The Penske Media purchase of Indiewire has resulted in an expansion of my role as crafts and awards season contributor. Beginning this week, I begin Emmy coverage of below-the-line contenders along with my usual Oscar season crafts reporting, working closely
The WB Archive Collection gets Hitch and Bogie on Blu-ray and they've never looked better for home viewing.
In Kent Jones' indispensable doc, Hitchcock/Truffaut, he reminds us that Truffaut was on a mission to correct misconceptions about Hitch as a lightweight
For the first time, the complete writings of film critic Manny Farber is available from Library of America, edited by Robert Polito (Savage Art: A Biography of Jim Thompson).
Manny Farber (1917-2008) was the first modernist film critic to write like a modernist.
With yesterday’s Hollywood Reporterannouncement of Robert Zemeckis’ ImageMovers resurfacing at Universal with a two-year, first look deal, does this mean that his performance capture-animated Yellow Submarine is back on track? We’ll know soon enough.
However, when reporting on Mars Needs Moms in March, the last movie made for Disney at ImageMovers Digital in Marin County, production designer Doug Chiang told me that Zemeckis was still very enthusiastic about re-imagining the 1968 Beatles classic and proud of the test, and apparently Paul McCartney was supportive as well. It was previously announced that the director had secured the rights from Apple Corps. to use 16 Beatles songs, and that Cary Elwes, Dean Lennox Kelly, Peter Serafinowicz and Adam Campbell would portray the Fab Four.
So, even though the ImageMovers Digital gang has disbanded (Chiang wants to direct, Kevin Baillie co-founded Atomic Fiction in Emeryville, and Huck Wirtz launched Bayou FX in San Rafael and Louisiana), they confirmed that they’d be willing to regroup when Zemeckis has a new project. Then again, Zemeckis could return to Sony Pictures Imageworks, where he helmed Beowulf and The Polar Express and produced Monster House. (He’s currently attached as producer at Sony Pictures Animation to adapt Chuck Sambuchino’s book, How to Survive a Garden Gnome Attack.) He could also make it at Digital Domain (Tron Legacy and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button), with its own performance capture prowess.
Who knows? There still might be a new 3-D journey to Pepperland to fight the Blue Meanies.
Coinciding with SIGGRAPH’s first venture outside the U.S. into Vancouver next week, Rainmaker Ent. and The Weinstein Co. announced production of the CG-animated/3-D Escape From Planet Earth for a 2012 release. Cal Brunker (story artist on Despicable Me, 9, and Horton Hears a Who!) directs this wacky comedy that’s a mash-up of Hoodwinked! and Avatar (yes, more blue aliens).
Donna Gigliotti, TWC’s president of production, and Catherine Winder, Vancouver-based Rainmaker’s president and exec producer, will serve as producers. Escape was written by Brunker and Bob Barlen based on an original screenplay by Tony Leech and Cory Edwards (Hoodwinked!).
On planet Baab, admired astronaut Scorch Supernova (Brendan Fraser) is a national hero to the blue alien population. A master of daring rescues, Scorch pulls off astonishing feats with the quiet aid of his nerdy, by-the-rules brother, Gary (Rob Corddry), head of mission control at BASA. When BASA’s no-nonsense chief Lena (Jessica Alba) informs the brothers of an SOS from a notoriously dangerous planet, Scorch rejects Gary’s warnings and bounds off for yet another exciting mission. But when Scorch finds himself caught in a fiendish trap set by the evil Shanker (James Gandolfini), it’s up to scrawny, risk-adverse Gary to do the real rescuing. As the interplanetary stakes rise to new heights, Gary is left to save his brother, his planet, his beloved wife Kira (Sarah Jessica Parker) and their adventure hungry son Kip!
There’s a lot of blue this week with The Smurfs hitting theaters for Sony and Rio coming out on Blu-ray today for Fox (with a lead macaw named Blu and Blue Sky doing the animation, no less). Happily, HD intensifies the craft and experience because Rio is really the star of Carlos Saldanha’s very personal tribute to his native country, despite the charming love birds (voiced by Jesse Eisenberg and Anne Hathaway) and madcap adventure. And as much fun as the 3-D was theatrically, the colors pop even more on Blu-ray without the dimness factor. Also, the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 really propels the bravura Carnival dance sequence.
As I reported previously for AWN, Blue Sky certainly raised its game to achieve the level of animation necessary to match Saldanha’s ambitious vision. “But even little things were complicated like populating the city with trees and flowers,” he said. “Those became our biggest problem complexity wise when the leaves were moving, and the technology we used had to be improved to handle this.”
