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

Disney to Bring out Big Guns at D23 Expo

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in 3-D, Animation, Events, Movies, Shorts, stop-motion, VFX | Leave a comment

OK, Disney’s D23 Expo (Aug. 19-21 at the Anaheim Convention Center) is shaping up to be a mini Comic-Con. They will tout footage and discussion of Pixar’s Brave and Monsters University, Andrew Stanton’s live-action John Carter, Marvel’s The Avengers, Tim Burton’s Frankenweenie, Disney’s The Muppets and CG-animated Wreck-It Ralph, Oz The Great and Powerful, and more. Rich Ross, chairman, The Walt Disney Studios; Sean Bailey, president, production, The Walt Disney Studios; John Lasseter, chief creative officer, Walt Disney and Pixar Animation Studios; and Kevin Feige, producer and president, Marvel Studios, will preside over the sneak peeks.

In celebration of 25 years of Pixar power, five sessions will be devoted to its artistry and technical wizardry:

* A Conversation with the Pixar Creative Team – Enjoy a rare opportunity to spend some time with the key figures responsible for Pixar’s unprecedented success, including John Lasseter (chief creative officer, Walt Disney and Pixar Animation Studios), Jim Morris (general manager, Pixar Animation Studios), Pete Docter (director, Monsters, Inc., Up), Andrew Stanton (director, Finding Nemo, WALL-E), Bob Peterson (co-director, Up), Lee Unkrich (director, Toy Story 3), Mark Andrews (director, Brave), and Dan Scanlon (director, Monsters University).

* The Characters of Monsters University – Director Dan Scanlon and Production Designer Ricky Nierva discuss how they combine hair, horns, and a lot of heart to bring the wonderful Monsters University characters to life.

* Michael Giacchino’s Music of Pixar – In this musical presentation, award-winning composer Michael Giacchino explores his early influences through the creation of modern-day classic scores from Ratatouille, Up, and Cars 2.

* The Art of Brave – Production Designer Steve Pilcher and Shading Art Director Tia Kratter show how they and their team put paint to canvas and fingers to computer keys to create the stunning visuals of Scotland for Disney•Pixar’s upcoming film Brave.

* Pixar Shorts – This retrospective screening of the animation studio’s legendary short films will be followed by a panel discussion with several of the filmmakers, including Ralph Eggleston (director, For the Birds), Andy Jimenez (director, One Man Band), Angus MacLane (director, BURN-E), Pete Sohn (director, Partly Cloudy), Teddy Newton (director, Day & Night), and Enrico Casarosa (director, La Luna).

Expo attendees will also have access to advance screenings of an all-new 3-D version of The Lion King, presented by RealD 3-D, coming to theaters and homes this fall, and the upcoming ABC holiday special Prep & Landing: Naughty vs. Nice from Walt Disney Animation Studios.

Tickets to the D23 Expo are available at www.D23Expo.com. Admission includes access to all experiences and entertainment at the D23 Expo, including the Disney Legends Ceremony, and can be purchased for single days or for the full three days of festivities. Admission is $47 for a one-day adult ticket and $37 for children 3-12. Three-day passes are $136 for adults and $106 for children. Members of D23: The Official Disney Fan Club will receive a discount for up to four admissions, as well as early entry to each day of the D23 Expo for themselves and their guests.

Alembic 1.0 Released

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

Alembic 1.0, the open source project jointly developed by Sony Pictures Imageworks and Lucasfilm Ltd. was released to the public today in a joint announcement at SIGGRAPH 2011 in Vancouver.

Alembic is the computer graphics interchange format developed by the two entertainment giants last year and focused on efficiently storing and sharing animation and visual effects scenes across multiple software applications. It was designed to handle massive animation data sets often required in high-end visual effects and animation, which are routinely developed and produced by companies such as Lucasfilm’s Industrial Light & Magic and Lucasfilm Animation Ltd and Sony Pictures Imageworks. The studios each saw the need for a tool like Alembic, something that would fit within existing pipelines and allow for customization at the facility level without impeding the ability to share work.

In addition to the features announced at last year’s SIGGRAPH, Alembic 1.0 includes automatic data de-duplication. The software automatically recognizes repeated shapes in complicated geometry and only writes a single instance to disk. This makes Alembic 1.0 use dramatically less disk space than promised without requiring any extra steps on the part of the user and can improve both write and read performance as well. In the case of hero deforming humanoid characters, including hair, shot caches have been reduced by more than 70%.  For complex, deeply hierarchical and mostly rigid assets like the Transformers characters, tests have shown cache reduction in the order of 98%.

The code base for Alembic is available for download on the project’s Google Code site and more information can be found online at: www.alembic.io.

