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15 Facts About Apocalypto

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As these stories show, making Mel Gibson’s sprawling Mayan adventure film was an epic journey in its own right.

1. Mel Gibson made a very fast cameo.

The first teaser trailer for Apocalypto, made before principal photography of the movie itself, includes a hidden single-frame image of a heavily bearded Gibson standing next to a group of Mayan actors with a cigarette in his mouth.

2. Apocalypto also found Waldo.

Gibson wasn’t the only brief cameo. The director humorously—and morbidly—inserted a single frame of a man dressed as Waldo from Where’s Waldo into the scene where Jaguar Paw stumbles into a pile of dead bodies after the ritual sacrifice scene.

3. Gibson was a stickler for authentic language.

All of the dialogue is in the Yucatec Maya language.

4. Gibson got expert help.

Though the film exercises some dramatic license, Gibson hired Dr. Richard D. Hansen, Assistant Professor at Idaho State University and a specialist on Mayan culture, as a consultant to ensure a level of historical accuracy.

5. Finding the perfect jungle was tough.

The filmmakers originally looked into shooting in Guatemala and Costa Rica, but those countries’ jungles were too dense for a movie production. Instead, all filming took place in Mexico. The jungle scenes were shot just outside of the city of Catemaco and the pyramid city set was built in Veracruz.

6. The actors had homework.

Gibson wanted to cast non-actors for each role, which meant the casting process eventually stretched across three continents. Many of the actors then had to learn Yucatec Maya for the film.

7. Some members of the cast were very inexperienced when it came to film.

Maria Isidra Hoil, who played the diseased Oracle Girl, had never seen a movie before she was cast.

8. The actor who played Jaguar Paw isn’t Mayan.

Rudy Youngblood is a Native American of Cree, Comanche, and Yaqui descent.

9. The makeup team stayed busy.

Outfitting the cast in body paint, tattoos, and scarification took up to six hours a day.

10. Gibson went to the source for the screenplay.

For a foundation to their story, Gibson and co-screenwriter Farhad Safinia used Spanish colonial eyewitness accounts from the period and certain mythological aspects from the Popol Vuh, a sacred Mayan text that tells the creation story and epic mythological histories of Mayan culture.

11. The king didn’t have a royal background.

The actor who played the Mayan King was a local dockworker in Veracruz. Co-writer and co-producer Farhad Safinia found him after Gibson told Safinia to leave set and find local extras willing to be in the movie.

12. Every detail of every costume in the film was handmade.

All of the “jade” in the film is actually painted and treated wood.

13. The ears took some work.

Every actor’s stretched earlobes were actually custom-made silicon prostheses crafted by makeup designers Aldo Signoretti and Vittorio Sodano. Signorett and Sodano were nominated for an Academy Award for Best Makeup for Apocalypto, but lost to the artists who worked on Pan’s Labyrinth.

14. Christopher Columbus sneaks in at the end.

Though unnamed in the movie, the Europeans at the end of the film are led by Christopher Columbus, who made first contact with Mayan cultures in 1502. Production designer Tom Sanders played the conquistador, while the Franciscan Friar was the film’s weapons armorer Simon Atherton.

15. Spike Lee thinks it’s essential.

Lee included Apocalypto on his “Essential Film List” that he gives to his NYU graduate film students each year.

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
May 21, 2017
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief
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What Happened to Jamie and Aurelia From Love Actually?
May 26, 2017
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Nick Briggs/Comic Relief

Fans of the romantic-comedy Love Actually recently got a bonus reunion in the form of Red Nose Day Actually, a short charity special that gave audiences a peek at where their favorite characters ended up almost 15 years later.

One of the most improbable pairings from the original film was between Jamie (Colin Firth) and Aurelia (Lúcia Moniz), who fell in love despite almost no shared vocabulary. Jamie is English, and Aurelia is Portuguese, and they know just enough of each other’s native tongues for Jamie to propose and Aurelia to accept.

A decade and a half on, they have both improved their knowledge of each other’s languages—if not perfectly, in Jamie’s case. But apparently, their love is much stronger than his grasp on Portuguese grammar, because they’ve got three bilingual kids and another on the way. (And still enjoy having important romantic moments in the car.)

In 2015, Love Actually script editor Emma Freud revealed via Twitter what happened between Karen and Harry (Emma Thompson and Alan Rickman, who passed away last year). Most of the other couples get happy endings in the short—even if Hugh Grant's character hasn't gotten any better at dancing.

[h/t TV Guide]

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