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.


Universal Buys Mac Guff for Illumination

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

The Blue Sky model is complete for Chris Meledandri’s Illumination Entertainment (Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax, Despicable Me). with Universal Pictures’ purchase of the Paris-based Mac Guff Ligne animation studio. Deadline reports that the studio will be renamed Illumination Mac Guff, and that the animators will now work full-time on Illumination projects (the VFX business will stay separate). Universal has also taken a long term lease on the the 35,000 square foot animation facility (housed above an Aston Martin dealership near the Eiffel Tower). Mac Guff president Jacques Bled and Illumination exec Janet Healy will serve as co-presidents of Illumination Mac Guff.

“In acquiring an animation studio located half way around the world, we are evolving our filmmaking model; one that is creating entertainment despite borders, boundaries and languages,” Meledandri said in a prepared statement.

The situation is similar to George Miller starting his own Dr. D Studios in Sydney to make Happy Feet 2 instead of continuing the collaboration with Animal Logic, which animated the Oscar-winning Happy Feet. Miller told me that it was much more efficient to have an animation start up that could handle the more expansive pipeline demands for animated features rather than a VFX facility that does animation part-time.

Likewise, this will enable Mac Guff to grow into a full-time animation facility that can better handle the artistic and technical demands of cutting edge animated features while still pulling off hybrids such as Hop as well.

Illumination has The Lorax (March 2, 2012), a Despicable Me sequel, a stop-motion Addams Family feature with Tim Burton, a Ricky Gervais-adapted Flanimals, and Uglydoll.

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?

Trailering Snow White and the Huntsman

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

Like Alice in Wonderland, this Snow White is a far cry from the Disney fairy tale; in fact, this is a far cry from Tim Burton’s Alice. As TOH’s Sophia Savage points out, Universal’s initial trailer for Snow White and the Huntsman (June 1, 2012) sells the sultry sex appeal of Charlize Theron’s evil Queen. But this sword and sorcery epic (the first in a trilogy) looks like Excalibur on steroids, with Snow White (Kristen Stewart) and the Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth) locked in a ferocious power play. Lots of slicing and chopping, morphing, and other VFXy mayhem and transformations by the likes of Pixomondo, Rhythm & Hues, Double Negative, Legacy, The Mill, Baseblack, and BlueBolt.

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.

Spielberg, Tintin, and the Race for Oscar

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

In my TOH column, I discuss my positive reactions to The Adventures of Tintin, which closed the AFI fest Thursday night. It’s not only a serious animated Oscar contender but also a game-changer for performance capture, as Weta navigates successfully through the uncanny valley.

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.

NewTek Launches LightWave 11

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

NewTek’s LightWave 11 offers instancing, flocking, fracture, bullet dynamics, virtual studio and interchange tools. It fits into any studio pipeline seamlessly, offering support for Autodesk Geometry Cache, and FBX, including pixel-perfect camera matching with Autodesk Maya cameras. It also supports the Unity game engine and Pixologic GoZ ZBrush workflow, making it ideal for all production environments, including smaller specialized studios and individual artists.

Expanding on the production-proven workflow of LightWave 3D software, LightWave 11 is a complete out-of-the-box pipeline that puts award-winning modeling, rigging, effects, dynamics, animation, and final rendering at the fingertips of 3D artists. LightWave 11 was unveiled to guests of the NewTek “VFX Minds” event held at the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences in North Hollywood on Thursday evening. Industry icon Ron Thornton (Babylon 5 and Star Trek: Voyager) attended the unveiling and sees many creative possibilities for artists working with LightWave 11 software.

“Thanks to LightWave’s power and ease of use, I was able to quickly transition to the world of 3D for Babylon 5,” said Thornton of Red Earth VFX Studios. “LightWave is the one tool that allows artists to be artists instead of technicians. The advances in LightWave 11 are impressive and artists around the world have reason to celebrate.”

