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Parka (Singapore)
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The Art of Total War
The Art of Total War
by Martin Robinson
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 28.84
28 used & new from CDN$ 28.84

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Nice artbook for the fans, Jan. 25 2015
This review is from: The Art of Total War (Hardcover)
Length:: 2:00 Mins

The Art of Total War is the companion artbook to the Total War series of games released over the years.

Also included are artworks for the upcoming games such as Total War: Attila which is scheduled for a February 2015 release, and Total War: Arena that is still in the testing phase. Those titles have considerably less pages devoted.

For Total War fans who have been following the series since 2000, this artbook will be a nostalgic trip down memory lane.

The full list of games included as arranged on the contents page are

Shogun (2000)
Shogun 2 (2011)
Medieval (2002)
Medieval 2 (2006)
Empire (2009)
Napoleon (2010)
Rome (2004)
Rome II (2013)
Attila (2015)
Total War Battles: Kingdom
Total War Battles: Shogun (2012)
Total War: Arena

The artworks consist concept art for the characters, locations, buildings and several battles scenes and miscellaneous stuff like maps, ships. The style is a mixture of computer generated art, painted works and 3D renders. For what I see, a big portion are computer generated art. Quality is generally good, but it gets progressively better with the newer games. The early games clearly have the low polygon characters.

The more unusual artworks would be those Japanese woodblock art-inspired ones used in Shogun 2. Those are the illustrative style as compared to the more realistic style that the game is trying to portray. The Total War Battles series also have their own style that's different from the main series, especially for Total War Battles: Shogun. Some of the more beautiful scene paintings were used as loading screens.

The highlight of the book besides the art would be the commentary that talks about how the games have evolved under developer The Creative Assembly over the years. It's interesting to read about the history of game development and how battle mechanics, gameplay and art are all woven into one. Since the games are based on history, there's also some writeup on the historic accuracy of the games and the compromises made.

As there are so many games featured, it's not possible to cover each in detail. Only selected pieces of artworks from each title are featured. I do feel that more could be included.

Overall, it's a good artbook for fans of the Total War series.

4 out of 5 stars.

(See more pictures of the book on my blog. Just visit my Amazon profile for the link.)

Street View
Street View
by Pascal Rabaté
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 33.99
31 used & new from CDN$ 21.04

4.0 out of 5 stars A play unfolds in this book literally and figuratively, Jan. 16 2015
This review is from: Street View (Hardcover)
Length:: 1:48 Mins

Street View by Pascal Rabate is a comic book that presents a theatric play. The presentation however is unlike typical comic books with panels and dialogue. Street View only has one set, the facade of European style buildings. In the buildings and on the streets are the characters going about with their daily routine.

What's interesting is the play with time. You get to see what happens on the street and characters as time passes from morning to the evening and nighttime. Ten scenes happen from the morning and ten at night. You can follow the activity in each apartment, or follow what a character is doing. There are mundane moments like a lady who watches TV all day, and more cheeky moments between couples. I shall not mention too many as spoilers but the fun is to discover them yourself.

It's also like a game of spotting the difference. I find myself going back and forth to see what has changed during each timing, sometimes to understand the story, or to see the relationships characters have with one another.

One unusual thing about the book is its physical presentation. It's a hardcover book with accordion pages. You can flip through the scenes easily, or stretch out all the ten scenes and look at them all at the time same. It has a nice cover art that shows the back of the buildings, as if it's a real set, with actors getting in position before acting.

Overall, it's an interesting comic worth checking out.

Momentary
Momentary
by Sage Vaughn
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 26.95
33 used & new from CDN$ 18.00

0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Like butterflies?, Jan. 15 2015
This review is from: Momentary (Hardcover)
Length:: 0:56 Mins

Momentary is a series of paintings by Los Angeles-based artist Sage Vaughn. He's a studio artist and I feel that his works belong more on display rather than inside a book. There's a photo in the book that shows him painting on a big canvas.

