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.


Bond 24 Set for 2014; Skyfall Teased at CinemaCon

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

The two-year Bond cycle is back, as Sony announced at CinemaCon that Bond 24 would be released holiday 2014. And it’s fully expected that Craig will exercise his option to make his fourth appearance as 007. Judging from the posts about the Skyfall teaser trailer screened at CinemaCon, here’s what I’ve gleaned from Comingsoon,The Playlist, and Empire’s 50th Bond issue for June:

The trailer is mainly comprised of Bond being interrogated in a word association game over establishing shots of London, then a target at a shooting range, and then the interrogation room itself: Country/England…Gun/Shot…Agent/Provocateur…Murder/Employment. It turns out that Bond is being observed by M and Ralph Fiennes’ Mallory (a high-ranking MI6 official), among others, through two-way mirrors. When the mysterious interrogator says, “Skyfall” and repeats it a second time, Bond says, “Done,” and walks out. He must’ve hit a personal nerve.

The rest of the trailer involves a quick-cutting montage of helicopters, fireballs resulting in a weird silhouette, glimpses of the blue neon-lit Shanghai nightlife, Bond standing over a row of coffins draped by the English flag, and a subway car crashing through the Tube. It ends with Bond saying, “Someone is coming to kill us. We’re going to kill them first.”

As for context, director Sam Mendes reveals in Empire that Skyfall pushes Bond out of his usual comfort zone and that there are three essentials to a Bond movie: “There needs to be a female contingent that interacts with Bond in a way that verges on the racy side; He doesn’t live entirely in the real world, in the sense that you can’t put him on the street. He’s not Bourne….He has to have his own space around him; and [he] also can’t work in tandem with another man of a similar age. You can’t have a buddy. There’s this constant tension where he only has relationships with his senior figures in MI6 — and women.”

Moreover, “You’ve got to give him an arc, not just a mission.” And Skyfall takes Bond “to another level where Daniel isn’t just playing things he’s done before, where we felt we were pushing — I have to say this in a way that’s not giving too much away — the personal history of the character.”

Mendes also confirms that Skyfall will be more playful, comparing it to Goldfinger, From Russia with Love, and Live and Let Die.

Meanwhile, producer Michael Wilson says Skyfall “is about Bond defending MI6, the country, and the realm” from Javier Bardem’s terrorist, Silva, who’s more nuanced and nimble than the usual baddie.

I’ll have a lot more to report after seeing the trailer the week of May 25th (screening with Men in Black 3).

Tim Burton to Judge Vampire Hunter Art Competition

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

Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter producer Tim Burton will judge an art competition for 20th Century Fox. Fans are encouraged to center their work on Lincoln or the villainous vampires through creative illustrations. The five top entries will be presented to Burton, who will then pick the grand-prize winner. All styles are encouraged: cartoon, photo, paint, sculpture, graphic design. Directed and produced by Timur Bekmambetov, co-produced by Jim Lemley, and lensed by Caleb Deschanel, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter opens June 22.


 Submit your own pro-patriot or pro-vampire artwork to the gallery at  

 All Submissions due by May 12, 2012

 Popular vote will decide the top five finalists

   One Grand Prize Winner will receive a private midnight screening

                           Four runner-ups will receive a Burton signed movie poster

Autodesk Comes out Smoking at NAB

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

NAB started out auspiciously today with Autodesk’s important announcement that Smoke 2013 is not only completely redesigned for the average editor — and not just the VFX pro — but that it also offers all of its high-end features at an affordable new price of $3,495 (a substantial drop from $15,000) . Autodesk Smoke 2013 video editing software is repackaged with an easier interface for a fall release as an all-in-one tool for the Mac.

“Autodesk combined over 20 years of visual effects leadership and customer feedback to create video editing and effects software that serves the current and evolving marketplace for high-quality video content. Early feedback has been gratifyingly enthusiastic,” said Marc Petit, SVP, Autodesk Media & Entertainment.

