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.
I have an in-depth interview with Bill Joyce and Brandon Oldenburg about their award-winning new animated short and popular interactive book, The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore, at TOH/Indiewire. I definitely think it’s an Oscar contender to keep an eye on and this type of interactive reading experience paves the way for the future of publishing.
The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore is definitely one of the highlights to check out at SIGGRAPH 2011 this week in Vancouver. The Best in Show Computer Animation Festival winner directed by Bill Joyce and Brandon Oldenburg of Moonbot Studios in Shreveport, Louisiana, is a brilliant mash-up of high and low tech — perfect for SIGGRAPH. It tells the story of a Keatonesque book lover displaced by a twister and hurled into an alternate world ruled by books.
They utilized nearly every animated technique: CG for the protagonist and anything that moved; 2D for Humpty Dumpty like a flip book; miniatures for the library coupled with stop-motion camera moves and rapid prototyping for the thousands of books on the shelves; matte paintings on top of miniature environments when they’re still; and practical shots of dust and debris. There’s even a Zoetrope effect. They used Maya, Nuke, boujou, and Photoshop.
I spoke on Friday with Joyce and Oldenburg. Joyce has two adaptations coming to the big screen: Rise of the Guardians, Nov. 21, 2012, from DreamWorks, and Leaf Men, bowing May 13, 2013, from Fox/Blue Sky; Oldenburg is co-founder of Reel FX.
Joyce said the idea came eight years ago on a flight to New York to visit his dying mentor, Bill Morris, a children’s book advocate at HarperCollins. Morris was one of the last of the grand old gentlemen of old publishing. His love of books certainly shines through in this Oz-like phantasmagoria along with the sense of displacement and hopelessness from Hurricane Katrina that also impacted Joyce.
Ironically, it all coalesces in a work about the curative power of books In fact, as some of you might already know, Joyce and Oldenburg have turned The Fantastic Flying Books into a bestselling interactive experience that’s on the cutting edge of immersive storytelling. In other words, it comes full-circle back to Morris’ philosophy about nurturing books as well as the joy of seeing displaced children absorbed in books that were donated to the shelters post Katrina in Shreveport. I will have lot more from Joyce and Oldenburg.
The Fantastic Flying Books App is available for $4.99 from the App Store on iPad or at www.itunes.com/appstore. A stand-alone version of the short is available for $2.99 on iTunes or at www.itunes.com.
While awaiting the steely Bond 23 (Nov. 9, 2012), John le Carré’s masterful Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy gets a big-screen remake, and it looks like it delivers all the delicious espionage goods. Gary Oldman reprises the role of George Smiley made famous by Alec Guinness in the ’79 mini-series, the anti-Bond called out of forced retirement to weed out a Soviet mole, possessing the same “quiet intensity and intelligence” to pull off the end of Cold War cat-and-mouse. Colin Firth, Tom Hardy, Mark Strong, Ciarán Hinds, and Benedict Cumberbatch round-out the remarkable cast of suspects. Tomas Alfredson (Let the Right One In) directs from a script by Bridget O’Connor and Peter Straughan. Thankfully, this really is a teaser in the best sense. I once had the pleasure of interviewing le Carré (David Cornwell) about The Tailor of Panama: “In retrospect, the Cold War was a war of fantasies as well as a war of hardware. It was a war of perception,” he told me back in the spring of 2001.
VFX by Framestore (some animation and matchmoving, supervised by Oskar Larsson). Opens Nov. 18 from Focus Features, and I see lots of Oscar potential.
Director Jon Favreau had fun chatting with his Cowboys & Aliens star Daniel Craig about Bond 23, which begins production in November (with India confirmed as a primary location) and opens Nov. 9, 2012. Craig was naturally coy about details, but admitted that it would contain some classic Bond elements (Naomie Harris is supposed to introduce Moneypenny) and had high praise for director Sam Mendes (Road to Perdition).
“It’s a great choice because Sam has a fervor and energy to really direct a Bond movie with a capital B,” Craig enthused. “He’s read every book and just soaked up everything about it. I read the script the other day and I’m more excited about this than I was about Casino.”
Favreau admitted that he filled the gadget void with Iron Man given Craig’s grittier, more realistic reboot. Craig said that gadgets pose a challenge for Bond because they’re so ubiquitous today and that it’s harder to find something unique unless you have access to classified military hardware and equipment.
In terms of humor, Craig also suggested that less is definitely more with his Bond. In my first interview with Craig, he professed an affinity for gallows humor, which served him well as a defense mechanism in Casino Royale, so we can probably expect a continuation of this dry wit.
In fact, the highlight of the conversation was a discussion about how Austin Powers has helped kill the self-reverential Bond in this post-modern era. “It’s been killed because now you can’t wink at it — he’s double-winked,” Craig offered. “It’s like a bird that flies in smaller and smaller circles until it flies up its own ass,” Favreau quipped. It just makes it all the more challenging to layer in humor that’s organic to the character and situation.
Indeed, Bond has always been a delicate balancing act between danger and humor, trying something new and going to extremes and then switching gears and repeating the cycle. I’m smack in the middle of this right now with the chapter on Moonraker in my Bond book. So it’ll be fascinating to see how Craig continues to bring Bond full-circle back to Fleming, while at the same time being true to the franchise.
Meanwhile, Peter Caranicas of Variety reports that Steve Begg (Casino Royale) has signed on to Bond 23 as visual effects supervisor.
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.
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.
Sony Pictures Animation and Dark Horse Ent. will develop an animated feature based on Chris Grine’s graphic novel series, Chickenhare.
Chickenhare‘s hero is half-chicken and half-hare. The eponymous graphic novels in which Chickenhare was introduced, originally published in 2006 and 2008 by Dark Horse, follow him and his shelled sidekick, Abe, on their adventures in an amazing fantasy world filled with monstrous creatures, demonic critters, and danger lurking around every corner. The two pick up a few more friends and a few more problems, all while exploring themes of identity, family, and friendship.
Mike Richardson and Keith Goldberg will exec produce for Dark Horse. Michael Lachance will oversee the project for Sony Pictures Animation (SPA) with president of production Michelle Raimo-Kouyate.
“Sony Pictures Animation is always looking for original characters, and Chickenhare is a true original,” said Raimo-Kouyate. “This story has everything we want in an animated film — broad comedy, heartfelt emotion, universal themes, and a one-of-a-kind hero that audiences will love.”
“Chris Grine’s Chickenhare is one of the quirkiest characters we’ve ever published,” added Richardson. “We’re excited that the good people at Sony Pictures Animation responded so enthusiastically to what has to be one of our greatest comics-to-film projects yet. The more animated movies I see, the more I want to make them, and in Chickenhare we found a character so colorful and three-dimensional that he could only exist in an animated world.”
Grine, a graduate from Ringling School of Art & Design, is also the creator of 165 Bots withStuff, which were featured on the Shoebox blog.
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.