Tuesday, July 31, 2012

For my third day at the London Olympic Games, we finally gained entrance into the Olympic Park. In order to do that, you either need tickets to an event at one of the venues for that day, or you could have purchased grounds only passes before the games started.  Surprisingly, the security and ticket taking was pretty efficient, perhaps even the quickest of all our events.  Once on site, we wandered around to get a lay of the land, then headed towards the Aquatics Centre for our Women's 10m Platform Synchronized Diving final and medal ceremony event.  I think we had to climb eight stories of stairs to get to our seat, but we were amazed with how much we could see.  Diving is one of the events I enjoy watching every four years, so this was a neat opportunity!
The rest of Olympic Park was a bit underwhelming.  It took a long time to walk from one spot to another, with not much to entertain you in between.  We ended up just staying on the stadium half, opting not to make the trek over towards the velodrome and basketball venue.  I don't know what I was expecting, but it was definitely more exciting than what I saw.  As for the Orbit, the giant observatory structure (that looks like a roller coaster) viewed as one of the main points of interest, we couldn't get tickets to go up, so we were left to view it from afar, like most of the Olympic Park visitors.  One of my biggest disappointments had to have been not being able to see the Olympic flame in the beautiful copper petal cauldron.  Designers of the games decided not to move it outside of Olympic Stadium for the duration of the games, and since it will be dismantled after the games, only people with tickets to Athletics (i.e. track and field) events can see it.  In my opinion, this decision contradicts the theme of unity, through sport, that the Olympic games embraces.  Instead, it promotes the idea of privileged access and acts as a divisive object through it's lack of availability.  Very annoyed!

Here are some of my favorite photos from the diving:

Posted on Tuesday, July 31, 2012 by Julie

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Monday, July 30, 2012


Taking a break from the Olympic festivities today, we headed up about 20 minutes north of central London to Watford Junction and the Warner Brothers Studio London - Making of Harry Potter tour.  This is the location of the original soundstages used for filming all 8 productions and is now the home of select complete and partial sets, wardrobe items, hair and make-up essentials, and props from the films.

The tour starts outside of a huge memorabilia store, where you queue up to watch an introductory film on the origins of the film franchise and the fan excitement.  Then, a guide leads you through a set of large, arched double doors along a wall of stone statues into the authentic set for the Hogwarts Great Hall.  Filled with two of the long tables, mannequins in costumes and other props from the movies, you get a feeling of what it was like for the actors to work on the soundstage set, and you got to observe not only the level of detail that was used to decorate the sets but the amount of post-production CGI that was needed to complete the whole film effect (e.g., no floating candles or starry ceiling).  Next, the tour guide escorts you into the main part of the first soundstage filled with various authentic movie items.  The key set pieces included the Gryffindor Common Room, Gryffindor Boys' Dormitory, Potions Classroom, Dumbledore's Office, and Delores Umbridge's Ministry of Magic Office (no moving cat plates).  You even had an opportunity to watch the magic of the green screen, boarding a mostly stationary broomstick and watching yourself as you are inserted in various recognizable flying sequences.  Right now, you're unable to take advantage of an option to purchase the film because of international copyrights but have the option to purchase a photo on four backgrounds.

In between the soundstages is an outdoor area containing the Night Bus, Hagrid's motorbike, Weasley's flying car, part of one of the Hogwarts entrance bridges, Privet Drive houses, Potter Godric's Hollow house, Riddle family gravestone, and some of the Wizard Chess pieces.  You can take photos in the car and riding the motorbike with sidecar.  There is also a small refreshment stand where you have the option to purchase some Butter Beer.  Inside the second soundstage, there were rooms that contained props, masks, and creatures created for the film, plus a section devoted to the art department's paintings of scene staging and detailed set models.  The most detailed model is, of course, the 8 meter tall model of Hogwarts that was used to film some exterior scenes.  There's an interactive guide available to walk you through some of the special features of the Hogwarts campus - like the location of Dumbledore's office and the use of real ivy roots, dried, to create the exterior details.  The last stop on the tour is a shelved room modeled after Ollivander's Wand Shop filled to the brim with wand boxes labeled with the names of every cast and crew member from the film series.  Once you are finished, the tour dumps you out into the merchandise store where there's another opportunity to produce a souvenir photo with the background of "No.1 Most Undesirable" or "Have you seen this wizard?"  Here are some photos from our experience!!