LightWave 11 Features

LightWave offers the Virtual Preview Renderer (VPR) for onscreen real-time rendering, Anaglyph Stereoscopic Preview for real-time interocular, “red-blue” anaglyphic separations, and more. Some of the many new feature enhancements in LightWave 11 include:


  • Duplicate a vast number of objects in a scene with very little memory overhead
  • Create huge polygon groups with great detail while retaining reasonable rendering times
  • Scale, position, rotate, and surface randomly cloned objects for realistic detail


  • Animate realistic motion of grouped objects such as such as birds, fish, insects, animals, aircraft, spaceships, and more, using a new motion modifier
  • Calculate crowd avoidance of neighboring objects, target alignment, and cohesive attractions with the motion modifier


  • Pre-fracture objects that are ready for destruction with a new Modeler tool that is designed to  complement Bullet Dynamics in Layout
  • Animate explosions with or without using dynamics
  • Control the density of fractures by applying weight maps to objects

Bullet Dynamics

  • Deliver physics-based animation with the Bullet Dynamics engine in Layout and the new Fracture tool in Modeler
  • Collapse buildings, create explosions, or quickly place objects in a natural-looking random pattern

Virtual Studio and Interchange Tools

  • Support for new controller types, including the Sony PlayStation Move, allow users to easily control and record the item results with a LightWave channel
  • Import and export model and texture data to Pixologic ZBrush software with GoZ technology

Additional LightWave 11 features include powerful new render buffer capabilities, robust Python scripting functionality, FiberFX enhancements, and user interface improvements.

LightWave 11 Pricing and Availability

LightWave 11 is expected to ship Q4 2011 for a suggested retail price of US$1495. Upgrade pricing from earlier versions of LightWave will be US$695. Educational pricing is also available. For more information, please visit

Animation Mentor at CTN-X

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in Animation, Education, Events, Movies, Tech, VFX | Leave a comment

Animation Mentor, the online animation school whose grads have contributed to such Oscar contenders as Cars 2, Puss in Boots, Rango, and Rio, will be attending CTN animation eXpo (CTN-X) as an educational partner and sponsor. Animation Mentor is inviting students and artists to visit their booth, meet mentors and attend presentations by Dr. Stuart Sumida, mentor Kevin Koch and Animation Mentor CEO and co-founder, Bobby Beck. CTN-X takes place Nov. 18-20 at the Burbank Marriott Convention Center. The animation industry’s foremost authority on anatomy and fight choreography, Dr. Stuart Sumida, professor of biology at California State University, San Bernardino, will be conducting a martial arts demonstration sponsored by Animation Mentor on Nov. 19, 5:30 – 6:30 p.m. Sensei Bill Ryusaki, who is Dr. Sumida’s sensei, Sensei Nurys Saldana, Sensei Tim Komori and senior martial arts students will be participating in the event. For animators, this presentation will combine physical demonstrations with detailed descriptions of anatomical principles, explanation of skeletal anatomy, and other valuable insights that are necessary to animate realistic fight sequences. The demonstration will build upon the techniques Dr. Sumida recently discussed in Animation Mentor’s highly-attended “Anatomy of a Fight” webinar. “We’re honored to have Dr. Sumida, Kevin Koch, our mentors and the senseis take part in CTN-X this year,” states Beck. “CTN-X is a perfect forum for Animation Mentor to reach aspiring animators and to inspire them to pursue their dreams. We are always excited to have new students meet our mentors and guests, and to enjoy some of the Animation Mentor experience.” Beck will also participate in the Educators Panel, “Are They Trained and If So For What?,” Nov. 18, 5:00 – 6:15 p.m., with Lori Hammond (AI/Hollywood), John Mahoney (CalArts), Brian Bradford (Gnomon), and moderated by Tenny Chonin. Additionally, Koch will be presenting a workshop on the “Dos and Don’ts of a Demo Reel” on Nov. 19, 2:00-3:45 p.m. Animation Mentor and CTN-X are co-sponsoring a party that will be held Nov. 18 from 7:00 p.m.-midnight. The Animation Mentor booth (B44) will be open: Nov. 18, 12:00-7:00 p.m.; Nov. 19, 10:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m.;and Nov. 20, 10:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m. Attendees are invited to stop by (or register online) to schedule one-on-one meetings with an admissions advisor or to visit the Animation Mentor booth. Attendees can meet a mentor on Nov. 18, 1:00-2:00 p.m.; Nov. 19, 10:00-11:00 a.m., 12:00-1:00 p.m., and 3:00-4:00 p.m.; Nov. 20, 10:00-11:00 a.m., and 12:00-1:00 p.m. Also in attendance will be the Animation Mentor crew, including Cheryl Hoke, director of student enrollment and admissions; Suzanne Francois, student care manager; and Becca Romeo, career services manager. For further information about Animation Mentor’s activities at CTN-X, please visit

