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.


Daldry & Crew Discuss Extremely Loud

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in Below the Line, Books, Events, Movies, Music, Oscar, Production Design, Tech, Trailers, VFX | 2 Comments

Director Stephen Daldry discussed the delicate balancing act last night at the Landmark between “what to show and what not to show” in Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close. Joined onstage by production designer K.K. Barrett, composer Alexandre Desplat, and VFX supervisor Kevin Mack, Daldry explained that the film works as a catharsis for dealing with the aftermath of 9/11.This was as true for the cast and filmmakers as it is for the viewers.

The director told moderator Pete Hammond of Deadline Hollywood that the key decision was casting newcomer Thomas Horn. Producer Scott Rudin discovered the prodigy on teen Jeopardy! (Rudin is a former winner) and he was invited to audition rather late in the casting process. Daldry worked out an analytical methodology with Horn that worked out well, and the director believes he’s delivered one of the best child performances in movie history.

Barrett added that Horn was able to tap into his emotional life for the role and, as production designer, it was his job to convey the character’s point of view. Barrett went on a “lost and found” expedition throughout New York City in search of distinctive ways of portraying the various locations. He found it helped being a New York outsider.

Desplat, who came in at the last minute to compose a whole new score in only three weeks, said he wept when viewing the rough cut before beginning work. The use of piano was instrumental in conveying the haunting tone and Desplat said he was fortunate to hire pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet (who is performing the Liszt Piano Concerto No. 2 with the LA Phil through January 8 at Walt Disney Concert Hall).

Mack said he was charged with recreating the attacks on the World Trade Center in the background with matte paintings and the New York skyline before and after 9/11, which has obviously changed. They also played with camera perspective shifts. But Mack’s proudest shot is the devastating image of the falling man that opens the film and recurs as a metaphoric thread.


Trailering Oscar: Off the Grid

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

The search is on for Billy Crystal in the new AMPAS trailer for the 84th Academy Awards(Off the Grid) produced by Funny or Die. Josh Duhamel and Megan Fox are charged with “tracking down a legend.” There are cameos by former Oscar host Robin Williams, William Fichtner, and Vinnie Jones.

“We wanted to try something a little bit different this year instead of a traditional, clip-based piece,” said Academy chief marketing officer Christina Kounelias. “The trailer has a fun twist that conveys how excited everyone is to have Billy back [hosting his ninth ceremony].”

The trailer will have a one-month run in more than 2,000 theaters beginning today and can be viewed online at

Academy Awards for outstanding film achievements of 2011 will be presented on Sunday, Feb. 26, at the Kodak Theatre at Hollywood & Highland Center, and televised live by ABC. The Oscar presentation also will be televised live in more than 225 countries worldwide.

Academy to Honor 8 Sci-Tech Achievements

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in Blu-ray, Events, Home Entertainment, James Bond, Movies, Oscar, Tech, VFX | Leave a comment

The AMPAS announced the eight sci-tech achievements represented by 28 individual award recipients, who will be honored at its annual Scientific and Technical Awards Presentation at the Beverly Wilshire on Saturday, Feb. 11, 2012. They include Mantra software for the rendering of volumetric effects, the Phantom cameras, and “The Lowry Process” for digital noise reduction and other artifacts.

Indeed, how fitting that “The Lowry Process” be honored during the 50th anniversary of James Bond, since it was applied to the digital restoration of the Bonds several years ago, and we’ve reaped the benefits in the subsequent Blu-rays. (The Dr. No screen capture above courtesy of Gary Tooze’s DVD Beaver.) The Lowry touch has also been applied to the Star Wars and Raiders collections, as well as hundreds of other evergreens.

The Academy Awards for scientific and technical achievements are:

Technical Achievement Award (Academy Certificate)

To Andrew Clinton and Mark Elendt for the invention and integration of micro-voxels in the Mantra software.

This work allowed, for the first time, unified and efficient rendering of volumetric effects such as smoke and clouds, together with other computer graphics objects, in a micro-polygon imaging pipeline.

Scientific and Engineering Award (Academy Plaque)

To Radu Corlan, Andy Jantzen, Petru Pop, and Richard Toftness for the design and engineering of the Phantom family of high-speed cameras for motion picture production.

