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.


Winnie the Pooh Finds New Life on Blu-ray

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

After being pulverized at the box office by the Harry Potter finale last summer, Winnie the Pooh gets a well-deserved second chance on Blu-ray this week from Disney Home Ent. It’s not often that we get to bask in the splendor of hand-drawn animation, and this first theatrical rendering of Pooh and his pals from the Hundred-Acre Wood looks dazzling in HD.

Disney’s 2D dream team, hot off The Princess and the Frog, did well by the beloved franchise: Dale Baer (Owl), Andreas Deja (Tigger), Eric Goldberg (Rabbit), Richard Haycock (Eeyore), Mark Henn (Pooh and Christopher Robin), Bruce Smith (Piglet, Kanga and Roo), and senior story artist Burny Mattinson.

They not only went back to the roots of Pooh to rediscover its wit and simplicity, but they also went to Milne country in England to soak up the places that inspired the author, especially Ashdown Forest in East Sussex, where they sketched, painted, and captured the architecture and soft English light.

The result is a Winnie the Pooh that channels the past yet bears an unmistakably contemporary stamp, with more slapstick and artistic plussing that comes from the latest and greatest digital enhancements. The honey, for instance, may look like CG, but it’s actually hand-drawn with some creative Photoshop filtering.

“This is obviously a simpler film, Hall says. “We just had to get everybody’s head wrapped around, mostly in effects, not doing tone maps, casting shadows very sparingly. At first, they were like, ‘Well, what are we gonna do on this movie?’ I told them to trust us. You’re going to have plenty to do — the honey sequence and the Backson sequence. So it was really more about training people not to bring all their tools to this.”

“They were actually going to try to make it look exactly like the original,” Baer adds. “Make it look like film, Xeroxed, paint shatter, cell shadows, which would’ve been neat. But with the technology today we’ve been able to enhance everything that we couldn’t back in the ’70s.”

John Lasseter told them that this was their generation’s Pooh, and not be afraid to be more expressive. So they turned it into a wacky variation of Cuckoo’s Nest.

Directors Stephen Anderson and Don Hall were inspired as well: Hall concurs that this wasn’t anything like the pressure of Frog, where he served as head of story. “This was playtime; we were happy just to entertain.”

Along with the informative featurettes is the marvelous 2D short, The Ballad of Nessie.

Jurassic Park Trilogy Invades Blu-ray

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

Universal Home Ent. is on a Blu-ray roll this year with Scarface, American Graffiti, Animal House, and Blues Brothers. But with today’s release of the Jurassic Park Ultimate Trilogy, they’ve definitely hit a new milestone. It’s not only the first of the prestigious Steven Spielberg Universal franchises to go Blu (next year will see Jaws and E.T. plus the Indy trilogy over at Paramount), but it’s obviously also a VFX touchstone. ILM’s CG dinosaurs were an animated game-changer and they look terrific in HD. The skin shines and the reptilian textures are very believable. In fact, the animated performances still work wonders. And without that sense of awe when looking at the T-Rex and his pals, Jurassic Park never would’ve achieved such greatness. Of course, it helped that Michael Crichton hit a cultural nerve with his thrilling cautionary tale (raising the stakes after The Andromeda Strain and Westworld). And the CG work only got better in The Lost World and Jurassic Park III. It changed animation and VFX and we are beholding its legacy today.

Of course, the dinosaurs were all set to be stop-motion, courtesy of Phil Tippett’s Go-Motion technique made famous in Dragonslayer, but Dennis Muren wanted to at least try out a CG T-Rex test, and Spielberg gave him the OK: “He’s never really been interested in technology, but his ideas have given opportunities for that technology to be used,” Muren told me a few years back. “He would’ve been OK with stop-motion dinosaurs in Jurassic — we were going to add blurs to them and everything. But there was something else we could do better at the time.”

Tippett said he felt extinct (which Spielberg turned into a joke in the film), but the director wisely kept him on to supervise the animation of all 50 digital dinos because of his invaluable knowledge of movement and behavior, and it earned Tippett his second Oscar. Not only that but this led to a ground-breaking transition at Tippett Studio from stop-motion to CG.

New Hugo Trailer & Poster

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

As you can see by the new Hugo poster and trailer, the look is getting more dazzling, the visual details more intricate, and the action swifter and more mysterious. To be sure, there’s a melancholy undercurrent that we’re told has a terrific payoff. Can’t wait to see what Martin Scorsese has conjured for his first 3-D movie. Opens Nov. 23.

Zoic’s Stetson to Receive VES Founders Award

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

Congrats to Mark Stetson for his upcoming VES Founders Award, which he will receive on Oct. 20 at the annual membership meeting. I’ve interviewed Mark on several occasions during his tenure at Sony Pictures Imageworks, including Superman Returns, the Blade Runner digital enhancements for the Blu-ray, and Dave. He’s always helped me understand what’s what in VFX.

These days, the Oscar winner for Fellowship of the Ring is creative director for the Feature Films VFX division at Zoic Studios, where he’s worked on Red Riding Hood, 30 Minutes or Less, Premium Rush, The Wettest County in the World, and The Grey.

