Kaunas and Siauliai, Lithuania

First of all, everyone who reads this should go see Madagascar this weekend. It took me a long time to warm up to the movie, and many of you have probably heard me say not entirely nice things about it in the past, but in the end I think it turned out decently. I’m pretty pleased and feel very fortunate to have worked on it. If you ignore story things like the lack of dramatic tension and a weird plot structure and just expect it to be goofy and slapstick, you’ll probably enjoy it more. I think the character animation is some of the funniest that’s been done recently, and for sure some of the best ever in CG. The film is beautiful, and some of the jungle environments are amazing, though I worry that the stylized, angular geometry will turn audiences off. It takes a little while to get used to. I have a whole theory about the problems with stylization in animation… Anyway, I think it’s a good movie, but I have a funny feeling a lot of people wont agree. The reviews I’ve read so far are pretty mixed, but the Villiage Voice liked it, and that’s pretty unheard-of. So maybe it’s good. I dont know. Everyone go see it. I’ve seen zero ads for it in Eastern Europe, so I assume that it’s not opening here yet, and I’ll just have to wait til I’m back in the US. In any case, Mad’s a big part of the reason I get to be in Lithuania right now, and for that I’m particularly grateful. If you’re wondering what I did, umm… I worked a lot on the crowds of lemurs, mostly.

Anyway, with that business aside, Lithuania. Lithuania is a beautiful country. It’s all small gentle hills and green fields with wildflowers everywhere. It hasn’t been clearcut like most european countries so there are still lots of forested areas. And lakes. So many lakes. Lithuania is like the Michigan of Europe. Houses in the countryside are dark and wooden, with corregated gray roofs — none of this white stucco and orange tile business you get everywhere else.

I learned one word in Lithuanian — aciu, for ‘thank you,’ which is pronounced ‘ah-choo.’ So it sounds like everyone’s sneezing all the time, at least the polite people.

I spent one day in Kaunas, Lithuania’s second-largest city, on my way to the coast. It’s not anything special as far as cities go. There’s the requisite old castle ruins and big cathedral. I went to the “Devil Museum” which was dedicated to folk art images of the devil from all different cultures, which was kinda interesting I suppose. I guess the devil’s a big deal in Lithuanian folklore. The really cool thing about Kaunas though was that I happened to be there on the final day of the “Kaunas Days” festival. There were tons of people out, and lots of carnival rides and paragliders. I tried to figure out what the festival was for, but didn’t get a good answer. It involved fireworks at night, though, so that was cool. And a Lithuanian hip-hop concert in the town square, which was hilarious. It was a lot of Lithuanian, then some “yo come on, huh, shake it fuck” then more Lithuanian. I’ve noticed that people like to swear in English, especially kids playing Counterstrike or Warcraft or whatever in Internet cafes. You hear lots of “blah blah fuck you fag blah...” Lovely. I’m glad they’re taking an interest in our culture. Incidentally, one of my big annoyances on this trip has been kids playing Counterstrike or Warcraft or whatever in internet cafes. In every country internet cafes seem like the place to be for the 10-16 year-old dorky guy crowd. And apparently for the 25 year-old dorky american crowd as well.

From Kaunas I stopped over in Siauliai en route to the coast, but didn’t see much of the town. The big draw of Siauliai is that a little ways outside of town is the Hill of the Crosses (Kryziu Kalna in Lithuanian). It was the only place in Lithuania that I’d actually heard of before coming here, and by all accounts is the most amazing sight in the country, so I figured I had to see it. It’s not a particularly easy place to get to if you’re not an Old Person on an Old-Person Tourbus (which I’m not). The infrequent local bus drops you off at an unnamed stop in the middle of nowhere and I had to hitch a ride back on a schoolbus. But the place is really pretty incredible. It’s these two random tiny little twin hills surrounded by miles of farmland and nothingness. The history of it is pretty unclear, but at some point the people in the area started planting crucifixes on the hill. Eventually they started planting them as memorials for people killed or deported for fighting against tsarist, and later soviet, oppresion. The soviets bulldozed the crosses repeatedly but the Lithuanians always snuck back and planted more. Now the hill probably has hundreds of thousands of crosses on it, of every kind you can imagine. There are huge 20 ft crosses, and little tiny crosses. Crosses hung on other crosses, huges piles of crosses, crosses everywhere you look as far as you can see, all at funny angles following the hillside. Some are really intricately carved, some are anicient and falling apart. Lots have names of people on them. I even found a couple stars of david. Its really a place you have to see.. I cant describe it. Extremely unique and memorable. It’s like jesus threw up beautifully on the countryside. If I were more religious I might have shot straight to heaven right there. I took lots of pictures, so hopefully I’ll post them soon.

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3 Comments!


  1. May 28th, 2005at11:49 am

    I LOVE THE PICTURE WITH THE FROGGIE!!!!

    also you look like dad with your beard.

  2. May 28th, 2005at1:58 pm

    also, on the subject of your lemurs:
    http://sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?file=/c/a/2005/05/27/BUGC6CV5UK1.DTL

    -cam

  3. taylor
    May 28th, 2005at7:05 pm

    Yeah, exactly. The furry lemur problem was a lot of what I worked on, along with tons of other people. I animated the crowd in about half the shots in the ‘lemur rave’ scene the article mentions.

    And I do not look like dad. dammit

 

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