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.

Shorts

Tangled Gets an Ever After Short

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

The branding and braiding of Tangled will continue with today’s announcement by Disney that Tangled Ever After, a new CG/3-D short by Tangled directors Nathan Greno and Byron Howard, will screen in front of next year’s 3-D presentation of Beauty and the Beast (Jan. 13, 2012).

You didn’t think they were going to miss an opportunity to show off Rapunzel’s groundbreaking CG hair, did you?

Picking up where the animated blockbuster left off, the short will spotlight the royal wedding of Rapunzel (Mandy Moore) and Flynn Rider — a.k.a Eugene — (Zachary Levi).

The Kingdom is in a festive mood as everyone gathers for the royal wedding of Rapunzel and Flynn. However, when Pascal and Maximus, as flower chameleon and ring bearer, respectively, lose the gold bands, a frenzied search and recovery mission gets underway. As the desperate duo tries to find the rings before anyone discovers that they’re missing, they leave behind a trail of comical chaos that includes flying lanterns, a flock of doves, a wine barrel barricade, and a very sticky finale. Will Maximus and Pascal save the day and make it to the church in time? And will they ever get Flynn’s nose right?

Cars 2 and Stranger Tides Go Blu

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in 3-D, Animation, Blu-ray, Home Entertainment, Movies, Shorts, Tech, VFX | Leave a comment

Two of Disney’s Oscar contenders for animation and VFX, Cars 2 and Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, have arrived on Blu-ray/DVD (Disney Home Ent.). Both look sharp and crisp in HD (with color palettes intact in their flat form) and sound thunderous, too.

“What’s intriguing about Cars is that as an animator I want to do complex physiology, but once you pop the hood, you realize how freeing and funny it is to animate these characters,” boasts Dave Mullins, animation supervisor. “It’s just really refreshing.”

“We’ve opened up the expressiveness and wackiness of the characters,” adds Shawn Krause, the other animation supervisor. “You don’t question it — you just go with it. On the first one, John [Lasseter] was grounded in such a reality that we were careful to make you feel that these were cars. And I think it’s only because we created such a foundation that we were able to go in different directions and embrace some other opportunities [with the spy genre].”

Meanwhile, two of the added bonus features on Cars 2 are the shorts, Air Mater (made at Pixar Canada in Vancouver) and Hawaiian Vacation (the first of the Toy Story legacy works).

As for On Stranger Tides, we can now marvel at the back to basics storyline and more transparent VFX work by ILM, who got to play in the water with mermaids and try their hand with a new Fountain of Youth.

And for Ben Snow, ILM’s visual effects supervisor, it was a nice change of pace from the hard surface challenges of the Iron Man franchise. The mermaids were especially different, appearing beautiful and human outside the water to entice and entrap the pirate victims and then menacing underwater with deadly fangs. But rather than going completely CG, they decided to apply a hybrid approach, in keeping with director Rob Marshall’s glam aesthetic and desire to retain as much of the live-action performance as possible, particularly when it came to the hero mermaid, Syrena, played by Astrid Berges-Frisbey.

“The look of the mermaids was important,” Snow says. “We conceived them as having an inner body that had all the scale texture on them and then an outer membrane that made them look human when they got out of the water. They evolved from being a little more human to a little more creature-like with vestigial gills, but we pulled back on that.”

Bonus features include Bloopers of the Caribbean and the LEGO animated short, Captain Jack’s Bricks Tales.

Pixar Canada Launches with Air Mater

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

Pixar Canada got off to a flying start in Vancouver with the release of Air Mater on the Cars 2 Blu-ray/DVD. In my TOH column, I discuss the challenges of bringing the Pixar ethos up north and living up to the legacy with the first two shorts, including the upcoming Small Fry Toy Story entry.

Smurfs Scribes Set for Sony’s CG Popeye

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

After successfully taking The Smurfs into CG and 3-D, Sony Pictures Animation now wants to do the same with Popeye, and has hired The Smurfs scribes Jay Scherick & David Ronn to craft an all-new Popeye animated feature. The Smurfs has grossed more than $550 million worldwide since its July 29 opening and the duo is hard at work on a Smurfs sequel. Popeye will be produced by SPA and Arad Prods.

“Scherick & Ronn have a remarkable talent in re-energizing beloved characters,” says Bob Osher, president of Sony Pictures Digital Prods.  “As they demonstrated with The Smurfs, they embrace the iconic characteristics of these timeless characters and craft a story that really engages moviegoers today.”

“We’re thrilled that Jay and Dave are helping us reintroduce Popeye to a new generation,” adds Michelle Raimo Kouyate, president of production for Sony Pictures Animation. “Their take on the world of Popeye has just the right blend of comedy, adventure and heart — all the elements that made a great animated film.”

“Popeye has been my childhood favorite character,” says producer Avi Arad. “To me he was always the everyday man who gets special powers and actually becomes the first superhero in the best meaning of the word.”

Incidentally, you can get the best Popeye cartoons on DVD from Warner Home Video: Popeye The Sailor 1933-1938 and Popeye The Sailor 1938-1940.

