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ANIMATION NEWS
Eggbert at 9:02AM, Nov. 6, 2006
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This thread is for any item of animation news you'd like to bring to the forum.

So if you just heard something interesting about an animated anything, post it here and the forum can talk about it. It can be anything from shady back alley animation deals to announcing that a TV show finally got a DVD set, and so on. Anything about animation.

If any item of news recieves signifigant discussion I'll seperate it into it's own thread and we can talk about it more freely there.

So post some news!
last edited on July 14, 2011 12:19PM
ccs1989 at 2:06PM, Nov. 6, 2006
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Justice League Unlimited Seasons 1&2 are out in one package. That's 26 Episodes. It's on Amazon for about $35 (that's $75 less than most anime boxsets, and the show is better!)
http://ccs1989.deviantart.com

“If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.”
-Henry David Thoreau, Walden
last edited on July 14, 2011 11:38AM
Eggbert at 8:19PM, Nov. 6, 2006
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New trailer for Disney's Meet the Robinsons.

It looks very well animated, and has a Sindely Whiplash-esk villian. Plus that T-Rex thing at the end is hilarious.

http://youtube.com/watch?v=KK_TAf1m3Kk
last edited on July 14, 2011 12:19PM
Ferretshark at 10:35AM, Nov. 7, 2006
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Peter Lord’s Aardman Adventures in CG

Adrian Pennington chats with Peter Lord, Aardman co-founder and producer Flushed Away, on the company’s adventures in CG. Adrian is a U.K.-based freelance writer and editor of animation magazine Imagine.


Peter Lord recalls the pitch for Flushed Away was simple: The African Queen with the gender roles reversed. All images © 2006 DreamWorks Animation Llc. and Aardman Animations Ltd. Flushed Away TM DreamWorks Animation Llc.



During the production of Aardman Animation’s Chicken Run (2000), the idea for a feature involving “rats in love, in a sewer” came to light from animator Sam Fell. Fell had previously worked as stop-frame animator on Peter Lord’s directorial short, Wat’s Pig (1996), so he knew the Aardman co-founder well.

“Everyone at Aardman was encouraged to come up with ideas for features for the DreamWorks partnership,” says Lord. “We liked Sam’s idea and he, myself and Mike Cooper developed it into a storyline before pitching to DreamWorks. The trick was to find a project both company’s liked — and this one fit the bill.

“The pitch was simple: ‘The African Queen with the gender roles reversed,’ according to Lord. ”We swapped the spanner-wielding, oily rag working class character which Humphrey Bogart played to a female and made Katherine Hepburn’s very proper, out-of-her-depth, gentrified lady into an upper-crust male character.”

Classic British comic writing duo Ian Clement and Dick La Frenais (The Commitments, Goal!) were assigned to the script, which was originally planned as a stop-motion feature to follow Wallace & Gromit in The Curse of the Were-Rabbit.


Peter Lord had qualms about moving Aardman toward CG, as well as switching production from Bristol to DreamWorks’ Glendale, California, studio.


“Then, for one reason and another, Curse got later and later, delayed a year from its original release date while Flushed Away got ever more ambitious,” says Lord.

Creating the Ratropolis
It soon became clear that animating rats meant designing unfeasibly large sets to create an underground Ratropolis — the film’s working title. “The Wallace model stands 10 inches (24.5cm) high — any bigger and it would be too cumbersome and any smaller and you’d lose detail,” Lord explains. “If Wallace walks through a doorway we can build the door 12 inches (30.5 cm) high. But if we take the scale of a rat and make the rats 10 nches high and everything in the real world proportionate to that, you realize you’d have to build 30-foot (9.14 meters) high structures. Everything becomes proportionately much larger. It which would push the budget up and require more studio space.

“The final issue was recreating the water environment. Fluids are notoriously difficult to reproduce in stop-frame. We discussed long and hard about the various permutations and spent an interim period exploring a mix of CG backgrounds and set-extensions with stop-motion foregrounds, but we finally realized that CG was the right route for this project.”

