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

Frankenweenie Very Personal for Burton

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

Don Hahn told me today at the Lion King 3-D junket that Tim Burton’s stop-motion Frankenweenie (Oct. 5, 2012) is such a personal project that he’s helming for the first time without a co-director. “This is Tim’s story; it’s about him growing up in Burbank with his dog,” Hahn said. “So I don’t know how else to describe it except it’s very personal for him.”

The exec producer, who goes all the way back to the old Disney days with Burton (who turned  53 on Thursday), added that shooting in black-and-white and 3-D helps elaborates on the great monster movies of the ’50s that Burton loves. In fact, the director always intended to make Frankenweenie as a stop-motion feature, though it wound up as a celebrated live-action short in ’84. This will allow him, for instance, to further explore the Frankenstein myth. The movie is being made in London and has about four more months of production.

With stop-motion enjoying a mini renaissance (next year will not only see the release of Frankenweenie but also Laika’s ParaNorman and Aardman/Sony’s The Pirates!, with Henry Selick’s ShadeMaker in the wings for Disney/Pixar), Hahn said it’s “incredibly fashionable.” But the digital world allows them to “shoot the movie on camera bodies with interchangeable lenses; we have video taps to be able to watch the progress while we’re working; and then 3-D is probably the other big breakthrough because part of the fun of stop-motion is being on this little child-size set, and, with 3-D, you feel like you’re there. And Tim’s really excited about that… So it’s a technique as old as time and that hasn’t changed. It’s still move a puppet, take a frame, but a lot of the tools around it have changed to allow us to do it a little faster and a little better.”

After unexpectedly losing his beloved dog Sparky, young Victor harnesses the power of science to bring his best friend back to life — with just a few minor adjustments. 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.

Frankenweenie will be a reunion of sorts with Winona Ryder, Catherine O’Hara, Martin Short, and Martin Landau supplying voices.

Small Fry Toy Story Short Served with Muppets

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

Pixar’s second Toy Story short, Small Fry, directed by BURN-E director Angus MacLane, will be served up with The Muppets on Nov. 23. Buzz gets the spotlight in this one when Bonnie inadvertently leaves him behind at a fast food joint, taking home a kids’ meal Buzz instead. Meanwhile, Buzz meets a gang of toys, including Jane Lynch as a mermaid.

Poor Buzz: looks like another face-off with a pretender. Can the kids’ meal toy tango?

Small Fry marks the second in the Toy Story Toons brand, coinciding with Pixar’s 25th anniversary.

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.

Joyce Talks Fantastic Flying Books

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

I have an in-depth interview with Bill Joyce and Brandon Oldenburg about their award-winning new animated short and popular interactive book, The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore, at TOH/Indiewire. I definitely think it’s an Oscar contender to keep an eye on and this type of interactive reading experience paves the way for the future of publishing.

Line-Up Set for Inaugural Palo Alto International Film Fest

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

The Palo Alto International Film Festival (PAIFF) has announced its program for the inaugural event that launches Sept. 9-Oct. 2. Highlighted by the digital restoration of Georges Méliès’ A Trip to the Moon (1902), presented by Technicolor on Oct. 1, the line-up includes 20 features and 74 short films curated from award-winning films and film festival favorites that exemplify PAIFF’s theme of innovation in art, film, and technology.

The schedule ranges from Braden King’s cross-platform feature Here, to the artistically inventive Bombay Beach by music video director Alma Har’el to such docs as Something Ventured, which delves into the world of Venture Capital firms.

The 2011 festival kicks off with a free outdoor screening of  Kevin McDonald’s Life in a Day, a documentary shot by filmmakers all over the world that serves as a time capsule to show future generations what it was like to be alive on July 24, 2010. This will take place on Ramona Street in downtown Palo Alto. The rest of the main program will play at Palo Alto Square and Aquarius Theater over the remaining three days.

PAIFF will announce its Speaker Series and Workshops later this month. However, it previously announced “Behind the Scenes with Walter Murch” (presented by FileMaker Inc.), which will take place on Saturday, Oct 1, at noon at Talenthouse in Palo Alto.  The three-time Oscar-winning film editor will present a behind-the-scenes look at his post-production process using FileMaker Pro database management (including on his latest, Hemingway & Gelhorn, directed by Phil Kaufman, to premiere on HBO in early 2012).