The Phantom family of high-speed digital cameras, including the Phantom Flex and HD Gold, provide imagery at speeds and efficacy surpassing photochemical technology, while seamlessly intercutting with conventional film production.

To Dr. Jürgen Noffke for the optical design and Uwe Weber for the mechanical design of the ARRI Zeiss Master Prime Lenses for motion picture photography.

The Master Primes have achieved a full stop advance in speed over existing lenses, while maintaining state-of-the-art optical quality.  This lens family was also the first to eliminate the magnification change that accompanied extreme focus shifts.

To Michael Lewis, Greg Marsden, Raigo Alas, and Michael Vellekoop for the concept, design and implementation of the Pictorvision Eclipse, an electronically stabilized aerial camera platform.

The Pictorvision Eclipse system allows cinematographers to capture aerial footage at faster flying speeds with aggressive platform maneuvering.

To E.F. “Bob” Nettmann for the concept and system architecture, Michael Sayovitz for the electronic packaging and integration, Brad Fritzel for the electronic engineering, and Fred Miller for the mechanical engineering of the Stab-C Classic, Super-G, and Stab-C Compact stabilizing heads.

This versatile family of 5-axis camera and lens stabilizers allows any standard motion picture camera to be fitted into the open architecture of the structure.  The system can be quickly balanced and made ready for shooting platforms such as helicopters, boats, camera cars, or cranes.

To John D. Lowry, Ian Cavén, Ian Godin, Kimball Thurston, and Tim Connolly for the development of a unique and efficient system for the reduction of noise and other artifacts, thereby providing high-quality images required by the filmmaking process.

The “Lowry Process” uses advanced GPU-accelerated, motion estimation-based image processing tools to enhance image quality.

To FUJIFILM Corporation, Hideyuki Shirai, Dr. Katsuhisa Oozeki, and Hiroshi Hirano for the design and development of the FUJIFILM black and white recording film ETERNA-RDS 4791 for use in the archival preservation of film and digital images.

Specifically designed for laser film recording and widely used in the industry today, the high-resolution FUJIFILM ETERNA-RDS 4791 film stock is an important step in protecting the heritage of the motion picture industry.

Academy Award of Merit (Oscar Statuette)

To Franz Kraus, Johannes Steurer and Wolfgang Riedel for the design and development of the ARRILASER Film Recorder.

The ARRILASER film recorder demonstrates a high level of engineering resulting in a compact, user-friendly, low-maintenance device, while at the same time maintaining outstanding speed, exposure ratings and image quality.

Portions of the Scientific and Technical Awards Presentation will be included in the Oscar ceremony.

Academy Awards for outstanding film achievements of 2011 will be presented on Sunday, Feb. 26, at the Kodak Theatre at Hollywood & Highland Center, and televised live by ABC. The Oscar presentation also will be televised live in more than 225 countries worldwide.

10 Vie for Oscar VFX

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

The AMPAS Visual Effects branch executive committee has announced its shortlist of 10 for VFX Oscar consideration, leaving behind J.J. Abrams’ Super 8 in favor of the Abrams’ produced Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol. Also left off were Cowboys & Aliens, Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows, Sucker Punch, and Thor. ILM has three contenders (Ghost Protocol, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, and Transformers: Dark of the Moon). And Digital Domain is involved with three as well (Real Steel, Transformers: Dark of the Moon, and X-Men: First Class).

The films are listed below in alphabetical order:

  • Captain America: The First Avenger
  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2
  • Hugo
  • Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol
  • Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides
  • Real Steel
  • Rise of the Planet of the Apes
  • Transformers: Dark of the Moon
  • The Tree of Life
  • X-Men: First Class

All members of the Visual Effects branch will be invited to view 10-minute excerpts from each of the 10 shortlisted films on Thursday, Jan. 19. Following the screenings, the members will vote to nominate five films for final Oscar consideration. The five favorites for nomination remain: Captain America: The First Avenger, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, Hugo, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, and Transformers: Dark of the Moon. However, Tree of Life remains a definite spoiler because of the Doug Trumbull factor.