Great Hall
Neville Longbottom's Cartigan from HP #8 Part 2
Other side of the Great Hall set
Demo of how the candles floated

Yule Ball Drinks Set

Harry costumes for various stages in the film - HP #8 Part 1
Harry's Bed in the Dormitory
Wand storage in the prop room
Gryffindor Common Room

Dumbledore's Chamber 
Elaborate Props - case of all the horcruxes
Deatheater Costumes
Floo Network into the Ministry of Magic 
#4 Privet Drive
Potter House in Godric's Hollow
Wizard Chess Pawn
Diagon Alley
Inside Weasley Joke Shop 
Hogwarts Model Built for the Films
Cast and Crew from ALL films have a wand box located at an Ollivander's-like room at the end of the tour (Daniel Radcliffe and Gary Oldman in the center of this photo)

Posted on Monday, July 30, 2012 by Julie

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Sunday, July 29, 2012

This morning centered around another Beach Volleyball session.  This time, we got to enjoy the #1 Men's team in the world from Brazil!  The blocker on that team was 6'8" and not much was getting past him, although their Austrian opponents were good as well and challenged the Brazilians all the way through a third and deciding set.  I was also able to see the Czech Republic lose to the Spain men and a three-setter match between the Italian and Russian women.   
Sand art outside of Horse Guards Parade venue - this will be an overhead view of the facility and surrounding buildings - amazing!
Completed sand art of Wenlock
Whitehall and London Eye on the left, Downing Street and Parliament/Big Ben on the right
Stop-motion sand (considering how far away I was seated today, this was pretty good!)
I had to leave a little early because Beach Volleyball overlapped with my Tennis session, but it actually worked out really well timing-wise.  As I was walking to the Westminster tube station to catch the District line out to Wimbledon, there was lightning then a huge thunder clap.  Fortunately, I made it to the underground station in time and apparently missed the first downpour of the day, based on the fresh puddles on the walk from Southfields station to the Wimbledon venue.  My weather luck wouldn't last very long: as I waited in the long security line to get in, we got hit by a decent set of rain clouds.  All matches on any court but Centre Court, with its retractable roof, ended up being canceled for the day.  Good thing I had a Centre Court seat!  I think it poured another couple of times - real soakers that echoed loudly inside.  The big match-ups of the day were Great Britain's golden boy, Andy Murray, versus Stanislas Warinka and Maria Sharapova versus Shahar Peer.  Not surprisingly, the most attended match was Murray.   



A time when it was not raining at Wimbledon
The obligatory strawberries and cream + tennis for all Wimbledon experiences

By the way, if any of my readers are photographers, I just thought I'd write briefly about my first time renting a lens.  I went to my local Penn Camera store and rented a telephoto lens with a fixed aperture to alleviate my concerns about low light in the Olympic venues, especially after a disastrous experience at a rodeo in Texas.  The exact lens I got was the Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8 VR II, retailing for around $2,400 but rented for the week for just $150.  I have been thrilled with the results.  Sharp stop action photos even at midnight.  No, they're not all fantastic, but pretty darn good shots considering it's not attached to a full-frame camera (D90), and I'm not using any stability device - monopod or tripod.  While I like the results, it's still a little on the spendy side for me, especially considering I want to upgrade to a full frame body in the near future and don't need to be dumping more money into DX lenses.  Not all of my photos on these Olympic blogs are from my D90, some are off my point and shoot (like the strawberries above) because at 70mm, I wasn't getting the wide angle I wanted.  Plus, the lens is an FX lens, so the 70mm is more like 107mm - even more zoomed in!

Posted on Sunday, July 29, 2012 by Julie

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