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 Talks KFP2

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

When Jeffrey Katzenberg needed a director for Kung Fu Panda 2, he turned to his secret weapon: the shy but quietly assertive story supervisor, Jennifer Yuh Nelson.

Did you have to be coaxed into directing? And what was it like?

I’m not a naturally aggressive person as far as trying to get promoted or anything like that. I’m pretty much happiest if I’m sitting and drawing. I had to be coaxed. I think it’s about how to protect the film because a lot of people over the course of the [production] have a lot of great ideas, but you have to hold on to the original story you intended to tell. Which is demanding and hard over three years. That level of stamina involved is a big thing.

How were you able to achieve even more richness in this sequel to Kung Fu Panda?

The same production designer and art director, Raymond Zibach and Tang Heng, came back and they carried through the look of the first film, and were freed by the advancements in technology to increase the scale of a lot of the sets that we had. On the first film we could only go so far before technologically hitting a wall, and on this one we could build a whole city and it was all completely practical and have the characters punching everything, which was lovely.

What about the look of Lord Shen?

R&D with feathers, with cloth, with complexity of the rig. Shen can move his tail, he fights, he’s got flowing robes. Having him walk across a room would’ve been difficult and we have him doing crazed acrobatics. That would’ve been incredibly memory intensive for the computers.

What was the biggest challenge in returning to Kung Fu Panda?

We worked very hard for a deeper understanding of the characters in the sequel. And you have to raise the stakes and the understanding more to have an impact on the audience.

Tweety & Sylvester Go 3-D

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

This year Warner Bros. tackled Tweety & Sylvester in a new Looney Tunes theatrical short in CG/3-D now playing in front of Happy Feet 2, I Tawt I Taw a Puddy Tat. It’s an Oscar contender, and I spoke with director Matt O’Callaghan.

How did this one originate?

I was just wrapping up the three Coyote shorts and Sam Register walked into my office and handed me this CD with some of these songs on it and said they had never been animated to. And that it would be really fun to put the classic Mel together with modern technology in a short. The problem was the content and so he handed it to me and I had to put together a pitch.

And I think when I first listened to the song, I realized that it’s a very sweet duet, which would be painfully boring if we just animated to that. But then getting more familiar with these shorts, watching them over and over again, there was such a great dynamic between cat chases bird and my first approach was to tonally make it feel like the old shorts. The only way I could it was to fit the punctuation of all the gags in between the lyrics, and so I pitched that idea with some boards, humming the song. And everybody laughed and I said this is what that has to be: a combination of very sweet song and very physical gags.

And what about working with 3-D?

We threw it in a New York apartment, and that had great depth of field like the Coyote shorts, and that helped it swing a certain way. So I said, ‘Well, if I’m going to be in a New York apartment, I’m going to go outside because that’s going to give me full advantage here.’

What were the animation challenges for Reel FX?

We have the fur and feathers again but we’ve advanced the technology a little bit. But because you have fur and feather now, you have to be very careful when you’re doing dialogue. You don’t want the fur and feathers to mess up the articulation of mouth, so you have to get into grooming and watch how you handle the muzzle fur of Sylvester and the feathers around Tweety. But, likewise with Coyote/Road Runner, the main objective was they’ve gotta look like the same characters: you can’t cheat them because now you have fur to deal with. At the end of the day, you have to go: ‘That’s Coyote/Road Runner; that’s Sylvester/Tweety; and that was our main goal.

Sarah Smith Talks Arthur Christmas

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

After completing Arthur Christmas, director Sarah Smith had a chance to chat about the first collaboration between Aardman and Sony.

What was it like creating a combination of the traditional and modern approach to Santa?

We never thought of it as a recipe — oh, we need bit of this and we need a bit of that — in a way, it entirely comes from the original concept of how could you really get the job done in today’s world and what would it take? And then you come up with this brilliant and amazing high-tech operation: the idea that things have changed with the times. And in a funny way, it just seems incredibly obvious. And you think: Of course, why would Santa still be the Victorian [image]? He’s moved as times change. But in the middle of that, when the high-tech operation fails, the only way to do it is the old way. It’s not an either or and it’s not a kind of formula to try and please the audience, particularly with the logic of the story, which is, when the big machine breaks down and all you’ve got is the sleigh in the shed to do it with. And the whole point of the movie is not that one way is good and the other is bad; it’s that why of it all, really.

What was your take away?

The thing about animation is that it’s an incredibly enormous and intense experience. The thing I didn’t realize when I went into it was the unbelievable amount of different talents that come and give yourself to your movie, which is just gobsmacking all the way through. So many fabulous people contributed along the way. On the flipside, just the enormity of doing it is really mind-boggling. It’s sort of like the longest labor and childbirth in the world, and I haven’t had time to sit back and enjoy the baby yet to forget all of that.

What do you think Aardman’s take away is?