Joint development of Alembic was first announced at last year’s Siggraph by Lucasfilm’s visual effects company Industrial Light & Magic and Sony Pictures Imageworks. The companies joined forces when it became apparent that they were independently developing software designed to solve, a problem universally faced by the visual effects and animation production community: how to easily share complex animated scenes across a variety of disciplines and facilities regardless of what software was being used.

Alembic includes tools that allow collaboration while working with a generic, extensible, data representation scheme. In essence, it distills complex and often proprietary, animated scenes into application-independent files with baked geometric results. These baked results can be fully re-importable across the range of supporting software.

Alembic addresses a fundamental issue in a world where assets are shared across many companies. Alembic’s production-ready ability to seamlessly translate shapes across a wide variety of applications saves time and resources,” said Rob Bredow, CTO of Sony Pictures Imageworks. “By releasing Alembic as an Open Source project, users have the opportunity to improve the software based on their needs and experience. We’re really starting to feel the positive effects of Open Source, as a community of visual effects and animation professionals come together to solve problems more effectively today than ever before.”

 “Alembic is giving us space efficiencies beyond our most optimistic expectations and at effectively the same time cost as before.  This is sure to have a significant impact for anyone who uses the format and we are excited to be able to share this with the Open Source community,” said Tommy Burnette, Head of Global Pipeline at Lucasfilm Ltd.  “Previously each facility had to produce their own unique solutions to the problem of efficient caching and scene handoff, but the beauty of Open Source is that with strong collaborative efforts we can effectively provide solutions for everyone.”

Both studios have made strides with open source software and recognize the importance of such initiatives, ILM with the industry standard OpenEXR format and Imageworks with OSL, Open Color I/O, Maya Reticle, Field3D, Scala Migrations and the newly release PyP.

SIGGRAPH 2011 News

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

Highlights from SIGGRAPH 2011:

Fusion-io, a provider of a next-generation shared data decentralization platform, is collaborating with NVIDIA, Thinkbox Software, and Tweak Software, to accelerate entertainment production by demonstrating full resolution, real-time digital content creation for many of the industry’s most powerful applications.

“Entertainment artists who use Fusion’s ioMemory technologies can now spend more time creating and less time waiting for content to load, playback and render,” said Vincent Brisebois, Fusion-io Product Manager. “Multiple SSDs configured in a RAID can provide basic throughput, but struggle to provide the low latency required for delivering interactivity in powerful content creation applications. By working with our innovative partners NVIDIA, Thinkbox Software and Tweak Software, we are helping studios and artists unlock their creativity. Now, not only can artists do more faster, but with the flexibility offered by Fusion-io and our partners, studios can focus on the artistry that separates good from great.”

In the NVIDIA booth (#453), the Fusion-io video wall showcases how Fusion ioMemory technology combined with the NVIDIA QuadroPlex 7000 Visual Computing System provides the throughput necessary to play 12 full HD(1080p) uncompressed video feeds simultaneously off a single workstation with interactive graphics processing unit (GPU)-based color correction. The video wall demonstration will be running on an HP Z800 workstation equipped with the NVIDIA QuadroPlex 7000 and Fusion ioMemory modules.

“Working with Fusion-io, we’ve created an impressive, large-scale visualization technology demonstration at SIGGRAPH for show attendees,” said Jeff Brown, general manager, Professional Solutions Group, NVIDIA. “By combining Fusion’s ioMemory technology with our powerful QuadroPlex 7000, we’re demonstrating how to enable real-time color correction and processing of a dozen simultaneous uncompressed HD video streams – without being bottlenecked by disk speeds.”

At Autodesk booth #429, Fusion ioMemory technology will accelerate demonstrations of Autodesk Composite software, which is included in the 3ds Max, Maya, and Autodesk Softimage software applications. The Autodesk software packages feature integrated 3D modeling, animation, rendering, and compositing tools that enable artists and designers to quickly ramp up for production.

“Autodesk Composite software can be enhanced by technologies like Fusion ioMemory to help artists see their visions come to life more quickly,” said Rob Hoffmann, senior product marketing manager, Autodesk.  ”When 3D artists can immediately see the impact of each tool and adjustment, their imagination is freed to try new and innovative approaches to creative storytelling.”

Fusion ioMemory will be also integrated into a Supermicro SuperServer 8046B-6RF server in the Thinkbox Software Pacific Rim suite at the Fairmont hotel. This system provides increased speed and efficiency in demonstrations of Krakatoa, Thinkbox’s production-proven volumetric particle rendering, manipulation and management toolkit. Krakatoa provides a pipeline for creating, shaping and rendering vast quantities of particles at unprecedented speed to represent natural phenomena like dust, smoke, silt, ocean surface foam, plasma and even solid objects.

