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.


Rango Grabs 5 Annies

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in 3-D, Animation, Annies, Below the Line, Editing, Events, Movies, Music, Production Design, Shorts, stop-motion, Tech, VFX, Virtual Production | Leave a comment

Rango was the top winner at last night’s Annie Awards from ASIFA-Hollywood at UCLA’s Royce Hall. The surreal lizard comedy directed by Gore Verbinski and animated by ILM nabbed five awards, including best animated feature. But the wealth was spread around quite evenly, with eight films splitting the 12 feature awards, including two for DreamWorks’ Kung Fu Panda 2, (such as best director for Jennifer Yuh Nelson); and two for Steven Spielberg’s The Adventures of Tintin, animated by Weta Digital.

It was a surreal evening hosted by Patton Oswalt (Remy from Ratatouille), who quipped his way during scripted and unscripted moments, such as when the wrong envelope was opened for one of the TV winners. There was even fun parody of Oswald’s Young Adult with Remy.

Winnie the Pooh, Rio and Arthur Christmas each received one award, as did the live-action films Transformers: Dark of the Moon and Rise of the Planet of the Apes, which were honored for animated elements.

Rango also won the new Members’ Favorite Award, which is voted on by the entire ASIFA-Hollywood membership, including student and affiliate members. The other awards are chosen by select committees of professionals in the field.

As far as the TV categories, The Simpsons was named Best General Audience Animated TV Production, while Disney’s Prep & Landing: Naughty vs. Nice won four awards. Other TV winners included The Amazing World of Gumball, Disney Jake and the Never Land Pirates, Secret Mountain Fort Awesome and The Penguins of Madagascar. In one of the biggest surprises, Adam and Dog by Minkyu Lee took the short award over the National Film Board of Canada’s Sunday and Wild Life.



Best Animated Feature
Rango – Paramount Pictures and Nickelodeon Movies present A Blind Wink/GK Films Production

Annie Award for Best Animated Special Production
Kung Fu Panda – Secrets of the Masters – DreamWorks Animation

Best Animated Short Subject
Adam and Dog – Minkyu Lee

Best Animated Television Commercial
Twinings “Sea” – Psyop

Best General Audience Animated TV Production
The Simpsons – Gracie Films

Best Animated Television Production – Preschool
Disney Jake and the Never Land Pirates – Disney Television Animation

Best Animated Video Game
Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet – Shadow Planet Productions, Gagne/Fuelcell


Animated Effects in an Animated Production
Kevin Romond “Tintin” – Amblin Entertainment, Wingnut Films and Kennedy/Marshall

Animated Effects in a Live Action Production
Florent Andorra “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” – Industrial Light & Magic

Character Animation in a Television Production
Tony Smeed “Prep & Landing: Naughty vs. Nice” – Walt Disney Animation Studios

Character Animation in a Feature Production
Jeff Gabor “Rio” – Blue Sky Studios

Character Animation in a Live Action Production
Eric Reynolds “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” – 20th Century Fox

Character Design in a Television Production
Bill Schwab “Prep & Landing: Naughty vs. Nice” – Walt Disney Animation Studios

Character Design in a Feature Production
Mark “Crash” McCreery “Rango” – Paramount Pictures and Nickelodeon Movies present A Blind Wink/GK Films Production

Directing in a Television Production
Matthew Nastuk “The Simpsons” – Gracie Films

Directing in a Feature Production
Jennifer Yuh Nelson “Kung Fu Panda 2” – DreamWorks Animation

Music in a Television Production
Grace Potter, Michael Giacchino “Prep & Landing: Naughty vs. Nice” – Walt Disney Animation Studios

Music in a Feature Production
John Williams “Tintin” – Amblin Entertainment, Wingnut Films and Kennedy/Marshall

Production Design in a Television Production
Mark Bodnar, Chris Tsirgiotis, Sue Mondt and Daniel Elson “Secret Mountain Fort Awesome” – Cartoon Network Studios

Production Design in a Feature Production
Raymond Zibach “Kung Fu Panda 2” – DreamWorks Animation

Storyboarding in a Television Production
Brian Kesinger “Prep & Landing: Naughty vs. Nice” – Walt Disney Animation Studios

Storyboarding in a Feature Production
Jeremy Spears “Winnie The Pooh” – Walt Disney Animation Studios

Voice Acting in a Television Production
Jeff Bennett as Kowalski “Penguins of Madagascar” – Nickelodeon and DreamWorks Animation

Voice Acting in a Feature Production
Bill Nighy as Grandsanta “Arthur Christmas” – Sony Pictures Animation, Aardman Animations

Writing in a Television Production
Carolyn Omine “The Simpsons -Treehouse of Horror XXII” – Gracie Films

