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.


Revisiting Hollywood’s Silent Age with The Artist

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in Below the Line, Cinematography, Costume, Movies, Music, Oscar, Tech, Trailers | Leave a comment

In today’s TOH column at Indiewire, I discuss the challenges of making The Artist with production designer Laurence Bennett, costume designer Mark Bridges, and composer Ludovic Bource. What’s amazing is how liberating it was for them to return to the roots of Hollywood and classical filmmaking at a time when we’re on the cusp of technological change once again.

George Miller Talks Happy Feet 2

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

I speak with George Miller about starting Dr. D Studios for Happy Feet 2, improved toe-tapping penguins, and the thrill of the Krill in my latest TOH column at Indiewire.

Illumination Gets Woody Woodpecker

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

After purchasing Paris-based animation studio Mac Guff for Illumination (to be called Illumination Mac Guff), Universal Pictures is now setting up Woody Woodpecker as a feature for Chris Meledandri’s rapidly expanding slate (Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax, the Despicable Me sequel).

THR reports that Blades of Glory scribes John Altschuler and Dave Krinsky are in talks to develop the crimson-coiffed cartoon character co-created by Walter Lantz.

With news that Sony Pictures Animation is making Popeye on the heels of its blockbuster Smurfs movie, and with Tintin off to a great start in Europe, comic strip characters going CG are getting hotter all the time.

NVIDIA Launches Maximus

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

NVIDIA introduced the Maximus workstation, which brings together the power of an NVIDIA’s Quadro GPU and the new Tesla C2075 companion processor under a unified technology. With the support of HP, Dell, Lenovo, and Fujitsu, NVIDIA Maximus-powered workstations are now available to impact engineering and design workflows.

According to David Watters, “[P]rofessionals have the freedom to act on ideas immediately. For example, when a product designer believes a component of their design is complete, NVIDIA Maximus allows them to immediately begin validation simulation at their desk — while still continuing to act on new design ideas with full interactive 3D graphics. Their creative work process is no longer tied down by the limitations imposed on them by traditional workstations.”

See below how Maximus increases particle simulation in Autodesk Maya 2012 and performs rapid photoreal renderings in 3ds Max 2012. Learn more about NVIDIA Maximus technology at

DreamWorks Goes Real-Time

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

DreamWorks’s Jeffrey Katzenberg revealed at this week’s Techonomy Conference in Tucson, Arizona, that after three years his studio is making great progress with real-time rendering R&D with Intel, teasing that the Holy Grail is within sight for animation and social media.

”An expert animator can do about three seconds of animation in a week,” Katzenberg suggests. But DreamWorks is currently spending “many tens of millions of dollars” and as a result of experiments with Intel’s Sandybridge multi-core processor, has already seen 50 to 70x improvement in productivity.

”The problem is software does not let you optimize all this,” adds Katzenberg, with animators working with low-res files before sending it overnight for rendering and then having to do it again. “It is almost like having a 1,000 horsepower engine in your car and driving 30 mph… The Holy Grail would be for us to have an artist actually see their work as they do it.”

DreamWorks (which is exploring the idea of going solo after its distribution deal expires with Paramount) has already rewritten all of its in-house software during the course of this collaboration that runs through 2012.

However, while real-time rendering is working wonders for lighting and simulation, some animators remain skeptical that real-time rendering will offer appreciable improvement for all rendering needs.

Scorsese & Cameron Talk 3-D

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

It’s a trip watching this brief conversation about Hugo and 3-D between James Cameron and Martin Scorsese interspersed with the clips. Too bad the impact is lost without 3-D. But when Cameron first compliments Scorsese, he can barely contain himself from laughing: “The beauty of what you did was you integrated it with the color, with the composition, with the camera movement, with the acting, with everything. I would say it’s like a 16-cylinder Bugatti firing on every cylinder, and 3-D is one of those cylinders.”

Scorsese explains that he uses 3-D as part of the narrative, what with the spatial opportunities of the train station and the clock interiors, and Cameron admits that it’s the best 3-D photography he’s seen because he’s “embraced it as part of his artistic medium” rather than just adding another color to the palette.

Hugo is a 3-D game-changer in elevating it to a higher artistic plateau. Now let’s see what other prestigious directors can do with it.