“We have clients working with billions of particles per frame to create photo-real smoke, fire, water, creatures made of ink, and photorealistic visualization of volumetric objects such as bones and skin. When saving or loading those particles, we have found nothing faster than Fusion-io,” said Chris Bond, Thinkbox Software CEO and founder. “We first tested Krakatoa 1.0 with Fusion-io. When we realized the potential of ioMemory, we optimized Krakatoa 2.0 to take advantage of its capabilities, and now our loading performance is an order of magnitude better.”

Meanwhile, Thinkbox Software launched a new Professional Services offering. Thinkbox clients can now tap the company as outsourced R&D to customize Thinkbox software, integrate it into their pipelines and/or develop custom software tools.

“With tight deadlines and increasingly high client expectations, studios are continually challenged with creating new and compelling imagery and managing efficient workflows while at the same time integrating new software. This is a challenge we know well, as many of us have been developing software and custom artist tools on the job for feature films for years,” said Thinkbox CEO Chris Bond. “Not only do we have the expertise, but beyond our commercial software we have an extensive and diverse codebase that we can tap to customize solutions for our clients.”

The company recently completed its first Professional Services projects, one of which included custom development and early access to X-Mesh, a highly specialized mesh renderer and geometry caching toolset Thinkbox has been developing that supports 3dx Max and Softimage 3D animation software, for the animation and visual effects studio Blur.

In booth #963, Tweak Software will be utilizing ioMemory technology from Fusion-io to accelerate its flagship RV software. RV supports dual stream output for stereo playback, embeds audio in the SDI signal, and takes advantage of RV’s flexible tools for review, editing, collaboration, an notation and comparison of media. At SIGGRAPH 2011, RV will be demonstrating its integration package that combines RV’s real-time playback with the compositing abilities of The Foundry’s Nuke software and Fusion ioMemory. The integration allows artists to save various iterations of their Nuke renders on the ioMemory and then immediately play them back in real-time in RV.

“Artists get a big benefit by combining the blazing fast memory technologies from Fusion-io with RV’s advanced image and sequence playback abilities,” said Seth Rosenthal, co-founder of Tweak Software. “The ability to stream film-res, stereo, high-dynamic-range imagery on the artist desktop or in the screening room gives artists immediate feedback so they have more time to try new things and get better results. This is all made possible by the remarkable data throughput and reduced latency offered by Fusion-io.”

Weta to Show Off R&D at SIGGRAPH 2011

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

For the first time, SIGGRAPH is expanding beyond the U.S. and will be in Vancouver next week. And when I was recently in Wellington, I asked Weta’s senior visual effects supervisor, Joe Letteri (Rise of the Planet of the Apes, The Adventures of Tintin), about their presentations at SIGGRAPH.

Weta will present two new R&D advancements at SIGGRAPH: an art directable water simulation and a new subsurface lighting technique (both demonstrated in Tintin). “They need to be where you want them and when you want them,” he said about the water simulation.” And the subsurface “allows us to better resolve finer details near the top surface of the skin in a way that’s computationally cost-effective.”

Here are the presentations at SIGGRAPH 2011:

A Quantized-Diffusion Model for Rendering Translucent Materials

With these new techniques for rendering translucent materials such as human skin, modified diffusion theory and a new quantized-diffusion method derive efficient and accurate scattering functions for both offline and real-time rendering.

Eugene d’Eon
Weta Digital Ltd

Geoffrey Irving
Weta Digital Ltd

Tuesday, 2:00 pm – 3:30 pm | East Building, Exhibit Hall A
Session Chair: Jaakko Lehtinen, NVIDIA Corp.

Guide Shapes for High-Resolution Naturalistic Liquid Simulation

To efficiently obtain natural-looking liquid simulations subject to art direction, this method processes approved low-resolution geometry into a “guide shape” just below the liquid surface. The final high-resolution simulation runs just a surface layer constrained by the guide, with benefits for both speed and control.

Michael Nielsen
Weta Digital Ltd

Robert Bridson
University of British Columbia and Weta Digital Ltd

Wednesday, 3:45 pm – 5:35 pm | East Building, Exhibit Hall A
Session Chair: Nils Thuerey, Scanline VFX

Trailering In Time

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

Fox previewed the trailer for Andrew Niccol’s In Time, at Comic-Con (Oct. 28). Justin Timberlake and Amanda Seyfried star in a futuristic thriller in which people stop aging at 25 and must buy more time to survive. When Timberlake has more time than he can imagine, he becomes the pursued pursuer in a corrupt world. Matt Bomer and Cillian Murphy (as the time keeper) also shine. Roger Deakins’ gritty cinematography is up to its usual high standards, as is Alex McDowell’s grounded production design, evoking a Fight Club-like underworld.