There are lots of butterflies drawn in the book. A huge number of them appear in what looks to me like wreaths, with them flying in circles. In other paintings, they fly randomly across the canvas. Many paintings have the wreaths with just changes to the colour theme, or design of the wreaths (but always circular).

For some reason, the butterflies have trails of coloured paint dripping downwards. The butterfly wreaths are sometimes on white, sometimes on black and sometimes juxtaposed with other painted images, such as a rock band, a man looking at a painting, groups of people, a man using his phone.

I don't know the meaning or symbolism behind the dripping paint and there's no explanation. My review is definitely more boring than the beautiful description that's used to sell the book.

You know how you can look at a piece of work and somehow it just doesn't resonate with you. This book does that to me. But hey, that's just me.

The only thing I enjoyed more is the interview with Sage Vaughn that appears at the beginning where he talks about his interesting life stories, and the string of events that lead to him becoming an artist.

The Art of Penguins of Madagascar
The Art of Penguins of Madagascar
by Barbara Robertson
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 38.21
29 used & new from CDN$ 36.47

4.0 out of 5 stars Delightful companion for Penguins' debut movie, Jan. 13 2015
Length:: 2:14 Mins

I didn't expect this artbook coming and only got to know of it a month after it was released.

It's a delightful companion featuring concept art for the film. The style of art is similar to that of Madagascar. Everything is very stylized, the shapes are simple and strong, characters are cartoony and funny looking.

The main character designs are for mutant penguins, Dave and the 31 octopus henchmen, Dr. Octavius Brine, the "elite undercover interspecies task force" North Wind and other unused amusing looking spy members. The mutant penguins look really funny. The other thing I like are the beautiful patterns on the octopus henchmen.

For the set locations we have the Antarctica, Fort Knox, Venice, Shanghai, the Aquarium, the sophisticated look of North Wind jet and headquarters, Dave's submarine's exterior and interiors and 4 pages of unused locations. The whole feel and vibe is different from the other Madagascar movies because the penguins are in sort of more urban landscapes.

Other artworks included are the coloured storyboards, sketches of Dave's backstory, snow globes, octopus inspired interior designs and the technical breakdown of how they created the Venice chase sequence. Author Barbara Robertson has included a good amount of commentary by the artists and staff talking about the designs and characters, delving into the origins and motivations of all those weird and cute but serious acting animals.

It's a beautiful artbook, a delightful companion to the Penguin's first movie, or as Benedict Cumberbatch refers to them as "Pengwings".

(See more pictures of the book on my blog. Just visit my Amazon profile for the link.)

Inateck Portable Wireless Bluetooth Speaker with Dual-Driver, Portable Stand for Tablets Smartphones, Black
Inateck Portable Wireless Bluetooth Speaker with Dual-Driver, Portable Stand for Tablets Smartphones, Black
Offered by InateckOfficial
Price: CDN$ 35.99

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good quality speaker with just two downsides, Jan. 11 2015
Disclaimer first. Inateck offered me this Inateck BP2001 Bluetooth Speaker for review.

This is my first wireless speaker and I'm really impressed by the sound quality coming out of it.

Inateck BP2001 is a Bluetooth speaker that you can pair with any of your devices running Bluetooth V2.1. So far I've tried it on my Mac, Android phone and iPad. It works flawlessly with each one.

Just turn on the Bluetooth of your device and the speaker gets discovered and connected within seconds. The speaker powers with a tone. After it gets connected via Bluetooth, it will make another tone.

At no time did it break connection during use. The distance at which it can connect is about 15 walking steps away.

The power is inbuilt and you can charge it with a USB cable provided. There's also a 3.5mm audio jack provided if you want to plug in but the wire is a rather short.

Design of the speaker is simple and beautiful. The left right, actually all edges are rounded off. Right in the centre is the Play/Pause button that you can use to pause when a phone call is coming in.