Writing in a Feature Production
John Logan, Gore Verbinski and James Byrkit “Rango” – Paramount Pictures and Nickelodeon Movies present A Blind Wink/GK Films Productions

Editing in Television Production
Ted Machold, Jeff Adams, Doug Tiano, Bob Tomlin “Penguins of Madagascar” – Nickelodeon and DreamWorks Animation

Editing in a Feature Production
Craig Wood, A.C.E. “Rango” – Paramount Pictures and Nickelodeon Movies present
A Blind Wink/GK Films Production


Winsor McCay Award —Walt Peregoy, Borge Ring, Ronald Searle
June Foray — Art Leonardi
Special Achievement — Depth Analysis

FMX 2012 Announces Speakers

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

FMX 2012, the 17th conference on Animation, Effects, Games, and Transmedia will take place May 8-11 in Stuttgart, Germany, with Autodesk as the first official partner, and such speakers as Transmedia pioneer Henry Jenkins, Nuno Bernardo, and Marek Koterski. Immersed in Movies is proud to be a media partner and I will be attending for the first time, and look forward to blogging about the presentations.

Jenkins will provide a Transmedia overview, and Bernardo (founder of beActive) will discuss his very own interactive on-line series Sofia’s Diary — the first international series of its kind — in a track curated by Inga von Staden.

Cloud computing trends will be a hot topic, curated by Ludwig von Reiche, senior director for business development of NVIDIA.

There will be a focus on Canada, Poland, and the Baltics, including a presentation of Marek Koterski’s film Baby sa jakies inne executed by the post-production house The Chimney Pot.

AMPAS to Go Electronic for 85th Oscar Voting

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in Below the Line, Events, Movies, Oscar | Leave a comment

The AMPAS has entered into an agreement with Everyone Counts Inc. to exclusively develop an electronic voting system for the 85th Academy Awards, to be held in 2013.

Everyone Counts will work with PwC, the Academy’s accounting firm of record, whose role in tabulating Academy members’ votes will remain unchanged. Over the next year, the Academy will undertake a rigorous security and user-acceptance testing process.

“This is the first of many steps that we’ll be taking toward developing a secure and convenient electronic voting system, beginning with next year’s ballot,” said Academy COO Ric Robertson. “We’re excited to have found great partners in the people who do this best.”

The selection of Everyone Counts is the result of an 18-month search conducted by the Academy. The company is internationally recognized for its expertise in election administration and computer security and its voting platform is a global leader in the election industry. Built into its technology and processes are multiple layers of security that include military-grade encryption techniques. The company’s other clients include the United States Department of Defense; the United Kingdom’s Ministry of Justice; the state of New South Wales, Australia; and the states of Oregon, Florida, and Washington.

“We are honored to have earned the trust of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in bringing online voting to the Oscars starting next year,” said Lori Steele, chairman and CEO of Everyone Counts Inc. “Our company was founded to set a new standard of security, accessibility, and transparency in elections. We’re proud to be working with the Academy, an organization that also represents the highest standards in its field.”

“We look forward to working with Everyone Counts for next year’s 85th Academy Awards and beyond,” said Brad Oltmanns, balloting leader, PwC. “We are excited about the new electronic voting system, which will enable us to conduct the tabulation process with the same high level of precision, trust and integrity that we have for the past 78 years.”

Meanwhile, the Academy has launched “Celebrate the Movies,” a digital exhibition spotlighting iconic moments from 84 films, which will appear on billboards and showcased on an online gallery on Images will debut in groups of 20 within the next two weeks. The 84 films represented span eight decades, beginning with Bride of Frankenstein (1935) and culminating in Avatar (2009). The exhibition highlights all of Hollywood’s major genres, as well as independent, animated, foreign-language, and documentary films.

VFX Oscar Nominee Real Steel Goes Blu

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in Animation, Blu-ray, Clips, Events, Home Entertainment, Movies, Tech, Virtual Production | Leave a comment

Good timing: the same day that Real Steel was nominated for the VFX Oscar on Tuesday, the father/son boxing bot drama starring Hugh Jackman was released  in a two-disc Blu-ray/DVD combo set by Disney Home Ent. The better to appreciate the virtual production breakthrough by Digital Domain and Giant Studios. The Shawn Levy-directed movie not only looks and sounds great but also contains a slew of extras, including deleted and extended scenes and Building the Bots, among other featurettes.

Real Steel takes the Simulcam developed for Avatar and puts it into a real world setting for the next advancement in virtual production. Giant Studios, under the leadership of Matt Maden, the virtual production technical supervisor, came up with a new system for a new paradigm.

