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.

Events

NewTek Launches LightWave 11

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

NewTek’s LightWave 11 offers instancing, flocking, fracture, bullet dynamics, virtual studio and interchange tools. It fits into any studio pipeline seamlessly, offering support for Autodesk Geometry Cache, and FBX, including pixel-perfect camera matching with Autodesk Maya cameras. It also supports the Unity game engine and Pixologic GoZ ZBrush workflow, making it ideal for all production environments, including smaller specialized studios and individual artists.

Expanding on the production-proven workflow of LightWave 3D software, LightWave 11 is a complete out-of-the-box pipeline that puts award-winning modeling, rigging, effects, dynamics, animation, and final rendering at the fingertips of 3D artists. LightWave 11 was unveiled to guests of the NewTek “VFX Minds” event held at the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences in North Hollywood on Thursday evening. Industry icon Ron Thornton (Babylon 5 and Star Trek: Voyager) attended the unveiling and sees many creative possibilities for artists working with LightWave 11 software.

“Thanks to LightWave’s power and ease of use, I was able to quickly transition to the world of 3D for Babylon 5,” said Thornton of Red Earth VFX Studios. “LightWave is the one tool that allows artists to be artists instead of technicians. The advances in LightWave 11 are impressive and artists around the world have reason to celebrate.”

LightWave 11 Features

LightWave offers the Virtual Preview Renderer (VPR) for onscreen real-time rendering, Anaglyph Stereoscopic Preview for real-time interocular, “red-blue” anaglyphic separations, and more. Some of the many new feature enhancements in LightWave 11 include:

Instancing

  • Duplicate a vast number of objects in a scene with very little memory overhead
  • Create huge polygon groups with great detail while retaining reasonable rendering times
  • Scale, position, rotate, and surface randomly cloned objects for realistic detail

Flocking

  • Animate realistic motion of grouped objects such as such as birds, fish, insects, animals, aircraft, spaceships, and more, using a new motion modifier
  • Calculate crowd avoidance of neighboring objects, target alignment, and cohesive attractions with the motion modifier

Fracture

  • Pre-fracture objects that are ready for destruction with a new Modeler tool that is designed to  complement Bullet Dynamics in Layout
  • Animate explosions with or without using dynamics
  • Control the density of fractures by applying weight maps to objects

Bullet Dynamics

  • Deliver physics-based animation with the Bullet Dynamics engine in Layout and the new Fracture tool in Modeler
  • Collapse buildings, create explosions, or quickly place objects in a natural-looking random pattern

Virtual Studio and Interchange Tools

  • Support for new controller types, including the Sony PlayStation Move, allow users to easily control and record the item results with a LightWave channel
  • Import and export model and texture data to Pixologic ZBrush software with GoZ technology

Additional LightWave 11 features include powerful new render buffer capabilities, robust Python scripting functionality, FiberFX enhancements, and user interface improvements.

LightWave 11 Pricing and Availability

LightWave 11 is expected to ship Q4 2011 for a suggested retail price of US$1495. Upgrade pricing from earlier versions of LightWave will be US$695. Educational pricing is also available. For more information, please visit www.newtek.com.

Animation Mentor at CTN-X

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

Animation Mentor, the online animation school whose grads have contributed to such Oscar contenders as Cars 2, Puss in Boots, Rango, and Rio, will be attending CTN animation eXpo (CTN-X) as an educational partner and sponsor. Animation Mentor is inviting students and artists to visit their booth, meet mentors and attend presentations by Dr. Stuart Sumida, mentor Kevin Koch and Animation Mentor CEO and co-founder, Bobby Beck. CTN-X takes place Nov. 18-20 at the Burbank Marriott Convention Center. The animation industry’s foremost authority on anatomy and fight choreography, Dr. Stuart Sumida, professor of biology at California State University, San Bernardino, will be conducting a martial arts demonstration sponsored by Animation Mentor on Nov. 19, 5:30 – 6:30 p.m. Sensei Bill Ryusaki, who is Dr. Sumida’s sensei, Sensei Nurys Saldana, Sensei Tim Komori and senior martial arts students will be participating in the event. For animators, this presentation will combine physical demonstrations with detailed descriptions of anatomical principles, explanation of skeletal anatomy, and other valuable insights that are necessary to animate realistic fight sequences. The demonstration will build upon the techniques Dr. Sumida recently discussed in Animation Mentor’s highly-attended “Anatomy of a Fight” webinar. “We’re honored to have Dr. Sumida, Kevin Koch, our mentors and the senseis take part in CTN-X this year,” states Beck. “CTN-X is a perfect forum for Animation Mentor to reach aspiring animators and to inspire them to pursue their dreams. We are always excited to have new students meet our mentors and guests, and to enjoy some of the Animation Mentor experience.” Beck will also participate in the Educators Panel, “Are They Trained and If So For What?,” Nov. 18, 5:00 – 6:15 p.m., with Lori Hammond (AI/Hollywood), John Mahoney (CalArts), Brian Bradford (Gnomon), and moderated by Tenny Chonin. Additionally, Koch will be presenting a workshop on the “Dos and Don’ts of a Demo Reel” on Nov. 19, 2:00-3:45 p.m. Animation Mentor and CTN-X are co-sponsoring a party that will be held Nov. 18 from 7:00 p.m.-midnight. The Animation Mentor booth (B44) will be open: Nov. 18, 12:00-7:00 p.m.; Nov. 19, 10:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m.;and Nov. 20, 10:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m. Attendees are invited to stop by (or register online) to schedule one-on-one meetings with an admissions advisor or to visit the Animation Mentor booth. Attendees can meet a mentor on Nov. 18, 1:00-2:00 p.m.; Nov. 19, 10:00-11:00 a.m., 12:00-1:00 p.m., and 3:00-4:00 p.m.; Nov. 20, 10:00-11:00 a.m., and 12:00-1:00 p.m. Also in attendance will be the Animation Mentor crew, including Cheryl Hoke, director of student enrollment and admissions; Suzanne Francois, student care manager; and Becca Romeo, career services manager. For further information about Animation Mentor’s activities at CTN-X, please visit www.animationmentor.com/events/ctnx2011/

