Author: clutz01

Science-Fiction TV Finds a New Muse: Feminism

As fantasy shows like Doctor Who and The Legend of Korra tackle issues like abortion and consent, a question emerges: Is this the golden age of feminist science-fiction television?

1417261518844.cachedScience fiction and fantasy are often at their best when they use unfamiliar worlds to sneakily tackle the familiar issues of the day. In the past this has included industrialization (The Lord of the Rings) or technology’s dark side (Neuromancer,Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, 2001: A Space Odyssey, everything since then). And while science fiction and fantasy literature has not been one to avoid social injustice, two of TV’s most fantastical shows have recently been credited for finding a new muse: feminism.

The representation of women on screen has been a huge talking point in the last year: Evangeline Lily’s belief that characters like The Hobbit’s Tauriel help promote a strength that is uniquely woman, the release of the new Ms. Marvelcomics, the launch of the Bechdel test in Sweden, the furor around portrayals of rape in Game of Thrones, Anita Sarkeesian’s Tropes vs Video Games video series, or the revivals of Sailor Moon and The Powerpuff Girls.

Still, sci-fi and fantasy that is actually motivated by the issues surrounding women is a rarity. That’s why stories that allegorize and analyze abortion or sexual assault are so interesting: they are not just about improving the representation of women, they seek to improve the discussion around them. By extrapolating these topics away from the individual and placing them as higher-stakes problems, what can seem like obtuse or gender-specific topics can be universal concerns if only because viewers are asked to engage with them in a way detached from their complex real-world implications.

Doctor Who’s most recent season has been, perhaps, the most woman-friendly in an often reviled run that has spent more time on sassy and bossy than complex and intelligent. It is a season that addressed the Bechdel test head-on in on-air gags: in one scene, sidekick Clara Oswald tells a female character who she’s sealed in a room with that they shouldn’t spend all their time talking about men.

The Doctor leaves Clara, a schoolgirl named Courtney, and a hardened astronaut called Lundvik to debate terminating the creature that lives inside the moon’s core.

This season also saw a female director take on the finale where the main villain the Master returned as a woman (an early step, perhaps, towards a 50-year-old franchise getting a female lead in the future) and far more development of Clara in every episode. It also had the show’s most consciously female-centric episode in “Kill The Moon,” in which the Doctor leaves Clara, a schoolgirl named Courtney, and a hardened astronaut called Lundvik to debate terminating the creature that lives inside the moon’s core. It is an episode that is so on-the-nose in its tackling ofpro-choice debates that you can practically see the freckles.

Meanwhile, The Legend of Korra went beyond just being a Bechdel-busting lady bonanza into looking at the issues behind the lead’s violent adventures. The titular character’s inability to function in her role as a superpowered messianic figure was inhibited by trauma caused by a series of scarring defeats by the show’s three main villains, all of them male. In a series of flashbacks, Korra recalls each moment at which the show’s villains hurt her the most. When these disparate scenes are placed together in one montage it becomes clear that Korra has not just been defeated by villains, but physically assaulted by three very invasive and unpleasant men. The villains either physically grabbed her, extracted something from her forcibly, or implanted toxins into her body in ways that, although magical and supernatural, are undeniably men assaulting a young woman and doing what they want to her with no consent.

The poisons she was forced to ingest are a symbolic blockade from returning to her original grandeur, and they can only be expelled by coming to terms with what others have done to her. Although Korra looks at PTSD and assault with supernatural grandiosity, fans were quick to pick up on it in some forums. “These are really dark and fucked up violations to a person, all on a physical level much deeper and darker than simple brutality,” said one user on The AV Club’s recap of the episode. Other commenters were less sold: “Not every instance of a woman having heinous shit done to them by the villain is ‘OMG, rape metaphor!’,” said another, “and how eager you guys are over making the connection is a little creepy.”

While sci-fi TV that bases its lore on feminist ideas and gender studies is still developing, it has long been the case for fantastical literature. In 1818, one of the most important early science fiction novels was written by a woman:Frankenstein, and it was focused on ideas a female writer had a particular knack for—birth and childrearing. Mary Shelley, daughter of acclaimed feminist writer Mary Wollstonecraft, takes pregnancy and womanhood and places them into the context of the solitary male genius creating medical marvels. It’s even told through epistolary letters that are scribed over a nine month period.