“It really worked beautifully for us with production and with Digital Domain,” Madden suggests. “We spent the time upfront figuring out how the pieces would fit together and how we would communicate. It’s a model we’re going to be referring to time and time again moving forward.”

Unlike previs, Giant knew they we were ultimately going to be delivering a form of the movie back to DD in a game-level quality in terms of rendering. But the action itself was going to be fairly close to final, with the exception of the additional animation layer and effects that they would be putting on top of it with the electronics and liquids and ripping metal.

But Giant significantly took the Simulcam process of simultaneous CG display to the next level. It wasn’t just cranes and dollies; there was quite an extensive use of steadicam. But it required Giant to have a system that was robust enough to record this fast-moving, dynamic camera action.

According to Digital Domain’s Erik Nash, the production VFX supervisor, previs was achieved completely through real time interactive means in which Levy was in the ring with the boxing performers, directing them as he would human boxers, and then was able to come up with his camera moves in a very hands-on way.

“So heading to Detroit we brought the motion capture technology with us, but, unlike Avatar, we were putting our synthetic characters into the real world,” Nash explains. “We were able to make the boxing robots visible to the camera operator and to Sean on his monitor. We now have plates that are photographed as if the robots are there.

“So the efficiency is huge, but, to me, the reason for taking this technology and pushing it to the next level was to attain a grittier and more visceral experience.

But the motion capture was only a foundation for the performance. Because of the two-foot scale difference between the real actors and the CG robots, all of the data prior to virtual camera and the Simulcam process in Detroit slowed down 10%. “We did that to help sell the weight, size and mass of the robots,” Nash offers. And then once that data was turned over to the animators at DD, the process had several phases: to attain the robotic nature of the characters, they addressed the fidelity with which motion capture records all of the subtle nuances of human motion by developing tools to filter the MoCap data. Then there was a lot of keyframing to heighten the action and make some of the movement less fluid. There’s always inaccuracy when you have two CG characters making contact with each other. Plus the MoCap actors didn’t actually hit each other as hard as the CG robots needed to, so they sped up punches, hardened the punch impact and exaggerated the reactions.

Oscar Nominations Full of Surprises

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in 3-D, Animation, Below the Line, Blu-ray, Books, Cinematography, Costume, Editing, Events, Home Entertainment, Movies, Music, Oscar, performance capture, Production Design, Shorts, Tech, VFX, Virtual Production | Leave a comment

Is it a three-way race for best picture between The Artist, Hugo, and The Descendants? Or really a two-way race between either The Artist and The Descendants or The Artist and Hugo? Hard to tell, but Hugo nabbed 11 nominations and The Artist 10 as the AMPAS announced the nominations for the 84th Academy Awards. But with the DGA honoring The Artist’s Michel Hazanavicius Saturday night, is there anything standing in the way of the black-and-white silent ode to Hollywood taking best picture?

The biggest surprise was that there were actually nine nominees for best picture instead of six or seven, as anticipated: Joining The Artist, The Descendants, and Hugo were Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, The Help, Midnight in Paris, Moneyball, The Tree of Life, and War Horse. No real surprises as far as the choices. They’re all solid.

The five best director nominees were Hazanavicius for The Artist, Alexander Payne for The Descendants, Martin Scorsese for Hugo, Woody Allen for Midnight in Paris, and Terrence Malick for The Tree of Life. Could there be a split between best picture and best director?

With A Better Life’s Demián Bichir somewhat unexpectedly joining the best actor race, this one becomes a lot more interesting with George Clooney from The Descendants (the favorite), Jean Dujardin from The Artist, Gary Oldman from Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, and Brad Pitt from Moneyball.

How about the spellbinding Rooney Mara from The Dragon Tattoo upsetting the heavily favored Meryl Streep from The Iron Lady for best actress? Or does this one really belong to Viola Davis from The Help? Don’t forget the gender-bending Glenn Close from Albert Nobbs and the beguiling Michelle Williams from My Week with Marilyn. This has to be the most competitive category.

Then there’s Moneyball’s Jonah Hill beating out Drive’s Albert Brooks for a best supporting actor nomination. Does The Beginner’s Christopher Plummer still take the Oscar? Or is The Fighter’s Nick Nolte the dark horse? But what about the nostalgia choice of Max von Sydow from Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close?

Melissa McCarthy from Bridesmaids makes the best supporting actress award a lot more interesting as well. She joins Bérénice Bejo from The Artist, Jessica Chastain from The Help, Janet McTee from Albert Nobbs, and Octavia Spencer from The Help.

Best original screenplay is a lot more fascinating with the surprising Bridesmaids (Annie Mumolo & Kristen Wig), Margin Call (J.C. Chandor), and A Separation (Asghar Farhadi) joining The Artist (Hazanavicius) and Midnight in Paris (Allen). Wouldn’t it be something if Bridesmaids pulled this one out?