J. Edgar and Rosebud

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

Friday night’s LACMA screening/Q&A of J. Edgar hit home the Citizen Kane analogy for Clint Eastwood’s biopic. The absolute corruptibility of power; the yearning for a love unfulfilled; and sublimating those urges to wield power. In this case, J. Edgar blackmailed the powerful through their sexual indiscretions (Eleanor Roosevelt, JFK, Martin Luther King) to make up for his inability to express his own sexuality.

Arguably the most powerful figure of the 20th century, J. Edgar shrewdly set up the FBI and created his own law enforcement empire for nearly half a century, pioneering the science of forensics, cunningly promoting his image, and manipulating the media. In this regard, the snapshot of the Warner Bros. gangster film and its shifting emphasis from Jimmy Cagney’s gangster in Public Enemy (1931) to his lawman in G Men (1935) is fascinating and pure Eastwood.

Yet it’s the tender love story between Leonardo DiCaprio’s oppressive J. Edgar and Armie Hammer’s loyal lieutenant/partner Tolson that transforms the movie. Ironically, this could well be Eastwood’s most beautiful love story. During the Q&A, the celebrated director said he was attracted to the notion of exploring the secret behind the myth. I asked him afterward at the reception if he saw any connection between Hoover and Dirty Harry as law enforcement officers driven over the edge, and he just smiled and said that Dirty Harry came out at a time when attention was paid to victim’s rights.

For screenwriter Dustin Lance Black (Milk), “it’s a cautionary tale” tied to our post 9/11 fear of terror. As for the notorious cross-dressing scene, he said it was crucial to find an emotional hook: Hoover’s mother. Eastwood said he’s particularly proud of the way it was handled: “It’s his way of bringing himself closer to his mother [during such a vulnerable moment].”

I asked Hammer which was more challenging, the brutal lover’s quarrel fight in a hotel suite or the quiet moment of emotional reckoning at the end? He responded that it was the latter because of the emotional complexity and the physical limitations of the makeup and his character’s stroke. Fortunately, it was the last scene that they shot.

Both Hammer and DiCaprio rejoiced in the famed Eastwood method of no rehearsals and one or two takes. DiCaprio even wondered if maybe Eastwood did more takes than usual since they often did four or five. I asked Eastwood if he altered his method and he replied, “No, I always do a few takes but make sure I get lots of coverage.” Why no rehearsal? “I want to see the moment of discovery in their eyes and get the actors to trust their instincts, and I want to get it on film.”

18 Animated Features Submitted for Oscar Race

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

Here are the 18 animated features submitted for consideration in the Oscar race for the 84th Academy Awards. They will now be evaluated and short listed by the animation committee, which will lead to five eventual nominees if 16 qualify or four if at least 12 qualify. And, yes, in the end I think The Adventures of Tintin will qualify because it meets the qualifications of frame by frame animation despite the performance capture. Same should apply to Mars Needs Moms.

