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.


Jennifer Yuh Nelson Lifts Kung Fu Panda 2

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

Talk about timing: On Monday, the Annies announced that Kung Fu Panda 2 got the most nominations with 12. Meanwhile, I spoke with Jennifer Yuh Nelson on the same day for my TOH column at Indiewire. She discusses why the original cried for a sequel, deepening Po, providing a more devious villain in Lord Shen, and expanding the universe to take Po out of his comfort zone. In this year of the sequel, KFP2 needs all the help it can get in distinguishing itself for an Oscar nomination. It’s coming out next week on Blu-ray/DVD (DreamWorks Home Ent.) and deserves a second look.

Oscar-Qualifying Cat in Paris Prowls Burbank

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

A Cat in Paris finishes its Oscar-qualifying run this week at the AMC Burbank Town Center 8 (201 E Magnolia Blvd., Burbank, CA 9150, 1-888-AMC-4FUN) through Thursday with shows daily at 4:00 pm and 7:30 pm. Distributed by GKIDS (The Secret of Kells).

The hand-drawn Cat is the first feature-length collaboration between Alain Gagnol and Jean-Loup Felicioli. It’s a watercolor love letter to classic noir films and the stylized wit of the Pink Panther cartoons, with jazz  soundtrack featuring Billie Holiday.

Dino is a cat that leads a double life. By day he lives with Zoe, a little girl whose mother is a detective in the Parisian police force. But at night he sneaks out the window to work with Nico, a slinky cat burglar with a big heart, whose fluid movements are poetry in motion as he slips and swishes from rooftop to rooftop across the Paris skyline. The cat’s two worlds collide when young Zoe decides to follow Dino on his nocturnal adventures – and falls into the hands of Victor Costa, a blustery gangster planning the theft of a rare statue. Now cat and cat burglar must team up to save Zoe from the bumbling thieves, leading to a thrilling acrobatic finale on top of Notre Dame.  More info at

Jack Fisk Climbs The Tree of Life

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

In my latest TOH column for Indiewire, Jack Fisk discusses The Tree of Life and and his special collaboration with Terrence Malick, which goes all the way to Badlands in 1973. He is certainly the architect of Malick’s cinematic playground, and says Malick, who has completed one film since The Tree of Life and is prepping two more back-to-back, has never been happier making movies.

Meanwhile, to help stir some more Oscar heat, Fox Searchlight will bring back The Tree of Life to LA (Dec. 9-15 at the Music Hall). There will be Q&A discussions with producers Dede Gardner, Sarah Green, Nic Gonda, cinematographer Lubezki (who also took NYFCC honors), editor Mark Yoshikawa, costume designer Jacquie West, and supervising sound editors Craig Berkey & Erik Aadhl. These will occur after each 8:00 pm screening and on the 10th after the 5:00 pm and 8:00 pm screenings.

10 Shortlisted for Animated Oscar Race

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

Ten animated shorts have been shortlisted out of 44 entries in the race for the 84th Academy Awards, and somewhere between three and five will get nominated. Among the standouts that I’ve covered are Pixar’s La Luna, William Joyce and Brandon Oldenburg’s The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore, and Tweety & Sylvester’s I Tawt I Taw a Puddy Tat.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences today announced that 10 animated short films will advance in the voting process for the 84th Academy Awards. Forty-four pictures had originally qualified in the category.

The 10 films are listed below in alphabetical order by title, with their production company:

* Dimanche/Sunday, Patrick Doyon, director (National Film Board of Canada)
* The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore, William Joyce and Brandon Oldenburg, directors (Moonbot Studios LA, LLC)
* I Tawt I Taw a Puddy Tat, Matthew O’Callaghan, director and Sam Register, executive producer (Warner Bros. Animation Inc.)
* La Luna, Enrico Casarosa, director (Pixar Animation Studios)
* Luminaris, Juan Pablo Zaramella, director (JPZtudio)
* Magic Piano, Martin Clapp, director and Hugh Welchman, producer (BreakThru Films)
* A Morning Stroll, Grant Orchard, director and Sue Goffe, producer (Studio AKA)
* Paths of Hate, Damian Nenow, director (Platige Image)
* Specky Four-Eyes, Jean-Claude Rozec, director and Mathieu Courtois, producer (Vivement Lundi!)
* Wild Life, Amanda Forbis and Wendy Tilby, directors (National Film Board of Canada)

The Short Films and Feature Animation Branch Reviewing Committee viewed all the eligible entries for the preliminary round of voting in screenings held in New York and Los Angeles.