Miley Cyrus Joins Sony’s Hotel T

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

Miley Cyrus will voice Dracula’s teenage daughter Mavis in Hotel Transylvania (Sept. 21, 2012) from Sony Pictures Animation, directed by Samurai Jack’s Genndy Tartakovsky, reports EW. Her character looks pretty sleek and goth and the other character designs on Facebook look very promising as well. No wonder Genndy hopped aboard.

David Koechner also joins the cast as Quasimodo, and David Spade will voice Griffin the invisible man. The rest of the voice cast features Adam Sandler as Dracula, Kevin James as Frank aka Frankenstein, Fran Drescher as his bride Eunice, Steve Buscemi and Molly Shannon as married werewolves Wayne and Wanda, Cee Lo Green as Murray the mummy, and Andy Samberg as Jonathan, a regular guy.

Welcome to the Hotel Transylvania, Dracula’s lavish five-stake resort, where monsters and their families can live it up, free from meddling from the human world. But here’s a little known fact about Dracula: he is not only the Prince of Darkness, he is also a dad. Over-protective of his teenage daughter, Mavis, Dracula fabricates tales of elaborate dangers to dissuade her adventurous spirit. As a haven for Mavis, he opens the Hotel Transylvania, where his daughter and some of the world’s most famous monsters — Frankenstein and his bride, the Mummy, the Invisible Man, a family of werewolves, among others — can kick back in safety and peace. For Drac, catering to all of these legendary monsters is no problem – but his world could come crashing down when one ordinary guy stumbles on the hotel and takes a shine to Mavis.

Cars 2 and Winnie the Pooh Return to El Cap

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

Pixar and Disney’s Cars 2 and Winnie the Pooh (now on Blu-ray/DVD from Disney Home Ent.) have returned theatrically for a limited engagement at the El Capitan Theatre in Hollywood, Nov. 4-20. Both are vying for the best animated feature Oscar and tout the best in CG and hand-drawn animation, and are best viewed on the big screen. Plus, Cars 2 has the added bonus of being in 3-D.

Cars 2, directed by two-time Oscar-winner John Lasseter, offers noteworthy technical tweaks in lighting and painting and driving performance befitting Formula 1 racing and gadget-driven action.

For Pooh, directed by Stephen Anderson and Don Hall, Disney’s 2D dream team not only went back to the roots of author A.A. Milne to rediscover the wit and simplicity, but they also went to Milne country in England to revisit the places that inspired the author, especially Ashdown Forest in East Sussex, where they sketched, painted, and soaked up the architecture and soft English light.

Winnie the Pooh will show daily at 10:45 a.m., 1:20 p.m. and 4:10 p.m., and Cars 2 will screen at 7:00 p.m.

Additionally, each screening of Cars 2 will be preceded by the new Pixar animated short, La Luna, and each screening of Winnie the Pooh will be preceded by the hand-drawn Disney animated short, The Ballad of Nessie. Both are vying for the best animated short Academy Award.

As a special bonus before each screening of Winnie the Pooh, Pooh bear will appear live on stage. In addition, The El Capitan  will exhibit pieces of extraordinary art that went into the making of these films. There will also be a special “Winnie the Pooh” breakfast at 9:15 on Saturdays and Sundays.

Members of the following guilds are invited to present their membership cards at the box office to receive complimentary admission to attend any of the scheduled screenings with their families (up to 4 people): AMPAS, ACE, ADG, ASC, ASIFA, BAFTA, BFCA, CAS, CDG, DGA, HFPA, LAFCA, MPSE, PGA, SAG Nominating Committee, and VES.

For ticket and showtime information please visit
Or, call 1-800-DISNEY6.