What Went Wrong with Animation in 2011?

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

All I kept hearing over the holidays was how disappointing 2011 was for animation. So I gave it some thought for my first TOH column of the year at Indiewire While I enjoyed and admired most of the films for what they accomplished (especially on the technical side), it seemed to be that what we lacked was emotional uplift. But 2012 looks much more promising and diverse, led by Pixar’s Brave (June 22) and three stop-motion movies: Aardman’s The Pirates! Band of Misfits (Sony, March 30); Laika’s ParaNorman (Focus Features, Aug. 17); and Tim Burton’s Frankenweenie (Disney, Oct. 5).

Rick Carter Talks War Horse

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in Below the Line, Books, Movies, Oscar, Production Design, VFX | Leave a comment

Over the holidays, I spoke with production designer Rick Carter about War Horse as part of a personal journey he’s been on making a series of war-themed films (mostly with Steven Spielberg) since 9/11. He calls it “the nature of conscience and the Goya-esque disasters of war.” The interview appeared in my TOH column at Indiewire.

Paramount Launches 100 Years Promo iPad App

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

To start the new year, in honor of Paramount Pictures’ centenary, they’ve launched a new iPad promo app to explore the studio’s rich history. From Paramount’s modest beginning in 1912 with Queen Elizabeth to Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol, the app provides a fresh and innovative opportunity to experience your favorite films by flipping through never-before-seen photos, watching memorable film clips, and listening to timeless music scores.

This unique keepsake also includes an overview of Paramount’s story, a Studio Tour and a specially designed Scene it? game, all of which you can share with your friends and family on email, Twitter, and Facebook.

See the links below to download this promotional app to your iPad, or download to your PC or Mac with the Adobe Air version; available via the 100th Anniversary Intranet site on Jan. 4th.


























New Zealand








The Netherlands


United Kingdom


United States

Meanwhile, Paramount unveiled it’s new 100th anniversary logo (the latest variation on the stars circling a Wasatch Mountain, which originated in 1916) with the opening last month of Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol. Next year, the 100 years insignia will be removed but the logo will stay.

Puss Grabs Momentum

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

After grabbing a Golden Globe nomination, things are looking up for DreamWorks’ Puss in Boots, which now has a better shot at getting an Oscar nomination as well. Although Rango is the clear front runner, the other three or four slots are wide open. Puss exceeded expectations and has a secret weapon in Guillermo del Toro, who took to Puss like a cat to milk and was the perfect exec producer, suggesting that Humpty Dumpty should be an inventor and the beanstalk escape needed more of a point of view in its cutting.

For director Chris Miller, Puss in Boots provided an opportunity to do something totally different from the Shrek world and was a liberating experience. “It’s reflected in the movie,” he adds. “Guillermo came aboard at a great time for us. It was fated in a way. It was surreal when he asked to participate and helped us achieve the story we wanted to tell. He just looked at it and said we needed to add stuff. You need to add a close-up here; you need to add a character reaction here; you’re not with the characters in this world. It didn’t feel long anymore — it felt right. Point of view in a big set piece. You can fall in love with the incredible artwork you’ve created. He was invaluable in those kinds of situations.

Miller wanted Puss to have a redemption story and a world that evoked Clint Eastwood and The Mask of Zorro to play off of Antonio Banderas’ persona. But when Miller heard all about Banderas’ dark experience working simultaneously on Pedro Almodovar’s The Skin I Live In, he was worried that he’d come back as a very dark cat. Fortunately, Banderas easily slipped back into the cool cat.

“We’ll see if there’s an appetite for the cat to come back.”

You can read all about the design challenges for the characters and environments along with the new procedural animation for clouds and the beanstalk in Ramin Zahed’s superb The Art of Puss in Boots (Insight Editions).

Rango Rolls On

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

With Rango grabbing nearly half a dozen critics prizes, it’s clearly the front runner for the animation Oscar. After the Golden Globes noms came out, I spoke briefly with animation supervisor Hal Hickel about the significance of ILM’s first animated feature.