The decision was certainly not a question of cost, he declares. “Flushed Away is way more expensive than any previous feature we’ve done.”


The final issue that had be decided before Aardman could commit to CG was how to recreate the water environment. Fluids are notoriously difficult to reproduce in stop-frame.


At that point — in 2002 — the characters had been designed; the first half of the script nailed down and storyboarded. “I had qualms about moving to CG,” he admits as production switched from Bristol to DreamWorks’ Glendale, California, studio.

“I guess we were quite arrogant in saying ‘We don’t want any of your questionable CG tricks here.’ We wanted to do it our way and to steer the DreamWorks crew to work in our style.

“DreamWorks wanted us to do that too. The Aardman trademark look and feel is a style we are famous for and it’s also a selling point. But it was also a challenge to us and them to create a digital animation style, which didn’t resemble other CG films. Our style shows the edges, it’s deliberately not silky smooth. We could have made the fur ‘furry’ and the environments slick, but we don’t want everything to look beautifully rendered and lit. Our priority is achieving a good acting performance from the characters and not to get the characters to gesticulate excessively which they do in a lot of CG.”

Plasticine Quality
He says he didn’t see any point just recreating a plasticine quality for the characters. “Flushed Away is a hybrid. It has a textured feel to mimic stop-frame but we used motion blur, for example, much more than normal.”

Of the eight animators who transferred from Aardman to DreamWorks to retrain in Maya, only one had any prior CG experience. “Never having made a CG film before, it took a lot of learning. The very best stop-frame animator may not be the best CG animator and vice versa, but they’re still very, very good. In my opinion it’s all about performance, having a sense of timing and humor.”

The U.S. studio he says was, “hugely respectful and very good about us casting the film in the Aardman image.”

However, Lord ensured he had key personnel at the heart of production. Among them were co-directors Fell and Dave Bowers, an Englishman “engrained in the Aardman culture” who, while never directly employed by Aardman had worked on Chicken Run, the aborted feature Tortoise and the Hare and as a senior storyboard artist on Were-Rabbit. Supervising animator Jeff Newitt was a key figure for Lord — tasked with “carrying the Aardman gene into DreamWorks.” Lord also assigned DP Frank Passingham to the project “because I was amazed to discover that CG films don’t commonly have a dedicated cinematographer,” he says.


Lord says he didn’t see any point just recreating a plasticine quality for the characters. “Flushed Away is a hybrid. It has a textured feel to mimic stop-frame but we used motion blur, for example, much more than normal.”


A series of video links kept Aardman HQ up to speed on dailies. “Pitching the storyboard is very much part of what we do here but we tend to make it an intimate affair between director and storyboard artist. The U.S. artist would come on the video conference and — either recorded or live — would literally act out and perform the storyboard with sound effects, movements and funny voices. Extraordinary.”

There’s a sense that there were battles between the two production teams to retain the original script. “There were some differences, yes,” he chuckles. “As it went on it became clear to me just how wide a gap there is between English and American sensibilities. There are huge similarities of course, but our take on life is different.”

Was Lord worried about losing control of the project? “I was worried about it being done away from here,” he admits. “And in all honestly you can’t possibly have the same control as one would when a project is under your nose. But that’s okay because we had people like Sam, who I have total confidence in. Both CG and stop-frame are slow. If anything Aardman is more efficient as a company simply because we’re smaller.”


Lord worried about losing control of the project but he is satisfied with the final version. He finds the movie fantastically entertaining, with big comedic ideas and an eccentric, British tone.


He declares himself satisfied with the final version. “It’s fantastically entertaining, the design is subtle and there are some big comedic ideas which are what I look for as much as anything else in a project. It’s certainly got an eccentric and British vein to it. It’s not as quirky as Wallace & Gromit, but then it’s not made by Nick Park, but by directors with a different vision. Sam’s influences are filmic: he’s taken London’s East End and gangster influence from films like Snatch, Layer Cake and Sexy Beast and, not directly referenced them, but informed his direction with them.”

