Getting More Immersed with Indiewire


  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

Immersed in Blu-ray: Hitchcock and Bogart


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

Immersed in Books: Farber on Film


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.

3-D

Captain America Sets the Table for The Avengers

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in 3-D, Movies, Tech, Trailers, VFX, Virtual Production | Leave a comment

Marvel saved one of the best for last with Captain America in setting up The Avengers (May 4, 2012). And Joe Johnston returns to form, channeling The Rocketeer as well as October Sky, with his affectionate comic book rendering of World War II occultist megalomania and mayhem. Yes, it evokes Raiders of the Lost Ark, but without the tongue-in-cheek irony that made Steven Spielberg’s serial adventure so unique 30 years ago (as IndieWIRE’s Anne Thompson rightly points out). But when Joss Whedon rolls out The Avengers, the dynamics should work out just fine with earnest, patriotic Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) complementing the snarky Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.).

So, just when superhero fatigue was setting in, Captain America: First Avenger blows in like a breath of fresh air like a real movie and not just a Marvel franchise. Scrawny, orphaned, Rogers just wants a chance to join the fight against the bullies, and gets his chance with some superhero juice that does the trick better than spinach, going up against Teutonic master of delusion Red Skull (the ever reliable Hugo Weaving), who’s found his own supernatural Lost Ark with which to rule the world. The VFX (overseen by Chris Townsend) is seamless and unobtrusive; in fact, this doesn’t seem overly vfxy at all, despite more than a dozen vendors involved. However, the 3-D conversion leaves much to be desired and turns out to be more distracting than enhancing. Now we have to wait and see how this all plays out with The Avengers next summer, with the members of S.H.I.E.L.D. fitting into place and Thor’s Loki (Tom Hiddleston) going after the MacGuffin for world domination.

Potter’s VFX at IndieWIRE

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in 3-D, Animation, Books, Movies, Tech, VFX | Leave a comment

Just posted “Winding Down Potter’s VFX” at IndieWIRE’s TOH. The Soho VFX companies have come of age with the Wizard of Hogwarts and are certainly poised for life beyond Potter. In due time, I’ll be covering the accomplishments of Part 2.

 

It All Ends for Potter

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in 3-D, Books, Movies, Trailers, VFX | Leave a comment

Watching the end of Harry Potter in The Deathly Hallows: Part 2, I was struck by how it all coalesces wonderfully like a magical spell. I admit that I wasn’t totally hooked until The Prisoner of Azkaban, the third installment, when Harry’s rite of passage finally seemed arduous and riveting.

But the narrative unfolds and climaxes nicely with operatic action, and stirring revelation, justifying the strategy to divide Deathly Hallows into two parts. There are plenty of surprises and delights, of course, beginning with the horcrux raid of Gringrots and the thrilling ride atop the poor dragon that has been enslaved. Or the Hogwarts statues that come to life in grand Harryhausen fashion (Isn’t it about time, incidentally, that the London VFX community, which has come of age with Harry, gets some Oscar love?)

Then there are the unlikely heroes that emerge to prove their strength and loyalty to Harry and Hogwarts. And those solemn moments of recognition and reversal that are the fundamental stuff of drama and help Harry fulfill his destiny as the Chosen One, including a sublime moment with Snape and surreal encounter with Dumbledore.

Ultimately, it becomes clear why J.K. Rowling captured lighting in a bottle with Harry Potter: She conjured just the right mixture of Christ parable, Greek tragedy, Shakespeare, King Arthur, Grimm, Dickens, Wagner, Oz, The Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, among others, along with a dash of Joseph Campbell for good measure.

But that wasn’t enough: Rowling and the filmmakers made Harry the Millennial sensation by tapping into the post 9/11 ethos of fear and terror. Director David Yates makes this most clear in the image of falling ashes during the destruction of Hogwarts.

Yet the most successful film franchise rests with the maturation of its three leads: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint. No other franchise has taken its stars on a journey from adolescence to adulthood in real time as closely as this one. It’s amazing to look back at The Sorcerer’s Stone and see how far the actors and characters have come in a decade. And now that it’s over, we’re going to want to revisit the previous films and connect the dots and read between the lines. In that sense, our journey with Potter has just begun.

Trailering Hugo

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in 3-D, Books, Movies, Tech, Trailers, VFX, Virtual Production | Leave a comment

The Hugo teaser trailer is now available (shortened from Hugo Cabret and opening Nov. 23). It’s immediately clear that it’s Martin Scorsese’s valentine to French cinema, particularly Georges Melies (Ben Kingsley), the father of special effects. He soaks up the period with steam trains and mechanical gizmos.”It’s Neverland and Oz and Treasure Island all wrapped into one.” The director/cinephile’s first foray into 3-D and children’s wonder is surely a holiday must-see.