On the top is a long slot that you can use to put your iPad. Since the iPad is rather big, you need to extend the bracket behind the speaker for support. It's very stable. The speaker supports the iPad in both upright and landscape position.

The audio quality is impressive. For such a small speaker, it has nice clarity. There's a little stereo thing going on too but it's of course not as good as the two speakers inside are still quite close together. The volume can go quite loud. I usually listen to it at just 3 out of the 16 volume levels on the Mac. It can go very loud while retaining its clarity but near maximum volume you'll start to hear faint static buzzing.

One downside is the auto-power off feature. It powers off by itself after 5 minutes of inactivity when nothing is playing. The only way to wake it up is the power it off and on again. It's quite inconvenient because you might not be listening all the time, and the next time you want to listen, you have to power it on again.

The other downside is there's a milli-second lag if you're watching a Youtube video and listening. The music does not sync perfectly with the lips. It's an issue to note if you're watching a video, but a non-issue if you're just playing music and not watching anything.

It's a quality speaker despite the downside. I enjoyed using it. It's extremely portable so it's a great choice to bright it outdoors or around.

I'll rate it 4 out of 5 stars.

[ Apple Style ] Inateck Mini Wireless Bluetooth 3.0 Keyboard for iPad Air / iPad Mini 2 / iPad Mini / New iPad 3 / iPad 2 / Nexus 7 / Galaxy Tab and Other Tablets- White
[ Apple Style ] Inateck Mini Wireless Bluetooth 3.0 Keyboard for iPad Air / iPad Mini 2 / iPad Mini / New iPad 3 / iPad 2 / Nexus 7 / Galaxy Tab and Other Tablets- White

5.0 out of 5 stars BK1002E is designed specially for iOS, not as suitable for a Mac, Jan. 11 2015
This keyboard was sent to me for review by Inateck. I've not heard of the company before. From what I can see on their website, they sell mainly electronic accessories for computers. Actually, I thought this was a normal keyboard which is why I accepted this offer to review. But it's not quite normal because it's designed for use on iOS devices. I was looking for a keyboard for use with my computer.

--- DESIGN ---

This particular keyboard BK1002E is a Bluetooth keyboard designed specially for iOS users, basically those using the iPads and iPhones. I'll talk specifically about its use on iOS devices first, but you can also use it on a Mac which I'll talk about further down.

It's a very compact keyboard about the size of the Apple wired keyboard without the number pad on the right. It's about 2 inches wider than an iPad Air and 2.5 inches shorter. Using a physical keyboard is definitely more productive than an on-screen keyboard because you have all the buttons visible and not hidden on a second keyboard page.

This keyboard uses the Mac keyboard layout, so it has the Cmd keys by the side of the Spacebar.

Typing on the keyboard feels nice. The keys have a nice spring, similar to those on the official Apple aluminium keyboards. The Inateck keyboard is may look like it's aluminium but it's actually some sort of plastic. I don't mind as long as it's durable. It's a pretty light keyboard, comparable to the Apple wireless aluminium keyboard that I also have.

The keyboard uses two AAA batteries. A battery indicator is above the F11 button. It starts blinking when you hit the Connect button, or lights up when battery is low. Battery life is fine after a month or so but I would keep spare batteries around.

In short, it's a compact and lightweight option for anyone who needs a portable physical keyboard to use with your phone or iPad.

--- On iOS devices ---

I'm using this with my iPad Air 2. Paring the keyboard with the iPad is quick. First power on the keyboard and press the Connect button on the back. Then under your Settings in iPad, select to pair with the keyboard.

There's no lag when it comes to typing.