In the 20th century, Indian writer Rokeya Sakhawat Hussain continued in a grand tradition of feminist utopian literature with Sultana’s Dream, as did The Yellow Wallpaper’s Charlotte Perkins Gilman with the Herland trilogy. Although other women continued to write powerful and intelligent looks at worlds that challenged 20th century gender norms and sexual politics, it was the ‘60s and ‘70s that really saw an explosion of the genre of feminist science fiction: Naomi Mitchison’s 1962 novel Memoirs of a Spacewoman for example, or Ursula K. Le Guin’s seminal feminist sci-fi classic The Left Hand of Darkness about an “ambisexual” race that only conform to the gender binary once a month at times of peak fertility.

While the list of feminist science-fiction novelists goes on and on (Joanna Russ, James Tiptree, Samuel Delany, Marge Piercy, Octavia Butler are a few worth checking out) feminist science fiction written for television or film is a smaller clique entirely.

In talking to experts in the field, only a few women immediately came to the fore. Noah Berlatsky, author of Wonder Woman: Bondage and Feminism, recommended the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “Angel One,” in which the team seek freighter survivors on the planet of Angel I, ruled by women who subjugate and objectify men. It’s an exploration of gender stereotypes, but also fails to deconstruct them when male crew member Riker uses sex to persuade the matriarch Beata not to kill the freighters.

In fact, some feminist critics have pointed to a long history of objectification inStar Trek. The show, Bell Hooks argued in Black Looks: Race and Representation, “represents wom[e]n as the object of a phallocentric gaze.” Perhaps this was best shown in costuming blunders, like the decision to make Deanna Troi the only crew member to wear a miniskirt, and when fans responded negatively the skirt was only lengthened when the neckline plunged.

Star Trek has, for all its faults, frequently explored issues of social injustice and inequality and should be commended for how insistent it can be. And although Uhura may have been in a short skirt, Professor of Communication Studies at Lynchburg College Michael Robinson still considered a black woman in a high-profile main ensemble as groundbreaking. “Compared to Kirk or Spock or McCoy, Uhura did not do as much. Storylines rarely involved her directly. And she had to wear those skimpy Trek mini-skirts,” admitted Robinson in an e-mail. “Yet, in the late 1960s, having an African-American female on the bridge of the USS Enterprise was a bold statement about equality.  She was part of the team and her presence was never questioned.”

Other shows have allowed gender and inequality to inspire some episodes: The Twilight Zone, for example. Other shows have allowed the issues of their female leads to nourish central themes: The original run of The Bionic Woman or Joss Whedon’s short-lived Dollhouse. Perhaps the best example at the moment, and a sign of a growing trend, is the much neglected Orphan Black which has used its clone-centric narrative to explore issues of reproductive rights among other things.

Although TV is behind literature, maybe this can be blamed on its youth: after all, if Star Trek had been around since the 18th century it might have had more time to develop, too. Time has also shown sci-fi can really accommodate for women in ways other genres did not: Leigh Brackett, was the writer of the first draft ofReturn of the Jedi. Zoe Saldana has also recently praised sci-fi movies for thedepth and breadth of women in its ensembles.

But, as stated before, this year’s season of Doctor Who, a show that has been around for 50 years, responded to the fierce critique received. Although it is still a show light on women in the writing room and behind the camera, “Kill the Moon” showed that Doctor Who can be propelled along by three ladies. Profess is indeed progress.

To see episodes like these tackle, subtly or conspicuously, the issues of women today is a sign that the 2010s may be to televised science fiction what the 1960s were to literature. This year sci-fi literature magazine Lightspeed raised over $53,000 on Kickstarter to publish an all-female-written magazine. Perhaps we’ll be lucky enough to see an entirely feminist, or indeed entirely female, sci-fi epic soon.

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Barbie, Remixed: I (Really!) Can Be a Computer Engineer

On another note….