So far, Aardman are incredibly delighted with it. I think they feel that it is properly an Aardman movie even though it was made in different locations. The studio obviously feels creative ownership of it and the fact that’s doing well in the UK makes everyone happy. Obviously we’re waiting to see how it does in the States and elsewhere to see what that means for the future. And in terms of more CG films, I think the collaboration with Sony has been tricky but fruitful for this movie because we’re bringing together very different kinds of film cultures in doing it, but it ended up with the best of both worlds. I think one of the biggest take aways for me is that it’s incredibly, personally demanding for lots of people to keep moving their lives around the world during the making of a film. And my aspiration would be, if and when we’re ever going to do it again, it would be great to do it in a home studio all the way through. It adds such an enormous amount of pressure and asset and cost to everyone as well as the making of the movie. I so envy Pete Lord sitting in Bristol making his Pirate movie from beginning to end. But I would be the first to say that the Imageworks pipeline that they’re capable of doing would be very difficult to replicate in a startup CG environment because they are very seasoned, the pipe is very well-known.

The Artist Director Speaks

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

At a recent junket for The Artist, I got the chance to ask director Michel Hanazavicius the following questions:

What was your approach to the acting?

The movie has been done in the ’20s so, of course, it’s the course of acting in the ’20s, not of the silent movie. So it’s not about acting silent; it’s just acting. And I think the silent part, to me, in the writing process, is how to create images that will tell the story. It’s the same confusion that people have about silent movies. They think that silent movies are old. But they are not old because they are silent; they are old because they were made in the ’20s.

How did you design and conceive a silent movie in black-and-white with today’s technology?

Well, the technology’s exactly the same as it was in ’20s: you have a camera, you have actors. You are not forced to use 3-D and to use digital. You can do what you want with technology. To me, it’s not a technical challenge, this movie. The technology and the technique are very simple, except maybe for the writing once again. It was very difficult and challenging for me because the most complicated thing is to make it simple for the audience. They want character and they want a story: they don’t want to see a performance; they don’t want to see how difficult it was or how clever it is. At least this film allows you to make a very specific story. You can go to some poetry that you usually don’t see in other movies. And I think it’s part of the promise of that movie because you say, ‘I won’t use dialogue.’ That means you use something else — you use images. I think unconsciously people want to have so many images that you don’t see in other movies. For example, when she goes in the dressing room and she puts her coat on the coat rack, usually you don’t that in a normal movie because it’s a little too much. But you can do that in a silent movie because it’s part of the promise. Or when a character is arguing with his own shadow. You don’t do that unless you’re a director like Fellini or Almodovar or Tati. What was difficult for me was to find the freedom. What is freeing during a silent movie and doing it?

Why use Bernard Herrmann’s love theme for Vertigo for the climax, which I understand was a temp track?

For people it’s a little bit shocking to have the music of another movie. When I saw Casino, Martin Scorsese used the music of Le Mepris from Jean Luc Godard and for a few seconds I questioned it. Finally, I accepted it. So we had two options: I asked the composer to compose on the same structure but with our own thing, and I did not have that feeling of something special from the last movement. And also this theme is so beautiful, so perfect, so sensual that, finally, I decided to keep it. And this movie is not just a tribute to silents: it’s wider than that. It’s a tribute to all the classical Hollywood movies. That track had legitimately to be here and anyway you can find Herrmann, the music is so beautiful.

It’s About Time: The Artist and Hugo

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

The Artist and Hugo are truly miraculous bookends that should be studied in introductory film courses: Michel Hanazavicius pays tribute to Hollywood silents and the classical golden age in a very old school approach, and Martin Scorsese delves into the magical world of Georges Méliès while soaking up the experimental French sound films of the same period, only pushing 3-D to new depths of dynamic immersion with the latest digital tools.

But it’s not about technology or technique: it’s about the primacy and poetry of visual storytelling — pure and simple. Both directors and their crews return to square one to rediscover the past and reclaim the present. Their films are about loneliness and the search for identity, artistic expression, and the longing to lose oneself in the cinematic dream world of the movies to escape the harsh realities of life. They are also about the importance of dealing with change, which is timeless and timely, given the precariousness of our global situation. The Artist and Hugo are not unique but they are sustaining.

This is important not only for jaded cinephiles but also for filmmakers struggling to find their way in the new digital paradigm and a new generation of filmgoers that has no use for the past. Earlier this year, I met an amiable waiter who admitted that he has no interest in movies made before he was born. I found his lack of curiosity shocking. Surely, he read books written before his time. Yes, he admitted, only when it came to movies they seemed foreign and dated. Well, perhaps he’s not alone and perhaps The Artist and Hugo will make the cinematic past come alive and help connect the dots to the present.

In speaking with Hanazavicius and three of his crew, they were certainly liberated by their back to basics journey: learning for the first time how to construct a monochromatic world in keeping with the rise and fall of screen star George Valentin (the marvelous Jean Dujardin, who’s like a cross between Doug Fairbanks and Gene Kelly), and emphasizing a more abstract form of expression without the use of dialogue. Hanazavicius said simplicity was the most difficult challenge.