Birds were the first challenge, of course. There are 12 bird species (chicken, crow, egret, frigate, goose, macaw, sparrow, spoonbill, toucan, cockatoo, cardinal and canary) and a total of 51 unique ones. The hero birds required special rigging for the wings, which double for gesturing when not used for flying. In the case of Blu, that’s most of the movie. In fact, Blu’s entire groom had around 5,000,000 individual hairs to make up all of the feathers.
“The wing rigs are complicated and you want to give them some personality and the ability to emote and articulate their feathers,” suggests Robert Cavaleri, CG supervisor. “And those are two very different kinds of control sets that you have to blend together in a way that allows to them to go from being like a normal bird and something that can be caricatured in a particular way.”
Extras include a deleted fruit stand scene, a tour of the real Rio, and three Angry Birds Rio offerings.
Following his eventful Comic-Con presentation, Francis Ford Coppola has launched the trailer for Twixt, his Cormanesque goth movie about tormented writer Val Kilmer tripping out with vampires in a seedy town. Capturing both a real and artificial look (thanks to digitally shooting live like a concert and editing on the fly in real-time), Coppola one ups his One From the Heart “electronic” experiment as well as his Rumble Fish music video and retro Dracula adventures. Hounded by an artistic mid-life crisis, Kilmer implodes in a cry for help. He’s haunted in his dreams by spirits (including Poe), and he’s seduced by Dern into collaborating on a book about a local serial killer.
The more things change, the more they stay the same, as the saying goes.
The sequel to George Miller’s Oscar-winning Happy Feet has a new trailer and it looks as snappy and toe-tapping as you’d expect, along with even richer and much finer-detailed animation from Dr. D Studios in Sydney, under the supervision of former ILM vet Rob Coleman. In this one, Mumble’s (Elijah Wood) son Erik (Elizabeth Daily) who’s afraid to dance, and challenged by The Mighty Sven (Hank Azaria), who can fly. Meanwhile, the penguin world is shaken to its core and all the competing factions must come together to save their world. Matt Damon and Brad Pitt lend their voices to the tiny Krills. Happy Feet 2 opens Nov. 18 through Warner Bros (in 3-D, of course) with the Looney Tunes short, Daffy’s Rhapsody.
I attended a special Tintin press visit earlier this week at Weta in Wellington, New Zealand, where Steven Spielberg (via polycom) and Peter Jackson showed an exclusive sneak peek of a thrilling seaplane chase in 3-D that included the first mix from John Williams’ rousing score.
It’s a frantic and funny scene that typifies the tone of the film, capturing the essence of Herge’s illustrative style and slapstick humor along with Spielberg’s iconic cinematic signature. While Tintin (Jamie Bell) attempts to pilot a seaplane in the rain pursued by baddies, a nervous Captain Haddock (Andy Serkis) attempts to grab a bottle of Scotch (whose contents hardens), and then winds up climbing outside to burp into the engine when they run out of fuel.
We also saw the same reel shown at Comic-Con containing lots of action and some exposition between the intrepid Tintin and cantankerous Haddock (an Odd Couple, according to Jackson). Judging from the footage this looks like the best performance captured film yet, utilizing the latest Weta advances in facial modeling and subsurface scattering. Indeed, we saw a presentation on how they use silicon facial casts to achieve finer detail through displacement maps and painting in Mari.
During a Q&A afterward, Spielberg explained that it was a “crazy and very worthwhile learning cure.” He told me that “it all gets down to the basics: story, plot, narrative, and characters, especially with the Herge books… to exonerate these characters in a way that if Herge were with us, he could look up at the screen and say, ‘Yep, that looks like Captain Haddock to me.’”
Spielberg also said that he shot The Adventures of Tintin (Dec. 23) like a conventional movie. In fact, it reminded him of using a Super 8 Kodak camera during his youth. “I was running around with a PlayStation controller with a 6″ monitor in between the handles,” he added. “I had all the x/y buttons on my right and I could crane up and down, I could dolly in, dolly out; I could basically be the focus puller, the camera operator, the dolly grip. I wound up lighting the movie with some of the artists at Weta. And so I did a lot of jobs I don’t normally do myself on a movie, and it gave me the chance to actually start to see the picture cut together.”
By getting into the volume with the actors, he was able to bring a conventional wisdom to the set each day (he shot in sequence for 32 days in LA), and maintain objectivity nearly two years later when he was able to tweak camera, lighting, atmospherics, and expressions to emphasize different story points.