Trailering Brave

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

Disney has released the first Brave trailer and Pixar is definitely reaching for something new and adventurous with its 13th feature (opening June 22, 2012). Yes, Brenda Chapman was replaced as director by Mark Andrews (the One Man Band short and story supervisor on The Incredibles), but this should put a stop once and for all to this male only nonsense: Brave is Pixar’s first female-driven story — and a folk tale at that — about a fiery Scottish princess (Kelly MacDonald) and skillful archer, who confronts the legend of a bear in her dangerous rite of passage into womanhood. The characters are caricatured in wildly diverse proportions and the Scottish landscape is lush and ethereal in storybook fashion. It’s all very richly stylized, serious as well as humorous, and teases us with just enough to stir interest.

Trailering Titanic in 3-D

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

Paramount has just released the first trailer and poster touting the return of Titanic in 3-D on April 6, 2012 in IMAX 3D and Real D 3D. Even without the benefit of a stereoscopic glimpse, you still get a greater sense of depth and intimacy. Just imagine what it’ll be like to go inside the ship and explore it more fully, not to mention how it’ll enhance those faces. Although I wasn’t able to attend the recent presentation at Paramount, the response was very positive, even among journos not receptive to conversion. This was echoed by VFX supervisor Rob Legato (Hugo), who worked on Titanic and saw some test footage as well.

However, I recently spoke with James Cameron, and, while admitting that he isn’t a fan of conversion and found the experience “freaky” to fix and redesign (at the very best you’re only getting 90% — and that’s after working on it for a year and spending $18 million), he’s understandably proud:

“The result of it, I think, is stunning,” Cameron admitted. “So I would imagine that fans that saw it multiple times and cherish the big screen experience are the ones that are going to get it. But you’ve also got a whole new generation that has never seen it in a movie theater. There’s a certain type of movie, whether it’s The Godfather or Avatar or Titanic, where you actually make a decision: I’m going to give myself the experience of watching this unbroken. And it will therefore do something to me. There will be an emotional result of having gone through that experience. And it’s not about finding out what the movie’s about. When you rush out on opening weekend to see some new movie, you’re just hoping it’s good and you’re going to see something you’ve never seen before. But when something is defined or known, like Avatar in week five or Titanic in week 16, people will line up for that. They make that deal with themselves and with their friends to go and subject themselves to that experience, and that’s unique. And you can’t get that on other platforms — it’s about going to the movie theater.”

Not So Anonymous VFX

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

Now that the Academy has expanded the VFX category to five nominees, it gives movies with more supporting work a better chance to compete. This is perfect for Uncharted Territory’s superb virtual recreation of Elizabethan London for Roland Emmerich’s provocative Shakespeare authorship drama, Anonymous.

One of the first prestigious movies to be shot digitally with the new Alexa at the Studio Babelsberg in Potsdam-Babelsberg, Germany, Volker Engel and Marc Weigert (who also served as exec producers in a more creative capacity) built the entire city of London in the computer, relying on accurate maps prior to the Great Fire of 1666.

They constructed tens of thousands of buildings (which were very crooked by design) in a system they created called OGEL (LEGO spelled backwards). They utilized three types: half-timbered, stone, and mansions along with one-offs such as The Tower of London and the Globe Theatre. They made basic variations (one floor, two floors with different roof types) and LEGO’d them together.

The OGEL software was customized in-house primarily because of the nature of the crooked design, which was also part of its charm, according to Weigert. They worked regularly in 3ds Max with both hand and automated work. They wanted to adhere to the map and accurately depict what London supposedly looked like.

“We wanted to use visual effects to create history as it was, so we built the White Hall Palace, for instance, which was Queen Elizabeth’s home,” Weigert explains. “It doesn’t exist anymore and is in a totally different place and looks totally different. But we built it accurate to old paintings.”

Ironically, the original White Hall was more of a red brick palace. “The interesting thing about the old one was that it had actually been built over a long period of time, and they kept adding to it, so there are at least two or three different styles on the outside,” adds Engel.

