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.

performance capture

Fall/Holiday Preview: Five Glorious VFX Films to Watch

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

I preview five VFXy films to keep an eye on this fall/holiday season in my TOH indieWIRE column: Hugo (Nov. 23), Real Steel (Oct. 7), Immortals (Nov. 11), Anonymous (Oct. 28), and Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (Dec. 16). And not a contemporary setting among them.

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

Rick Carter’s 9/11 ‘Aftermath’

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in 3-D, Animation, Below the Line, Movies, Oscar, performance capture, Production Design, Tech, VFX | Leave a comment

Oscar-winning production designer Rick Carter has put together a very personal photo-exhibit called “Aftermath” of paintings he made following the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.

“As it probably is for you, it’s still hard for me to emotionally process,” Carter explained by email. “Part of it for me personally, however, has been the movies I’ve production designed since then exploring the nature of conscience and the Goya-esque disasters of war: War of the Worlds, Munich, Avatar, War Horse, and the upcoming Lincoln.

“In the last few months I’ve begun to look back over my first artistic responses to 9/11, which are represented by these paintings I wanted you to share with you. It’s all just part of my artistic journey over this last decade.”

As we approach the 10th anniversary of 9/11 on Sunday, it’s very fitting, indeed, to reflect on Carter’s artistic journey, delving into “the nature of conscience and the Goya-esque disasters of war,” as he suggests. In War of the Worlds, the opening Martian attack was designed and shot as a gritty metaphor for the destruction of the World Trade Center, right down to the fallen embers. Munich took it a step further in its terrifying depiction of the ’72 Olympics massacre of the Israeli athletes and the Black September reprisal. Avatar then became an epiphany of sorts for Carter. “I always saw the movie as The Wizard of Oz meets Apocalypse Now,” he told me. “It’s like this EKG kind of brain wave going from Kansas into Oz and into this mystical, bioluminescent dream state, the phantasmagoric, which is what [Cameron] called it in the script.”
Meanwhile, I can’t wait to see how Carter extends the nature of conscience further in Steven Spielberg’s upcoming War Horse (Dec. 28) and Lincoln, amid the horrors of World War I and the Civil War. In fact, it’s no coincidence that Spielberg is the catalyst behind four of these five films with Carter. He’s become the prime force in exploring the post 9/11 ethos in American movies.

Disney/Pixar to Return to Annies

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in 3-D, Animation, Annies, Events, Home Entertainment, Movies, performance capture, Shorts, stop-motion, Tech, VFX | Leave a comment

ASIFA-Hollywood has announced its call for entries for the 39th Annual Annie Awards, scheduled for Saturday, Feb. 4, 2012, at UCLA’s Royce Hall in Los Angeles. And Disney/Pixar has ended its one-year boycott, according to The Wrap. That’s the reason why ASIFA replaced longtime president Antran Manoogian with respected industry vet Frank Gladstone, who’s revising the voting structure to include a more representative voice from every animation studio. Disney/Pixar has called for the establishment of a multi-studio advisory board.

The 2011 Annie Awards will be presented in 28 categories, including two new ones: Outstanding Editorial in an Animated Feature and Outstanding Editorial in an Animated Television Production. A “Member’s Favorite” award has also been added, but will be on a separate ballot located on the Annies website (www.annieawards.org). While Annie voting is limited to professional members, all members, both professional and associate, will be able to vote on this award.

Entries submitted for consideration will be from productions that were released in the U.S. between Jan. 1, 2011 and Dec. 31, 2011. The deadline to receive submissions and materials is Friday, Oct.14, 2011, by 5:00 pm.  The deadline to join ASIFA-Hollywood or to renew membership in order to participate in the Annie Award voting is Friday, Nov. 4, 2011.

Created in 1972 by veteran voice talent June Foray, the Annie Awards have grown in scope and stature for the past three decades.

For information on ASIFA-Hollywood, please visit www.asifa-hollywood.org.

Nine Shortlisted for AMPAS Sci-Tech Awards

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in 3-D, Animation, Below the Line, Events, Home Entertainment, James Bond, Movies, Oscar, performance capture, Tech, VFX, Virtual Production | Leave a comment

Nine scientific and technical achievements have been selected for further awards consideration by the Scientific and Technical Awards Committee of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. These include the Micro-Voxel Volume Rendering by Side Effects Software; Contour Dense Mesh Motion Capture by Mova (pictured above from MPC’s Hades in Percy Jackson); Cinema System for theatrical projection of stereoscopic content by RealD; Phantom High-Speed cameras by Vision Research; and the “Lowry Process” by Reliance MediaWorks (witnessed in such exceptional catalog Blu-ray/DVD titles as the Bonds and Indiana Jones, among hundreds of others).

The list is made public to allow individuals and companies with similar devices or claims of prior art the opportunity to submit their achievements for review. The deadline to submit additional entries is Tuesday, Aug. 30, at 11:59 pm PST.