A recent Autodesk-commissioned survey of film and video production companies found that editors and studio owners are grappling with limited budgets, file management complexity, and tight project timelines. Of the respondents, 42% cited dealing with different file formats as one of the biggest challenges with current editing and finishing tools. In the survey, 82% called out Smoke software’s support for HD and higher resolution formats, and 60% its all-in-one package as the most valuable features to help combat production complexity and streamline their post-production workflow. The research illuminated a thriving professional video market with more Hollywood blockbuster-quality content required for web, new mobile platforms, interactive advertising, and traditional broadcast.

The professional video market is eagerly awaiting an improved post-production workflow and demanding pipeline efficiency. The new all-in-one Smoke, with its unified editing and effects workflow, can be that tool. Smoke can help editors simplify their workflow, centrally manage their media, work interactively with high-res media throughout their projects, and deliver high-end content.

To watch live streaming and on demand presentations from the Autodesk NAB booth, including Evan Schechtman’s integrated Final Cut Pro X to Smoke workflow for Grey Goose vodka, visit

Key Features
–The Smoke User Interface
(UI): An intuitive all-in-one creative workflow that combines track-based editorial, industry-standard editing conventions and proven Autodesk creative tools.
–ConnectFX: Powerful node-based compositing inside the timeline for high-end effects and advanced compositing without leaving the editorial environment.
–Creative Tools: A robust toolset with proven high-end finishing tools, Action for true 3D compositing, the Color Warper for professional grading and color matching, the Master Keyer for one-click chroma keying and stereoscopic 3-D editing and VFX.
–MediaHub: A modern approach to working natively with the most common formats that facilitates managing all project media from ingest to edit to effects and archiving.
–Lower System Requirements: Runs on the most recent generation of Apple iMac and MacBook Pro systems using high-bandwidth Thunderbolt storage and IO bringing true high-end video effects to flexible desktop and mobile workflows.

Cloud Computing, Greater Interoperability for Autodesk

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in 3-D, Animation, Clips, Education, Events, Movies, Oscar, performance capture, Production Design, Tech, VFX, Videogames, Virtual Production | Leave a comment

For Autodesk’s 30th anniversary, it resumed its semi-annual summit in San Francisco to introduce the 2013 DCC suite of Maya, 3ds Max, Softimage, MotionBuilder, and Mudbox (shipping this spring and to be bundled together in an “Ultimate” package). At the same time, the software giant emphasized the importance of its cloud computing program, Autodesk 360 (formerly known as Autodesk Cloud). Autodesk 360 now provides even more cloud benefits to Autodesk Subscription customers, including additional cloud storage and the ability to access cloud services for rendering, simulation, design optimization, and energy analysis. Subscription customers now have up to 25 GB of storage and between 100 and 500 Autodesk cloud units per user, based on the suite edition they purchased, providing a competitive edge to respond to changing business requirements.

Indeed, chief executive Carl Bass (below) suggested that with such an “infinitely scalable resource,” this game-changer is akin to dry cleaning: “How much do I want to pay?” He suggested that cloud computing is the future of how simulation will be done, among other highly complex tasks, and part of a new eco-system in which “you’re the center of computing and community and collaborators.” He termed it “mobile cloud and social all in one place,” and predicted that the iPad will replace the PC.

Not surprisingly, the concept of cloud rendering is being aggressively adopted in the entertainment industry by, among others, Atomic Fiction, the spinoff VFX company from Robert Zemeckis’ ImageMovers Digital. In fact, Atomic Fiction is currently doing the VFX for Zemeckis’ return to live action, Flight, using a workable and efficient model for cloud rendering on a project by project basis, according to co-founders Kevin Baillie and Ryan Tudhope, who were present at the summit.

As for the new versions of the popular DCC suite, Autodesk announced a direct link between Maya and MotionBuilder and crowd simulation in Softimage as a way of competing with Massive. In addition, more interoperability is being stressed among all their software programs and various bundles.