Adapted screenplay honors also offered its surprises with The Descendants (Payne and Nat Faxon & Jim Rash), Hugo (John Logan), The Ides of March (Clooney & Grant Heslova and Beau Willimon), Moneyball (Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin, story by Stan Chervin), and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (Bridget O’Connor & Peter Straughan).

The most surprising category of all? Animated feature in which two hand-drawn European indies, A Cat in Paris and Chico & Rita edged out Pixar’s Cars 2 and Steven Spielberg’s The Adventures of Tintin. Score one for the traditionalists. Still, they could’ve gone for Winnie the Pooh to lend a helping hand to Disney’s endangered 2D legacy. And this is the first time that Pixar’s been shut out of a nomination. Rango’s still the heavy favorite, which opens a one-week run on Friday at the ArcLight Hollywood. DreamWorks scored two nominations with Kung Fu Panda 2 and Puss in Boots, proving that emotional storytelling’s definitely on the rise over there.

Animated short nominees ranged from Pixar’s La Luna to The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore, A Morning Stroll (also honored at Sundance), and The National Film Board of Canada’s Sunday and Wild Life. Although this one is also wide open, I think La Luna might have the edge but don’t count out Wild Life or A Morning Stroll.

The VFX Oscar probably belongs to Weta’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes for the emotionally stirring CG Caesar. However, it was joined by the character-driven Transformers: Dark of the Moon and Real Steel (which beat out the favored Captain America:The First Avenger) and the completely inventive Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 and Hugo.

Best Picture

  • “The Artist” Thomas Langmann, Producer
  • “The Descendants” Jim Burke, Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor, Producers
  • “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close” Scott Rudin, Producer
  • “The Help” Brunson Green, Chris Columbus and Michael Barnathan, Producers
  • “Hugo” Graham King and Martin Scorsese, Producers
  • “Midnight in Paris” Letty Aronson and Stephen Tenenbaum, Producers
  • “Moneyball” Michael De Luca, Rachael Horovitz and Brad Pitt, Producers
  • “The Tree of Life” Nominees to be determined
  • “War Horse Steven Spielberg and Kathleen Kennedy, Producers


  • “The Artist” Michel Hazanavicius
  • “The Descendants” Alexander Payne
  • “Hugo” Martin Scorsese
  • “Midnight in Paris” Woody Allen
  • “The Tree of Life” Terrence Malick

Actor in a Leading Role

  • Demián Bichir in “A Better Life”
  • George Clooney in “The Descendants”
  • Jean Dujardin in “The Artist”
  • Gary Oldman in “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy”
  • Brad Pitt in “Moneyball”

Actor in a Supporting Role

  • Kenneth Branagh in “My Week with Marilyn”
  • Jonah Hill in “Moneyball”
  • Nick Nolte in “Warrior”
  • Christopher Plummer in “Beginners”
  • Max von Sydow in “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close”

Actress in a Leading Role

  • Glenn Close in “Albert Nobbs”
  • Viola Davis in “The Help”
  • Rooney Mara in “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”
  • Meryl Streep in “The Iron Lady”
  • Michelle Williams in “My Week with Marilyn”

Actress in a Supporting Role

  • Bérénice Bejo in “The Artist”
  • Jessica Chastain in “The Help”
  • Melissa McCarthy in “Bridesmaids”
  • Janet McTeer in “Albert Nobbs”
  • Octavia Spencer in “The Help”

Animated Feature Film

  • “A Cat in Paris” Alain Gagnol and Jean-Loup Felicioli
  • “Chico & Rita” Fernando Trueba and Javier Mariscal
  • “Kung Fu Panda 2″ Jennifer Yuh Nelson
  • “Puss in Boots” Chris Miller
  • “Rango” Gore Verbinski

Art Direction

  • “The Artist” Production Design: Laurence Bennett; Set Decoration: Robert Gould
  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 Production Design: Stuart Craig; Set Decoration: Stephenie McMillan
  • “Hugo” Production Design: Dante Ferretti; Set Decoration: Francesca Lo Schiavo
  • “Midnight in Paris” Production Design: Anne Seibel; Set Decoration: Hélène Dubreuil
  • “War Horse” Production Design: Rick Carter; Set Decoration: Lee Sandales


  • “The Artist” Guillaume Schiffman
  • “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” Jeff Cronenweth
  • “Hugo” Robert Richardson
  • “The Tree of Life” Emmanuel Lubezki
  • “War Horse” Janusz Kaminski

Costume Design

  • “Anonymous” Lisy Christl
  • “The Artist” Mark Bridges
  • “Hugo” Sandy Powell
  • “Jane Eyre” Michael O’Connor
  • “W.E.” Arianne Phillips