Casey Fiesler

I am a PhD student in a computing department, so I guess it’s not surprising that my social media feeds have been full of outrage over Barbie’s “computer engineering” skills. The blog post that originally went viral appears to be sporadically down due to heavy traffic, but The Daily Dot also has a good summary of the problematic book titled Barbie: I Can Be a Computer Engineer. The problematic part is that, as far as I can tell, the steps for becoming a computer engineer if you’re Barbie are:

  1. Design a videogame.
  2. Get a boy to code it for you.
  3. Accidentally infect your computer with a virus.
  4. Get a boy to fix it for you.
  5. Take all the credit for these things yourself.

And the problem isn’t even that Barbie isn’t a “real” computer scientist because she isn’t coding. (I am one of those mostly-non-coding computer scientists myself, though now…

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‘World Of Warcraft’ Tops 10 Million Subscribers Following ‘Warlords Of Draenor’ Expansion

World of Warcraft has once again proven itself the king of MMO hill.

The long-running massively multiplayer online roleplaying game (MMORPG) saw its fifth expansion launch last week, and according to publisher Activision-Blizzard the numbers are looking good.

In the first 24 hours after launch, the expansion sold over 3.3 million copies through to customers. At $49.99 for the Standard and Digital copies (and higher price tiers above that) we’re talking about serious sales, comparable to a full PC release.

The expansion has also helped revitalize World of Warcraft’s flagging subscription numbers. The game was already the king of MMOs, but was dipping into the 7 million range. At 10 million subscribers it’s still well below the glory days of 15 million subscribers. And while it’s the top dog in its genre, other online games like League of Legends are growing fast.

Still, as Paul Tassi reported earlier this summer, in 2013 World of Warcraft still commanded 36% market share and was bringing in over $1 billion a year.

While the release of Warlords of Draenor has been rocky—Activision-Blizzard has given out free game time as an apology for over-taxed servers—the expansion is still one of the best-selling games of the year. It brings updated character models, a higher level cap, and tons of new content to the table, and it avoids the addition of giant pandas, which many players were unhappy with in the game’s previous expansion.

(Yes, I know they were Pandarens, brewer-monks, which I actually liked, but whatever.)

Warlords of Draenor launched November 13th. It will be interesting to see where subscriber numbers are six months from now. Can the expansion bring people back to the game for long? Is this proof that the subscriber model really can work, at least for established brands?

I think, if nothing more, it’s proof that the subscription model can work for World of Warcraft. It might be viable for a handful of other MMOs—Final Fantasy XIV is doing well apparently—but beyond that the future of the genre is free-to-play. Games like Wildstar and Elder Scrolls: Online face an uphill battle.

I also think the future of MMOs is casual. The next big hit will be the equivalent of Hearthstone. I wouldn’t be surprised if it came from Blizzard.

From the press release:

In Warlords of Draenor, Garrosh Hellscream has escaped through the Dark Portal to help forge the orc clans of old into the terrifying war machine that is the Iron Horde, intent on the destruction of Azeroth. Players must mount a desperate charge into the orc homeworld of Draenor and fight alongside and against legendary characters from Warcraft®’s history to bring down the warlords before all is lost beneath the tides of iron.

As Azeroth’s heroes explore the savage world of Draenor, they’ll build and manage a mighty Garrison, a customizable stronghold that grows with them on their journey; reach new heights of power and unlock bonuses on their way to the new level cap of 100; fight the opposing faction for control of Ashran, a huge and dynamic PvP zone; and take on a wide array of Dungeons, Raids, Battlegrounds, Challenge Modes, and more.

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WoW & Race

Your assignment:  Explore the different race options in WoW on both sides–Horde and Alliance.  You’re able to create up to 50 characters total, 11 per server.  What are the physical attributes/differences among the different races? What are their backstories (cinema sequences that introduce each race during beginning-level gameplay)?  What are a particular race’s strengths and weaknesses in terms of skill during game play?  How does each race emote?

I’m going to try to do the best I can with this WoW terminology…

There are two playable sides in WoW, the Alliance and the Horde, and each is comprised of six very different races who can play a variety of different classes.  Specifically, what I experienced while playing were the different worlds and how these different worlds help make the character in a sense.  What I found while playing was the overall attitude of an alliance race was the strive for honor and the ideology of “doing good” for all.  They seem dignified, more well-rounded characters- not to mention, the music adds a lot to this effect.  The Horde side seemed more risky, violent and overall more dark.  Not necessarily the “bad guys,” the horde just want to be heard and respected. 

