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.

Animation

Trailering The Darkest Hour

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

The trailer is now available along with concept art for the Timur Bekmambetov-produced The Darkest Hour (Dec. 21), about a group of American tourists trying to survive an alien attack in Moscow. Directed by Chris Gorak and starring Emile Hirsch, Olivia Thurlby, and Max Minghella, The Darkest Hour has electrifying-looking creatures that descend on the planet to devour our energy. VFX is supervised by Dmitry Tokoyakov, with lots of cool-looking particle work for the “lethal wave energy” that shreds its victims. The vendors include Soho VFX, TIC, BUF Compagnie, Universal Production Partners, and Polygon Ent. Definitely a fresh design for the aliens. Tesla would be proud!

Academy to Screen Digitally Restored Trip to the Moon

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

While anxiously awaiting Martin Scorsese’s fitting and inspired 3-D valentine to Georges Méliès, Hugo (Nov. 23), the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will present A Trip to the Moon (1902) on Tuesday, Sept. 6, at 7:30 p.m. at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills. This legendary film by Méliès, the father of special effects, will be screened in its original hand-colored version direct from its re-premiere at the Cannes Film Festival this May.

An original color print of A Trip to the Moon was recently discovered in poor condition and underwent delicate work to rescue and digitize the elements.  The restoration of the 14-minute work adapted from Jules Verne was carried out by Lobster Films, the Groupama Gan Foundation for Cinema, and the Technicolor Foundation for Cinema Heritage, and took place at Technicolor Los Angeles. The French band Air composed an original soundtrack to accompany the film.

The program will be introduced by film historian and archivist Serge Bromberg of Lobster Films and Tom Burton, head of the preservation department at Technicolor Los Angeles.  A newly restored print of A Trip down Market Street (1906), recorded by the Miles Bros. of San Francisco days before the famed earthquake leveled the city, along with rare primitive films such as 3-D versions of early Méliès films and turn-of-the century attempts at sound films, will round out the evening’s screenings.

A Trip down Market Street source elements are courtesy of Rick Prelinger, the Library of Congress.

Tickets to A Trip to the Moon are $5 for the general public and $3 for Academy members and students with a valid ID.  Tickets may be purchased online, at the Academy box office, or by mail.

The Samuel Goldwyn Theater is located at the 8949 Wilshire Blvd. in Beverly Hills.  Doors will open at 6:30 p.m.  For more information call 310-247-3600 or visit www.oscars.org.

Line-Up Set for Inaugural Palo Alto International Film Fest

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in 3-D, Animation, Below the Line, Education, Events, Movies, Shorts, Tech, VFX | Leave a comment

The Palo Alto International Film Festival (PAIFF) has announced its program for the inaugural event that launches Sept. 9-Oct. 2. Highlighted by the digital restoration of Georges Méliès’ A Trip to the Moon (1902), presented by Technicolor on Oct. 1, the line-up includes 20 features and 74 short films curated from award-winning films and film festival favorites that exemplify PAIFF’s theme of innovation in art, film, and technology.

The schedule ranges from Braden King’s cross-platform feature Here, to the artistically inventive Bombay Beach by music video director Alma Har’el to such docs as Something Ventured, which delves into the world of Venture Capital firms.

The 2011 festival kicks off with a free outdoor screening of  Kevin McDonald’s Life in a Day, a documentary shot by filmmakers all over the world that serves as a time capsule to show future generations what it was like to be alive on July 24, 2010. This will take place on Ramona Street in downtown Palo Alto. The rest of the main program will play at Palo Alto Square and Aquarius Theater over the remaining three days.

PAIFF will announce its Speaker Series and Workshops later this month. However, it previously announced “Behind the Scenes with Walter Murch” (presented by FileMaker Inc.), which will take place on Saturday, Oct 1, at noon at Talenthouse in Palo Alto.  The three-time Oscar-winning film editor will present a behind-the-scenes look at his post-production process using FileMaker Pro database management (including on his latest, Hemingway & Gelhorn, directed by Phil Kaufman, to premiere on HBO in early 2012).

Tickets to individual screenings and shorts programs are now available at www.paiff.net.

New Star Wars: The Clone Wars Blasts Off Sept. 16

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in Animation, Tech, VFX, Virtual Production | Leave a comment

Star Wars: The Clone Wars returns for a fourth season with a two-episode premiere on Sept. 16th at 8:00 pm on Cartoon Network. Battle lines intensify in the 22-episode season of the CG-animated saga from creator George Lucas and Lucasfilm Animation in Singapore. Judging by the trailer, there are even more classic connections to the original trilogy.

In the first two episodes of this three-part story arc, “Water War” and “Gungan Attack,” the inhabitants of the watery world of Mon Calamari find themselves on the brink of a civil war. The Jedi soon realize they will need the help of a powerful and amphibious ally to stop the war and drive out the Separatist invaders.

