Monday, November 22, 2010

Speaking in LA + Legend of the Guardians of Ga'Hoole

Before I get started talking about that, let me remind any of you living near Los Angeles, CA. that I'll be speaking and signing books at the Audubon meeting on Dec 14, 2010. Keith Malone will be keeping everyone up to date. Details can be seen at the Wesley the Owl facebook, and here they are as well:

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Wesley the Owl Stacey will appear at the Audubon Center at Debs Park in Los Angeles to talk about Wesley and her 19 years with him. She will be available to answer questions and sign books. Copies of "Wesley the Owl" will be available for purchase. The event is free and open to the public.

Stacey at Audubon Center in Los Angeles
Tuesday, December 14, 2010 at 7:00pm
Audubon Center at Debs Park, Los Angeles, CA
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OK - About the Guardians of Ga'Hoole!
I JUST finished watching the Legend of the Guardians in my hotel room. WOW! I'm so impressed with how well they represented each species of owl! Of course, they had to take artistic license. For example, Tyto (barn owls) owls don't have a colored iris with a pupil that we can see. They have ebony black eyes with no "whites". If you see their eyes in the light, and from the side, you can tell that they do, of course, have a pupil and iris, but both are so dark that the look is one of pure black eyes. I can see why they needed to make the eyes more human, though, for the movie. Humans look to small changes in the eyes for emotion - even the slightest widening or narrowing of the pupil portrays a lot emotionally. So they took license on that. And the beaks are WAAAY smaller in the movie than they are in real life - in real life Wesley's beak reached almost all the way to his ears. The dainty part you see talking in the movie is just the pink tip that shows through the feathers. Again, that license doesn't bother me.

What thrilled me was that they really got some other details right. The feathering was just amazing, although they used different subspecies of Tyto for the characters. Hey that's ok. Tyto (barn owls) are found on every continent except Antarctica, and they look somewhat different from each other because they are different species or rather, subspecies. So the differences you see from one Tyto to another are based on the different types of Tyto. In the USA, we have Tyto Alba, which is what the main character, Soren, is. So is his younger sister, Eglantine, apparently. And she looks JUST like a baby barn owl should look at about 5 and 1/2 weeks old!

Another thing that thrilled me is the way they got the little body language aspects just right. The way they move, walk, shift their weight, all that was right on. And the way they move and use their talons was perfect. Even the fight scenes had it right - with them attacking each other w talons up, and sometimes falling while circling each other, talons locked. Birds of prey do that when fighting, sometimes falling all the way to the ground like that. People think they're mating when they do that but they're actually fighting. I've heard that some species of eagle or hawk may mate while spiraling like that, but I'm betting that's a misunderstanding. When owls are doing that, they're fighting.

Little things made a difference and they got them right. There's a moment when an owl is asked a question and his answer is "no". Instead of verbalizing it, they had the owl look to the side. That is how a barn owl says no! He looks away, off to the side. I have video of me asking Wesley a series of questions and getting yes and no answers. The "no" is him looking away to the side. These people really know their barn owls!

Another thing I loved is how they used real owl sounds throughout, even though they also had the owls speaking English w/ an Australian accent (well, hey, it's a fantasy, right?). But when an owl would fly off, he'd make a screech or sound that was accurate to his species.

They also caught the little differences between how each owl species moves and acts. Digger the burrowing owl is a perfect example in the way he flits around so fast, seeming hyper. That's how they are. I love burrowing owls and they are just like that in their body movements.

The movie starts out with the parents working with the two oldest owls on their BRANCHING LESSONS! THANK YOU!
THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU!

SO many people in the US just don't seem to understand that OWLS DO NOT GO TO THE GROUND THEN LEARN TO FLY! If they end up on the ground they are totally out of their element and are easy pickin's for predators. And that is exactly portrayed correctly in the movie. I was beyond happy to see that they showed how owls REALLY learn to fly, and that is by fly-hopping from one branch to another, literally learning what works and what doesn't by trial and error! Why is that so difficult for Americans to understand and accept? THIS IS HOW THEY LEARN TO FLY!