The top rows of buttons have dual functionality and are programmed as shortcuts for iOS use. Here's the list:

Home button
F1 - Decrease brightness
F2 - Increase brightness
F3 - Show/Hide keyboard
F4 - Copy
F5 - Paste
F6 - Cut
F7 - Select All
F8 - Rewind
F9 - Play/Pause
F10 - Forward
F11 - Decrease volume
F12 - Increase volume
Del - Power button

A Home button has replaced the Escape button on the top left. Pressing this button, just like on your iOS device, will get you to the home screen. Double clicking it will lay out all the apps that are opened but there's no way to navigate using the keyboard so you have to switch apps using your fingers.

Several function keys are programmed with text editing functionality such as Copy, Paste, Cut, Select All. By the way, you can still use the usual keyboard shortcuts such as Cmd+C for copy, Cmd+A for selecting all, etc.

The main advantage of using the keyboard is you can edit your text much faster because the arrow keys provide a very quick way to select text. Here are some shortcuts if you don't already know.

1. Using the arrow keys alone - You can move letter by letter, much faster than having to use your fingers to create an insertion point
2. Holding the Alt - Use the arrows to jump word by word
3. Holding the Cmd or Control - Use the arrows to jump from front to end of a sentences.
4. Hold Shift with the combination of Cmd or Alt - Select either letters or words or whole sentences

You can power your iOS device on or off using the power button on the top right. Yes, you can power on your device even when its sleeping. When you power it on, you can't use the numeral buttons on your keyboard to unlock the screen. You have to use your fingers.

There's this language icon on the Spacebar. Hit the Fn button with Spacebar to switch between different languages.

As for the arrow keys, you can use the Fn button to engage the Page Up, Page Down, Home and End functionality.

--- FOR USE ON A MAC ---

You can actually use the keyboard on a Mac, but you won't be able to use that the full features of the keyboard.

First thing to note is there's no Escape button, something I use often. That has been replaced by the Home button. Nothing happens when you press it on a Mac.

Another thing is you cannot use Fn+Delete to delete stuff behind the insertion point. You can delete from the back to front, but you can't delete from the front to back. This is also a move that I use very often.

Somehow, I also felt that it's not as responsive on my Mac as compared to the iPad. There's this split milli-second lag.

The Copy, Paste and other special functions are still in use. However, you can turn that off using System Preferences to set to use the F1, F2, etc as standard function keys.

--- CONCLUSION ---

If you need a good keyboard for your iPad or iPhone, Inateck's BK1002E Bluetooth Keyboard is a good one.

Just note the absence of the Escape key and about the Delete key if you intend to also use the same keyboard on your Mac.

Note that Inateck have other keyboards for Windows so do not buy the wrong keyboard.

The Urban Sketching Handbook: People and Motion: Tips and Techniques for Drawing on Location
The Urban Sketching Handbook: People and Motion: Tips and Techniques for Drawing on Location
by Gabriel Campanario
Edition: Flexibound
Price: CDN$ 14.43
30 used & new from CDN$ 9.03

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Nice collection of handy tips on sketching people, Jan. 2 2015
Length:: 1:47 Mins

There are two publishers for this book as far as I know. One's Quarry Books and the other Basheer Graphic Books.

This book on people and motion is the second in the Urban Sketching Handbook series. The first one is on architecture and cityscape. The version I bought was from Quarry Books and the book's construction quality is exactly the same as Basheer's version.

Just like the first book, it's still a compact size 112-page paperback.

The book features a bunch of tips on sketching people and figures. These are quite useful tips curated by author and sketcher Gabriel Campanario from various artists. Some tips I use often and some are new ones I can't wait to try. It's nice to see how other artists tackle sketching figures.

There are tips on how you can draw proportional figures, contour drawing, capture gesture, liveliness and action. The book talks about basic proportion for the head and body. What I felt lacking is perhaps there should have been a few more pages on observational drawing techniques such as how to draw a tilting head as you see it. For that, I suggest getting the book Keys to Drawing.

The last section is a gallery of sketches grouped by the type of media they were drawn with.