Marc Petit (below), Autodesk’s SVP of Media & Entertainment, reiterated the goal of finding new ways of standardizing and optimizing VFX workflows to “take full advantage of globally distributed production resources.” To that end, Autodesk is working with the major studios “to develop and package workflows that address these challenges.” Virtual production and 3-D are particularly earmarked to expand the storytelling and visual potential in a post-Avatar paradigm shift.

Among the highlights of this expanded interoperability:

– Live character streaming between MotionBuilder and Maya provides an efficient way to previsualize a retargeting result in the final Maya scene before transferring the data between applications.

– More consistent hotkeys make it easier for Maya artists to navigate viewports in the 3D suite applications, and help artists familiar with 3ds Max to get up to speed with Softimage faster.

– The enhanced, consistent F-Curve Editor within 3ds Max, Maya, Softimage, and MotionBuilder now offers consistent functionality, helping animators transition between these applications more smoothly.

Autodesk HumanIK Interoperability with CAT (Character Animation Toolkit) provides a single-step, round-trip workflow to transfer 3ds Max CAT bipedal characters between 3ds Max, Maya and MotionBuilder. Enhanced interoperability between Maya and 3ds Max enables artists to move 3D data between the applications in a single step.

All editions of the Autodesk Entertainment Creation Suites now also include Autodesk SketchBook Designer 2013 concept art software. This product enables artists to explore and present new ideas for characters, props, and environments using an intuitive hybrid paint and vector toolset.

Autodesk Maya 2013 delivers powerful new toolsets for dynamic simulation, animation and rendering that offer new levels of creativity, while everyday productivity enhancements help artists work faster. In addition, the Open Data initiative introduced in Maya 2013 offers tools to help facilitate parallel workflows and better complexity handling.

Autodesk 3ds Max 2013 delivers ActiveShade support in the NVIDIA iray renderer; a new render pass system; and enhanced interoperability with Adobe After Effects and Adobe Photoshop software. The 2013 version also offers new tools for motion graphics, 3D animation, and simulation.

Autodesk Softimage 2013 delivers a new high-fidelity interactive environment and powerful new creative toolsets that include a new CrowdFX simulation feature set, along with enhanced modeling, animation, physics, and selection tools.

Autodesk MotionBuilder 2013 helps production teams more reliably acquire, aggregate and refine data, and offers a new nonlinear editing paradigm for virtual production. Highlights are the option to record live motion capture data directly to disk, a flexible new HUD (heads-up display), a floating viewer, and support for broadcast WAVE files.

Autodesk Mudbox 2013 helps artists create complex production-ready scenes with greater ease, with the Gigatexel engine and the ability to work efficiently with significantly more objects. In addition, Mudbox 2013 offers new multipurpose curves, support for edge sharpness data, and enhanced interoperability with Adobe Photoshop software.

Autodesk also announced the 2013 version of its Autodesk Flame Premium software, which combines high-end visual effects and finishing tools with real-time color grading in a single solution. The 2013 version features:

– More creative and technical tools for advanced compositing and 3D relighting

– Interactivity enhancements in Action for an even more fluid creative experience

– Improved 3D tracking workflow for greater flexibility and control when positioning compositing elements in a scene

– Enhanced grading capabilities including new color grading presets to get started on look development, new media export workflow, and Tangent Element modular control panel support

Immersed in Movies Hosts FMX Frame Rate Panel

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in 3-D, Animation, Events, Festivals, Movies, performance capture, Production Design, Shorts, stop-motion, Tech, VFX, Videogames, Virtual Production | Leave a comment

I will not only be attending my first FMX but I will also present a panel about higher frame rates with Doug Trumbull and RFX president Ray Feeney at FMX 2012. The 17th conference on Animation, Effects, Games, and Transmedia will take place May 8-11 in Stuttgart, Germany.