The Adventures of Tintin
Alois Nebel
Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked
Arthur Christmas
Cars 2
A Cat in Paris
Chico & Rita
Gnomeo & Juliet
Happy Feet Two
Hoodwinked Too! Hood vs. Evil
Kung Fu Panda 2
Mars Needs Moms
Puss in Boots
Rango
Rio
The Smurfs
Winnie the Pooh
Wrinkles

Bond 23 is Skyfall

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in Below the Line, Books, Cinematography, Costume, Editing, Events, James Bond, Movies, Production Design, VFX | Leave a comment

Better get used to the title Skyfall for the 23rd Bond film (Nov. 9, 2012). Like Quantum of Solace, it apparently refers to Bond’s troubled state of mind. “It has emotional context which will be revealed in the film,” promises producer Barbara Broccoli.

But there was precious little revealed at today’s London press conference, amid speculation about the return of Blofeld and the possibility of M’s shocking demise. Fittingly, today also coincides with Sean Connery’s announcement as Bond 50 years ago.

Yes, Javier Bardem plays the super baddie, no doubt a new breed of grounded Bond villain; Berenice Marlohe plays the seductive and enigmatic Bond girl, Severin; but Naomie Harries plays a field agent named Eve, not Moneypenny; and Ralph Fiennes and Albert Finney have not yet been confirmed as friend or foe (although it has been suggested that Finney plays M’s boss).

Speaking of M, according to the official announcement, Skyfall is about how “Bond’s loyalty to M is tested as her past comes back to haunt her.  As MI6 comes under attack, 007 must track down and destroy the threat, no matter how personal the cost.”

Meanwhile, director Sam Mendes (who was first approached for Die Another Day, but it understandably wasn’t the right fit) suggested that Skyfall will offer a return to classic Bond action and is first and foremost an audience film and not a high-brow experience, as 007 travels to Istanbul, Shanghai, and Scotland (his ancestral home). How ironic that both Mendes and Craig first got hooked on Bond through Live and Let Die, and that their association on Road to Perdition has serendipitously taken them down this road to Bond’s maturity.

Make no mistake: Skyfall is our first glimpse of Craig’s fully-formed Bond and will likely define his legacy as 007. Speaking of Craig, he came to the press conference with very short hair and some stubble on his face. All he had to say was this was going to be “Bond with a capital B.”

The crew includes director of photography Roger Deakins (Jarhead and Revolutionary Road, who will be using the Alexa); production designer Dennis Gassner (Quantum of Solace, Road to Perdition, and Jarhead); editor Stuart Baird (Casino Royale); costume designer Jany Temime (Harry Potter); second unit director Alexander Witt; stunt co-ordinator Gary Powell; SFX supervisor Chris Corbould; and VFX supervisor Steve Begg.

Lasseter Gets a Hollywood Star

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in 3-D, Animation, Blu-ray, Events, Home Entertainment, Movies, Oscar, Shorts, Tech, VFX | Leave a comment

John Lasseter got a long-overdue Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame yesterday right in front of the El Capitan Theater, surrounded by family, friends, and colleagues, including Disney’s Rich Ross and Sean Bailey, Pixar’s Ed Catmull, Jim Morris, Bob Peterson and Pete Docter, composer Randy Newman, and Owen Wilson, Bonnie Franklin, Patton Oswalt, John Ratzenberger and Don Rickles.

The stars were aligned just right, with the release of Cars 2 on Blu-ray/DVD and 2012 marking the 25th anniversary of Pixar. Indeed, in a tearful acceptance, Lasseter praised Pixar co-founder Steve Jobs, who passed away three weeks ago: “Today I share this star with Steve Jobs; without him Pixar and all these amazing films would not exist.”

I’ve had the honor of interviewing Lasseter on several occasions throughout the last 10 years, and his most revealing observation concerned mentor Catmull: “Lucasfilm had the cream of the crop in computer graphics research, and I asked Ed how they did it. He said, ‘I always hire people smarter than myself.’ I was inspired by that philosophy.”

Meanwhile, Catmull told me years ago that the Pixar epiphany came with their first Oscar-winning short, Tin Toy: “When the baby walked up to the couch and the toys cowered underneath, we realized that the adults laughed and the kids didn’t,” he said. “And when the baby fell over, the kids laughed and the adults didn’t. That taught us how to achieve the physical layer for children and the cerebral layer for adults.”

And Pixar has never looked back.

Animated Oscar Feature Entries Due Nov. 1

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in 3-D, Animation, Events, Movies, Oscar, Tech | Leave a comment

Entry forms and supporting materials to qualify for the 84th Academy Awards’ Animated Feature category must be submitted to the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences by 5:00 p.m. PT on Nov. 1. The deadline to submit accompanying film prints is Nov. 11. Thanks to a new policy, a maximum of four films can now be nominated if 13-15 qualify. In the past, anything under 16 qualifiers meant three Oscar nominees. So expect either four or five nominees this Oscar season. So far, Rango‘s the front-runner, but it’s the most wide-open field in years, with The Adventures of Tintin, Cars 2, Puss in Boots, Kung Fu Panda 2, Rio, Happy Feet 2, and Winnie the Pooh all vying for slots. Plus there are the late season indie entries Chico and Rita and A Cat in Paris.