Tickets to individual screenings and shorts programs are now available at www.paiff.net.

Disney to Bring out Big Guns at D23 Expo

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

OK, Disney’s D23 Expo (Aug. 19-21 at the Anaheim Convention Center) is shaping up to be a mini Comic-Con. They will tout footage and discussion of Pixar’s Brave and Monsters University, Andrew Stanton’s live-action John Carter, Marvel’s The Avengers, Tim Burton’s Frankenweenie, Disney’s The Muppets and CG-animated Wreck-It Ralph, Oz The Great and Powerful, and more. Rich Ross, chairman, The Walt Disney Studios; Sean Bailey, president, production, The Walt Disney Studios; John Lasseter, chief creative officer, Walt Disney and Pixar Animation Studios; and Kevin Feige, producer and president, Marvel Studios, will preside over the sneak peeks.

In celebration of 25 years of Pixar power, five sessions will be devoted to its artistry and technical wizardry:

* A Conversation with the Pixar Creative Team – Enjoy a rare opportunity to spend some time with the key figures responsible for Pixar’s unprecedented success, including John Lasseter (chief creative officer, Walt Disney and Pixar Animation Studios), Jim Morris (general manager, Pixar Animation Studios), Pete Docter (director, Monsters, Inc., Up), Andrew Stanton (director, Finding Nemo, WALL-E), Bob Peterson (co-director, Up), Lee Unkrich (director, Toy Story 3), Mark Andrews (director, Brave), and Dan Scanlon (director, Monsters University).

* The Characters of Monsters University – Director Dan Scanlon and Production Designer Ricky Nierva discuss how they combine hair, horns, and a lot of heart to bring the wonderful Monsters University characters to life.

* Michael Giacchino’s Music of Pixar – In this musical presentation, award-winning composer Michael Giacchino explores his early influences through the creation of modern-day classic scores from Ratatouille, Up, and Cars 2.

* The Art of Brave – Production Designer Steve Pilcher and Shading Art Director Tia Kratter show how they and their team put paint to canvas and fingers to computer keys to create the stunning visuals of Scotland for Disney•Pixar’s upcoming film Brave.

* Pixar Shorts – This retrospective screening of the animation studio’s legendary short films will be followed by a panel discussion with several of the filmmakers, including Ralph Eggleston (director, For the Birds), Andy Jimenez (director, One Man Band), Angus MacLane (director, BURN-E), Pete Sohn (director, Partly Cloudy), Teddy Newton (director, Day & Night), and Enrico Casarosa (director, La Luna).

Expo attendees will also have access to advance screenings of an all-new 3-D version of The Lion King, presented by RealD 3-D, coming to theaters and homes this fall, and the upcoming ABC holiday special Prep & Landing: Naughty vs. Nice from Walt Disney Animation Studios.

Tickets to the D23 Expo are available at www.D23Expo.com. Admission includes access to all experiences and entertainment at the D23 Expo, including the Disney Legends Ceremony, and can be purchased for single days or for the full three days of festivities. Admission is $47 for a one-day adult ticket and $37 for children 3-12. Three-day passes are $136 for adults and $106 for children. Members of D23: The Official Disney Fan Club will receive a discount for up to four admissions, as well as early entry to each day of the D23 Expo for themselves and their guests.

The Fantastic Flying Books Short Flies into Vancouver

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

The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore is definitely one of the highlights to check out at SIGGRAPH 2011 this week in Vancouver. The Best in Show Computer Animation Festival winner directed by Bill Joyce and Brandon Oldenburg of Moonbot Studios in Shreveport, Louisiana, is a brilliant mash-up of high and low tech — perfect for SIGGRAPH. It tells the story of a Keatonesque book lover displaced by a twister and hurled into an alternate world ruled by books.

They utilized nearly every animated technique: CG for the protagonist and anything that moved; 2D for Humpty Dumpty like a flip book; miniatures for the library coupled with stop-motion camera moves and rapid prototyping for the thousands of books on the shelves; matte paintings on top of miniature environments when they’re still; and practical shots of dust and debris. There’s even a Zoetrope effect. They used Maya, Nuke, boujou, and Photoshop.