Branch screenings will be held in Los Angeles, New York, and San Francisco in January 2012.

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

Academy Awards for outstanding film achievements of 2011 will be presented on Sunday, 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.

Revisiting Super 8 VFX

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

Last week, Paramount Home Ent. hosted a screening of Super 8 at the Academy in honor of its Blu-ray release. It’s worth looking again at ILM’s retro VFX as the J.J. Abrams coming of age monster movie winds its way into the bakeoff.

“Our visual effects strategy was to use as few bluescreens as possible, plenty of roto, lots of image-based lighting, which everybody does nowadays,” explains production VFX supervisor Kim Libreri. “J.J. wanted to keep the nature of the creature [designed by Neville Page] quite secret to the very end, so when we were shooting the creature scenes there was no maquette — there was only a pole for how big the creature was to make sure we shot everything correctly. But other than that, it was a lot of make believe for the kids.”

For Dennis Muren, it was more of a homecoming since he worked at ILM during this period on Spielberg’s Close Encounters and E.T. He was brought in toward the end as a cinematic reality check.” Everything went through me to make sure it had the right kind of look that J.J. was after for that period,” he explains. “It was quite a gamut and each one offered its opportunities to be nostalgic in the look of it. One of the things of the period is that the colors were stronger and the shots lasted longer — there was more time to digest it. It’s a matter of specifying at the start of the shot here is how the lights have to be; here is how the dust has to be; here’s how the size of the debris has to be. The whole thing was played by what I call ‘peek-a-boo.’ That it’s not terribly clear at the beginning of the shot what you’re seeing, but by the time it’s done you’ve figured it out and it’s gone somewhere emotionally.”

That includes the mysterious alien: a spidery humanoid that evokes terror and pathos by the end, with the help of animation supervisor Paul Kavanagh and his team.

Climbing The Tree of Life

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

Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life fared well with the New York Film Critics Circle on Tuesday, nabbing best actor honors for Brad Pitt, best supporting actress kudos for Jessica Chastain, and cinematography distinction for Emmanuel Lubezki.

Meanwhile, Fox Searchlight is also hoping to get Tree of Life  into the VFX bakeoff for its extraordinary birth of the universe sequence supervised by Dan Glass (EVP of Method Studios) and bolstered by the contribution of Doug Trumbull, who will receive the 2012 VES Georges Méliès Award.

“It’s a real coalescing of ideas and metaphysics about the history of the universe that takes us from [notions] of origins right through some semblance of the Big Bang to the early genesis of stars and galaxies and planets forming, ultimately life itself on planet Earth,” explains Glass.

The work was divided into three realms: Astrophysical, which dealt with the early cosmos and evolution of the universe, stars, galaxies and planets, principally handled by Double Negative in London (under the supervision of Paul Riddle); Microbial, the molecular and cellular origination of life, which was primarily done by the London boutique One of Us, with supplemental work by Method (the splitting off of DNA strands to form more complex organisms, supervised by Olivier Dumont) and the father/son team of Peter and Chris Parks, who shot interesting flows of colors; and Natural History, which focused on the much anticipated dinosaurs, created by Prime Focus/Frantic (supervised by Mike Fink and Bryan Hirota).

Glass also set up an in-house team in Austin led by Brad Friedman, the digital effects supervisor. This group of local talent as well as more experienced compositors could literally “mix paints,” as Malick called it, experimenting close to him and testing ideas. Like the enigmatic yet symphonic film itself, it was a process of discovery.

Trumbull consulted as a favor to Malick, working a few long weekends in Austin, where he set up a lab called “the skunkworks” in a small studio to photograph practical elements for the Astrophysical realm. “I think it’s an extraordinary thing and it comes at a time when the world really needs something that’s outside the box,” he proclaims.

Talking Smurfs: A Christmas Carol

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

Qualifying for animated short Oscar consideration is The Smurfs: A Christmas Carol, a Blu-ray exclusive with the three-disc holiday set that streets on Friday (Sony Pictures Home Ent.). What’s refreshing is that they’ve Smurfed up the Dickens classic with hand-drawn animation for the nightmare sequences in which Grouchy (George Lopez) stands in for Scrooge.

