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.

Below the Line

James Bond Unmasked Now Available at Amazon

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in Below the Line, Books, James Bond, Movies | Leave a comment

My first book, James Bond Unmasked (Spies), which chronicles the 50-year evolution of 007 from Connery to Craig, featuring my interviews with all six actors, is now available on Amazon. Copies are available for order at Read more

FMX: Virtual Production and Higher Frame Rates

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

I’ve returned from a glorious week at FMX 2012 in Stuttgart, Germany. Still a little jet lagged but I will be posting about some of the panels throughout the week. However, I managed to post about the higher frame rate panel I moderated with Doug Trumbull, Ray Feeney, and Johannes Steurer of ARRI for my TOH/Indiewire column, along with a few highlights related to virtual production, which was definitely the most popular track, organized by FMX primary partner, Autodesk. In fact, you can view my session at The Area.

As you might imagine, our discussion of The Hobbit was enlightening. Trumbull offered some solutions to combating the video look, Feeney said we shouldn’t rush to judgment, and Steurer suggested that there’s a balance between pushing photographic boundaries that are appealing for filmmaker and viewer alike.

Skyfall Production Designer Gassner Videoblogs

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in Below the Line, James Bond, Movies, Production Design, Tech, VFX | Leave a comment

Oscar-winning production designer Dennis Gassner gives us a brief description of design to completion in the latest Skyfall videoblog from But he’s careful about not offering any clues about the characteristic look. However, in Quantum of Solace, he took inspiration from Ken Adam and figured out a pattern language based on Daniel Craig’s blue eyes and “angular, chiseled, textured face.” From the look of the locations and sets, it appears that he’s expanded into a striking mash-up of ultra-modern and retro. For instance, M’s office is more open and classical in appearance.

Bond Analyzed at Instanbul Press Conference

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in Below the Line, Events, James Bond, Movies, Tech, VFX | Leave a comment

The site of the Istanbul Skyfall press conference Sunday conjured up images of From Russia with Love. Mendes reaffirmed that he wishes to convey both the classicism and modernity of the iconic city in keeping with the tone of the 23rd Bond film. This marks the third time for Turkey in Bond (the second was The World Is Not Enough).

“You always go back to the Fleming because the character Fleming created over a number of novels was incredibly complex,” Mendes explained. “Some people sometimes forget in the cliche of Bond, which is the international playboy, and someone who’s always untroubled, and almost never breaks a sweat, that actually what [Fleming] created was a very conflicted character.”

Mendes added that Bond suffers from a “combination of lassitude, boredom, depression, difficulty with what he’s chosen to do for a living, which is to kill. That makes him a much more interesting character, and some of those things are explored in this movie, because Daniel as an actor is capable of exploring them.”

At the same time, Mendes promised a more playful, humorous Bond while Craig reiterated a preference for dark, gallows humor. His Bond certainly is not in a comfort zone and is pushed to extremes both physically and emotionally, as the personal histories of Bond and M are explored for the first time.

FMX to Focus on Virtual Production

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

Virtual production is the hottest industry topic right now and next week’s FMX 2012 in Stuttgart devotes an entire track to it sponsored by Autodesk, the primary conference partner. The Avengers, Battleship, The Hunger Games, the new Total Recall remake, and The Lorax will be spotlighted along with Avatar, Hugo, The Adventures of Tintin, War Horse, and Real Steel.

“With the advent of digital pre-production, production and post-production, virtual production completes the digital film production pipeline,” said Marc Petit, SVP, Autodesk Media & Entertainment. “Virtual production places the creative decision-making back into the hands of director. The on-set real-time interaction between Autodesk MotionBuilder and Autodesk Maya software, provides a wealth of highly flexible CG assets which can flow throughout the filmmaking process and free filmmakers to focus on expressing their creative visions.”

Virtual Production I – World Building: From Avatar to Tintin

World Building involves the construction of a digital world space — the invention of a fictional universe that can include aspects such as geography, culture, and history. Production
Designer Alex McDowell (Man of Steel) curates the World Building track, which explores how these fictional worlds come into being. For one thing, McDowell and Speedcam’s director Mario Janelle analyze the fusion of two worlds when they look at World Building for indie movies using the example of Juan Diego Solanas’ Upside Down, a sci-fi take on Romeo and Juliet starring Jim Sturgess and Kirsten Dunst.

By contrast, art directors Andrew Jones and Jeff Wisniewski shift their perspective to blockbuster movies: together they illuminate digital worlds spanning from the Na’vi inhabitants in Avatar‘s exoplanetary Pandora to the highly detailed world of comic-turned-film Tintin.