Documentary (Feature)

  • “Hell and Back Again” Danfung Dennis and Mike Lerner
  • “If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front” Marshall Curry and Sam Cullman
  • “Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory” Charles Ferguson and Audrey Marrs
  • “Pina” Wim Wenders and Gian-Piero Ringel
  • “Undefeated” TJ Martin, Dan Lindsay and Richard Middlemas

Documentary (Short Subject)

  • “The Barber of Birmingham: Foot Soldier of the Civil Rights Movement” Robin Fryday and Gail Dolgin
  • “God Is the Bigger Elvis” Rebecca Cammisa and Julie Anderson
  • “Incident in New Baghdad”James Spione
  • “Saving Face” Daniel Junge and Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy
  • “The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom” Lucy Walker and Kira Carstensen

Film Editing

  • “The Artist” Anne-Sophie Bion and Michel Hazanavicius
  • “The Descendants” Kevin Tent
  • “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” Kirk Baxter and Angus Wall
  • “Hugo” Thelma Schoonmaker
  • “Moneyball” Christopher Tellefsen

Foreign Language Film

  • “Bullhead” Belgium
  • “Footnote” Israel
  • “In Darkness” Poland
  • “Monsieur Lazhar” Canada
  • “A Separation” Iran


  • “Albert Nobbs” Martial Corneville, Lynn Johnston and Matthew W. Mungle
  • “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2″ Edouard F. Henriques, Gregory Funk and Yolanda Toussieng
  • “The Iron Lady” Mark Coulier and J. Roy Helland

Music (Original Score)

  • “The Adventures of Tintin” John Williams
  • “The Artist” Ludovic Bource
  • “Hugo” Howard Shore
  • “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” Alberto Iglesias
  • “War Horse” John Williams

Music (Original Song)

  • “Man or Muppet” from “The Muppets” Music and Lyric by Bret McKenzie
  • “Real in Rio” from “Rio” Music by Sergio Mendes and Carlinhos Brown Lyric by Siedah Garrett

Short Film (Animated)

  • “Dimanche/Sunday” Patrick Doyon
  • “The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore” William Joyce and Brandon Oldenburg
  • “La Luna” Enrico Casarosa
  • “A Morning Stroll” Grant Orchard and Sue Goffe
  • “Wild Life” Amanda Forbis and Wendy Tilby

Short Film (Live Action)

  • “Pentecost” Peter McDonald and Eimear O’Kane
  • “Raju” Max Zähle and Stefan Gieren
  • “The Shore” Terry George and Oorlagh George
  • “Time Freak” Andrew Bowler and Gigi Causey
  • “Tuba Atlantic” Hallvar Witzø

Sound Editing

  • “Drive” Lon Bender and Victor Ray Ennis
  • “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” Ren Klyce
  • “Hugo” Philip Stockton and Eugene Gearty
  • “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” Ethan Van der Ryn and Erik Aadahl
  • “War Horse” Richard Hymns and Gary Rydstrom

Sound Mixing

  • “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” David Parker, Michael Semanick, Ren Klyce and Bo Persson
  • “Hugo” Tom Fleischman and John Midgley
  • “Moneyball” Deb Adair, Ron Bochar, Dave Giammarco and Ed Novick
  • “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” Greg P. Russell, Gary Summers, Jeffrey J. Haboush and Peter J. Devlin
  • “War Horse” Gary Rydstrom, Andy Nelson, Tom Johnson and Stuart Wilson

Visual Effects

  • “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2″ Tim Burke, David Vickery, Greg Butler and John Richardson
  • “Hugo” Rob Legato, Joss Williams, Ben Grossman and Alex Henning
  • “Real Steel” Erik Nash, John Rosengrant, Dan Taylor and Swen Gillberg
  • “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” Joe Letteri, Dan Lemmon, R. Christopher White and Daniel Barrett
  • “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” Scott Farrar, Scott Benza, Matthew Butler and John Frazier

Writing (Adapted Screenplay)

  • “The Descendants” Screenplay by Alexander Payne and Nat Faxon & Jim Rash
  • “Hugo” Screenplay by John Logan
  • “The Ides of March” Screenplay by George Clooney & Grant Heslov and Beau Willimon
  • “Moneyball” Screenplay by Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin. Story by Stan Chervin
  • “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” Screenplay by Bridget O’Connor & Peter Straughan

Writing (Original Screenplay)

  • “The Artist” Written by Michel Hazanavicius
  • “Bridesmaids” Written by Annie Mumolo & Kristen Wiig
  • “Margin Call” Written by J.C. Chandor
  • “Midnight in Paris” Written by Woody Allen
  • “A Separation” Written by Asghar Farhadi

Experimenting with the VFX Bakeoff

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

The AMPAS experimented with 10 VFX bakeoff entries on Thursday night, which was met with mixed results. While it made better sense to expand the field from seven to 10, trimming the demos from 15 minutes to 10 was a hard adjustment for some. In addition, for the first time, there was a mix-up when the wrong file was used for the Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 demo reel. Fortunately, the error was eventually rectified and the complete reel was screened at the end.