There's even a list of etiquette tips that talks about how you should react or behave in public, and a helpful list of online links that point to Urban Sketchers, SketchCrawl, The Sketching Forum and Portraits Without Mercy. Check them out.

This book's for beginners with basic drawing skills. The tips provided are easy to follow so it makes figure drawing less daunting and more fun.

(See more pictures of the book on my blog. Just visit my Amazon profile for the link.)

The Art of Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag
The Art of Assassin's Creed IV: Black Flag
by Paul Davies
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 25.71
40 used & new from CDN$ 14.41

5.0 out of 5 stars Terrific artbook, Jan. 2 2015
Length:: 2:14 Mins

This is quite possibly the best Assassin's Creed artbook so far. It's a terrific video game artbook.

It's a big 192-page hardcover published by Titan Books with most of the artworks are printed big to the page edges.

Many concept paintings featured are actually collage of photographs and art. Look closely and you'll see photos erased and digitally manipulated to form the shape and composition required.

You might that that the photo and art collage style is cheating. The thing is, they look amazing. As concept paintings, they capture the mood and atmosphere really well. This is in part because the colour values are captured correctly, resulting in a convincing environment. The photo and art collage style when not well done, even by a bit, can result in a fake look. Well, all the paintings in this book look great to me. The end result looks more like art than photos.

A nice improvement over the previous artbook The Art of Assassin's Creed III is that details are no longer hidden in shadows. Even when they are hidden, they are done so suggestively, with details fading to vague masterfully.

Character designs are mainly of the pirates, and of course of the main character Edward Kenway. Costume designs are really detailed. Who knew 18th century pirates can be so fashionable. Artist Patrick Lambert's rough paintings look expressive and just great.

There are lots of environment art. Many of the environment art pieces are inspired by location visits.

The design team visited Spanish city Havana in order to create the Havana in the game, a beautiful coastal town that is described by Spanish colonist at "Key to the New World" at that time. It's lively, full of people, activities. There are not just beautiful town houses, but also the poorer middle class people with tattered roofs. The other places are Kingston, a city in Jamaica, or as pirates claim the "Wickedest City on Earth". There's also Nassau, city of Bahamas. For Nassau, there's also a concept art inspired directly by the Queen's Staircase.

Other locations included are the fortified shipwreck, fishing villages built on stilts, tropical hideouts, Mayan temples, mangroves and coves, jungles, campfire night scenes and more. Every location has several paintings to convey the idea of the whole place. There's even a whole city designed, Port au Prince, that was cut from the game. At least the art remains in the book.

Designs for the pirate ships are detailed, interiors inclusive. There are several ships, namely Jackdaw, Blackbeard's Queen Anne's Revenge, Black Bart's The Royal Fortune, Benjamin Hornigold's The Benjamin, The Governor, The Ranger, Calico Jack, Spanish Man of War and other ships from the British Navy. Yes, lots of ship. And there are also many paintings with pirates working on the deck, big ships, small boats, on fire or blown to bits.

There are also scenes from underwater, with submerged shipwrecks, and also sharks with eyes that say "We want to eat you".

Ubisoft art team has truly put together some amazing art, and well compiled by author Paul Davies.

Highly recommended to those who like concept art and fans of the game.

(There are more pictures of the book on my blog. Just visit my Amazon profile for the link.)

Frank Frazetta: Art and Remembrances
Frank Frazetta: Art and Remembrances
by Frank Frazetta Jr
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 57.50
18 used & new from CDN$ 47.94

3.0 out of 5 stars Story is not quite complete, Jan. 2 2015
Length:: 1:49 Mins

Frank Frazetta: Art and Remembrances is a book of remembrance, written in first account by Frank Frazetta Jr. It's a book that recounts his relationship with his father, and also gives a look at Frazetta Sr's early life.

I did not expect this to be an artbook since there are already other books dedicated to that, such as Icon, Legacy and Testament just to name a few. The art and photos included here are great, even though you may have seen some in other books.

