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.

stop-motion

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.

LAIKA Goes to Wildwood

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

Portland-based LAIKA (ParaNorman, Coraline) has found the perfect stop-motion 3-D fit in Wildwood, which it has just optioned. The HarperCollins children’s novel about an alternate version of modern-day Portland is written by Colin Meloy, lead singer and songwriter for The Decemberists, with illustrations by award-winning artist Carson Ellis.

Wildwood is a marvel, an exquisite, staggering, and lyrical work of art,” said Travis Knight, president and CEO of the animation studio. “It’s an uncannily perfect fit for LAIKA, commingling the time-honored qualities of classic fantasies and fairy tales with a bold, contemporary sensibility.  Colin’s captivating, melodic prose and Carson’s gorgeous, spellbinding illustrations form a rich bounty of ideas, language, and imagery.  Wildwood is a wonderful work of literature, and LAIKA is fully committed to honoring it with an exceptional, groundbreaking film.”

Wildwood, the first book in an epic middle-grade fantasy series, tells the story of Prue McKeel, whose ordinary life is changed forever when her younger brother is abducted by a murder of crows and taken to the Impassable Wilderness, an enchanted and forbidding forest on the edge of Portland.  No one’s ever gone in — or at least returned to tell of it. Within this secret world, Prue and her friend Curtis embark on a rescue mission and find themselves entwined in a violent struggle for freedom amidst warring creatures, peaceable mystics, and powerful figures with the darkest intentions. 

“Hands down, there is no other movie studio in the entire world besides LAIKA that I would entrust Wildwood to,” said Meloy. “Carson and I were prepared to stonewall any and all suitors for the movie rights, so close was this book to our hearts. However, when LAIKA came calling, our defenses promptly came down.”

“I’m a stop motion enthusiast,” added Ellis, “and I’ve been a fan of LAIKA since we saw Coraline a couple of years back.  When we visited the studio and saw all the brilliant creative work happening there  — someone building a waist-high New England village in painstaking detail, someone else sewing pinhead-sized rivets on tiny blue jeans — we were won over completely.”

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.

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.

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.

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.

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