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.

Movies

Trailering Battleship

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

Universal’s Battleship (May 18, 2012) looks like Pearl Harbor meets Transformers. Director Peter Berg (Hancock) has taken the classic Hasbro naval combat game and mashed it up with sci-fi. An alien race known as The Regents comes to Earth to build a power source in the ocean. Battleship stars Taylor Kitsch, Alexander Skarsgård, Brooklyn Decker, Rihanna, and Liam Neeson. Lots of skln from Decker and metallic alien mayhem from ILM (supervised by Pablo Helman), which takes Transformers to the next level.

Spielberg and Jackson Show More Tintin at Weta

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

I attended a special Tintin press visit earlier this week at Weta in Wellington, New Zealand, where Steven Spielberg (via polycom) and Peter Jackson showed an exclusive sneak peek of a thrilling seaplane chase in 3-D that included the first mix from John Williams’ rousing score.

It’s a frantic and funny scene that typifies the tone of the film, capturing the essence of Herge’s illustrative style and slapstick humor along with Spielberg’s iconic cinematic signature. While Tintin (Jamie Bell) attempts to pilot a seaplane in the rain pursued by baddies, a nervous Captain Haddock (Andy Serkis) attempts to grab a bottle of Scotch (whose contents hardens), and then winds up climbing outside to burp into the engine when they run out of fuel.

We also saw the same reel shown at Comic-Con containing lots of action and some exposition between the intrepid Tintin and cantankerous Haddock (an Odd Couple, according to Jackson). Judging from the footage this looks like the best performance captured film yet, utilizing the latest Weta advances in facial modeling and subsurface scattering. Indeed, we saw a presentation on how they use silicon facial casts to achieve finer detail through displacement maps and painting in Mari.

During a Q&A afterward, Spielberg explained that it was a “crazy and very worthwhile learning cure.” He told me that “it all gets down to the basics: story, plot, narrative, and characters, especially with the Herge books… to exonerate these characters in a way that if Herge were with us, he could look up at the screen and say, ‘Yep, that looks like Captain Haddock to me.’”

Spielberg also said that he shot The Adventures of Tintin (Dec. 23) like a conventional movie. In fact, it reminded him of using a Super 8 Kodak camera during his youth. “I was running around with a PlayStation controller with a 6″ monitor in between the handles,” he added. “I had all the x/y buttons on my right and I could crane up and down, I could dolly in, dolly out; I could basically be the focus puller, the camera operator, the dolly grip. I wound up lighting the movie with some of the artists at Weta. And so I did a lot of jobs I don’t normally do myself on a movie, and it gave me the chance to actually start to see the picture cut together.”

By getting into the volume with the actors, he was able to bring a conventional wisdom to the set each day (he shot in sequence for 32 days in LA), and maintain objectivity nearly two years later when he was able to tweak camera, lighting, atmospherics, and expressions to emphasize different story points.

Afterward, Jackson gave us a tour of the MoCap stage at Weta, using a slightly different virtual mockup camera than the wheel controller made for James Cameron that Spielberg used. Jackson was absolutely giddy, shooting his two performance capture actors in the volume. All the assets are built in advance so the director can compose shots while viewing low-res versions of the animated characters in their CG environments. Here’s hoping that Jackson gets the chance to direct the next one. He’s still open about which book to adapt, but promises a little more from The Crab with the Golden Claws and Red Rackham’s Treasure.

Source Code Goes Blu

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in Home Entertainment, Movies, VFX | Leave a comment

Source Code (on Blu-ray July 26th from Summit Ent.) proves that Moon was no fluke. Duncan Jones follows his brilliant debut with a more conventional sci-fi thriller, yet Source Code is just as trippy and existential, and even more gripping. Jake Gyllenhaal stars as a mysterious soldier transported to a Chicago commuter after it’s exploded as part of a secret military project. It’s part Ground Hog Day and part Twilight Zone. Gyllenhaal takes the guise of one of the commuter passengers, and races against time in continual eight-minute loops to identify the bomber before he can strike again, piecing together the puzzle on the train as well as his own strange circumstances. In fact, Source Code turns into a fascinating love triangle involving one of the passengers (Michelle Monaghan) that humanizes him and the military liaison  (Vera Farmiga) that guides him on his journey. It’s a sublime time travel story about destiny.

The subdued color palette from cinematographer Don Burgess comes across effectively on Blu-ray, and the CG environments and digital doubles principally handled by Modus FX seamlessly blend together without notice.

Serkis Talks Performance Capture

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

I have an interview today with  Andy Serkis at IndieWIRE’s TOH about his recent performance capture experiences on Rise of the Planet of the Apes, Tintin, and The Hobbit. I’m actually in New Zealand this week to visit the Wizards of Weta and find out more about Tintin especially. So there will be plenty to discuss very soon.

 

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.

Coppola Returns to Comic-Con

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

Aside from Friday’s Spielberg/Jackson Tintin panel at Comic-Con, I would’ve loved to have been there today for Francis Ford Coppola’s Twixt presentation. Passing out Edgar Allan Poe masks with 3-D lenses to the crowd in Hall H, Coppola revealed that his experimental goth movie is about Val Kilmer tripping out with vampires in a seedy town, and is visited in a dream by “The Godfather of Goth,” as John Cusack described him in his previous Poe-inspired Raven presentation.

Only, Twixt would be shot live on various stops like a concert and edited on the fly in real-time as a spontaneous experience, only partially in 3-D, and accompanied by composer Dan Deacon’s music.

If this sounds vaguely familiar, it’s a new twist on Coppola’s One From the Heart, which was a different kind of “electronic” experiment in the ’80s. However, Twixt raises the stakes with new digital technology, and combines his Roger Corman roots with a touch of the surreal from Bram Stoker’s Dracula (the last film he touted at Comic-Con). Coppola explained that it’s all about reinvigorating the theatrical experience, which is under siege by bad movies and mediocre 3-D.

Speaking of spectacle, Abel Gance’s silent masterpiece, Napoleon, expanding on Kevin Brownlow’s superlative restoration in the late ’70s, will screen with a live orchestra (Carl Davis conducting his score) at Oakland’s Paramount Theater March 24, 25, 31, and April 1, 2012. It will also screen in LA at The American Cinematheque. I bring this up because Coppola owns the U.S. theatrical distribution rights, and there had previously been a bone of contention about using his late father’s score instead of Davis’ (a Blu-ray is also in the works).

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

Trailering Contagion

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

Talk about timing. Steven Soderbergh’s lethal virus outbreak thriller starring Kate Winslet, Matt Damon, Jude Law, Gwyneth Paltrow, Marion Cotillard, and Laurence Fishburne is the perfect post 9/11 metaphor for the 10th anniversary. As the fast-moving epidemic grows, the worldwide medical community races to find a cure and control the panic as ordinary people struggle to survive in a society tearing apart. Contagion (Sept. 9) looks like the kind of gripping political conspiracy thriller my generation grew up with in the ’70s, which Soderbergh is definitely channeling. Can’t wait to see it in IMAX.

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.

Star Wars Saga Deleted Scenes Trailer

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

Fox Home Ent. has released a Comic-Con exclusive deleted scenes sizzle reel for the upcoming Star Wars Saga Blu-ray set. Enjoy the fun until the set gets released on Sept. 16.

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