Spielberg and Jackson Tout Tintin at Comic-Con

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

Sorry I’m unable to report directly from Comic-Con’s Hall H in San Diego to bring you Steven Spielberg’s historic appearance, but, rest assured, I will have some very privileged Tintin access very soon. However, according Rebecca Keegan of the Los Angeles Times, Spielberg showed off some action-packed footage of Tintin engaging in both a gun fight and fist fight, and pursuing some baddies on wet cobblestone streets. The celebrated director also discussed raising the performance capture bar at Weta with his surprise guest, Peter Jackson, who still plans on directing the second installment if The Adventures of Tintin proves popular after its North American release on Dec. 23.

“Do I shoot this live-action with a digital dog or do I shoot this computer animated?” he originally questioned. “This was the medium which was begging us to use it.” While he wanted to capture a physical resemblance to the Herge comics, he didn’t want them to look cartoony, which is why the photoreal skin textures were applied to the characters.

Like Cameron, Spielberg had a virtual camera to see the rough performance capture renders and shot the whole thing using the V-Cam; this gave him a lot more freedom with action sequences than he’s accustomed to with a real camera. He also enjoyed the intimacy with the actors: “This is much more of a direct to canvas art form.” He was amazed at the emotion they were able to achieve with the animation. As for the virtual technology, he praised it for being “realistic to the point where the animators can create the musculature, nerves, and replica of a human body which responds the same way as we do.”

Oh, by the way, Spielberg took the opportunity to announce that, among his many projects, is Jurassic Park 4 (Universal Home Ent. releases Jurassic Park Ultimate Trilogy on Oct. 25).

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uqn_rjQudps

Nuke & Mari Showcased at DreamWorks

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

The Foundry showed off the latest integration of Nuke compositing and Mari paint at the DreamWorks Animation Glendale campus last night (July 21). Artists I spoke with were especially impressed with the potential now for full Photoshop/Mari layering

Brandon Fayette, CG supervisor at Bad Robot Prods., demonstrated the denoise tool on noisy plates in Super 8 as well as the efficiency of the new Nuke/Mari bridge workflow; Joe Farrell, compositing supervisor from Scanline VFX in L.A., revealed the layering complexity achieved by Nuke on last year’s The Hereafter. Judging by the host venue and the fact that DreamWorks screened a trailer for Puss in Boots (Nov. 4), we look forward to learning more about how Mari played a role in its latest animated feature.

Now shipping, Mari 1.3v2 delivers a focused workflow to provide Nuke artists with dedicated 3D paint tools, making digital environment and projection work more efficient and final composited scenes more believable. This was especially attractive to artists working in Photoshop that require better layering.

Released this week, Nuke and NukeX 6.3 offers Deep Image compositing, 3D particles, Planar Tracker, updated Denoise with cutting edge algorithms, updated and redesigned spline & grid warping, and audio scratch track.

CG Apes Rise at CalTech

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

Fox’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes (opening Aug. 5) was dissected at CalTech last night with a panel that included director Rupert Wyatt, Weta Digital VFX supervisor Joe Letteri, and performance capture star Andy Serkis (via Skype). The footage they showed impressively demonstrated the post-Avatar breakthrough in performance capture with head-mounted cameras (or E-motion) by the Weta wizards.

Indeed, for this first-time all-CG ape extravaganza, Weta reinvented what it achieved on Avatar by placing the performance capture actors in the live-action set or out on location. “Rather than using reflective optical markers for motion tracking, we developed an active LED system so we could use infrared lights and that allowed us to be able to work in a variety of conditions,” Letteri explained.

Coupled with a whole animation upgrade for hair, muscle, tissue, and eyes, the result is an utterly believable performance from Serkis as Caesar, the chimpanzee: tender, subtle, sympathetic, and conflicted. He’s raised by humans, but he evolves into an outsider shunned by people and ape alike, and becomes a revolutionary.

“Basically, you have to come up with another method of recording an actor’s performance, in a way that the technology has become more sophisticated,” Serkis said. “The idea is to make it more transparent so that it enables this fantastic interface between the performance capture actors and the other actors on the set and the director.”

Serkis maintained that there is no difference between performance capture and live-action acting. It’s about removing the layers and letting the performance come through in collaboration with the skilled animators.

Letteri even suggested that the industry has a cognitive gap to get over about the separation of performance and recorded image before it can fully understand and appreciate the craft.

For his part, Wyatt explained that they rejected the notion early on of using live apes and fully embraced the performance capture method for re-imagining this contemporary Apes origin story that mixes Conquest (the third sequel) with scientific research gone awry with the best intentions of curing Alzheimer’s.”They may be digitally rendered but they actually have a soul when you look into their eyes,” he offered. His hope is that the rebooted franchise would continue and eventually intersect with the original 1968 narrative.

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