It not only recalls the comic strip origins of Peyo’s designs but also recalls childhood memories of such ’60s animated TV classics as Mr. Magoo’s Christmas Carol.

“We were excited to get the opportunity to do that again and have it work within the framework of the story,” remarks director Troy Quane, who partnered with producer Kurt Albrecht on the Sony Pictures Animation/Imageworks project.

“We hired Duck Studios, the commercial house, to do the 2D work and they managed to keep all the work in town, which is great,” adds Albrecht.

“And for myself, I started my career as a 2D animator so it was a lot of fun to play in the old sandbox again,” continues Quane, who is starting work on the CG Popeye feature in the story department after working on Arthur Christmas. It’s early days, though, and they’re trying to figure out how to translate the look and spirit of a modern-day Popeye by going back to the original comic strip, as they did with The Smurfs. One important clue is Popeye’s independence and ability to survive during economically challenging times, which should play well today.

Pixomondo Helps Hugo

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

Pixomondo came of age with Martin Scorsese’s Hugo, tapping more than 400 artists in 10 of the company’s 11 facilities in Germany, the US, Canada, China, and the UK with a unique 24/7 global pipeline for 800 plus VFX shots.

After an Autodesk sponsored screening on Monday night at the Landmark in LA, Pixomondo VFX supervisor Ben Grossmann explained that they had a hand in tailoring every conceivable kind of animation, including stop-motion for a toy mouse that the compositors complained lacked motion blur because they didn’t realize Scorsese wanted to go old school for his valentine to film history and preservation.

Pixomondo’s London facility completed a heavily-CG opening fly-through sequence and shots involving the inside of the train station; Stuttgart handled most of Georges Méliès’ apartment, graveyard sequences, and Paris exteriors; Berlin managed complicated fire and debris VFX simulation scattered throughout the film along with portions of the train crash sequence; Shanghai completed shots focused around the clock tower staircase and green screen composites; Beijing worked on a magic show sequence, crowd duplication, match-moving, and wire removal; Burbank created a magical animation sequence of flying papers, character animation and CG face replacement; Toronto and Frankfurt worked on train station coverage, with Frankfurt executing Hugo’s nightmare transformation into the automaton. Pixomondo’s LA team completed specialized shots throughout the film, and Hugo’s nightmare in the train station, while also acting as the hub for all VFX work and editorial for other studio-produced VFX shots.

Grossmann told me that the VFX was intricately intertwined with the 3-D as part of the narrative, and that everything for Scorsese was based on 3-D. The idea was to be on the set with the characters. You’re with Hugo in the train station; up in the clocks; in the toy store; or with Méliès in the toy store or his glass studio. It was about the thrill of discovery. In fact, to get 3-D so precise and to have so much control over it was difficult but vital. They worked very closely with all the principals, particularly Rob Legato, the production VFX supervisor who had previous stereo experience on Avatar.

“You string it all together and then sweeten the interocular distance and convergence for different parts of the shot,” Grossmann explains. “It means the stereo settings are constantly changing. For instance, you start out by separating the left and right eye cameras by 10 feet at the head of the shot and then slowly start animating them closer together as you get closer to the station, so that by the time you’re swooping through the crowd of people, the interocular distance gets much shorter. For a lot of our big stereo shots we matched the camera separation to the human eye. Most 3-D movies have a 1/4 of an inch or a 1/2 of an inch. And a big stereo shot would be about an inch. On Hugo, a big stereo shot was 2.2 inches. That’s unique. It takes a lot of refining.”

Casarosa Talks Pixar’s La Luna

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

Pixar has one of its strongest shorts in years with the gentle fable, La Luna, about an enchanting trip to the moon. I spoke with director Enrico Casarosa about his influences and experience for my latest TOH column at Indiewire.

Hugo: The 3-D Game Changer

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

In my latest TOH column at Indiewire, I explore Hugo’s ground-breaking 3-D with production VFX supervisor Rob Legato and Pixomondo’s VFX supervisor Ben Grossmann. If Hugo looks more dimensional than other 3-D, that’s because they matched the camera separation to the human eye. Meanwhile, Martin Scorsese is now inspired to convert classic 3-D (House of Wax, Kiss Me Kate, Dial M for Murder) with the help of his Film Foundation so we can view it in perfect convergence.