The people who did this movie really did their research. They really knew owls. They had the mother barn owl be significantly larger than the father. That is accurate. She is browner. That is accurate.

I remember one time I started out as a new volunteer at a bird of prey rescue and rehab center. There was one large mew with about 25 barn owls in it. The supervisor took me in there and said she had questions about barn owls that maybe I could answer. She wanted to know how to tell the males from the females and I explained that there's a continuum -- Males are very light to white on the chest and tummy, and females are brown at the far end, fading to very light brown in the middle of the spectrum. It's when they're a little bit brown and mostly white that it becomes hard to know exactly which gender the owl is. She described it perfectly when she said, "You mean, the ones who look like they've been rolling in the dust are the females? I thought they were just dirty!" That's just what they look like! Males who've been rolling in the dust!

They even got the stippled look of the eyelids and skin around the eyes right. And the way the pink talons have little pads on them and tiny padlike patterns on their feet, and how they use their talons to hold onto things, either using both, or they'll stand on one foot and use the other talon to pick something up and hold it. They just really understood how an owl's body works and moves. I've never seen anyone get it that right before.

Animators and artists almost always miss it when they try to do barn owl faces. It's like, if you don't know one personally, it's difficult to portray them. Maybe that's because they are so expressive. They really can make a lot of facial expressions because they have a lot of tiny muscles under their facial feathers, which are used to adjust the feathers on their faces to funnel sound into their ears more accurately. Some of the facial expressions were not owlish and were distinctly human, but that's to be expected. This is, after all, a fantasy and we suspend reality for it. Owls don't speak English w/ an Australian accent, for example. And the head and claw armor would weigh them down too much and would impede their main sense, which is hearing. But hey, they got so much of it right that it's amazing. And the artistry! Each feather having a dot at the end - how perfect that is!

And the little sounds each owl made (outside of the human speech) were accurate to their species.

It's a movie about good vs. evil, and has a bit of the "Luke! Use the Force" thing going on, but the visual beauty of the owls themselves and the accuracy about their lives and what makes them tick was so informative and needed in this owl-uneducated world. Owls are so mysterious and wonderful and I'm glad to see some of their mysteries shown off to the world. They are super faithful, super-loyal, cuddly w/ their mate, loving, fierce, and beautiful. What an amazing movie for all of those reasons!

I'm so happy to see owls taking their rightful place in our culture as a celebrated animal in art, popular art and fiction, books, films...even fabric and decorative items like owl lamps and owl sheets! How un! I think people are starting to realize that these creatures are highly intelligent, deeply emotional, fascinating, and beautiful, and resourceful, loyal, fierce, and are to be admired greatly! YAY! GO OWLS!

(this is a completely unbiased opinion! haha)

-Stacey

PS: I just put this up w/o editing it yet so I'm sure there are grammar and spelling mistakes but I'll deal w/ that later. I'm tired and am going to bed....my apologies for any sloppiness....

12 comments:

Puerini said...

Stacey, you are so eloquent and love owls so much, you are the perfect spokesperson for them for sure. I felt the same way about Gahoule - the intricacy of the feathers just blew me away. And to learn of the other things that only you would know from being Wesley's lady almost made me cry. Bless you, Stacey! I read your book at least once a week, it's so beautiful. Thank you so much for all you are doing and have done.

mich6310 said...

I am so jealous you got to know a barn owl personally... Ever since I've read your book (which I have many times over) I've been obsessed with owls and learning more about them.

When I saw Legend of the guardians (on opening night, obviously!) I wondered how accurate it was. I'm happy to hear that it was fairly accurate!

I hope that one day I can do something like you have done with Wesley - you've inspired me to concentrate my strengths in biology more so toward animals than human biology for my university degree. thank you thank you thank you !

-Danielle

X said...

