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

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.

Shane Acker Follows 9 with Plus Minus

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in Animation, Education, Shorts, Trailers, VFX | Leave a comment

What’s Shane Acker been doing since 9? Making another post-apocalyptic short, Plus Minus.

But this time at the Gnomon School of Visual Effects in Hollywood for the past three years (via its Gnomon Studios production entity). Plus Minus, which is about the inferno of territorial fighting between demonic forces of art and commerce, will be released in the fall for Oscar consideration. It’s co-directed by Aristomenis (Meni) Tsirbas, best known for his work on the award-winning animated films The Freak and Battle for Terra (which was adapted into a feature like Acker’s Oscar-nominated 9 short from UCLA).

Teaming with instructors and aspiring artists at Gnomon, Acker worked with Tsirbas, Green Lantern visual effects supervisor Tefft Smith and Gnomon students to create Plus Minus, training them on the intricacies of a professional style production pipeline.

Judging from the trailer, Plus Minus looks even richer, funnier, and more operatic than 9.

Meanwhile, Acker has been tapped by HIT Ent. to direct its live-action adaptation of Thomas the Tank Engine, in which a tween boy finds a way to reconnect with his father, who visited the island of talking trains known as Sodor when he was a child, but doesn’t remember it. Weta Workshop and Mattel are providing design work. Cinetic Media and the UTA Independent Film Group are handling funding and distribution. Thomas is scripted by Chris Viscardi & Will McRobb and Josh Klausner.

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

Trailering War Horse

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

It’s a busy year for Steven Spielberg with two Oscar contenders: The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn (Dec. 23), adapted from the popular Belgian comic, which should qualify for best animated feature, despite its performance capture technique and stiffer Academy rules, and War Horse (Dec. 28), adapted from the Michael Morpurgo novel (fabulously staged in London), about a bond broken between a heroic boy (Jeremy Irvine) and his indefatigable horse when it’s sold to the cavalry and sent to the trenches of World War One.

Obviously not VFX heavy (but Framestore’s Ben Morris serves as production supervisor), War Horse nonetheless appears wistful yet harrowing, continuing the director’s post 9/11 allegorical journey. It looks exquisitely shot by cinematographer Janusz Kaminski in concert with production designer Rick Carter’s own “Goya-esque” post 9/11 journey (War of The Worlds, Munich, Avatar, and the upcoming Lincoln with Spielberg).

CG Apes Rise at CalTech

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

Fox’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes (opening Aug. 5) was dissected at CalTech last night with a panel that included director Rupert Wyatt, Weta Digital VFX supervisor Joe Letteri, and performance capture star Andy Serkis (via Skype). The footage they showed impressively demonstrated the post-Avatar breakthrough in performance capture with head-mounted cameras (or E-motion) by the Weta wizards.

Indeed, for this first-time all-CG ape extravaganza, Weta reinvented what it achieved on Avatar by placing the performance capture actors in the live-action set or out on location. “Rather than using reflective optical markers for motion tracking, we developed an active LED system so we could use infrared lights and that allowed us to be able to work in a variety of conditions,” Letteri explained.

Coupled with a whole animation upgrade for hair, muscle, tissue, and eyes, the result is an utterly believable performance from Serkis as Caesar, the chimpanzee: tender, subtle, sympathetic, and conflicted. He’s raised by humans, but he evolves into an outsider shunned by people and ape alike, and becomes a revolutionary.

“Basically, you have to come up with another method of recording an actor’s performance, in a way that the technology has become more sophisticated,” Serkis said. “The idea is to make it more transparent so that it enables this fantastic interface between the performance capture actors and the other actors on the set and the director.”

Serkis maintained that there is no difference between performance capture and live-action acting. It’s about removing the layers and letting the performance come through in collaboration with the skilled animators.

Letteri even suggested that the industry has a cognitive gap to get over about the separation of performance and recorded image before it can fully understand and appreciate the craft.

For his part, Wyatt explained that they rejected the notion early on of using live apes and fully embraced the performance capture method for re-imagining this contemporary Apes origin story that mixes Conquest (the third sequel) with scientific research gone awry with the best intentions of curing Alzheimer’s.”They may be digitally rendered but they actually have a soul when you look into their eyes,” he offered. His hope is that the rebooted franchise would continue and eventually intersect with the original 1968 narrative.

Who Will Animate Paramount Animation?

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

Will Industrial Light & Magic come to the rescue of Paramount Animation?