As always, it’s a lot more effective when the VFX is tied to a central character that’s animated and offers an emotional hook. And that’s usually what wins the Oscar. Thus, Weta’s senior VFX supervisor Joe Letteri gave an informative and succinct explanation of the extraordinary CG Caesar in Rise of the Planet of the Apes, the front runner: the new active LEDs for on set motion capture; a new model for the eyes; new fur system; and a new facial muscle system to handle all the dynamic simulations on top of the animation.

However, ILM’s presentation for Transformers: Dark of the Moon was also impressive, as VFX production supervisor Scott Farrar regaled the committee with facts and figures pertaining to the improved animation and the relentless demolition and the challenges of making it all work while shooting in 3-D.

Arguably, the best demo reel was for Real Steel, which involved a breakthrough virtual production system by Digital Domain and Giant Studios. VFX production supervisor Erik Nash explained how the system was instrumental in enabling the production to shoot the movie in 71 days with no second unit. Shooting with the Simulcam on set with MoCap actors resulted in a more visceral viewing experience when replaced with the animation for the boxing bots.

We’ll find out the five nominees on Tuesday, but I’m still going with Apes, Transformers, Potter, Captain America, and Hugo.

Morning Stroll Short Earns BAFTA Nom

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

A Morning Stroll from studio aka (The BAFTA-winning Lost and Found) earned a BAFTA nomination for animated short. Based on a true story, A Morning Stroll follows a seemingly random encounter between a New York pedestrian and a chicken. The other nominees for animated short are: Abuelas (Afarin Eghbal, Kasia Malipan, Francesca Gardiner) and Bobby Yeah (Robert Morgan).

“I found out this morning and scared my wife and kids with my over the top reaction,” said director Grant Orchard. “It ruined breakfast. To get any kind of positive feedback after working on a film for so long is good, but to get a BAFTA nomination is insanely good for the soul.”

“I am immensely proud and delighted to hear that A Morning Stroll has been nominated for the BAFTA Short Animation film award,” added producer Sue Goffe. “Congratulations to Grant and all the crew! This film took over two years to make, had no funding and some rather bumpy moments along the way, so to see that the film is receiving so many accolades is incredibly heartwarming.”
A Morning Stroll will play in competition at Sundance starting Thursday:
Other BAFTA nominees include:
Best Film: The Artist, The Descendants, Drive, The Help, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy
Best Animated Film: The Adventures of Tintin, Arthur Christmas, Rango
Special Visual Effects: The Adventures of Tintin, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows — Part 2, Hugo, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, War Horse

Ferreras Talks Wrinkles

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

Another Oscar-contending indie, Arrugas (Wrinkles), based on Paco Roca’s comic, concerns two friends in a retirement home where one tries to keep the other out of the dreaded Alzheimer’s ward. Director Ignacio Ferreras discussed his 2D-animated Spanish feature via email.

This seems like the perfect follow-up to your short, How to Cope with Death. How did you come to make it?

This project chose me rather than me choosing it. The producer Manuel Cristobal found the graphic-novel, found me, and brought the two of us together — ironically, I don’t think Manuel had How to Cope with Death in mind when he thought of me for this project, but other work which is not really connected to the theme of aging. I don’t know, maybe I’m just destined to make films about this subject.

Working on Wrinkles, I was trying to make a film I would like to watch as an audience; I don’t think you can make a film any other way. I also think that all good films deal with a universal theme — that is precisely what makes them good films, that they take a story, perhaps a very local story, and turn it into something with universal appeal. It’s the great power of cinematographic language: it cuts across cultures.

Describe the collaboration process with Paco Roca in terms of working out the story beats and the design.

Paco Roca did all the character designs and I, together with animation supervisor Baltasar Pedrosa, simply went over them to make sure they were as animation friendly as possible. In all aspects of design we were always trying to stay close to the graphic-novel and to Paco’s style.

The structure of the film and the development of the sequences is something I did together with my wife Rosanna Cecchini from our home in Scotland in relative isolation. We divided the film in three acts and we would try to more or less work the animatic for one whole act before showing it to other people. Paco would then see one complete act of the animatic and would tell me what he thought, suggest changes, pass me additional material for the dialogs, etc.