In discussing season three, director Dave Filoni told me that not only are they expanding the scope of the series with more organic environments but also improving the facial animation. Look for this to continue as well in the fourth season.

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

The Gravity of the 3-D Situation

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

In covering prestigious 3-D on Friday, I forgot to reference Alfonso Cuarón’s apparently mind-blowing Gravity (Nov. 21, 2012), which will be post-converted in 3-D and IMAX 3-D. The intimate sci-fi survival thriller stars Sandra Bullock and George Clooney as the lone survivors from a space station disaster who must float through space to return home. Gravity was indirectly in the news today, with Guillermo Del Toro touting his friend’s ambitious film in an MTV interview for Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark (Aug. 26). According to Del Toro, Cuarón consulted with both James Cameron and David Fincher; in fact, Del Toro hooked up Cuarón with Cameron to talk tech early on and was advised that what he had in mind was about five years away. Nonetheless, Cuarón has decided to push the envelope.

London-based Framestore is doing the VFX (under the supervision of Chris Watts, Where the Wild Things Are, 300), which is 60% animation with the balance consisting of a hybrid of CG and live-action elements (including MoCap). It’s previously been reported that the opening shot lasts about 20 minutes, surpassing the bravura long take from Cuarón’s last film, Children of Men. Good thing cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki (The Tree of Life) is shooting digitally.

So imagine Gary Lockwood’s Frank Poole from 2001: A Space Odyssey somehow making his way back home instead of being lost in space. That’s what Cuarón and Framestore have in store for The Gravity: photo-real zero-gravity in space, punctuated by the director’s long and fluid visual style, leaving “no cut points to hide behind,” according to Framestore.

Talk about crying “out for the extra element of space and depth,” which Martin Scorsese said about the stereoscopic implications of his upcoming Hugo (opening Nov. 23).

Mid-Year VFX Oscar Watch

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

In my weekly TOH column at IndieWIRE, I analyze the five mid-year frontrunners for the VFX Oscar. Good thing there are five slots now, with next year’s bake-off expanding from seven to 10 (though the presentations have been trimmed to 10 minutes).

Does the Future of 3-D Rest with Prestige?

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in Animation | 1 Comment

The Wall Street Journal has an informative article about Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, and Steven Spielberg venturing into 3-D for the first time, and ponders if the prestige will elevate the technique commercially just as viewers are growing weary of it being so ubiquitous.

However, what I find intriguing are the artistic possibilities of pushing 3-D further (plus we have Ridley Scott and Ang Lee testing the stereoscopic waters next year with Prometheus, June 8, and Life of Pi, Dec. 14). As one VFX supervisor complained to me, the science still hasn’t been worked out sufficiently because it’s not natural: we don’t perceive the world like a View-Master, so it’s a tricky aesthetic. Still, there is a lot of room for creatively shooting in 3-D to enhance the narrative experience, which these three directors instinctively understand.

Scorsese, obviously impressed by Avatar, hired James Cameron’s partner, Vince Pace, to build a 3-D camera system for Hugo (opening Nov. 23) in London and he subsequently walked the director and his crew through the paces of creating multiple dimensions with composition, lighting, and camera movement. Based on the children’s book Hugo Cabret, the movie is perfectly suited to 3-D since it’s set in a 1931 Paris train station and centers around French film pioneer, Georges Méliès, the father of special effects. Between “the machines of the trains, the mechanisms of the clocks [in the train station] and the projectors of the cinema,” the film seemed to “cry out for the extra element of space and depth,” Scorsese suggested. Naturally he kept pushing the depth to attain the theatricality of Hitchcock’s Dial M for Murder. But I think he goes too far in his speculative revisionism about Taxi Driver and Raging Bull benefiting from 3-D. Yet this flamboyant sense of theatricality is what Coppola said he’s striving for with his Gothic Twixt when he appeared at Comic-Con.

However, it’s the emotional pull that’s most important, which is what Spielberg told us (via polycom) at a Weta gathering last month for The Adventures of Tintin (opening Dec.23): “I wanted to try to be as immediate as the actors were being in giving their performances for the first time. I wanted to be inspired by those performances and be able to find the shots and choreograph the masters and the coverage at the same time the actors were discovering who they were. And that is a very conventional way of making a movie, but at least I found a purpose, not just directing actors, like a stage director…but I really found a creative way of making the movie in real-time.”