It was so awesome to read this post just now. You are so passionate about owls, it's a shame there aren't more people like you out there. To be this passionate about anything would be such a blessing.

I love how obviously excited you are about the accuracy of the portrayal of owls in this movie! I was giggling out loud as I read. I loved this part:

"They really can make a lot of facial expressions because they have a lot of tiny muscles under their facial feathers, which are used to adjust the feathers on their faces to funnel sound into their ears more accurately."

It's truly fascinating to read your work because you honestly are an expert, and not only just an expert but one who truly, deeply loves what they do.

I loved the Wesley the Owl book. I bawled so hard at the end... I am tearing up now just thinking about it. I don't have an owl but I have a dog and love her to bits. Animal welfare is my "pet" cause.

Thank you for all you've done and written--it is just absolutely fantastic!

Rene said...

Just finished reading your book "Wesley the Owl" and now have a whole new perspective on lot of things. Thanks for writing such a concise, clear, easy to read and follow, factual, with real-life candid emotional copy with life-learning lessons.

shimmer said...

I agree completely. This movie was awesome! I wanna go out and read the books even though I'm 23! Hahaha

PaulaP said...

Stacey, when I saw the movie (in 3D) I felt like the owls were flying over and around me. Instead of watching owls on the cams, I felt I was there. The effects were phenomenal! Thanks for your post. Hope you are feeling ok. PaulaP

Ruby's Fairy Book said...

I read that series and thought it was great! Full of action! I love Gylfie and Eglatine and Outulissa and Nyra!!!

Nick Bruce said...

Dear Stacy, I am 12 years old and i have read your book 12 times in a row, it was the most inspiring thing i have ever read. I am and will be forever envious of you for having the chance to experience a predator with meat shredding talons and claws trusting you with his life. Ever since I have read your book I have always wanted to grow up and do EXACTLY what you did as a living and go to Caltech for my collage and carrier, to become an owl biologist, your book also helped me with some advice, since Im a biologist Im not necessarily good at getting girls. I just needed to find somebody as weird as I was, now I'm dating a girl who wants to be a Entomologist! Overall; your book made me cry, laugh, and inspired me to take a better look into biology you are now my #1 role model because of this book and I thank you for bringing owls into my life. :)

P.S. I loved the Legend of the Guardians move, as well as the accuracy of the film to actual biology, the 15 book series (plus 2 side books) were amazing, even better than the film!

Laura Busse said...

dear stacey, i finished your book last night...loved it so much. i have to say...i wondered how a young, healthy girl like you could have gotten so sick...then i saw your thanks to coca cola at the end...and i nearly fainted!!!!!!! stacey my dear PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE look into the toxic effects of soda...soda FEEDS tumors my dear!!!!!! it took me years to get off soda, that alone resolved some health issues for me, i never gave it to our son growing up, he was and is always healthy. of course you need to do more than cut out soda...but it's baby steps. i went all raw food a couple summers ago and i felt amazing! and i know i can do that whenever i want :-) ok blessings to you and PLEASE PLEASE look into the soda, ok? WHAT IF YOU GAVE IT UP, REPLACED IT WITH JUICING OR RAW MILK OR SOMETHING AND YOUR HEADACHES COMPLETELY WENT AWAY AND YOUR TUMOR SHRANK??? SOMETHING CAUSED IT TO GROW TO BEGIN WITH! IT DIDN'T HAPPEN IN A VACUUM! GIVE YOUR BODY WHAT HEALS IT AND IT WILL HEAL MY VERY DEAR STACEY!!!! VIBRANT HEALTH IS YOUR BIRTHRIGHT AND IT'S NOT DIFFICULT! :-) MUCH LOVE...PS YOU GAVE WESLEY EXACTLY WHAT HIS BODY NEEDED AND HE LIVED A VERY LONG AND VERY HEALTHY AND HAPPY LIFE! PLEASE PLEASE DO THE SAME FOR YOURSELF MY DEAR! humans do not thrive healthily on soda, my love! AND YOU ARE NO DIFFERENT FROM WESLEY! PLEASE TRUST ME IN THIS! laura busse, basking ridge, nj

Stacey O'Brien said...