What was it like animating your first feature? What was hardest? What was most enjoyable? What was it like assembling and working with your voice cast?

I already had some experience working in feature films both as an animator and as a storyboard artist so I had some idea of what I could expect as a director… a lot of stress. The production of Wrinkles had the additional difficulty of being split in different locations, with me working mostly from Scotland, so efficient communication was a big challenge. On the other hand, that also had its advantages: it made our working hours more flexible and it allowed us to work with people who could not have possibly relocated to a single location to work on the film. It also allowed the director to have his nervous breakdowns in the privacy of his own home rather than in the studio — I’m sure that was better for the morale of the team.

There was also the issue that the original version of the film is in Galician, which I don’t speak, so I was working with a Castilian version which then had to be translated, although luckily the length of the phrases is roughly equivalent in both languages.

We had decided from the beginning that we would animate using a temp track and then record the final voices as a dub over the final image. This was necessary in order to fit a one-year long storyboarding process into a two-and-a-half year production; animation had to start on one act while I was still storyboarding and finalizing the dialogue for the following acts, and we did not want to split the voice recordings into three sessions separated by several months. We relied on the fact that in Spain there are actors with a lot of dubbing experience and when the time came they didn’t disappoint. Their work, which was done in very difficult circumstances as we were behind schedule and didn’t have final image for the entire film when they started recording, was extraordinary. All credit should go to the actors and to Charo Pena who directed the recording sessions, they practically didn’t need any input from me. I also had the help of Angel de la Cruz who is a Galician speaker, since the original version was done in Galician.

What pleases you most about the movie and the response toward it as an adult drama that just happens to be animated?

Well, you’ve just said it: it is an adult drama that just happens to be animated. That’s what pleases me the most, that people recognize it as such. So far people who have watched Wrinkles have responded very well to the fact that it is an animated drama. I think it shows that the two things, animation and drama, can go hand in hand and that animation need not be limited to certain stories or a particular narrative formula.

Editor Claire Simpson Talks ELIC

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in Below the Line, Editing, Events, Movies, Oscar, Tech, Trailers | Leave a comment

One of the most intricately structured Oscar contenders, Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, was totally dependent on cathartically conveying the aftermath of 9/11 — in particular, the sensitive portrayal of nine-year-old Oskar (played by newcomer Thomas Horn). I recently had an illuminating email exchange with editor Claire Simpson (Academy Award winner for Platoon) about the challenges of the film.

You previously worked with director Stephen Daldry on The Reader. What has your collaboration been like?

Stephen’s pioneering work has been primarily in theatre. He is very meticulous about text and performance. Since these are the areas that I am most comfortable, I find it really exciting and enjoyable to work with him. He uses a late Stanislavski technique when creating a scene with the actors, which revolves around action and intention. He likes to see a cut of a scene as soon as possible while he is shooting just in case he needs to modify or rethink the dynamics. It requires working very fast and understanding the nuances of the text. There is a constant dialog between us and because I had already worked with him on The Reader, we had developed a very honest and straight forward rapport

What were his priorities about what we should and shouldn’t see about 9/11 as well as Oskar’s tricky portaryal?

Oskar, our young protagonist, has a condition bordering on Asperger’s syndrome, which is on the autism spectrum. His behavior is very particular: obsessive, compulsive; highly intelligent but without social skill, which sometimes make his interactions inappropriate. Before principal photography began, Stephen and his team researched the available studies on Asperger’s syndrome and were very well versed in the behavioral patterns and symptoms. Oskar is not an easily accessible child and his way of processing information is through rigorous analysis as opposed to empathetic evaluation. Paradoxically, his imagination is so fertile it generates paranoia and fear of everyday things. This is exacerbated by the loss of his Dad [Tom Hanks]. Given the nature of his father’s death in the WTC on 9/11, which is still so raw to us, one had to be very careful that there was authenticity to both character and events and that 9/11 should never be a background but a principal player. We were very sensitive to the feelings of the relatives of those who perished that day and we had many discussions with both support groups of the families and many of the families themselves, as to what they felt was appropriate and honest.

What was it like balancing the emotional needs with the reality of the events depicted? 

The biggest challenge was how much of the actual news footage from 9/11, if any, to include in the film and whether or not to use the image of “the falling man.” The content of the answer machine messages was also a matter of concern. Some viewers and critics have found the use of these images prurient.  We had early private screenings for some families who had a child or parent killed in WTC and for some support groups of these families. All without exception had insisted that we not shy away from using these images. One sibling told of hearing a prayer group in the background of his brother;s final message. A mother spoke of the generosity and thoughtfulness for his friends and family that her son had shown at the hour of his death. Others spoke of the fear and panic. One gentleman, whose son had died, heartbreakingly described the effects on his grandson. Many of the children of the victims obsess about whether there parent was “a jumper”; they examine photographs downloaded from the internet.. And those who had no recovered body to bury, which is the vast majority, are left to imagine the unimaginable. In the child, Oskar, we tried to express the pain of that catastrophic loss, in particular. Grief is universal. if we can understand the legacy of pain from this kind of catastrophic event then perhaps we will be less willing to allow it to be repeated anywhere.