Virtual Production II – Previs: Spielberg’s War Horse and Wiseman’s Total Recall

What becomes of this world once it is created? The Previs track, curated by Ron Frankel (president and previs supervisor, Proof Inc) and Chris Edwards  (CEO & creative director, The Third Floor), looks at the collaborative effort that is required when complex scenes and preliminary versions of shots or sequences are visualized predominantly using 3D animation tools and a virtual environment. Edwards describes how The Third Floor branches interact and sheds light on the previs process in Len Wiseman’s Total Recall. In this context, he focuses on the building of a futuristic world that differs drastically from the 1990 Schwarzenegger cult classic.

In a second presentation, Edwards and Kevin Jenkins, supervising art director at Framestore, recount the creation of War Horse: Both specialists worked together on different key scenes. They explain how they realized the historical scenery thanks to Digital Art Direction and path-paving Previs, paying particular attention to authenticity. Moreover, Edwards elucidates how The Third Floor used detailed, emotional visualizations as a blueprint for the set construction, horse training and ultimate cinematic staging to visibly enhance storytelling in Spielberg’s War Horse.

The third Previs presentation, “Integrate not dominate: Previs and Virtual Production for a non-VFX show,” features supervising visual effects producer Friend Wells and Frankel, who analyze the importance of virtual production and previs for all of those film productions, which are not primarily based on visual effects — that is to say drama, comedy, and low-budget film productions in general. Both speakers base their talk on the film The Last Stand starring Arnold Schwarzenegger (January 2013).

Virtual Production III – Megasessions: ILM, Weta and more

Visual effects supervisor Erik Nash (Digital Domain), previs supervisor Casey Schatz (Giant Studios), and virtual production supervisor Glenn Derry (Technoprops) team up for one “Megasession” to guide the audience through the innovative workflow that helped turn Real Steel into a huge success.

In another “Megasession,” FMX goes back in time when Weta Digital’s visual effects supervisor Wayne Stables, CTO Sebastian Sylwan, and head of marketing David Gouge trace the origins of the 3-D adventure Tintin and its innovative and creative virtual production workflow back through early tests on Peter Jackson’s 2001 fantasy adventure The Lord of the Rings.

A third “Megasession” is dedicated to one of this year’s top Oscar winners: Academy Award winner and visual effects supervisor Rob Legato elaborates on his collaboration with VFX company Nvizage and the art department for Martin Scorsese’s Hugo. Together with Nvizage’s previs supervisor Martin Chamney, he explains how they sculpted both the practical set and digital set extensions of the railway station.

In a fourth “Megasession,” Steve Sullivan, senior technology officer at Lucasfilm, and Michael Sanders, dgital supervisor at Industrial Light & Magic, demonstrate the importance of virtual production for their everyday work at Lucasfilm and ILM.

Meanwhile, there will be two extensive presentations on Battleship as part of the “VFX: Showcases” track. Compositing supervisor Marshall Krasser explains in his presentation “Not just a Board Game” why the epic battles on the high seas and the alien attacks on Hawaii constitute further milestones in ILM’s long-standing VFX history. For this purpose, ILM implemented a novel water simulation system and utilized the digital pyrotechnics tool Plume.

Moreover, John Dietz, founder, producer, and VFX supervisor at Vispop, devotes his talk to The Hunger Games. Dietz supervised the work of Rising Sun Pictures, which contributed more than 200 vfx shots to the screen adaptation of the popular book series, including the design for the fully digital Capital City. For crowds, live actors were shot against bluescreen which were then digitally multiplied.

Show & Tell: Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax and Marvel’s The Avengers

Director Chris Renaud‘s  Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax will be screened at FMX in its original 3-D version. In addition, the quartet of Illumination Entertainment’s Jacques Bled, Kyle Balda, Bruno Chauffard, and Yarrow Cheney explains how the moustache-wearing protagonist was brought to life on the big screen.

Moreover, FMX will screen Joss Whedon’s The Avengers. ILM’s VFX supervisor Jeff White is joined by Weta Digital’s VFX supervisor Guy Williams to speak about the working processes involved in creating this film.

Trailering More Dark Knight Rises

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in Below the Line, Books, Movies, Music, Tech, Trailers, VFX | Leave a comment

“There’s a storm coming,” whisper’s Anne Hathaway’s Selena Kyle. I’ll say. The third Dark Knight Rises trailer overlays Hans Zimmer’s melancholy score over images of Bruce Wayne’s anguish, Bane’s creepy malevolence, and Gotham’s inevitable battleground of mayhem and destruction. It’s eight years later and Christian Bale’s Wayne is in need of redemption and release. Thomas Hardy’s terrorist Bane offers just the battle scarred warrior Batman needs to fight to exorcise his demons. What a culmination to Chris Nolan’s operatic ode to the Batman ethos due July 20 in immersive IMAX.

