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23 Snow White Facts

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Snow White looks pretty sprightly for a septuagenarian: On Sunday, the girl who kicked off the whole Disney Princess craze turned 77. The movie premiered at the Carthay Circle Theater in L.A. on December 21, 1937, a star-studded affair that brought out Hollywood’s brightest stars. Though she’s been around for nearly eight decades, Snow White still has her secrets. Here are a few of them.

1. Though we now know the film was a massive success, at the time, no one thought it would succeed. Disney took out multiple loans to finance the movie, even mortgaging his own house for it. Believing that it would ruin Walt financially, insiders referred to Snow White as “Disney’s Folly.”

2. In fact, even Walt’s wife, Lillian, thought the movie would completely bomb.

3. At one point during production, Walt decided that for everyone to understand his precise vision for the film, he would have to physically show them. He gathered the artists on an empty soundstage and spent hours acting out the entire script.

4. To give Snow White her famously rosy cheeks, the women in the Ink and Paint department applied real blush to the cels. One woman was especially talented at Snow White’s makeup application and was recruited to do it specifically for all of the close-ups.

5. In order to ensure that all of Snow White’s animal friends were captured just right, Disney kept a variety of live animals at the studio for the animators to reference.

6. Dopey was originally slated to be a chatterbox, but producers couldn’t find a voice that was quite suitable for the bald dwarf. Rather than outfit him with vocals they thought were wrong, Dopey went silent instead.

7. The Evil Queen (Queen Grimhilde, according to some sources) and the old hag/witch was voiced by the same actress: Lucille LaVerne. She managed to get a completely different sound for the hag’s voice by removing her false teeth.

8. According to Bill Cottrell, a Disney employee during the Snow White era, La Verne nailed her audition on the first try. “You could have recorded it and used the first reading she gave,” he said. “She concluded with a blood-chilling, maniacal laugh that rang all through the sound stage.”

9. To achieve the Magic Mirror’s hollow-sounding voice, voice actor Moroni Olsen wore a frame covered with drum heads over his head.

10. To skirt around the issue of how old Snow White was supposed to be, Walt instructed his animators to make Snow White appear “old enough to marry.”

11. Animators believed that Walt had wonderfully expressive eyebrows, which he apparently used to great effect in story meetings. Except for Happy, all of the dwarfs have eyebrows modeled after Walt’s.

12. The movie was actually such a success that Walt used the profits from it to purchase 51 acres of land in Burbank to build studios—facilities that are still used to this day.

13. Attendees of the Carthay Circle premiere included Cary Grant, Shirley Temple, Judy Garland, George Burns, Charlie Chaplin, Marlene Dietrich, and Ginger Rogers.

14. The next day, Chaplin told the Los Angeles Times that Dopey was “one of the greatest comedians of all time.”

15. Chaplin wasn’t the only fan. Academy President Frank Capra came up with the idea of giving Disney a special Honorary Academy Award for “significant screen innovation.” The award was one regular-sized Oscar and seven tiny ones. Here’s Shirley Temple presenting it to him:

16. Several songs were written for the movie that didn’t make it into the final cut. “Music in Your Soup” is just one of them, and although it was ultimately scrapped, you can see the rough version of it here:

If you like what you hear, you’re in luck: After being hidden away in the Disney archives for decades, “Music in Your Soup” is now featured on the Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs soundtrack.

17. Speaking of which, in 1944, Snow White became the first film to ever release a soundtrack.

18. Rejected dwarf names names included Scrappy, Hoppy, Awful, Weepy, Gloomy, Snoopy, Silly, Gabby, Blabby, Flabby, Dizzy, and Biggy-Wiggy.

19. Snow White Returns? Yep, it almost happened. While not much was known about the overall plot, it was going to make use of some scrapped scenes from the original movie—including the “Music In Your Soup” scene.

20. Here’s proof that no one was immune to Snow White’s charms: Hitler considered himself a big fan. There has even been speculation that he did some sketches of the dwarfs—and indeed, Hitler was an aspiring artist before he became the most infamous dictator in history.

21. Prince Charming is only onscreen for a little more than two minutes total. He was originally supposed to have a larger role, but because artists found him difficult to realistically animate, Charming got cut.

22. Snow White continues to be one of the most innocent characters in animated history. Funnily enough, artist Grim Natwick was hired to animate her based on his previous experience animating one of the most provocative cartoon characters: Betty Boop.

23. Adriana Caselotti (above) was paid $970 for her work voicing Snow White. Walt Disney had her under a strict contract that forbade most acting work afterward, so Caselotti went into opera instead. She also continued to provide the voice of Snow White for various occasions for the rest of her life, even recording "I'm Wishing" for the wishing well at Disneyland at the age of 75.

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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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