Talk about balancing the fictional aspects of the story with the real events.

Obviously, the idea that a child would find a lock for a key in a metropolitan area as big as New York is pretty farfetched and so the impulse is to make the search as interesting as possible without portraying New York as a city populated by ridiculously colorful eccentrics and therefore removing any sense of reality from the boys journey. So there is a delicate balancing act between “magical realism” and the emotional force of the narrative that the real events evoke. The events are told through the perspective of an emotionally challenged child who has lost his father, mentor, and guide through life in a catastrophic event. Oskar’s mother struggles through her own grief to take care of him but the relationship does not have the same symbiotic dynamic as father and son.

There is a scene where Oskar has locked his mother out of the bathroom. She knocks on the door begging to be let in. Oskar asks her why she wants to come in and she answers from behind the glass, “To tell you that I love you.” There is a companion scene to this where Oskar, after leaving the apartment, whispers, “I love you,” on the other side of the door where his mom is standing.  She has broken down in tears but he cannot hear her and is left to speculate on what her reaction might be. So you have two scenes about two people who are so emotionally broken that they are incapable of reaching each other. This culminates in a heartbreaking fight between them where Oskar, expressing his anger at the incoherent tragedy, declares, “I wish it were you, I wish it were you in the building instead of him,” and she responds, “So do I!” Sandra Bullock is masterful in these scenes. In a very restrained performance, she bravely portrays a mother who seems cold and remote, but it pays off in the end because it enables her to have an incredibly powerful scene of reconciliation at the end of the film.

What was the post process like?

We entered production with a very long script. To try and consolidate the story into a reasonable length and maintain the integrity of the script was very challenging. Fortunately, I had worked with Stephen before and we work very quickly turning over ideas and the performances were all really tight. Thomas Horn was extraordinary. He could sustain his performance through a five minute take and I never had to stitch together a scene. His focus and intensity were ever present. We use montage as a short cut in telling the story of the journey and meeting “The Blacks.” There are also a lot of flashbacks because the story revolves around memory and how we restructure events in our brain.

It came down to the wire right before the Christmas release.

Sandra Bullock’s scenes were the first to be shot because of her availability. There is a scene where she is looking through Oskar’s expedition diary, which has photographs of the people Oskar meets on his quest. But those scenes had not been shot yet. Indeed, many of the people whom Oskar was to encounter had not even been cast at that point. The book was compiled at the end of production and we shot inserts of Oskar making the book and inserts of it’s content when Thomas Horn came to New York to record his ADR

What are your favorite moments?

Working with Max Von Sydow was one of the best moments of my career. He was so generous in his performance and had such great comic timing. He played The Renter with such delicacy. First of all he doesn’t speak and so all the communication is by written notes and gestures. There is some editorial ellipsis necessary when writing the notes to reduce screen time and he had “Yes” tattooed on his left hand and “No” tattooed on his right hand which provided a kind of semaphore.

Tintin Takes Golden Globe for Animation

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in 3-D, Animation, Events, Movies, Music, performance capture, Tech, Virtual Production | Leave a comment

Steven Spielberg’s The Adventures of Tintin took the Golden Globe for best animated feature tonight in Los Angeles. Backstage, Spielberg said animation “gives you so much room to hang yourself with,” reports TOH’s Anne Thompson. “It can get complex with lighting and choreography, can change entire sequences, it’s a malleable art form. It’s like a painter, very personal with a canvas, even with 400 animators. After Peter does Tintin 2, I hope I get to do the third one.” He likened Tintin to a Hope/Crosby film.

Meanwhile, in the dramatic categories: The Descendants nabbed best picture honors with George Clooney winning best actor. Martin Scorsese won best director for Hugo; Meryl Streep took home best actress for The Iron Lady; Christopher Plummer earned best supporting actor for Beginners; and Octavia Spencer collected best supporting actress for The Help. Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris scored the best screenplay prize. A Separation won for best foreign film.

In the musical/comedy categories, The Artist earned three Golden Globes, including best picture, best actor (Jean Dujardin), and score (Ludovic Bource); Michelle Williams earned best actress for My Week with Marilyn; Madonna earned best original song (“Masterpiece” from W.E.). Morgan Freeman was honored with the Cecil B. DeMille Award.