Thank you all SO MUCH for your kind words! I'm so thrilled to know that there are so many kindred spirits in the world who love animals as much as I do, and who "get it" about the depth of intelligence and feeling that animals have. It especially excites me to see that some of you are going into biology! I'm convinced that if you do what you truly love from the beginning, you will be able to carry through during the monotonous or difficult times, because your love of what you're doing will be enough to make you push through. ALL areas of study or career have difficult parts that you have to slog through. Some people are put off by the math or physics. Don't be! Take each day as it comes and if you come across something that is difficult or that you have trouble understanding, go to your professor's office hours and keep going until you understand! If you're not in college yet, find a tutor or go to the teacher and ask for help, for deeper explanations. I was not so hot at math right up until I hit calculus and then, suddenly, I discovered that it was FUN! The first semester I struggled terribly and went to the professor's office hours every day and she worked with me. By the second semester, I had it! Then it was fun and I ended up minoring in math and engineering! Who knew? It taught me that if you have the passion to do something and are willing to do whatever it takes to get there, you will push through the tough parts and be a better person for it. I learned more from the hard things than the easy things, you know? What I'm saying is that if you have a passion for something, you'll be willing to fight for it!
In answer to Laura, I understand your concern and am touched by your intense desire to help! But the brain tumor came about before I had started drinking soda. I grew up eating very healthy and often juicing - I lived down the block from Mother's health food store that had all kinds of amazing juicer recipes and consumed tons of organic fruits and veggies that way. The brain tumor, I think, came about because of the work I was doing at one place where out of 22 of us on a team, 5 got brain tumors of different kinds. Some were benign, like mine, and some weren't, unfortunately. Now I do drink coke in moderation to try to stay awake because coffee is too intense and because I tend to have narcolepsy, so it's very hard to stay awake. When I'm trying to stay awake, I sip coke. but don't worry - I'm not downing it in quantities! I eat a very healthy diet with lots of brown rice, fruits, and vegetables. I'm overweight because of other factors including Cushing's disease and as a side effect of the medication I take, not because of poor eating habits. ;-) The tumor itself has calcified and has shrunk on its own, thank God. Thanks for your concern, though! I'm touched that you took the time to contact me about it and are so worried on my behalf! i do have the pain under management, though not completely under control. It's a complicated matter but I'm hanging in there! We all have our challenges in life, right? If we didn't have challenges, we'd have nothing to rise up and overcome. Most of us have to overcome something in order to move forward and do the things we love to do! I wish you the best in all that you do! Thank all of you for your kindness and encouragement! love, Stacey O'Brien

Stacey O'Brien said...

Dear Nick,
I'm so happy that you are going to be a biologist! And I'm glad you found a girl friend who wants to be an entomologist! That's pretty cool, although I didn't date until I was 16... there's no hurry, you know. ;-) I'm glad you're into reading, because that's the number one way that you'll learn so much and you'll learn way more than you could ever learn just from school. I love books because you can be inside another person's thoughts through books! That's why the book is almost always better than the movie, in my opinion. I'm amazed that you've read Wesley the Owl once for every year you've been on the earth! That's impressive! I'm honored to have you as a fan and reader and I hope you'll keep me up to date on how you're doing in your quest to become a biologist! There are so many exciting things you can do as a biologist! I think biologists are the last of the great explorers, really! Good luck with everything you do and never give up your dream! All the very best, Stacey O'Brien

Champ said...

Hi Stacey.

Just want you to know that I am in book club in Cumberland, Maryland and we are reading your book, Wesley the Owl. I am a professional forester, so I have a background somewhat reading topics about nature. Your book is well written and a great read. Thank you for sharing your story.

Champ