The same goes for Scorsese and his team on Hugo, a film about forgotten dreams, memory, and time. That sweeping opening that takes us through the Paris train station and into the eye of a hidden child is a marvel of CG and practical effects, something that Méliès would’ve applauded. And the stereoscopic brilliance is part of the narrative, pushing the depth beyond any previous 3-D movie, including Avatar. It’s fulfilling the promise of House of Wax and Dial M for Murder, thanks to more advanced technology. But the technology is merely serving the needs of the storytelling. We are there with Hugo and experience the storybook world right along with him. When the drawings fly around the room and animate like flip books, it’s magical. When Ben Kingsley as Méliès addresses the audience at the premiere, he extends into our space to address us intimately. Scorsese and his colleagues conceived and executed the movie entirely in 3-D. 2-D was an afterthought. No wonder James Cameron told Scorsese that it’s the best photographed 3-D movie he’s ever seen.

Revisiting Hollywood’s Silent Age with The Artist

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in Below the Line, Cinematography, Costume, Movies, Music, Oscar, Tech, Trailers | Leave a comment

In today’s TOH column at Indiewire, I discuss the challenges of making The Artist with production designer Laurence Bennett, costume designer Mark Bridges, and composer Ludovic Bource. What’s amazing is how liberating it was for them to return to the roots of Hollywood and classical filmmaking at a time when we’re on the cusp of technological change once again.

George Miller Talks Happy Feet 2

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

I speak with George Miller about starting Dr. D Studios for Happy Feet 2, improved toe-tapping penguins, and the thrill of the Krill in my latest TOH column at Indiewire.

Scorsese & Cameron Talk 3-D

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

It’s a trip watching this brief conversation about Hugo and 3-D between James Cameron and Martin Scorsese interspersed with the clips. Too bad the impact is lost without 3-D. But when Cameron first compliments Scorsese, he can barely contain himself from laughing: “The beauty of what you did was you integrated it with the color, with the composition, with the camera movement, with the acting, with everything. I would say it’s like a 16-cylinder Bugatti firing on every cylinder, and 3-D is one of those cylinders.”

Scorsese explains that he uses 3-D as part of the narrative, what with the spatial opportunities of the train station and the clock interiors, and Cameron admits that it’s the best 3-D photography he’s seen because he’s “embraced it as part of his artistic medium” rather than just adding another color to the palette.

Hugo is a 3-D game-changer in elevating it to a higher artistic plateau. Now let’s see what other prestigious directors can do with it.

Trailering Brave

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

Disney has released the first Brave trailer and Pixar is definitely reaching for something new and adventurous with its 13th feature (opening June 22, 2012). Yes, Brenda Chapman was replaced as director by Mark Andrews (the One Man Band short and story supervisor on The Incredibles), but this should put a stop once and for all to this male only nonsense: Brave is Pixar’s first female-driven story — and a folk tale at that — about a fiery Scottish princess (Kelly MacDonald) and skillful archer, who confronts the legend of a bear in her dangerous rite of passage into womanhood. The characters are caricatured in wildly diverse proportions and the Scottish landscape is lush and ethereal in storybook fashion. It’s all very richly stylized, serious as well as humorous, and teases us with just enough to stir interest.

Trailering Titanic in 3-D

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

Paramount has just released the first trailer and poster touting the return of Titanic in 3-D on April 6, 2012 in IMAX 3D and Real D 3D. Even without the benefit of a stereoscopic glimpse, you still get a greater sense of depth and intimacy. Just imagine what it’ll be like to go inside the ship and explore it more fully, not to mention how it’ll enhance those faces. Although I wasn’t able to attend the recent presentation at Paramount, the response was very positive, even among journos not receptive to conversion. This was echoed by VFX supervisor Rob Legato (Hugo), who worked on Titanic and saw some test footage as well.

However, I recently spoke with James Cameron, and, while admitting that he isn’t a fan of conversion and found the experience “freaky” to fix and redesign (at the very best you’re only getting 90% — and that’s after working on it for a year and spending $18 million), he’s understandably proud:

“The result of it, I think, is stunning,” Cameron admitted. “So I would imagine that fans that saw it multiple times and cherish the big screen experience are the ones that are going to get it. But you’ve also got a whole new generation that has never seen it in a movie theater. There’s a certain type of movie, whether it’s The Godfather or Avatar or Titanic, where you actually make a decision: I’m going to give myself the experience of watching this unbroken. And it will therefore do something to me. There will be an emotional result of having gone through that experience. And it’s not about finding out what the movie’s about. When you rush out on opening weekend to see some new movie, you’re just hoping it’s good and you’re going to see something you’ve never seen before. But when something is defined or known, like Avatar in week five or Titanic in week 16, people will line up for that. They make that deal with themselves and with their friends to go and subject themselves to that experience, and that’s unique. And you can’t get that on other platforms — it’s about going to the movie theater.”