Lord says he’s braced for reactions to the film that will claim his company has sold out to Hollywood. Previous articles, he says, have spun the “Aardman goes CG” story to claim that it is giving up on the medium that has made it a U.K. household name.

“The biggest worry I have is that in six months time I’ll still be defending the decision to go CG and to continually repeat that we’re not abandoning stop frame.” A third Wallace & Gromit feature is scheduled he says (there’s no script yet) and he expects CG and stop-frame features to alternate from Aardman in the future — although whether this is in tandem with DreamWorks he’s not saying.

“I am personally more than happy to switch to and fro between the two mediums. Since 2001, our CG capability has expanded continually here and if that same decision to produce a CG feature happened today I’d probably shoot in Bristol.”









Ferretshark
Animator/published illustrator
last edited on July 14, 2011 12:28PM
ozoneocean at 11:08AM, Nov. 7, 2006
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Great news post Ferretshark!
-One thing though: pasting the text in Notepad first (for Windows users), will strip all the formatting that MS Word adds to all the puctuation and is rendered so wierdly when the text is posted in the forums here.
 
last edited on July 14, 2011 2:24PM
skoolmunkee at 11:26AM, Nov. 7, 2006
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Yeah, it has to do with Word's crummy “smartquotes” (the curly quotes instead of the straight ones) that hardly work anywhere. :/

I'm really surprised that I haven't seen anything about Flushed Away, considering I live in the UK and that's where the whole Wallace and Gromit thing originates. The UK loves the thing, and Creature Comforts (another of his projects). It looks like a huge movie.
  IT'S OLD BATMAN
last edited on July 14, 2011 3:39PM
Ferretshark at 4:46PM, Nov. 7, 2006
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Flushed Away: A Virtual Cinematography Dream Team


Flushed Away brought together the dream team of virtual dps, Brad Blackbourn and Frank Passingham, to meld the worlds of CG and stop motion cinematography. All images © 2006 DreamWorks Animation Llc. and Aardman Animations Ltd. Flushed Away ™ DreamWorks Animation Llc.


Brad Blackbourn of DreamWorks Animation and Frank Passingham of Aardman Features describe how they met the challenges of layout/cinematography in marrying their two worlds on Flushed Away.


When it came to melding the worlds of CG and stop motion cinematography for Flushed Away, DreamWorks Animation assembled the dream team of virtual dps — Brad Blackbourn and Frank Passingham. From the very first cinematography pitch to Jeffrey Katzenberg and Peter Lord, they insisted that it would be different from other animated features. It would combine Aardman’s hand crafted look and style with DreamWorks’ bright and shiny 3D wizardry to forge a new hybrid.

In the Beginning…
Brad Blackbourn: Initially, a few months after I started on Flushed Away, once I had the layout pipeline up and running and we were exploring the first sequence in layout, you came over from Bristol for a few months to help us incorporate Aardman filmmaking techniques and signature look. From the beginning, the two of us had a fantastic time bouncing ideas off each other and talking about film influences — we had eerily similar tastes. In fact, the layout artists began calling us “the Franks” or “the Brads” because we finished each other’s sentences when talking about creative ideas. I also recall many discussions at this point about our shared desire to have a better approach to cinematography in CG-animated features. So later on, when the chance came up to get you back from Aardman for the remainder of the film, I was thrilled and we had a brilliant time over the next year or so.

Frank Passingham: Coming to work at DreamWorks Animation was somewhat daunting at first because of my lack of experience in CGI. Apart from lighting a “Polo” commercial several years ago in CG, my experience has been limited to stop frame. The biggest difference in working practice is how the lighting and camera are two completely separate departments in the CG pipeline. I guess this was the hardest thing to get used to. On the camera side, there was a certain liberation in being able to set up motion control shots that would have been very difficult to do in the stop frame studio.


Pierre-Olivier Vincent (sketching) and by Scott Wills (coloring), both art directors, created this underground world scene during the visual development stage.