I spoke on Friday with Joyce and Oldenburg. Joyce has two adaptations coming to the big screen: Rise of the Guardians, Nov. 21, 2012, from DreamWorks, and Leaf Men, bowing May 13, 2013, from Fox/Blue Sky; Oldenburg is co-founder of Reel FX.

Joyce said the idea came eight years ago on a flight to New York to visit his dying mentor, Bill Morris, a children’s book advocate at HarperCollins. Morris was one of the last of the grand old gentlemen of old publishing. His love of books certainly shines through in this Oz-like phantasmagoria along with the sense of displacement and hopelessness from Hurricane Katrina that also impacted Joyce.

Ironically, it all coalesces in a work about the curative power of books In fact, as some of you might already know, Joyce and Oldenburg have turned The Fantastic Flying Books into a bestselling interactive experience that’s on the cutting edge of immersive storytelling. In other words, it comes full-circle back to Morris’ philosophy about nurturing books as well as the joy of seeing displaced children absorbed in books that were donated to the shelters post Katrina in Shreveport. I will have lot more from Joyce and Oldenburg.

The Fantastic Flying Books App is available for $4.99 from the App Store on iPad or at www.itunes.com/appstore.  A stand-alone version of the short is available for $2.99 on iTunes or at www.itunes.com.

Trailering Happy Feet 2

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

The sequel to George Miller’s Oscar-winning Happy Feet has a new trailer and it looks as snappy and toe-tapping as you’d expect, along with even richer and much finer-detailed animation from Dr. D Studios in Sydney, under the supervision of former ILM vet Rob Coleman. In this one, Mumble’s (Elijah Wood) son Erik (Elizabeth Daily) who’s afraid to dance, and challenged by The Mighty Sven (Hank Azaria), who can fly. Meanwhile, the penguin world is shaken to its core and all the competing factions must come together to save their world. Matt Damon and Brad Pitt lend their voices to the tiny Krills. Happy Feet 2 opens Nov. 18 through Warner Bros (in 3-D, of course) with the Looney Tunes short, Daffy’s Rhapsody.

The Ballad of Nessie Channels Classic Disney

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

I interview Stevie Wermers and Kevin Deters about their latest hand-drawn Disney short, The Ballad of Nessie, at AWN. It opens Friday with Winnie the Pooh. Like their previous Goofy short, How to Hook Up Your Home Theater, it captures the look and spirit of the classic Disney shorts, only this one has a fun rhyming narrative and wonderful pathos. It tells us it’s OK to cry.

Shane Acker Follows 9 with Plus Minus

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in Animation, Education, Shorts, Trailers, VFX | Leave a comment

What’s Shane Acker been doing since 9? Making another post-apocalyptic short, Plus Minus.

But this time at the Gnomon School of Visual Effects in Hollywood for the past three years (via its Gnomon Studios production entity). Plus Minus, which is about the inferno of territorial fighting between demonic forces of art and commerce, will be released in the fall for Oscar consideration. It’s co-directed by Aristomenis (Meni) Tsirbas, best known for his work on the award-winning animated films The Freak and Battle for Terra (which was adapted into a feature like Acker’s Oscar-nominated 9 short from UCLA).

Teaming with instructors and aspiring artists at Gnomon, Acker worked with Tsirbas, Green Lantern visual effects supervisor Tefft Smith and Gnomon students to create Plus Minus, training them on the intricacies of a professional style production pipeline.

Judging from the trailer, Plus Minus looks even richer, funnier, and more operatic than 9.

Meanwhile, Acker has been tapped by HIT Ent. to direct its live-action adaptation of Thomas the Tank Engine, in which a tween boy finds a way to reconnect with his father, who visited the island of talking trains known as Sodor when he was a child, but doesn’t remember it. Weta Workshop and Mattel are providing design work. Cinetic Media and the UTA Independent Film Group are handling funding and distribution. Thomas is scripted by Chris Viscardi & Will McRobb and Josh Klausner.

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