The committee has additionally selected these other methods or devices for further consideration:

  • ARRI Zeiss Master Primes Lens Family (ARRI Inc.)
  • Phantom High-Speed Cameras for Motion Picture Production (Vision Research Inc.)
  • Pictorvision Eclipse (Pictorvision, Inc.)
  • FUJIFILM Black and Whit1e Recording Film ENTERNA-RDS for Archive (FUJIFILM North America Corp.)
  • Lyre Microphone Suspension (Rycote Microphone Windshields Ltd.)

After thorough investigations are conducted on each of the entries, the committee will meet in early December to vote on recommendations to the Academy’s Board of Governors, which will make the final awards decisions.

The 2011 Scientific and Technical Awards will be presented at the Beverly Wilshire in Beverly Hills on Saturday, Feb. 11, 2012.

Claims of prior art or similar technology must be submitted on our online site at www. oscars.org. For further information, contact Awards Administration Director Rich Miller’s office at 310-247-3000, ext. 1131, or via e-mail at scitech@oscars.org.

New Monkey Business

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

“It’s a question of simian survival.”

It’s as true in Rise of the Planet of the Apes as it was in the 1968 original Planet of the Apes. Only now we have a new origin story for the 21st century propelled by genetic engineering and CG DNA for the apes, courtesy of Weta Digital.

Yes, Andy Serkis’ remarkably nuanced portrayal of Caesar finally puts to rest any notion that performance capture can’t evoke pathos and is unworthy of recognition. His primate pantomime is utterly believable because of his character arc and Weta’s latest advancements in photoreal animation. The new facial model adds all the dynamics, ballistics, and secondary motion, while keeping the volume of the face. The fur is is now directly manipulated for greater detail. And the muscles in and around the eyes fire more accurately coupled with requisite moisture and refractive lighting. Speaking of which, lighting is more realistic overall, thanks to the new active LED system of motion tracking and the ability to shoot on location and on set with the other actors.

Such interaction is key, according to Serkis as well as Terry Notary, the talented movement coach, ape stunt coordinator, and choreographer. He played Alpha, father of Caesar, Bright Eyes, his mother, and Rocket, the ferocious Alpha-male, along with 20 or so other background apes during the rampage.

“It’s not the big stuff that makes the difference when I’m choreographing movement but the little nuances,” Notary suggests. “And it was so much about getting into how to be still in the character and how to just live by doing nothing. Actually the quadrupedding, the leaping, that looked great. I developed arm extensions and that are about a foot long and have these cuffs go in your arms and it worked out great because we could make it look and feel as though [we] had the same anatomy as an ape.”

Perhaps now the cognitive gap between performance and recorded image that exists in the industry can be broken down. And if Rise becomes a box office success and spawns more sequels, eventually intersecting with the original story, which is already hinted at, imagine the possibilities for more evolved performances. And yet despite the cumbersome makeup, one still marvels at John Chambers’ Oscar-winning achievement and how expressive and entertaining Kim Hunter, Roddy McDowall, and Maurice Evans were in the original, which had the right mixture of drama and satire. Rise definitely has room for growth.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8YyMqmDeoxI

Giving Rise to Apes at IndieWIRE

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

Everyone seems to be going Ape today, so I take the opportunity at IndieWIRE to dig into Weta’s great performance capture advancements on Rise of the Planet of the Apes and how Andy Serkis is the beneficiary with his remarkable performance as Caesar. It looks like Deathly Hallows: Part 2, Transformers: Dark of the Moon, and The Tree of Life have some Oscar VFX competition as we head into the second-half of the year.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8YyMqmDeoxI

Will Zemeckis’ Yellow Submarine Resurface?

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

With yesterday’s Hollywood Reporter announcement of Robert Zemeckis’ ImageMovers resurfacing at Universal with a two-year, first look deal, does this mean that his performance capture-animated Yellow Submarine is back on track? We’ll know soon enough.

However, when reporting on Mars Needs Moms in March, the last movie made for Disney at  ImageMovers Digital in Marin County, production designer Doug Chiang told me that Zemeckis was still very enthusiastic about re-imagining the 1968 Beatles classic and proud of the test, and apparently Paul McCartney was supportive as well. It was previously announced that the director had secured the rights from Apple Corps. to use 16 Beatles songs, and that Cary Elwes, Dean Lennox Kelly, Peter Serafinowicz and Adam Campbell would portray the Fab Four.

So, even though the ImageMovers Digital gang has disbanded (Chiang wants to direct, Kevin Baillie co-founded Atomic Fiction in Emeryville, and Huck Wirtz launched Bayou FX in San Rafael and Louisiana), they confirmed that they’d be willing to regroup when Zemeckis has a new project. Then again, Zemeckis could return to Sony Pictures Imageworks, where he helmed Beowulf and The Polar Express and produced Monster House. (He’s currently attached as producer at Sony Pictures Animation to adapt Chuck Sambuchino’s book, How to Survive a Garden Gnome Attack.) He could also make it at Digital Domain (Tron Legacy and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button), with its own performance capture prowess.

Who knows? There still might be a new 3-D journey to Pepperland to fight the Blue Meanies.

More Spielberg and Jackson on Tintin at IndieWIRE

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

I’ve just posted more extensive Tintin coverage from my trip to Weta last week at IndieWIRE’s TOH. There will be more coverage to come from Weta about both Tintin and Rise of the Planet of the Apes.

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.

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.