Autodesk and Disney Pact on XGen Tech

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

Autodesk obtained an exclusive five-year licensing agreement for the XGen Arbitrary Primitive Generator technology (XGen), used most recently by Walt Disney Animation Studios (WDAS) in the hit animated film Tangled. XGen technology was first presented by WDAS in a research paper at SIGGRAPH in 2003 for the creation of computer-generated fur, feathers, and foliage. Since that time, XGen has been used to create the fur, hair, feathers, trees, leaves and rocks in Bolt;  the trees and bushes in UP; the dust bunnies, debris, trees, bushes, clover, and flowers in Toy Story 3; and the grass and trees in Cars 2.

In Tangled, WDAS used XGen to bring the lavish CG-animated world to life: from Rapunzel’s perfectly groomed golden locks to the film’s lush, vegetation-filled landscapes, including bushes, flowers, vines, grass, weeds, moss, thistle, ground mulch, fallen leaves, sticks, rocks, butterfly fur, airborne dust, leaves and trees, plus props such as roof tiles, arrow fletchings, a broom, and paint brushes.

XGen is a comprehensive system for generating arbitrary primitives on a surface. The system advances the state-of-the-art in the industry in several ways with its versatility, durability, and impact. XGen allows techno-artistic access to interpolation in an intuitive manner for artists, empowering them with a powerful and flexible framework for primitive generation, which is highly art directable. The genesis of XGen was a collaboration between the WDAS production and software teams to provide its artists with intuitive, creative tools for 3D animation — such as “grooming” tools for fur and hair — so that they can develop the look and feel of their characters and environments more quickly and easily. Senior Development Software Engineer at WDAS Tom Thompson was an initial creator and remains the chief architect of the software. Walt Disney Pictures’ agreement with Autodesk will enable Autodesk to make this technology available to artists to create digital entertainment.

“Twenty years ago, visual effects artists creating computer graphics were mostly mathematicians and scientists using highly technical and complex software tools that required significant amounts of custom programming,” explained CTO Andy Hendrickson, Walt Disney Animation Studios. “Back then, off-the-shelf software could not create the required details of nuance and emotion. Today, we were able to create XGen as an effective artistic tool because Autodesk provides studios like ours with comprehensive tools and a flexible, extensible platform to develop on. The Autodesk customizable toolset helps visual effects artists do their best work.”

“A key challenge in the visual effects industry continues to be the need to constantly evolve creatively while somehow controlling rapidly escalating production costs,” added Marc Petit, svp Autodesk Media & Entertainment. “To help customers better address this challenge, Autodesk has been working with industry leaders like Walt Disney Animation Studios to help them innovate faster and to make these new technologies more broadly accessible. Digital Entertainment Creation users are sure to benefit from developments designed by industry visionaries and proven in production.”

Walt Disney Animation Studios Director of Studio Technology Dan Candela said, “A primary focus for my team is to ensure that the production pipeline is streamlined in order to efficiently produce the best possible CG animation. With Autodesk’s Maya as a core piece of our toolset, we’ve developed over 100 plug-ins and extensions for the platform to enable our artists to create a movie of the quality of Tangled within necessary time and budgetary limits. Sharing our technology with the VFX and CG animation community raises the creative bar for the entire industry.”

Disney to Bring out Big Guns at D23 Expo

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in 3-D, Animation, Events, Movies, Shorts, stop-motion, VFX | Leave a comment

OK, Disney’s D23 Expo (Aug. 19-21 at the Anaheim Convention Center) is shaping up to be a mini Comic-Con. They will tout footage and discussion of Pixar’s Brave and Monsters University, Andrew Stanton’s live-action John Carter, Marvel’s The Avengers, Tim Burton’s Frankenweenie, Disney’s The Muppets and CG-animated Wreck-It Ralph, Oz The Great and Powerful, and more. Rich Ross, chairman, The Walt Disney Studios; Sean Bailey, president, production, The Walt Disney Studios; John Lasseter, chief creative officer, Walt Disney and Pixar Animation Studios; and Kevin Feige, producer and president, Marvel Studios, will preside over the sneak peeks.

In celebration of 25 years of Pixar power, five sessions will be devoted to its artistry and technical wizardry:

* A Conversation with the Pixar Creative Team – Enjoy a rare opportunity to spend some time with the key figures responsible for Pixar’s unprecedented success, including John Lasseter (chief creative officer, Walt Disney and Pixar Animation Studios), Jim Morris (general manager, Pixar Animation Studios), Pete Docter (director, Monsters, Inc., Up), Andrew Stanton (director, Finding Nemo, WALL-E), Bob Peterson (co-director, Up), Lee Unkrich (director, Toy Story 3), Mark Andrews (director, Brave), and Dan Scanlon (director, Monsters University).

* The Characters of Monsters University – Director Dan Scanlon and Production Designer Ricky Nierva discuss how they combine hair, horns, and a lot of heart to bring the wonderful Monsters University characters to life.