What’s especially new in Anonymous are the wide panoramas of London across the Thames. “We had several sweeping helicopter or ‘balloon’ shots that show sweeping vistas,” Weigert continues. ” There was a lot of detail in these vistas, not only thousands of people arriving at the Globe, but also row boats, ships on the Thames that have sail animation blowing in the wind, cats on roofs, birds and chickens, and cows in the street, even laundry blowing in the wind.”

This required a lot of R&D for new projection mapping techniques and moving the assets around in the compositing realm, allowing for quicker turnaround, using projection techniques in Fusion. Engel and Weigert thus worked with eyeon to develop new tools, including full 3D water as a compositing package inside Fusion, which helped create the River Thames.

Krill Vision of Happy Feet Two

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

Director George Miller had some unfinished business in returning to the Antarctic for Happy Feet Two (opening Friday), including a couple of wisecracking new sidekicks to take it in an absurd new direction and to underscore the emotion. That’s right: Will & Bill, the bottom-feeding Krills (voiced by Brad Pitt and Matt Damon), invariably steal the show with their hilarious Rosencrantz & Guildenstern-like antics.

“One of the enticing things about doing an animated sequel would be to try those things that you weren’t quite able to do in the first movie,” admits Miller. “First of all, we had rendered three of the scenes from the first Happy Feet in stereo 3-D and they looked absolutely wonderful, given the spectacular landscape and the creatures themselves. They become more three-dimensional and tactile themselves. You can reach out and touch the fluffy penguins, but we didn’t have the bandwidth and the time to get the 3-D done, and it wasn’t as sophisticated as we were able to achieve on the second Happy Feet.

“Secondly, just the rendering of landscapes and characters and most of all, just story structure. I feel that even though this film only covers three or four days, it’s a denser story and has better rhythms. Virtually both Happy Feet movies are grounded in some authenticity about the natural history of Antarctica: the behavior of the penguins and the elephant seals, the leopard seals, the school of birds, the ice and the clouds, and the sun, and so on. All of those things we try to keep consistent. Obviously our lead characters try to differentiate themselves and are heightened in their behavior and look.

“But, having done that, I didn’t want the film to just get bigger and better in scale, so the thought was to go down into a micro world, and, from the point of view of two almost microscopic Krill, the world looks epic. And I became fascinated by the Krill: these great biomasses of which there are billions and billions of them moving around on the large currents on the bottom of the food chain. And, like the penguins, they’re amazing creatures to animate.”

To take on the more ambitious demands of Happy Feet Two, Miller started a new animated facility in Sydney, Australia, Dr. D Studio. “Essentially, we wanted to create a pipeline that was story-driven,” he adds. “We worked with the very fine Animal Logic in Sydney, but they were an effects [company] and even though they look the same, they’re quite different animals, as it were. In other words, if you’re selling effects to several different movies and commercials, you can’t customize the pipeline to the specific story and we really wanted to get into a much more dynamic lighting in terms of the movement of clouds and the light; we wanted much more detail; we wanted to go into that micro world; we wanted, if you like, to push the photoreality even more; and I view these big dance sequences as big action sequences, so I wanted the flexibility to lens them more dynamically as well.”

Enter Rob Coleman, formerly with ILM (the Star Wars prequels), who oversaw the work as animation director. Sure, there were a lot of improvements to the penguins in terms facial animation and movement and overall performance. But, funnily enough, it was the Will & Bill that attracted him to Happy Feet Two.

“When I came down here and George pitched me the movie and started going through the Krill story, I said I’ve gotta do this movie,” he confirms. “And while most of the other part of this script evolved quite considerably over the last two years, the Krills virtually remained untouched. They had already written their lines. What Brad and Matt brought to it was a whole level of humor in terms of their vocal performances and how they riffed off of each other.

“It was amazing to watch those two guys working together. But when Matt especially became Bill, and there was this extra longing to be with Will, and his desire to have a family, it just made that more funny. And Brad’s independence in no longer wanting to be part of the swarm.”

Along with improving the penguin facial animation and overall performance (the entire rigs were redone from Softimage to Maya), Will & Bill were also pretty daunting with their expressive bug eyes, feelers, 10 dainty legs, and semi-transparent, bioluminescent bodies. We’ll just have to see if Oscar lightning strikes twice.