We will explore how higher frame rates will improve the quality of 3-D presentation and help forge a new cinematic language along with other innovations. While Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit is being shot at 48fps and James Cameron intends to shoot his upcoming Avatar sequels at 60 fps, Trumbull is already paving the way with his Showscan Digital process of 120 fps.

In addition, Trumbull provides an in-depth look into his prolific career (from 2001: A Space Odyssey to The Tree of Life). Also, Feeney presents a retrospective on the history of VFX. Feeney has created and implemented numerous new technologies, many of which have become industry standard techniques. Intimately familiar with Robert Abel and Associates (RA&A) from his time there, Feeney reveals how the innovative work of RA&A continues to influence various VFX developments and processes that are nowadays taken for granted — spanning from full ray-traced renders to fluid character animation.
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Snow White and 20,000 Leagues Coming to TCM Fest

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

The TCM Classic Film Festival (in collaboration with D23: The Official Disney Fan Club) will present a 75th anniversary screening of Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937). Plus Kirk Douglas will be on hand to introduce the first general public screening of the newly restored 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea (1954), which is surely Blu-ray bound.

On Saturday, April 14, Walt Disney’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs will screen at Grauman’s Chinese Theater at 1:00 p.m. This film revolutionized the art of animation with its cutting edge technique, design and storytelling — setting animation in pursuit of an ever more realistic look. Moreover, it demonstrated animation’s viability as a legitimate cinematic art form. The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences bestowed a special Academy Award on Walt Disney, recognizing Snow White as “a significant screen innovation which has charmed millions and pioneered a great new entertainment field.” The unique Oscar trophy consisted of one full-sized statuette standing next to seven miniature versions. The film also earned an Oscar nomination for Leigh Harline’s memorable score.

In 1997, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs was named one of the 100 Greatest Films of All Time by the American Film Institute (AFI). The following year, the AFI named it the greatest American animated film of all time.
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SIGGRAPH Mobile Launched

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in 3-D, Animation, Education, Events, Festivals, Movies, performance capture, Production Design, Shorts, Tech, VFX, Videogames, Virtual Production | Leave a comment

SIGGRAPH Mobile, inspired by the Symposium on Apps at SIGGRAPH Asia 2011, is a first-time SIGGRAPH program developed to showcase the latest advancements in mobile development.

SIGGRAPH Mobile seeks innovative mobile pioneers to submit their latest discoveries in the field of mobile graphics and apps. The program is divided into four submission categories:

Presentations – One speaker presents on a single topic, technology, or result
Panels – Multiple speaker presentation and discussion of a particular area
Workshops – Hands-on tutorials for current mobile technologies and tools
Demonstrations – Full-day demonstrations of the latest and greatest mobile applications, software, and hardware
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Gravity at 5D | FLUX

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

Chris deFaria, who oversees development of VFX and animation at Warner Bros., revealed Thursday night at the 5D | FLUX conference at USC that Alfonso Cuaron is turning production on its head with Gravity (Nov. 21), the marooned in space adventure starring George Clooney and Sandra Bullock. Framestore is the lead VFX company and the sci-fi movie is being post-converted in 3-D.

“Instead of trying to create real people and what they’re doing, let’s turn it around and create almost an entirely animated film and then backwards engineer the people into that film,” he explained. “As a matter of fact, let’s not even engineer the people into the film, let’s engineer their faces. So you’ve got these little faces inside these little helmets. But there was a big hiccup that we came to I didn’t realize until later, which was that we began building it as an animated film and Alfonso had an idea that he wanted the shots to be incredibly long, and I said, ‘How long?’ And he said he wanted the first shot to be really long. And I said, ‘You mean, 40 seconds?’ ‘No, 17 minutes.’ So it ends up the film only has 156 shots in the entire two-hour movie, many of them six, eight, 10 minutes long.