It's certainly interesting to read about about Frazetta Sr's life from the perspective of an insider. There are stories of his childhood, how he was an amazing baseball story, about the hardship of starting out, and other cool stories.

I've several issues with the book though. The main issue is that it's not detailed enough to provided a complete story of Frazetta Sr's life.

It is mentioned in the book that Frazetta Sr's wife Ellie handled the business affairs but there wasn't much to read from her point of view. Frazetta Sr had other children and somehow their input are not included and it's not mentioned that how Frazetta Sr treated them, which I think is relevant because it's a book about his life. There aren't any photos of Frazetta Jr's siblings in the book. Alright, this book isn't a biography so I guess I can look through them.

Then there's the issue with the museum and family feuding. It's mentioned in passing, but not elaborated, no doubt it was left out intentionally. The twist is so intriguing. The drama's not in this book. What a cliffhanger.

Other issues I have are regarding the editing. Oftentimes, names of specific artworks are mentioned but they are not shown as examples. There are sections of the story that repeat. It's like they were copied and pasted to the back, but the editor forgot that they were already included in the front. Pictures are sometimes placed a few pages later rather than next to when they are first mentioned. The narrative doesn't flow quite well also, even though they are told in chronological order. There are also several errors caught by other book reviewers.

When Frazetta Jr said he has a long complex relationship with his father, it truly shows. This book feels weird. There are things left out. The objectivity is slightly questionable.

So to me, the book is rather disappointing considering the subject is fantasy art master Frank Frazetta. While it's not a biography, I still expected something more, complete.

Fans of Frank Frazetta will be left wanting more after reading the last page.

Hopefully, the family, after sorting out whatever that's wrong, would commission an accomplished writer to write a proper biography that Frank Frazetta truly deserves.

(There are more pictures of the book on my blog. Just visit my Amazon profile for the link.)

Marvel's Thor: The Dark World - The Art of the Movie (Slipcase)
Marvel's Thor: The Dark World - The Art of the Movie (Slipcase)
by Marvel Comics
Edition: Hardcover
Price: CDN$ 40.42
25 used & new from CDN$ 40.42

4.0 out of 5 stars Great concepts but some artworks are printed too dark, Jan. 2 2015
Length:: 3:00 Mins

I'm impressed but also left with some mixed feelings after going through the book.

Let's start with the good.

This book comes with a slipcase as well, just like the first Thor movie artbook, but the book is even thicker at 272 pages. It feels good just looking at how thick the book is.

Since the first book has already covered the character designs for the main characters, coverage for them is smaller here and focuses instead on the subtle design changes. The bulk of the character designs are for the Vanir, Marauders, Malekith, Algrim, Kurse and Dark Elves. The enemies have more pages. But overall, there are lots of great designs and variations to look at, as well as some props. There are the head prosthetics and final film stills to look at.

Concepts for the locations are amazing, especially for Asgard which is really beautiful. However, the art can sometimes be a bit rough and have a very CGI look. Many of the environment art are printed huge, sometimes across two pages, but some don't seem to have the resolution to go that big and result in less than sharp images. At least they captured the mood and atmosphere well.

Storyboards for selected sequences are included, some are animatic storyboards.

Now for the bad part.

Some of the designs are too dark. I know the movie is called Thor: The Dark World, but still... The details fading into darkness thing can be a bit overkill in this book. I have a difficult time making sense of the interior of the Dark Elves' Ark. Much is shrouded in darkness. Many of the character designs also have their details lost into the black. If I'm reading a comic book, that's pretty stylish use of black, but this is a concept art book so I should at least be able to see stuff clearly.

The concepts are good but the quality is marred by the images being less sharp and too dark at times.

Overall, it's still worth a buy because it's a decent artbook with plenty of stuff to see.

(See more pictures of the book on my blog. Just visit my Amazon profile for the link.)

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