That’s the burning question after today’s announcement that Paramount Pictures is launching Paramount Animation, riding on the crest of Rango’s box office success (more than $240 million worldwide) and probable Oscar contention (“the best reviewed animated movie so far this year” — hint, hint). A new animation division is an imperative if Paramount loses its distribution deal with DreamWorks Animation (whose stock hit a 52-week low). Their deal expires at the end of next year, and, although a one-year extension was recently offered by studio chairman Brad Grey, he’s insisting that a renewal is contingent on a better deal for Paramount than the current 8% distribution fee.

According to a press release, Grey intends to spend up to $100 million per project, and other sources suggest that he intends to make one animated feature a year, starting in 2014. The plan is to develop a diverse range of CG-animated family films, with some projects produced under the Nickelodeon label. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Paramount is already developing an adaptation of New Kid, the Penny Arcade web comic about the only earthling in an intergalactic school.

Paramount Animation will be folded into the Paramount Motion Group, under the supervision of president Adam Goodman, who is currently seeking someone to helm the division in consultation with vice chair Rob Moore and COO Frederick Huntsberry.

IndieWIRE’s Anne Thompson reports that a Rango sequel is likely too costly and not imminent anyway with Gore Verbinski now back to directing live-action.

But the questions remains: Who will provide the animation? Every other studio has an animation arrangement, either in-house or outsourced (such as Illumination Ent.’s deal with Paris-based Mac Guff launched with the highly profitable Despicable Me). Except Warner Bros., that is, which would definitely benefit from a partnership with DreamWorks.

ILM is primed for more animation after its breakthrough with Rango (which gets released on Blu-ray/DVD July 15), leveraging its photoreal VFX acumen at the service of a “dirty” aesthetic, and expanding its layout department. Meanwhile, Lucas also has his Singapore animation studio as an even greater possibility, which has matured with the Star Wars: The Clone Wars TV series and is currently working on its first feature.

This is definitely worth watching.

Digital Domain’s Tradition Studios Gears Up

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

Last week Digital Domain Media Group (DDMG) lured Pixar’s Brad Lewis (co-director of Cars 2 and Ratatouille producer) to helm animated features for its fledgling Florida-based Tradition Studios. It’s a sign that DD intends to compete with the big boys for a share of the lucrative family market at a fraction of the cost while still delivering quality CG. It also means the opportunity to produce original content, which is in shorter supply with so many sequels.

I’ve just learned that another Disney alum, Pam Coats (Mulan), who recently served as creative liaison on Gnomeo & Juliet, has also joined DDMG to head development for Tradition.

Meanwhile, DDMG is in the process of raising $115 million in an IPO, slated for this summer, some of which will be earmarked for financing the Port Lucie-based Tradition. And the studio is constructing a new 130,000 square-foot facility scheduled for completion at year’s end.

There is plenty of animation talent available in the region. Tradition has already signed former Disney vets and Florida natives Aaron Blaise and Chuck Williams (Brother Bear) to produce and direct (there are currently four “family friendly” projects in development at Tradition). Blaise and Williams previously worked at the Disney Florida studio, which reached a high point with Lilo & Stitch but shuttered after Brother Bear with the demise of hand-drawn animation. Plus DDMG, chaired by John Textor, has partnered with Florida State University on a degreed program at Digital Domain Institute, a special public/private collaboration that will help develop new talent.

 

Connery Transforms Dark of the Moon

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in Animation, James Bond, Movies, Tech, VFX | 1 Comment

Look closely at the new Sentinel Prime in Transformers: Dark of the Moon. The legendary, conflicted Autobots warrior, who holds the key to crushing the Decepticons, may be voiced by Leonard Nimoy, but is actually modeled after Sean Connery. Who better, right? Notice the iconic face, the commanding presence, especially the eyebrows — it’s unmistakable.

And yet the regal Sentinel Prime was not inspired by Connery as James Bond or even as the larger-than-life Daniel Dravot in John Huston’s The Man Who Would Be King (1975). Instead, he was patterned after Connery’s outraged British Army prison camp inmate in Sidney Lumet’s The Hill (1965).

“For more of the intense moments, we pulled a clip from an old black-and-white military movie [The Hill] where he had a monologue screaming at the camera,” suggests Industrial Light & Magic animation supervisor Scott Benza. “We showed that to Michael [Bay] and he agreed that was the character we were looking for. And we found the best reference from older movies of him. We did the same kind of [animation] test we did for Transformers, kind of acting explorations where we pulled a clip from one of his movies and did a side-by-side comparison.”

Of course, the whole reason Sentinel Prime’s face is more expressive — and, indeed, more human-looking — along with all the other bots in Dark of the Moon, is because of ILM’s vastly improved animation. The rig is expanded and there are a greater number of modeling plates. Plus better lighting illuminates the richer detail, which is crucial for the Avatar-like 3-D spectacle that Bay was after.