Third Trailering of Prometheus

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

The latest Prometheus (June 8th) trailer sums up the essence of the movie quite well, revealing the clues of an ancient civilization that are interpreted as a calling card; the exploratory mission supervised corporate head Charlize Theron, who instructs them not to make contact with the aliens; the search among the ancient ruins, the discovery of life, the worry about a secret agenda to the mission; the horrifying surprise. It’s got the Alien DNA and more…

Understanding Things I Don’t Understand

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in Below the Line, Clips, Festivals, Movies | Leave a comment

I finally caught up with one of the best indies on the festival circuit: David Spaltro’s Things I Don’t Understand, which has been racking up awards and most recently took best feature at the Indie Spirit Film Festival in Colorado. Spaltro’s follow-up to his acclaimed …Around New York love letter, re-teams with Molly Ryman, who shines as the volatile and vulnerable Violet Kebelick, a brilliant but withdrawn grad student drawn to near-death experiences after a failed suicide attempt. Violet is snarky and self-destructive, but there’s something endearing about this little girl lost.

Violet lives in a Brooklyn loft with two struggling roommates: performance artist Gabby (Meissa Hampton) and musician Remy (Hugo Dillon). Meanwhile, Violet strikes up a friendship with troubled downstairs bartender Parker (Aaron Mathias) and finds spiritual renewal befriending a terminally ill teenager, Sara (Grace Folsom).

Things I Don’t Understand is full grace notes and raw emotional power, superbly acted and sensitively written and directed by Spaltro (who also does a fine job editing). In addition, Gus Sacks’ exquisite cinematography captures the spirit of the passive/aggressive ensemble. Interestingly, Lisa Eichhorn (mesmerizing as the melancholy, boozy Mo from the great Cutter’s Way) appears briefly as Violet’s therapist, providing a calming influence.

I hope Spaltro’s latest film ultimately lands distribution and an appreciative audience. It’s well worth the journey.

Prometheus Gets a New Featurette

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in 3-D, Below the Line, Clips, Tech, VFX | Leave a comment

“So, here we are, I’m back again, and I’m doing another science fiction,” Ridley Scott proclaims at the beginning of this new Prometheus (June 8th) featurette. He comes from “the all about everything school,” and various cast members (including Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, Charlize Theron, and Guy Pearce) comment on Scott’s hands on, creative vision, interspersed with Scott on set and thrilling action sequences that are both reminiscent of the original Alien and new in their sense of awe and discovery.

Immersed in Blu-ray: War Horse

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in Below the Line, Blu-ray, Cinematography, Clips, Home Entertainment, Movies, Oscar, Tech, VFX | Leave a comment

Steven Spielberg’s War Horse is now on Blu-ray (Disney Home Ent.), where it absolutely shines in HD for its old-fashioned virtues, combining elements of John Ford with Gone with the Wind and Paths of Glory. Spielberg’s joyous experience making The Adventures of Tintin seems to have carried over to this love story about a boy and his horse in the trenches of World War I.

“The reason I made the movie, beyond the fact that the play moved me so deeply when I saw it in the West End of London, was that here we have an animal that brings human beings together,” Spielberg told me last year,  “at least in a détente of sorts, and the idea that an animal has the power to be able to bring these two warring sides together for a brief respite. And I also felt that it was very, very important to show the lengths to which a young man will travel in order to retrieve an animal that has meant so much to him and his family, that has basically saved the lives of his family by saving their farm, and that there had to be a happy conclusion.”

War Horse even brought out a warm, sentimental side to cinematographer Janusz Kaminski. His imagery has never been so elegiac, as in the early Quiet Man-like moments. Even the détente-like moment with the barbed wire in “No Man’s Land” is memorable for its transcendent humanity.

War Horse was also the latest in a personal journey for production designer Rick Carter, who’s made a series of war-themed films since 9/11 (mostly with Spielberg).  He calls it “the nature of conscience and the Goya-esque disasters of war.” According to Carter, “some of them are light and have a joyous, wish-fulfillment to them. But there’s also a darkness that has to be overcome and so [Spielberg's] touching quite a wide range of movies, and, as I get older, I admire that.”

Their latest journey into the nature of conscience is Lincoln. I can’t wait to delve into how they built a movie around the extraordinary Daniel Day Lewis.