“It’s an honor to be recognized by my peers at VES with the Founders Award,” said Stetson.  “Throughout my career I’ve strived to push the boundaries and expectations for visual effects.  It is a pleasure to receive recognition for something that is not only a career for me, but also a passion.”

Stetson got his start with model work for such films as Star Trek:The Motion Picture, Close Encounters of the Third Kind — The Special Edition, and Escape from New York.  From there, he supervised miniature effects for numerous high-profile productions, including Blade Runner, Ghostbusters, Die Hard, Total Recall, Batman Returns, and Edward Scissorhands, True Lies, and Waterworld, among others.

In 1997, Stetson was recognized with a BAFTA Award for his debut role as overall visual effects supervisor for The Fifth Element. He received his third Academy Award nomination and BAFTA Award nomination for Superman Returns.

Lorax Once-ler Design Twist

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

Thanks to EW’s First Look by Anthony Breznican, we know that the forest destroying Once-ler in Illumination’s upcoming CG version of Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax  will appear as a young man (voiced by Ed Helms) in flashback. Is this some sort of design revisionism? Not when you consider that the character is portrayed mysteriously by Seuss and was once less monstrous (a la the Grinch). According to Illumination CEO and Lorax producer Chris Meledandri, they’ve merely humanized him for dramatic effect.

Judging by these images, though, the animators at Paris-based Mac Guff, who cut their teeth on the Despicable Me blockbuster, have done right in adapting the lush, multicolored look and spirit of Seuss’ cautionary ecological tale, which found its way into a deleted Avatar school house sequence.

The Lorax (March 2, 2012) is directed by Chris Renaud and scripted by Ken Daurio and Cinco Paul (also from Despicable Me). It looks like 2012 is shaping up to be a banner year for animation.

Spencer Tracy: A Life Book Review

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

Today marks my book reviewing debut for USA Today with James Curtis’ well-researched and invaluable Spencer Tracy: A Life (Knopf). Six years in the making and having complete access for the first time to Tracy’s personal letters, thanks to the cooperation of daughter Susie, Curtis (who’s also chronicled W.C. Fields, James Whale, and Preston Sturges) weaves a narrative that links Tracy’s personal demons with his Hollywood persona. From the early influence of George M. Cohan to the transcendent love affair with Katharine Hepburn, Curtis fills in the biographical gaps. However, also key is a keener understanding of Tracy’s wife, Louise, whom he met in a stock company, and who was a talented actress and poet in her own right. The cover image says it all.

Tintin Fanboy Fun

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

Now we have a Tintin fanboy featurette that gives us the marvelous backstory of Spielberg and Jackson teaming up to adapt Hergé and what attracted them to his fantastic adventures and Ligne claire (clear line) style that he pioneered. We get a glimpse of the performance capture process, the Raiders connection, and the seminal CG Snowy dog test with Jackson pretending to audition as the drunken Captain Haddock.

Clipping the Making of Tintin

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

Here is a making of featurette that reveals the performance capture work in LA, the molding of Snowy, and the amount of frame by frame animated work from Weta Digital that brought these characters and environments to fully-rendered life, as we are now beginning to witness in the latest trailer below.!

New Tintin Trailer More Revealing

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

There’s a new HD trailer for The Adventures of Tintin (Dec. 21), which visually sharpens the focus and provides greater depth, balancing the Raiders-like action with Hitchcock-inspired compositions and fluid overlapping of time and space. It’s really looking more and more like Spielberg was fully liberated, and found a unique hybrid of photorealism and caricature. With critical raves coming out of Europe in anticipation of next week’s opening, I think I’ll be seeing it sooner than later.!

Descending on Forster

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

It was surreal: I had just seen The Descendants last Tuesday and then ran into Robert Forster at the Sutton Place Hotel in Vancouver on Wednesday. He smiled and sat down when I explained the coincidence and we chatted for an hour. He told me that he thoroughly enjoyed his turn as the grieving father in the Alexander Payne-directed odyssey shot in Hawaii and starring George Clooney.

Originally Forster only had a single scene, but that expanded into two. Payne graciously asked Forster if he’d like to do his set up first and gave him as many takes as he needed, which weren’t many. Not surprisingly, Forster explained that acting for him is finding the emotional moment and making his stand. Speaking of Clooney, Forster said he was the very gracious in his own right, making sure everyone was comfortable. And Forster suggested that Oahu was paradise.

Forster asked what I thought of the comedy-drama and I told him it’s a haunting film and one of my favorites of the year. I noted that it’s Clooney’s greatest dramatic stretch and that I appreciated the fact that each character isn’t what he or she initially seems. For instance, Forster’s character is understandably gruff but reveals a tender side that’s quite affecting.

Forster recalled working on The Stalking Moon with Gregory Peck early in his career and how the sound mixer had to call him out for speaking too softly.The actor appreciates the advancement in technology along with more believable and naturalistic dialogue to work with today. Of course, Forster credits Quentin Tarantino with rejuvenating his career with the Oscar-nominated turn in Jackie Brown (which has just come out on Blu-ray). He agreed that Tarantino, like Payne, knows how to get the best out of his actors and give us memorable movies to hold on to. Forster then excused himself to get some sleep before another day’s work on the J.J. Abrams-produced Fox series, Alcatraz.