An adaptation of Brian Selznick’s bestseller about an orphan boy (Asa Butterfield) living a secret life in the walls of a Paris train station in the 1930s and a mysterious encounter with Melies. Scorsese told The Guardian: “Every shot is rethinking cinema, rethinking narrative — how to tell a story with a picture. Now, I’m not saying we have to keep throwing javelins at the camera, I’m not saying we use it as a gimmick, but it’s liberating. It’s literally a Rubik’s Cube every time you go out to design a shot, and work out a camera move, or a crane move. But it has a beauty to it also. People look like… like moving statues. They move like sculpture, as if sculpture is moving in a way. Like dancers…”

Rob Legato serves as overall supervisor; Pixomondo LA is the lead vendor. He told me a while back that “the Melies recreations are stunning-looking. In some cases impossible for the trained eye to see what might have been restored from what was recreated. First choice, of course, is restoration but we have recreated some moments and the behind-the-scenes shooting of the same. We recreated the glass house studio and the painted backdrops and fantastic costumes. A treat for film lovers.”

Trailering Arthur Christmas and The Pirates!

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in 3-D, Animation, Movies | Leave a comment

First Aardman Animations and Sony released the UK teaser trailer for the CG-animated feature, Arthur Christmas (opening Nov. 23). And today comes the first UK teaser for Aardman’s next stop-motion feature, Pirates! In An Adventure with Scientists, directed by co-founder Peter Lord (opening Sept. 21, 2012). And what a year for stop-motion 2012 is shaping up to be with Tim Burton’s Frankenweenie (Oct. 5) and Laika’s Paranorman (Aug. 17) joining the fray.

Looking at Arthur, Aardman & Sony Pictures Animation (SPA) have collaborated on a funny CG feature that truly does let Aardman be Aardman (unlike Flushed Away): A “state of comic dysfunction” ensues as an unlikely hero helps Santa deliver those presents in one night, ultra high-tech style. Arthur is directed by Sarah Smith and Barry Cook, boasts James McAvoy (Arthur), Bill Nighy (Grandsanta), Hugh Laurie, and Jim Broadbent.

Meanwhile, Pirates!, based on the Gideon Defoe book, pits Hugh Grant’s sea captain against rivals Jeremy Piven and Salma Hayek for the Pirate of the Year award. Looks like Aardman is back in action doing the latest and greatest with stop-motion and digital enhancements.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pmp-fbsk2r8

Trailering John Carter

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in 3-D, Animation, Books, Movies, Tech, Trailers, VFX | Leave a comment

Walt Disney Pictures has released the John Carter teaser trailer this morning and it looks terrific, melding sci-fi and Western sensibilities (but uniquely different from Cowboys & Aliens). Coming off the heels of WALL•E, Pixar’s Andrew Stanton has made a smooth transition to live-action sci-fi with his visually striking adaptation of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ John Carter of Mars book series. Shot in Monument Valley, John Ford country, John Carter looks organic to the period.

Taylor Kitsch plays Confederate soldier John Carter teleported to Mars (or Barsoom), where he gets caught up in a civil war and the aggressors are 12-foot pale green, slim Tharks. Peter Chiang is the onset VFX supervisor and Double Negative is the primary vendor, with support from Cinesite, MPC, and others.

Definitely the forerunner to Avatar; however, this is no CG intensive movie. The VFX seamlessly blends in with the real world locations and exotic vibe in a photoreal way. The animated Tharks look dangerous and vulnerable at the same time.

The cast also includes Lynn Collins, Samantha Morton, Mark Strong, Ciaran Hinds, Dominic West, James Purefoy, Daryl Sabara, Polly Walker, Bryan Cranston, Thomas Hayden Church, and Willem Dafoe. John Carter opens March 9, 2012

New John Carter Concept Art Released

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in 3-D, Animation, Books, Movies, Tech, VFX | Leave a comment

Disney has just released two new concept images from Andrew Stanton’s John Carter (shortened from John Carter of Mars, opening March 9, 2012). The Pixar director’s adaptation of the beloved Edgar Rice Burroughs’ science-fiction series marks his cross-over into live-action after WALL•E and Finding Nemo.

Taylor Kitsch plays Confederate soldier John Carter teleported to Mars (or Barsoom), where he gets caught up in a civil war and the aggressors are 12-foot pale green, slim Tharks. Peter Chiang is the onset VFX supervisor and Double Negative is the primary vendor, with support from Cinesite, MPC, and others.

