Observations on ebooks and Phil Tippett

First off, sorry for not blogging this weekend. Between recovering the Move From Hades (not only did the truck break down but the new one turned out to have only one seatbelt and we had to spend another night in Lewiston) and Memorial Day weekend, my brain was mushier than cheap cornflakes in milk.


Yesterday I was on Tumblr browsing and giggling (as you do) and I came across this:

Click here to see gif.

Long time readers might remember that I have a mild dinosaur/Jurassic Park obsession. Not only do I own all three movies, I've actually watched The Making of Jurassic Park documentary more than once. So aside from making me giggle uncontrollably, this gif made me think. Because I know who Phil Tippett is.

(Some of you are asking yourselves how this relates to ebooks. Don't worry, I'll get there. Maybe. *grin*)

First let me tell you about Phil Tippett. Back in the late 70's and early 80's, Tippett was one of the best special effects people around. He not only worked at Industrial Light and Magic, he won an Academy Award for his work on the movie Dragonslayer and an Oscar for Return of the Jedi. His specialty was a technique called go motion.

Like stop-motion animation, go-motion uses models and puppets, but go motion is smoother and much more awesome. The original AT-ATs in The Empire Strikes Back were animated with go motion.

In 1984, Tippett left ILM to start his own studio, where he worked on such things as the Robo-Cop movies, and oddly enough, a CBS animated special called Dinosaur! for which he received an Emmy. In other words, Phil Tippett was a master at his craft and at the top of his field.


*ominous music*

In 1991, Steven Spielberg hired Tippett to create go motion dinosaurs for Jurassic Park, and he came up with some amazing animation. But the movement was still jerkier than Spielberg wanted. Then Dennis Muren from the Industrial Light and Magic studio, who was also working on the film said "Hey, maybe we can make a computer generated dinosaur."

It had never been done before. No one had ever made a convincing computer animation of a living creature. But not only did ILM do it, they managed to do it so well that Spielberg was blown away.

And just like that, the industry Tippett had spent so many years in changed forever.

Tippett's reaction? "I think I'm extinct."

As I was remembering this story, my mind went to ebooks. (Told you I'd get there.)

I think a lot of writers feel like Phil Tippett right now, and with some good reasons. With the rapid growth of ebooks and ereaders, things have changed and they aren't changing back. The increasing dominance of Amazon, the demand for cheaper and cheaper books, the big publishers tightening their budgets and the flood of self-published books, all those things can combine to make a long-time professional writer feel like they're going extinct.

But you're not. There is still a demand for good stories. There is still a market for awesome. It might be harder than it used to be in some ways and easier in others, but our core job hasn't changed. We still need to tell great stories and tell them well. We just also have to be flexible and willing to evolve.

Like Phil Tippett did.

See, the story doesn't end with Tippett packing up his studio and trudging off into the sunset never to be heard from again. Watch the first two minutes of this video if you don't believe me.

As Wikipedia puts it (emphasis mine):

Far from being extinct, Tippett evolved as stop motion animation gave way to Computer-generated imagery or CGI, and because of Phil's background and understanding of animal movement and behavior, Spielberg kept Tippett on to supervise the animation on 50 dinosaur shots for Jurassic Park. Phil supervised both the Tippett Studio and ILM animators, resulting in realistic digital dinosaurs that breathe, flex, twitch and react. His effort earned him a second Oscar. Work done on Jurassic Park resulted in the development by Tippett Studio's Craig Hayes of the DID (Digital Input Device) which was pivotal in the transition from stop motion to computer generated animation in bringing creatures to life.

There was a place for Phil Tippett, go motion animator. He became Phil Tippett, dinosaur supervisor. And there is a place for writers and storytellers in this new (and still evolving) publishing world.  We can survive.

Tell great stories.

Tell them well.

And Happy Memorial Day.


  1. I just went and visited an aunt who lives in Idaho. While I was there you posted something about mentioned Moscow. I wondered if it was the same Moscow that my aunt  lived like forty minutes from...considering that she lives in Lewiston, I'm going to assume that it is.

    It's a very small world.

  2. Lovely post, Miriam  - and I'm glad the movie from Nifleheim is over (yay for alternative words for hell! xD). Hope you settle in okay and everything :)

  3. Don;t shoot me but I've never seen any of the movies.

  4. I saw a great way of putting it the other day, saying that you shouldn't write stories that innovative because of the technology because in 20 years time, that technology will be gone. Write stories that last through all the technology and you're onto a winner.

    Also, I nominated you for a blog award :) http://miriamjoywrites.wordpress.com/2012/05/30/i-won-a-baf-a-blog-award/ 

  5. I don't shoot commenters, Travis!  *hides baseball bat behind back*

    Perhaps though, we should discuss the benefits of watching these movies...


    (Though, given that's it's calling you a fox, perhaps hate is the wrong word)

  7. Wow. We were actually in Lewiston Wednesday and Thursday night. A very small world indeed. :)

  8. Awww, thank you!!!!   I don't often do blog awards anymore, but that one sounds like fun! 

    And I love your comment about writing stories that last through technology. YES. THAT. 

  9. Spookster, 'retrothefox' is probably your username and it's got bored of your 'nickname'.


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