Afterward, Jackson gave us a tour of the MoCap stage at Weta, using a slightly different virtual mockup camera than the wheel controller made for James Cameron that Spielberg used. Jackson was absolutely giddy, shooting his two performance capture actors in the volume. All the assets are built in advance so the director can compose shots while viewing low-res versions of the animated characters in their CG environments. Here’s hoping that Jackson gets the chance to direct the next one. He’s still open about which book to adapt, but promises a little more from The Crab with the Golden Claws and Red Rackham’s Treasure.
Aside from Friday’s Spielberg/Jackson Tintin panel at Comic-Con, I would’ve loved to have been there today for Francis Ford Coppola’s Twixtpresentation. Passing out Edgar Allan Poe masks with 3-D lenses to the crowd in Hall H, Coppola revealed that his experimental goth movie is about Val Kilmer tripping out with vampires in a seedy town, and is visited in a dream by “The Godfather of Goth,” as John Cusack described him in his previous Poe-inspired Raven presentation.
Only, Twixt would be shot live on various stops like a concert and edited on the fly in real-time as a spontaneous experience, only partially in 3-D, and accompanied by composer Dan Deacon’s music.
If this sounds vaguely familiar, it’s a new twist on Coppola’s One From the Heart, which was a different kind of “electronic” experiment in the ’80s. However, Twixt raises the stakes with new digital technology, and combines his Roger Corman roots with a touch of the surreal from Bram Stoker’s Dracula (the last film he touted at Comic-Con). Coppola explained that it’s all about reinvigorating the theatrical experience, which is under siege by bad movies and mediocre 3-D.
Speaking of spectacle, Abel Gance’s silent masterpiece, Napoleon, expanding on Kevin Brownlow’s superlative restoration in the late ’70s, will screen with a live orchestra (Carl Davis conducting his score) at Oakland’s Paramount Theater March 24, 25, 31, and April 1, 2012. It will also screen in LA at The American Cinematheque. I bring this up because Coppola owns the U.S. theatrical distribution rights, and there had previously been a bone of contention about using his late father’s score instead of Davis’ (a Blu-ray is also in the works).
Sorry I’m unable to report directly from Comic-Con’s Hall H in San Diego to bring you Steven Spielberg’s historic appearance, but, rest assured, I will have some very privileged Tintin access very soon. However, according Rebecca Keegan of the Los Angeles Times, Spielberg showed off some action-packed footage of Tintin engaging in both a gun fight and fist fight, and pursuing some baddies on wet cobblestone streets. The celebrated director also discussed raising the performance capture bar at Weta with his surprise guest, Peter Jackson, who still plans on directing the second installment if The Adventures of Tintin proves popular after its North American release on Dec. 23.
“Do I shoot this live-action with a digital dog or do I shoot this computer animated?” he originally questioned. “This was the medium which was begging us to use it.” While he wanted to capture a physical resemblance to the Herge comics, he didn’t want them to look cartoony, which is why the photoreal skin textures were applied to the characters.
Like Cameron, Spielberg had a virtual camera to see the rough performance capture renders and shot the whole thing using the V-Cam; this gave him a lot more freedom with action sequences than he’s accustomed to with a real camera. He also enjoyed the intimacy with the actors: “This is much more of a direct to canvas art form.” He was amazed at the emotion they were able to achieve with the animation. As for the virtual technology, he praised it for being “realistic to the point where the animators can create the musculature, nerves, and replica of a human body which responds the same way as we do.”
Oh, by the way, Spielberg took the opportunity to announce that, among his many projects, is Jurassic Park 4 (Universal Home Ent. releases Jurassic Park Ultimate Trilogy on Oct. 25).
Peter Jackson is unable to make Comic-Con this weekend to show off The Hobbit: The Unexpected Journey, writing on Facebook that the timing is too premature, but anticipates making an appearance next year. However, yesterday he launched the third video production diary for The Hobbit. You can view all three below. Meanwhile, here’s a new image of the dwarves. Speaking of which, I chatted with motion choreographer Terry Notary (The Hobbit, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, and Avatar), and he confirmed that there will be plenty of CG performance-captured characters, including dwarves, elves, goblins, wargs, and orcs. In fact, he teased that the goblins will be quadrupeds with arm extensions and will move in a unique style. You can look forward to reading about insights into his fascinating craft. The Unexpected Journey opens Dec. 14, 2012.