* Michael Giacchino’s Music of Pixar – In this musical presentation, award-winning composer Michael Giacchino explores his early influences through the creation of modern-day classic scores from Ratatouille, Up, and Cars 2.

* The Art of Brave – Production Designer Steve Pilcher and Shading Art Director Tia Kratter show how they and their team put paint to canvas and fingers to computer keys to create the stunning visuals of Scotland for Disney•Pixar’s upcoming film Brave.

* Pixar Shorts – This retrospective screening of the animation studio’s legendary short films will be followed by a panel discussion with several of the filmmakers, including Ralph Eggleston (director, For the Birds), Andy Jimenez (director, One Man Band), Angus MacLane (director, BURN-E), Pete Sohn (director, Partly Cloudy), Teddy Newton (director, Day & Night), and Enrico Casarosa (director, La Luna).

Expo attendees will also have access to advance screenings of an all-new 3-D version of The Lion King, presented by RealD 3-D, coming to theaters and homes this fall, and the upcoming ABC holiday special Prep & Landing: Naughty vs. Nice from Walt Disney Animation Studios.

Tickets to the D23 Expo are available at www.D23Expo.com. Admission includes access to all experiences and entertainment at the D23 Expo, including the Disney Legends Ceremony, and can be purchased for single days or for the full three days of festivities. Admission is $47 for a one-day adult ticket and $37 for children 3-12. Three-day passes are $136 for adults and $106 for children. Members of D23: The Official Disney Fan Club will receive a discount for up to four admissions, as well as early entry to each day of the D23 Expo for themselves and their guests.

Alembic 1.0 Released

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in Animation, Events, Movies, Tech, VFX | Leave a comment

Alembic 1.0, the open source project jointly developed by Sony Pictures Imageworks and Lucasfilm Ltd. was released to the public today in a joint announcement at SIGGRAPH 2011 in Vancouver.

Alembic is the computer graphics interchange format developed by the two entertainment giants last year and focused on efficiently storing and sharing animation and visual effects scenes across multiple software applications. It was designed to handle massive animation data sets often required in high-end visual effects and animation, which are routinely developed and produced by companies such as Lucasfilm’s Industrial Light & Magic and Lucasfilm Animation Ltd and Sony Pictures Imageworks. The studios each saw the need for a tool like Alembic, something that would fit within existing pipelines and allow for customization at the facility level without impeding the ability to share work.

In addition to the features announced at last year’s SIGGRAPH, Alembic 1.0 includes automatic data de-duplication. The software automatically recognizes repeated shapes in complicated geometry and only writes a single instance to disk. This makes Alembic 1.0 use dramatically less disk space than promised without requiring any extra steps on the part of the user and can improve both write and read performance as well. In the case of hero deforming humanoid characters, including hair, shot caches have been reduced by more than 70%.  For complex, deeply hierarchical and mostly rigid assets like the Transformers characters, tests have shown cache reduction in the order of 98%.

The code base for Alembic is available for download on the project’s Google Code site and more information can be found online at: www.alembic.io.

Joint development of Alembic was first announced at last year’s Siggraph by Lucasfilm’s visual effects company Industrial Light & Magic and Sony Pictures Imageworks. The companies joined forces when it became apparent that they were independently developing software designed to solve, a problem universally faced by the visual effects and animation production community: how to easily share complex animated scenes across a variety of disciplines and facilities regardless of what software was being used.

Alembic includes tools that allow collaboration while working with a generic, extensible, data representation scheme. In essence, it distills complex and often proprietary, animated scenes into application-independent files with baked geometric results. These baked results can be fully re-importable across the range of supporting software.

Alembic addresses a fundamental issue in a world where assets are shared across many companies. Alembic’s production-ready ability to seamlessly translate shapes across a wide variety of applications saves time and resources,” said Rob Bredow, CTO of Sony Pictures Imageworks. “By releasing Alembic as an Open Source project, users have the opportunity to improve the software based on their needs and experience. We’re really starting to feel the positive effects of Open Source, as a community of visual effects and animation professionals come together to solve problems more effectively today than ever before.”

 “Alembic is giving us space efficiencies beyond our most optimistic expectations and at effectively the same time cost as before.  This is sure to have a significant impact for anyone who uses the format and we are excited to be able to share this with the Open Source community,” said Tommy Burnette, Head of Global Pipeline at Lucasfilm Ltd.  “Previously each facility had to produce their own unique solutions to the problem of efficient caching and scene handoff, but the beauty of Open Source is that with strong collaborative efforts we can effectively provide solutions for everyone.”

Both studios have made strides with open source software and recognize the importance of such initiatives, ILM with the industry standard OpenEXR format and Imageworks with OSL, Open Color I/O, Maya Reticle, Field3D, Scala Migrations and the newly release PyP.