Alliance: “Humans, night elves, dwarves, gnomes, draenei, and the savage worgen make up the illustrious Alliance. Proud and noble, courageous and wise, these races work together to preserve order in Azeroth. The Alliance is driven by honor and tradition. Its rulers are champions of justice, hope, knowledge, and faith.In a time when chaos and uncertainty reign, the Alliance remains steadfast in its determination to bring light to the darkest corners of the world.”

Horde: “The Horde is made up of orcs, forsaken, tauren, trolls, blood elves, and most recently, goblins. Misunderstood and cast aside, these diverse and powerful races strive to overcome their differences and unite as one in order to win freedom for their people and prosper in a land that has come to hate them.In the Horde, action and strength are valued above diplomacy, and its leaders earn respect by the blade, wasting no time with politics. The brutality of the Horde’s champions is focused, giving a voice to those who fight for survival”

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Pick 3 different races from the Alliance side and create a character, pick 3 different races from the Horde side and create a character.  You don’t have to level up necessarily, but make note of the options available to you in terms of character creation, attributes, skill, narrative/backstory, and especially emote.  Journal on your blog about this exploration–post images of characters, shoot video of emotes, etc.

Here’s my lineup! 

Alliance side:

1. Female Dwarf- not a large world; I did about 4 or 5 tasks and was killing the same way every time.  Also, I really didn’t go anywhere.  I was in a giant field!  “The bold and courageous dwarves are an ancient race descended from the earthen—beings of living stone created by the titans when the world was young. Due to a strange malady known as the curse of flesh, the dwarves’ earthen progenitors underwent a transformation that turned their rocky hides into soft skin. Ultimately, these creatures of flesh and blood dubbed themselves dwarves and carved out the mighty city of Ironforge in the snowy peaks of Khaz Modan.”


Dwarves can temporarily turn to living stone, neutralizing any poisons, diseases, and bleeding wounds, and adding natural armor.


Ironforge dwarves have a natural resistance to Frost magic.


Dwarves receive a skill bonus to archaeology and are able to survey faster than other races.


Dwarven riflemen are famed for their skill, and their affinity for hammers makes dwarves deadly with maces.

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2. Male Human- definitely had a human sense in this world; did some healing and went inside several castle-like buildings that were very realistic to the human race.  “Though humans are among the younger races on Azeroth, they have faced many challenges with fortitude and resilience. Their continued ability to adapt and rebuild has made them a vital force in an ever-changing world.”


Humans can shake off speed altering and trapping effects.


The straightforward and outspoken humans tend to get along well with other races and gain their trust with relative ease.


Humans are known for their indomitable spirit and receive a slight bonus to their spirit attribute.


Few things exemplify the humans’ strength and grace quite like their weapons of choice.

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3. Male Night Elf- very hyper-masculine, loud grunting noises, dances like Michael Jackson.  “Recent Horde attacks have seized night elven lands in Ashenvale, while areas along Kalimdor’s western coast have been decimated by the catastrophic upheavals unleashed in the wake of the Cataclysm. Still struggling to cope with the loss of their immortality, the night elves must prepare to stand against any threat as Azeroth itself breaks apart at the seams.”


Slipping into the shadows and waiting for the right moment to strike is second nature to the elusive night elves.


Fallen night elves assume the form of wisp spirits, which navigate the spirit world much faster than normal spirits.


Night elves have a natural resistance to Nature magic.


The nimble night elves have a slight chance to completely avoid being hit by melee and ranged attacks.

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Horde side:

1. Undead Female- much more creepy, darker world; “Death offered no escape for the scores of humans killed during the Lich King’s campaign to scour the living from Lordaeron. Instead, the kingdom’s fallen were risen into undeath as Scourge minions and forced to wage an unholy war against everything… and everyone… that they once held dear.”


The Forsaken can shake off any charm, fear and sleep effects at will.


The Forsaken have a natural resistance to Shadow magic.


One rather grisly means for the Forsaken to replenish their health is by consuming dead bodies.


The Forsaken’s undead bodies need less air than those of the living, allowing them to hold their breath longer.