“But the moment we went to work prevising this, we went into shot production. We were prevising shots and the assets we were building digitally and the angles we were creating in the camera, we were virtually committing to during that process. But when we began to bring in both the production designer [Andy Nicholson] and the DP [Emmanuel Lubezki], we realized that we were committing to many things, not just shot design but lighting, direction, every prop, every single doorway, every single distance so that when we shot somebody’s eyes, they were converging at the right distance point. And we had a myriad of tools to deal with that. But we didn’t create the virtual world and let the live action drive what was ultimately going to be the shot. We actually created the shot and then made the live action work within it.”

The conference was presented by the 5D Institute in association with the USC School of Cinematic Arts and Autodesk.


Going Upside Down at 5D | FLUX

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

As part of this week’s three-day 5D | FLUX conference at USC about World Building (presented by the 5D Institute in association with the USC School of Cinematic Arts and Autodesk), production designer Alex McDowell discussed his work on the fascinating indie, Upside Down, a futuristic Romeo and Juliet love story in which Jim Sturgess and Kirsten Dunst are not only separated by class but also by space. The two worlds have their own gravitational pulls but are on top of one another.

5D creative director McDowell (Man of Steel), who’s always been drawn to stories with strong social strata, explained the flow of World Building: Inception (in which the world is developed), Prototyping (in which it is tested and visualized), Manufacturing (in which it is produced and captured), and Finishing (in which it is completed in post and experienced).

McDowell suggested that Upside Down (directed by Juan Diego Solanas) offered the perfect opportunity to test this workflow while also being a definite design challenge. “In order to work within this relatively low-budget film, a convincing way of understanding the world, building backwards here, starting with models and then painting over the models, allows you to really look at the experience of the world, even in Photoshop,” he explained.

They looked locations in Montreal for converting into spaces that could be built up or down. “The set that we built allowed characters to be composited on the ceiling,” McDowell added. “The really complicated thing here was eye line: How do you actually track the eye lines between characters that are performing in two different spaces and have to interact with each other?

They used a real camera connected in real-time to a slave remote camera with a motion control unit receiving the data from the encoders, with a computer calculating both video signals composited in real-time to allow one frame per image… Some really interesting, complex solutions to this film played out with a d-vis process to get the eye lines to connect and to be able to build these two sets that had to be stitched together.”

Man of Steel’s S Discussed at 5D | FLUX

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in 3-D, Animation, Below the Line, Education, Events, Movies, Production Design, Tech, VFX, Videogames, Virtual Production | 2 Comments

This week’s three-day 5D | FLUX conference at USC (presented by the  5D Institute in association with the USC School of Cinematic Arts and Autodesk) offered informative discussions about the new paradigm for World Building and virtual production. Among the highlights was the revelation Tuesday night concerning the mythology of Superman’s iconic S in Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel by costume designer Michael Wilkinson.

Wilkinson explained that since they created a “neo-medieval” back story for Krypton (which included the creation of a new language), it made sense to utilize the suit design as part of the mythology. “Everyone on Krypton wears this suit,” he suggested. Using ZBrush and rapid prototyping, Wilkinson came up the blue/gray color and chainmail look. “It has function and purpose and a logic to this fantastical world,” he added.

Wilkinson spoke as part of the Tuesday night panel discussion about Inception (imagining and developing the world). He was joined by production designer Rick Carter (Avatar, War Horse, Lincoln), Autodesk fellow Tom Wujec (who gave a separate presentation about the state of digital design for cars, shoes, virtual cities, and how creativity is trying to keep up with new technology), and writer/producer Rick Jaffa (Rise of the Planet of the Apes), who is busy scripting a sequel that will further the Moses story about Caesar.

Carter said he wished that World Building would go away as a territorial battle and offered a higher philosophical discussion about world and story melding together as cause and effect. He espoused Jung in describing Avatar as “The Wizard of Oz meets Apocalypse Now” or “EKG meets MRI.”