The cast also includes Lynn Collins, Samantha Morton, Mark Strong, Ciaran Hinds, Dominic West, James Purefoy, Daryl Sabara, Polly Walker, Bryan Cranston, Thomas Hayden Church, and Willem Dafoe.

At a recent edit bay presentation at Pixar, some of my online journo colleagues were treated to a sneak peek from Stanton: He reaffirmed the photoreal look; the challenge of achieving a “faux-authenticity”; a less techie and more gladiatorial conceit combining CG and real world surroundings (shot in iconic Utah); and incorporating facial capture in a way that conveys believable movement and emotion.

3-D will be post converted by Pixar stereographer Bob Whitehill; and Stanton intends on developing this as a trilogy. The first teaser trailer is set for release on Thursday.

Trailering Tintin and Discussing Oscar

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in 3-D, Animation, Movies, Tech, Trailers, VFX, Virtual Production | Leave a comment

There’s a new trailer for Steven Spielberg’s The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn (Dec. 23), which reveals more of the performance capture animation and hyper-real world, adding fuel to the fire that the stylized effort to bring Hergé’s popular characters to life is worthy of Oscar consideration.

Spielberg intends on qualifying Tintin in the animated feature category, even though the Motion Picture Academy has stiffened the rules by proclaiming that performance capture in and of itself is not considered animation. However, as I understand it, the rules are more nuanced: As long as the characters are not replicas of the actors (Daniel Craig, Simon Pegg, Jamie Bell, and Andy Serkis) driving the performances — which clearly they are not — and there is a team of animators shaping the look and crafting the performances in this full-CG world, then it should qualify. And, remember, there is already precedent: The Robert Zemeckis-produced Monster House was nominated in 2007.

However, Tintin has already become a lightning rod among traditionalists, as witnessed by a recent commentary in the Los Angeles Times. But, in light of Andy Serkis’ contention last Thursday during a CalTech discussion of Rise of the Planet of the Apes that performance capture is both actor-driven and collaboratively animated, the debate will surely continue.

Meanwhile, Anne Thompson and Kris Tapley cover the issue as well in their mid-summer Oscar Talk.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uqn_rjQudps

Trumbull Talks Frame Rates and 3-D

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in 3-D, Movies, Tech, VFX | 1 Comment

 

James Cameron and Peter Jackson aren’t the only directors on a crusade to usher in faster frame rates: VFX guru Doug Trumbull (2001: A Space Odyssey, Close Encounters of the Third Kind), who most recently consulted on Terrence Malick’s Tree of Life (www.awn.com/articles/article/giving-vfx-birth-tree-life/page/1%2C1), wants to go even further. He’s been experimenting with frame rates that go as high as 120 that would deliver the ultimate in hyper real spectacle, including vastly superior 3-D. At the same time, Trumbull wants to shed his guru image status and return to directing again (Brainstorm was his last feature in 1983).

“I spoke with [Cameron] recently when were at NAB and I’ve also been trying to get to Peter Jackson because he’s already committed to 48 frames [for The Hobbit]. I think it’s the very small steps of a larger movement because I’m convinced there’s a whole other world of exceedingly higher frame rates that’s in the pipeline. I just shot a test using the Phantom 65 with a Zepar 3-D adapter on it, shooting at 120 frames. And we’re posting it now at 120 frames. And I’ve got a projector that’ll show it at 120 frames. And so we’re going to be able to show footage at 120, 60, 48, 30, 24.”

Trumbull made a “very simple, elegant” discovery that with a digital camera you can shoot with a 360 shutter, which allows you to blend any two or three frames together to recover the blurring you need if you want to go to a slower frame rate. That means when you increase the frame rate without the blur, you increase the impact of action sequences that are suddenly more vivid.

Trumbull has made a test reel showing off his experiments titled Showscan Digital (an update of his legendary breakthrough with 60 frames for large-format film exhibition in the mid-’80s that proved too cost-prohibitive except for theme park rides).

 

As for 3-D, Trumbull has a simple solution for the brightness issue that has so many in an uproar: better screens. He recently met with Stewart Filmscreen, the premier project-screen manufacturer, and tried to convince them to return to the era of super high gain silver Torus screens.

“You need silver for 3-D if you’re using any kind of polarization,” Trumbull observes. “It’s a screen built into a frame that has a vacuum behind it so the screen takes on a curvature that reflects the light back to the audience, rather than allow the light to just bounce back up into the ceiling or into the walls, or down to the floor. It’s a way of recovering two or three times the amount of light that’s been lost, which is what you need to do in 3-D. I’m trying to remind the industry out there that there’s a product that’s well-tested and works great and you can get 3-D with much brighter imagery if you just put in a better screen.”

From Trumbull’s lips…