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2. Female Troll- AKA “The Tribal Race.”  From the weapons to the dancing, it was very evident that this race was very exotic. “Of late, political changes within the Horde have sparked fears among the Darkspear tribe regarding its future. Vol’jin’s close ally Thrall recently named Garrosh Hellscream temporary Horde warchief. Thus far, the brash young orc has put the Darkspear leader and his tribe on edge, causing many trolls to leave the Horde capital, Orgrimmar. Although spirits are high among the Darkspears after Zalazane’s fall, tension lingers concerning what place the trolls will have in Garrosh’s Horde.”


Trolls can launch themselves into a frenzy, increasing their attack and casting speed for a short time.


Thanks to their impressive legerity, trolls are less affected by movement impairing effects than other races.


Trolls have a natural healing factor that constantly replenishes their health, even when they are engaged in combat.


Trolls receive bonuses when using their favored weapons.

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3. Female Blood Elf- bright colors, pretty landscapes, heroic feeling.  Maybe I would call it “cute” for the first 7 levels. “Inspired by the Sunwell’s rebirth, the blood elves have since entered into a shining new era in their ancient race’s history. Although some elves remain hesitant to abandon their dependence on arcane magic, others have embraced change for the betterment of Quel’Thalas. Yet only time will tell if the blood elves can avoid repeating the tragic mistakes of their past.”


Blood elves can disrupt magic, briefly silencing all enemy casters around them and restoring some of their own resources.


Blood elves are skilled in the mystical arts and receive a skill bonus to enchanting.


Blood elves have a natural resistance to magic spells.

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“Shit’s tough for girls,” says the “Mythbusters” star.

Adam Savage on #Gamergate, Hollywood, and Women in Science.

Last week, as part of the Bay Area Science Festival, I had the chance to interviewMythbusters host and producer Adam Savage for a live episode of the Inquiring Minds podcast. Savage is a science evangelist, and he’s been instrumental in educating huge numbers of people on how science works and why it’s so much fun. The longevity and popularity of Mythbusters has elevated him to rock star status—his live show, Mythbusters: Behind the Myths, is scheduled to play this year in dozens of large venues across the country.

Savage’s success comes partly from his passion for building and testing stuff (and blowing it up), but it also comes from being, well, a good person—and from engaging thoughtfully with issues that many people in his line of work tend to ignore. When I asked him how he could use his big-time influence as a TV star and science communicator to make sure women are better represented in his field, it was clear that it was something he had already been thinking about.

“The problem I have is that I’m a white dude,” Savage said. “And I recognize that my privilege makes it impossible for me to say, ‘There should be more women in science’ without sounding like I’m proclaiming from on high. And so I take that position seriously.” But, he added, “I bring women into the things I’m doing because they absolutely are part and parcel of all of the storytelling and the science and the scientific discovery that we do. And little girls need more role models in critical thinking. Absolutely. But I also recognize that that’s not me…I could be a little girl’s role model, but I’m not going to be her ideal role model. She needs a woman to do that.”

“I guess that’s a long way of saying I’m not really sure,” he said. “I’m always looking at ways to do that.”

“Shit’s tough for girls—I’m really sorry about that,” he said, adding that he’s been following the controversy surrounding #Gamergate—the online culture war that has been rocking the video game industry and has involved harassment and violent threats against women. In a follow-up interview at his workshop (watch the video above), I asked Savage why he thinks there’s so much rage directed at women in the gaming community.

In short, he’s not sure. But he says he’s seen sexism directed at other women in science and tech, including at former Mythbusters star Kari Byron. “I wish I understood it better,” he says. “Because I see it, and I have friends that suffer from it. And I worked with Kari Byron for 11 years, and I’ve watched the evolution of the terrible shit Kari’s had to deal with as a public figure and a woman and a science communicator.”

With the caveat that he’s “psychoanalyzing people” he’s never met, Savage suggests the problem is exacerbated by consumer cultural and media portrayals of women. “I have to imagine that our culture is constantly promoting impossible ideals,” he says. “Ideals of ownership, ideals of success, and ideals of body type. And women have suffered mightily from Hollywood’s ideas of what women should look [like].” Savage should know—he’s been in Hollywood for more than a decade. “It’s part and parcel of a deeply nihilistic view of consumer culture,” he says. “I deeply love the brands that I love…I’m deeply addicted to it at the same time as I recognize it promotes some terrible ideas about what’s possible and what could make you happy.”