Complete 84th Academy Awards rules are available at http://www.oscars.org/rules/. Additional information may be obtained by contacting Meredith Shea by phone at (310) 247-3000, ext. 1190, by fax at (310) 247-2600, or by e-mail at mshea@oscars.org.

The 84th Academy Awards nominations will be announced live Jan. 24, 2012, at 5:30 a.m. PT in the Academy’s Samuel Goldwyn Theater.

The Academy Awards will be presented Feb. 26, 2012, at the Kodak Theatre at Hollywood & Highland Center, and televised live by the ABC Television Network. The Oscar presentation also will be televised live in more than 200 countries worldwide.

Zoic’s Stetson to Receive VES Founders Award

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

Congrats to Mark Stetson for his upcoming VES Founders Award, which he will receive on Oct. 20 at the annual membership meeting. I’ve interviewed Mark on several occasions during his tenure at Sony Pictures Imageworks, including Superman Returns, the Blade Runner digital enhancements for the Blu-ray, and Dave. He’s always helped me understand what’s what in VFX.

These days, the Oscar winner for Fellowship of the Ring is creative director for the Feature Films VFX division at Zoic Studios, where he’s worked on Red Riding Hood, 30 Minutes or Less, Premium Rush, The Wettest County in the World, and The Grey.

“It’s an honor to be recognized by my peers at VES with the Founders Award,” said Stetson.  “Throughout my career I’ve strived to push the boundaries and expectations for visual effects.  It is a pleasure to receive recognition for something that is not only a career for me, but also a passion.”

Stetson got his start with model work for such films as Star Trek:The Motion Picture, Close Encounters of the Third Kind — The Special Edition, and Escape from New York.  From there, he supervised miniature effects for numerous high-profile productions, including Blade Runner, Ghostbusters, Die Hard, Total Recall, Batman Returns, and Edward Scissorhands, True Lies, and Waterworld, among others.

In 1997, Stetson was recognized with a BAFTA Award for his debut role as overall visual effects supervisor for The Fifth Element. He received his third Academy Award nomination and BAFTA Award nomination for Superman Returns.

Trumbull to Receive VES Georges Méliès Award

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

Douglas Trumbull will receive the 2012 Georges Méliès Award from the VES, which will be presented at the 10th Annual VES Awards, held at the Beverly Hilton Hotel, Feb. 7, 2012. Trumbull, who’s advanced VFX with his pioneering work on 2001: A Space Odyssey, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Star Trek: The Motion Picture, and Blade Runner, has also directed Silent Running and Brainstorm. He also revolutionized large-format filmmaking with Showscan in the mid-’80s, which offered unparalleled viewing at 120fps.

Trumbull most recently served as a creative consultant on The Tree of Life birth of the universe sequence. With the privately-owned film studio, Trumbull Ventures, he is specializing in the development of advanced integrated systems for high-resolution digital production utilizing virtual sets and locations, high frame rates, 3-D, and advanced previsualization. Trumbull is presently developing multiple feature film projects that he intends to write, produce, and direct, using his virtual set technology

“Doug Trumbull is a leading light in the field of visual effects and technology,” said VES chair Jeffrey A. Okun.  “He is an innovator in all things entertainment and equally important is his genius for re-imagining the impossible into a compelling visual that not only has never been seen before but also goes to the heart of the storytelling. We are seriously honored to know and work with him.”

“It is truly an honor to receive the Georges Méliès Award from the Visual Effects Society,” said Trumbull. “My philosophy is that everything in a movie is an illusion of some kind, and I am very excited that the industry today is now embracing 3D, higher frame rates, and other opportunities that can expand the movie-going experience, and deliver to audiences the kind of immersive and other-worldly images that we in the VES can provide. The role of the VES at this time could not be more important, and I am very grateful to receive this astonishing recognition.”

Trumbull has been the recipient of the American Society of Cinematographer’s Lifetime Achievement Award, and has recently been selected by his peers as a VES Fellow of the Visual Effects Society (only the third to receive this distinction).

Previous recipients of the George Méliès Award were Robert Abel, John Lasseter, Phil Tippett and Ed Catmull.

Animated Tatsumi Enters Foreign Language Oscar Race

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

Variety reports that Singapore has entered the animated doc, Tatsumi, about legendary Japanese manga artist Yoshihiro Tatsumi, in the foreign language Oscar competition. Directed by Eric Khoo and based on the book, A Drifting Life, and five of the artist’s short stories, Tatsumi centers on his impact in bringing manga to an adult audience during post-war occupied Japan. It was animated at Infinate Frameworks Studios in Batam, Indonesia.