“To make a movie so far afield from the norm was very gratifying,” Hickel says. “It’s hard to buck the trend but we’re so thrilled to be getting such a great response. And it was a great fit for us to work in a world that had such a photographic and textured look. The freedom not to be in that live-action box was new and exciting and it was helpful having Roger Deakins come in and show us that we had all these lighting options. We looked at There Will Be Blood, and liked the solutions they came up with for those hot, dusty exteriors.

“Where do we go from here? We’re dying to do another one, with or without Gore. In fact, I’d prefer to do something else that’s completely original. We can do so much more.”

Are you listening David Stainton and Paramount?

Spielberg Talks Tintin, War Horse

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

On the heels of my TOH interview with Steven Spielberg, here’s the full transcript about our discussion of The Adventures of Tintin and War Horse:

What has been like using this new performance capture technique for animation?

Tintin is only a new kind of animated movie if you immediately erase from existence Avatar and Polar Express and Beowulf and Christmas Carol because Bob Zemeckis and James Cameron set a precedent and raised a bar quite high. Tintin is the beneficiary of some amazing groundwork that has already been accomplished by two great artists, Zemeckis and Cameron, and we actually got to use every animator that worked on Avatar and moved right over to do Tintin. So I was in the crow’s nest and didn’t want to blow this opportunity to make a movie that was in the right medium for the right message.

What do you say to those who wonder why you didn’t use live actors with virtual environments?

If you have any familiarity with the Tintin books, you’ll see that they were the style guide for every single pose and every single facial expression, and everything that these characters look like in our movie is actually what they look like in the comic books. But if you’re not familiar with the Tintin books, just know that it brings you into a photorealistic world of animation and imagination.

Had I made it live action, here’s what people would be saying right now: ‘I hated all that makeup on those actors’ faces!’ Why’d he have to give him big, fake noses and big, fake ears and fake chins?’ You know, I would’ve been criticized for stylizing the movie beyond recognition and that’s why I chose this medium.

Was that fantastic motorcycle chase in Morocco, where you stage it all in one take, something you’ve always wanted to do?

No, I wanted to do this chase in one shot. I began working with the animators at Weta and we started with some previs, and I said, let’s do this entire chase in one shot, and I laid the whole thing out with the animators in one shot. I knew they could do it: I had to make sure it wasn’t going to be boring; I had to make sure it wasn’t going to need cuts and close-ups and so I was able to bring the characters in and out of their close-ups without interrupting the flow of the sequence. And once I saw it in a very rough version, the previsualization, I knew we could do the entire thing in one shot.

That alone is proof of the form that you chose.

Yeah, the form allowed me virtual freedom I’ve not had up until Tintin in my career, and the virtual freedom to put anything in my imagination up on the screen with only taste holding me back from becoming a complete hog, so to speak.

And the ability to go in and make last-minute lighting changes right up until the international release. What kind of changes did you make?

Sometimes I would convert a very bright, sunlit sequence to a very dark, film noir sequence, and we could do that in one phone conversation with the animators.

And Raiders found its way in there too.

I tried to keep the movie honest to the source material. I knew there would be some Raiders analogies because we sort of put the idea in the mind of the media when I first began telling people that I first came across Tintin when I read a Raiders of the Lost Ark review in one of the French magazines and it compared me to something called Tintin. And that’s when I discovered what Tintin was — I had never heard of Tintin before. And also the genre of the adventure movie has to follow certain principles, and those principles are the same for Gunga Din, the same for The Great Escape, the same for the Indiana Jones series, and the person that beat all of us to the punch in 1929 was Hergé.

Switching to War Horse, what was significant about it for you?

The reason I made the movie, beyond the fact that the play moved me so deeply when I saw it in the West End of London, was that here we have an animal that brings human beings together, at least in a détente of sorts, and the idea that an animal has the power to be able to bring these two warring sides together for a brief respite.

While I was watching it, I couldn’t help thinking that it was the opposite of Jaws, where you’ve got an unstoppable animal that unites people rather than destroys them.

(Laughing) Yeah, exactly, that’s a good observation on your part. And I also felt that it was very, very important to show the lengths to which a young man will travel in order to retrieve an animal that has meant so much to him and his family, that has basically saved the lives of his family by saving their farm, and that there had to be a happy conclusion.!