“Really at its base, all anyone wants is to be happy and to be fulfilled,” he adds. “And it’s genuinely sad that there’s a group out there that feels so unfulfilled that they feel the drive to push their lack of fulfillment outwards. Right? ‘I want to deny things to you…because I feel denied.’ That’s terrible.”

You can hear more of Savage’s thoughts—on everything from street harassment to electronics to the future of intellectual property law—by listening to Inquiring Mindsbelow, or by subscribing on iTunes or via RSS.

Fall Break- we’re at the halfway point!

Wow!  I can’t believe it’s fall break.  Living in West Michigan, the fall colors never seize to amaze me on my drive home for the well-deserved week at home.  So when my parents ask me how my studio courses are going, it becomes a 2-hour conversation- not because it’s miserable or frustrating, but because of everything we have done so far!  It’s amazing to look back at all of all of the progress and programs we can learned to use as a class.  From the game board creation in groups to the game controller process and procedures, we’ve been pretty busy in the studio these days.  I’m DEFINITELY looking forward to our future work on the game controller, but I’m also ready to move on to other projects that will indeed stretch my mind in this particular subject of study.

But since it IS fall break, enough about class.  Here’s an interesting article I found this morning and cannot wait to share!

Feminist Artist Uses Needlework To Put Men’s Catcalls To Rest

A catcall — made in the moment, often hollered casually with little forethought — lasts only a few seconds. Once a statement like “Good morning, good looking” or “Why won’t you talk to me? I’m not such a bad guy” has been hurled at a passerby (probably a woman), the catcaller (probably a man) is left to go about his business. There’s no evidence of the unsolicited encounter, no physical proof of the infraction that went down.

Brooklyn-based artist Elana Adler is out to change this. In her series, “You Are My Duchess,” she painstakingly cross-stitches the words hurled at her on the streets. While the catcall is brief and forgettable to some, her needleworks take hours of planning and execution. From one instance of unwanted attention to another, she records the intangible misdeeds, turning invasions of personal space into beautified works of art.


“I get cat called all of the time, most women do,” Adler explained to The Huffington Post. “Once I started getting more interesting ‘calls,’ I started texting them to myself and thus the collection began.” At first she wasn’t sure what to do with the documentation. She spent some time thinking about traditional craft practices. For example, the hope chest, which the artist describes as a collection of material items like quilts, utensils, and linens that are given to a husband as dowry. It’s meant to represent the wealth and skills a wife can bring to marriage.

Adler took special note of the sampler, a decorative piece of needlework often included in the hope chest that would showcase a woman’s knowledge of both stitching and story-telling. What better way to confront the persistence of catcalls than with this “simple piece of women’s work”?

And so “Duchess” was born. It currently takes the form of 32 samplers intended to be as provocative as the statements they embellish. Adler calls them “a contemporary feminist interpretation of women’s work” and “an objectification” of her personal experience. By memorializing the words in thread, she gives the statements a visual presence that is physically delicate and traditionally feminine. On the one hand, they transform crassness into sweetness, the gentle cursive slightly masking the actual content of the words. On the other hand, they draw the viewers in, forcing them to confront the very essence of catcalling they may try to avoid.

“You read one sampler. Perhaps you are amused, but as you continue reading and consider the body as an entire collection, the response changes. The inherent filth emerges. It is a beautification of an assault. Perhaps in the moment these statements are meant to compliment, but most [women] don’t find vulgar, highly sexualized statements whispered or screamed at them by random strangers complimentary.”

You can catch a preview of Adler’s striking needlework here. For more on her project, head over to her website. While she’s officially on to new projects, for fans of the series, there’s still hope. “When I get a really ‘good’ or creative cat call I still write it down. It is a project I can always revisit,” she says.




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Winding down week 5…

Wow!  What a crazy week!

So we’ve been introduced to the program, Blender for the past week.  It’s this insane program that makes me feel like I work for Pixar- no joke.  Whether it’s scaling, rotating, joining, mirroring, or texturing, Blender allows you to explore any 3D form and lets you create anything you want.  We are also learning about Pepakura which takes our 3D images in Blender into actual form.  Let the cutting and folding begin!

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