The Goal of the Virtual Cinematography
BB: From the very beginning, we wanted the cinematography of Flushed Away to be different from other animated films; it would have an Aardman style film with influences from live-action staging and camera movement. So in the initial cinematography pitch to Jeffrey and Pete (in addition to the influences of Wallace & Gromit and Chicken Run), I pitched some dynamic dialog staging and deep space staging/shooting techniques commonly used by Robert Zemeckis and Gore Verbinski. In fact, we were lucky enough to have Gore come in and discuss a few of these ideas over lunch one day! Both Jeffrey and Pete were very enthusiastic about these ideas and we incorporated them throughout the film. There are great examples in sequences like “Roddy & Rita Below Deck” or “Meeting the Toad.”

FP: One key way we incorporated the Aardman feel was by using the prime lenses most commonly used in the stop-motion studio — the 35mm prime lens is the most widely used lens followed by the 24mm lens. Probably 50% of Flushed Away was shot with these two lenses. Also, getting camera moves to conform to those produced with the studio-based tracking and motion control systems. This was to give all the shots a sense of gravity. We wanted to avoid the kind of flying shot that can often look too complex and weightless. It wasn’t a restriction in any way, but helped to keep the look of an Aardman feature, especially when combining these camera techniques with the plasticine textures given to the characters: the Aardman style of animation using mouth replacement and other animation techniques in common with stop frame.


For the “The Boat Chase” sequence, there was no actual set when layout started. Instead, a library of the predefined pipe and tunnel segments was used. Later on, they also built the rough set around the action.


The Cinematography Process
BB: The set designs for Flushed Away were stunning and we wanted to make sure we maximized the shooting possibilities for the film, so we tried to get everyone thinking about shooting our CG puppets on the actual CG sets as early as possible in the pre-production process. As a result, on many of the key sequences, we had on-set “scouting” sessions with production designer David James and the story artists. It helped flesh out story possibilities by going into the rough sets and scouting staging ideas by looking through a shot camera with our set of prime lenses at the layout puppets in various poses and locations within the evolving sets. It also gave us a chance to change things about the set that would enable better story or shooting opportunities. These scouting sessions became a key part of both visual & story development.

FP: It was also a great chance for the layout artists to pitch ideas and many of the great shots in the film came from ideas that the layout team came up with. This was especially true in sequences like “Roddy’s Trip Down the Sewer Pipes” and “The Boat Chase.” For both of those sequences there was no actual set when we started layout. Instead, we began with a library of the predefined pipe and tunnel segments, so that as the layout artists created a sequence (incorporating the story beats and adding other business) they also built the rough set around the action.


Once the directors decided that a sequence was working from a story perspective, it moved from story animatic into Rough Layout (RLO) and production began.


BB: Once the directors decided that a sequence was working from a story perspective, it moved from story animatic into Rough Layout (RLO) and production began. First, we would do a quick pass of the complete sequence in a couple of days, pretty rough blocking, where (now that the sequence was working from a story perspective) we tried to get the whole thing working from a cinematic perspective. At this stage, we would combine some shots, would restage some of the action and consolidate similar shots into “same as” shots. Another thing we did from the get-go to increase the cinematic value of the layout was introduce rough key/mood lighting into the openGL playblasts. Ever since I directed a CG series in Europe, I’ve been doing this and it was a process I then introduced to DreamWorks on Father of the Pride. I’d work closely with the art director to roughly key light a set in openGL — most times we’d have a magic hour and night-time light rig for exteriors (that we could toggle on or off in the layout) and just a night-time light rig for interiors. It really helped the directors and producers connect better to the final feel of the sequences at the layout stage. That way they could be convinced that the sequence really worked before it was sent off to animation — on the CG TV series schedules there’s no time for redos!

On Flushed Away, it was the first time lighting was used so extensively in layout on a feature at DreamWorks. We didn’t bother with it on full daylight sequences, but with so much of our film taking place below ground and with each location and set having a very specific ambience, mood and feel, we thought it contributed immensely to the kinds of decisions that the directors could make about the effective emotional and cinematic value of a given sequence at this point of production.

