back again with another look at a Bay Area amusement.

If you're enjoying these tales from out and about, you can show your support by clicking on the Amazon Honor System for the Jim Hill Media web pages, and making a contribution. Every little bit helps keep the wheels of electronic communication spinning!

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