Lasseter Gets a Hollywood Star

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

John Lasseter got a long-overdue Star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame yesterday right in front of the El Capitan Theater, surrounded by family, friends, and colleagues, including Disney’s Rich Ross and Sean Bailey, Pixar’s Ed Catmull, Jim Morris, Bob Peterson and Pete Docter, composer Randy Newman, and Owen Wilson, Bonnie Franklin, Patton Oswalt, John Ratzenberger and Don Rickles.

The stars were aligned just right, with the release of Cars 2 on Blu-ray/DVD and 2012 marking the 25th anniversary of Pixar. Indeed, in a tearful acceptance, Lasseter praised Pixar co-founder Steve Jobs, who passed away three weeks ago: “Today I share this star with Steve Jobs; without him Pixar and all these amazing films would not exist.”

I’ve had the honor of interviewing Lasseter on several occasions throughout the last 10 years, and his most revealing observation concerned mentor Catmull: “Lucasfilm had the cream of the crop in computer graphics research, and I asked Ed how they did it. He said, ‘I always hire people smarter than myself.’ I was inspired by that philosophy.”

Meanwhile, Catmull told me years ago that the Pixar epiphany came with their first Oscar-winning short, Tin Toy: “When the baby walked up to the couch and the toys cowered underneath, we realized that the adults laughed and the kids didn’t,” he said. “And when the baby fell over, the kids laughed and the adults didn’t. That taught us how to achieve the physical layer for children and the cerebral layer for adults.”

And Pixar has never looked back.

First Look at Frankenweenie Images

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

Just in time for Halloween, Walt Disney Pictures recently unveiled the first set of images from Tim Burton’s stop-motion Frankenweenie in black-and-white and 3-D (Oct. 5, 2012). Apparently Burton always intended for Frankenweenie to be a feature, but had to settle for a short back in 1984. Producer Don Hahn recently told me that this project is so personal to Burton (a metaphor for his lonely youth in Burbank) that he’s serving as sole director.

Expanding on the Frankenstein myth, Victor Young Victor (voiced by Charlie Tahan) toils away in his attic lab, trying to bring his beloved dog Sparky (a playful bull terrier), back to life, taking to heart what he’s earned about electricity from science teacher Mr. Rzykruski (voiced by Martin Landau). He tries to hide his home-sewn creation, but when Sparky gets out, Victor’s fellow students, teachers, and the entire town all learn that getting a new “leash on life” can be monstrous.

The rest of the voice cast includes Winona Ryder as Elsa van Helsing, Catherine O’Hara as Victor’s mother Susan, along with Martin Short, Tom Kenny, and Conchata Ferrell. Would love to see this on a double-bill with Young Frankenstein.

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.

Google Celebrates Mary Blair’s 100th Birthday

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in Animation, Books, Shorts | Leave a comment

Google is honoring famed Disney artist Mary Blair today in honor of her 100th birthday. Happy Birthday, Mary! No very merry unbirthday for you. Admittedly, I wasn’t able to make the centenary tribute last night at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences hosted by Charles Solomon and featuring Pete Docter, Eric Goldberg, Susan Goldberg, Michael Giaimo, and Daisuke “Dice” Tsutsumi. Duty called with my Bond book publisher, Charles Helfenstein, coming to town.

But I recently luxuriated in the Alice in Wonderland Blu-ray and Mary’s inimitable water color palette came to life for me as never before. I must be maturing. She also made her mark on Saludos Amigos, The Three Caballeros, Make Mine Music, Song of the South, Melody Time, So Dear to My Heart, Cinderella, Peter Pan, and It’s a Small World at Disneyland. In fact, the famous South American goodwill trip with Walt and the guys proved culturally and stylistically instrumental to Mary’s hyper real style.

Deadline Approaches for Oscar Shorts

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

This coming Monday is the deadline to submit entries in the Live Action Short Film, Animated Short Film and Foreign Language Film categories to be considered for the 84th Academy Awards. Complete entries must arrive at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences by 5:00 p.m. PT that day.

In the short film categories, filmmakers must submit an entry form, one film print or copy in an approved digital format, and all other required materials by the deadline. Pixar’s La Luna by Enrico Casarosa is an exquisite animated entry. In the Foreign Language Film category, filmmakers must submit entry forms, one English-language subtitled film print or copy in an approved digital format, and all other required materials by the deadline. Only one motion picture will be accepted from each country.

Complete 84th Academy Awards rules are available at http://www.oscars.org/rules. Additional information may be obtained by contacting Awards Coordinator Torene Svitil via phone at (310) 247-3000, ext. 1116, by fax at (310) 247-2600, or by e-mail at tsvitil@oscars.org.

Another Trip to the Moon with Méliès

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in 3-D, Animation, Events, Shorts, stop-motion, Tech, VFX | Leave a comment

The digitally restored, hand-tinted A Trip to the Moon (1902) by the legendary father of special effects, Georges Méliès, screens this weekend at the Telluride Film Festival and next Tuesday at the Academy’s Goldwyn Theater. I write about the restoration in my weekly TOH column at IndieWIRE.