Again, we worked closely with David James to incorporate his color keys of each set into the rough hardware lighting in the layout movies. What we focused on essentially were the key directional light sources, mood, color temperature and areas of light & dark — basically the dramatic elements of the lighting that can help drive the story, not the finer details or qualities that would be explored later). It really helped to define the mood and feel and it helped us explore the camera and staging opportunities in scenes like “Meeting the Toad” and “The Ice Room.” It was very effective and it’s now been adopted into the layout process on the other films at DreamWorks.

It means you can finally produce a true cinematic blueprint for the film that everyone is happy with — before going into full-on production and opening the money faucet!
FP: I know previously this process was thought to be unnecessary at RLO stage of the features, with concerns that it only added to render times and might hold up the pipeline, but that didn’t happen at all. The practice was certainly more in keeping with the approach to shooting in the stop-motion studio where sets are lit just as soon as they arrive on the studio floor, then following as soon as possible, block-throughs with the characters involved in that particular sequence are done. These initial block-throughs enable stop motion directors to see how their characters are interacting with the set and each other and also how they are modeled by the light as they move about in this environment.

Once this block-through has been committed to film, it gives the director a very good idea what the feel of that scene is going to be and the degree of drama that can be expected once the scene is fully animated. Lighting the RLO proved to be very helpful to the directors on Flushed Away for these same reasons. On occasions when shots were delivered in RLO without lighting the directors found they really missed it as it gave them such a good idea about how that scene would ultimately communicate.


During production, Blackbourn developed a depth of field (DOF) preview tool inside Maya so layout artists could visualize the DOF through the camera.



BB: Similar to the rough posing in those block-throughs, another idea I carried over from my directing experience in CG was much greater use of key posing of characters/puppets in layout. In the past, CG layout has traditionally consisted of gray character models with arms outstretched drifting around gray sets. That limits tremendously the filmmaking decisions that can be made from the layout footage. I made sure when I set up the layout pipeline for Flushed Away that the RLO characters were well and consistently rigged so that we could very efficiently pose them and then save, retrieve and transfer body and hand poses via a pose library. That made it very fast to block out a sequence and explore alternative actions, staging, camerawork, and when you combined the keyed characters with the fully shaded sets and rough lighting, it produced a very informative result. As you said, when we pitched the layout version of the sequence back to the directors & producers it made a big difference.

The final basic cinematic element we were missing in the layout was depth of field, so during the production I developed a depth of field (DOF) preview tool inside Maya so layout artists could visualize the DOF through the camera according to the current lens, focal distance & aperture — of course as these values changed the DOF altered accordingly. It was great to finally see rack-focuses in camera! We could output a QuickTime playblast of the shot with the DOF preview or alternatively do a local Maya render of the shot with rendered DOF (incredibly fast with low-res characters, sets, simple lights and no anti-aliasing), which was then converted back to QuickTime. The results were wonderful; it looked filmic straight away and you could immediately see what elements would be isolated in the shot by the DOF — background details suddenly dropped away & the characters popped. All in the layout! Again, it was very useful in a creative sense but also allowed us to see (before animation began) how much background information would be seen; how detailed the background animation would need to be in crowd shots, what cheats could we get away with to speed up lighting & rendering, etc.

FP: Another useful tool that proved very helpful to the directors on Flushed Away was the introduction of a process where the animated RLO characters were installed in the Final Layout (FLO) scenes. At this point, before beginning animation, the directors could view the final sets with finessed camera moves and have a much better idea how their characters would roughly look, rather than looking at final sets with final character models installed in a static pose. This certainly sped up the approval process for final camera.

Final Results and Looking Ahead
BB: It was really exciting when we finally started working with the lighting/rendering team on fine-tuning DOF. The camerawork had been tweaked during animation to accommodate and accentuate some of the acting. So seeing for the first time the beautiful lighting subtleties that they bring to the film, combined with the wonderful animation — everything came to life. We had a really creative bunch of filmmakers on the camerawork in RLO and everyone contributed a lot of original ideas that ended up in the film. So kudos to: Matt Lee, Robert Crawford, Pam Stefan, David Hofmann, Lorenzo Martinez, Mick de Falco, Nathan Warner, James Keefer and Damon O’Beirne — thanks for your creative ideas and support when the pressure was on!


Although Blackbourn and Passingham were sometimes frustrated by the traditional CG pipeline during Flushed Away, they helped advance the concept of CG cinematography.


FP: It was a great pleasure for me to work closely with both the RLO and FLO artists on Flushed Away, who were all very talented and experienced virtual camera operators. We always tried to nail our camera moves down as much as possible before animation began, but there were times when either because of changes in the staging of the animation or new ideas being introduced that it was necessary to go back and finalize the camera once animation was completed. This is something impossible to do in stop frame. There are certainly advantages to being able to do this, but there is also a disadvantage purely in the knowledge that you have this facility and you can keep changing the shot up until late stages in the process. I prefer to have shots locked down earlier rather than later, but when we did need to change or tweak cameras later it was great to have such a talented FLO team led by JC Alvarez. I’d like to thank all the team for their great work: James Bird, Stuart Campbell, Alan Cheney, James Keefer, Valerie Lettera-Spletzer and Hez McMurray.

BB: Looking back, prior to Flushed Away, I think both you and I have been frustrated with the way, in the traditional CG pipeline, that the key elements of cinematography have been fragmented over different departments that may be months apart on the schedule. It means that as a director or cinematographer you can’t maximize the use of the visual elements in your storytelling. In the past you were composing scenes in camera without being able to see the basic color composition or even the areas/degrees of light & dark through your camera — let alone see the effect of the depth of field!

All of the effort we both put into the different areas of lighting, shading, character posing, camera movement and depth of field in layout were with the goal of re-uniting the various elements of cinematography to strengthen the visual narrative. I know it was something we both strongly believed in, and for me it was great to have such a fantastic partner in you, your experience in stop motion cinematography at Aardman, to help push things in this direction. It really was a great partnership both creatively and technically.

I think we significantly advanced the concept of CG cinematography on Flushed Away and we’ve still got a ways to go. Looking ahead, I’m very excited about continuing to improve and enhance the process further. I’m also looking forward to working together with you again, Frank!
Ferretshark
Animator/published illustrator
last edited on July 14, 2011 12:28PM
Ferretshark at 4:47PM, Nov. 7, 2006
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Sorry, can't do anything about those damn quotation issues DD has in here. This is the only place where I share articles that this occurs. The articles are way too long for me to go and make edits so you'll all have to use your imagination.

Ferretshark
Animator/published illustrator
last edited on July 14, 2011 12:28PM
skoolmunkee at 10:33AM, Nov. 10, 2006
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I'm sure people will manage. :)

Hm, I don't have any news. Unless The Secret of NIMH still being a good movie is news.
  IT'S OLD BATMAN
last edited on July 14, 2011 3:39PM
Ferretshark at 10:37AM, Nov. 10, 2006
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skoolmunkee
I'm sure people will manage. :)

Hm, I don't have any news. Unless The Secret of NIMH still being a good movie is news.
No, that isn't news- it's fact. You might be interested in this:
http://www.adammcdaniel.com/Don_Bluth_Interview.htm
Ferretshark
Animator/published illustrator
last edited on July 14, 2011 12:28PM
skoolmunkee at 4:40PM, Nov. 10, 2006
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That was an awesome article, thanks. :D
  IT'S OLD BATMAN
last edited on July 14, 2011 3:39PM
Ferretshark at 3:40PM, Nov. 18, 2006
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skoolmunkee
That was an awesome article, thanks. :D
No worries.
Ferretshark
Animator/published illustrator
last edited on July 14, 2011 12:28PM
KC3Tlifevirus at 2:55PM, Nov. 19, 2006
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Wow, Flushed Away looks great. I want to see that now.
last edited on July 14, 2011 1:14PM
Mimarin at 5:26PM, Nov. 27, 2006
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I was thinking about seeing flushed away, but Borat was on.

Do you think I missed much?
Of course you will. All intelligent beings dream. Nobody knows why.

Also, tell random people they are awsome! it helps!
last edited on July 14, 2011 2:02PM

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