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.


Brad Bird Talks Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol

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

In my latest TOH indieWIRE column, Brad Bird discusses making the transition from animation to live action, IMAX vs. 3-D, riffing off Raiders, Tom Cruise getting more playful, and Peter O’Toole revealing a secret he learned from Audrey Hepburn. Plus the latest trailer and featurette.

Clipping Burj Khalifa from M:I Ghost Protocol

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

See Tom Cruise doing his own wire stunt work atop the tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa, in Dubai, in this new featurette from the upcoming Mission:Impossible Ghost Protocol (Dec. 21). Shot with IMAX cameras, it’s a thrilling sequence as Ethan Hunt uses smart gloves to access the building’s server from the outside as a sandstorm approaches in the distance. I will have more about Brad Bird’s live-action directorial debut very soon. The new trailer debuts this afternoon.

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.

ParaNorman Gets a Teaser Poster

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

Laika’s stop-motion follow-up to the acclaimed Coraline is ParaNorman (Aug. 17, 2012), and Focus Features has just released the evocative teaser poster (with the trailer to follow on Friday). the poster certainly gives off a mysterious, supernatural vibe. And if you didn’t know any better, you’d might presume that it’s even CG.

In any event, misunderstood Norman (voiced by Kodi Smit-McPhee) speaks to dead people, which comes in handy when his town is cursed by zombies, witches, and ghosts. Have no fear: Norman is the only one that can reverse a centuries-old curse.

Chris Butler and Sam Fell direct, and the voice cast also includes Casey Affleck, Tempestt Bledsoe, Jeff Garlin, John Goodman, Bernard Hill, Anna Kendrick, Leslie Mann, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Tucker Albrizzi, Alex Borstein, Jodelle Ferland, and Elaine Stritch.

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.

New Hugo Trailer & Poster

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

As you can see by the new Hugo poster and trailer, the look is getting more dazzling, the visual details more intricate, and the action swifter and more mysterious. To be sure, there’s a melancholy undercurrent that we’re told has a terrific payoff. Can’t wait to see what Martin Scorsese has conjured for his first 3-D movie. Opens Nov. 23.

Zoic’s Stetson to Receive VES Founders Award

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

Congrats to Mark Stetson for his upcoming VES Founders Award, which he will receive on Oct. 20 at the annual membership meeting. I’ve interviewed Mark on several occasions during his tenure at Sony Pictures Imageworks, including Superman Returns, the Blade Runner digital enhancements for the Blu-ray, and Dave. He’s always helped me understand what’s what in VFX.

These days, the Oscar winner for Fellowship of the Ring is creative director for the Feature Films VFX division at Zoic Studios, where he’s worked on Red Riding Hood, 30 Minutes or Less, Premium Rush, The Wettest County in the World, and The Grey.

“It’s an honor to be recognized by my peers at VES with the Founders Award,” said Stetson.  “Throughout my career I’ve strived to push the boundaries and expectations for visual effects.  It is a pleasure to receive recognition for something that is not only a career for me, but also a passion.”

Stetson got his start with model work for such films as Star Trek:The Motion Picture, Close Encounters of the Third Kind — The Special Edition, and Escape from New York.  From there, he supervised miniature effects for numerous high-profile productions, including Blade Runner, Ghostbusters, Die Hard, Total Recall, Batman Returns, and Edward Scissorhands, True Lies, and Waterworld, among others.

In 1997, Stetson was recognized with a BAFTA Award for his debut role as overall visual effects supervisor for The Fifth Element. He received his third Academy Award nomination and BAFTA Award nomination for Superman Returns.

Lorax Once-ler Design Twist

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

Thanks to EW’s First Look by Anthony Breznican, we know that the forest destroying Once-ler in Illumination’s upcoming CG version of Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax  will appear as a young man (voiced by Ed Helms) in flashback. Is this some sort of design revisionism? Not when you consider that the character is portrayed mysteriously by Seuss and was once less monstrous (a la the Grinch). According to Illumination CEO and Lorax producer Chris Meledandri, they’ve merely humanized him for dramatic effect.

Judging by these images, though, the animators at Paris-based Mac Guff, who cut their teeth on the Despicable Me blockbuster, have done right in adapting the lush, multicolored look and spirit of Seuss’ cautionary ecological tale, which found its way into a deleted Avatar school house sequence.

The Lorax (March 2, 2012) is directed by Chris Renaud and scripted by Ken Daurio and Cinco Paul (also from Despicable Me). It looks like 2012 is shaping up to be a banner year for animation.

The Wachowskis Are Jupiter Ascending

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

It’s great news that the Wachowskis are venturing back into mind-bending sci-fi territory with Jupiter Ascending, reports Deadline. They will apparently go into production next spring for the secretive Warner Bros. project. And this will follow next year’s Cloud Atlas, which they are currently co-directing with Run Lola Run’s Tom Tykwer. Adapted from the David Mitchell novel, Cloud Atlas is pretty trippy in its own right with six travelers reincarnating throughout time to solve an existential mystery. The ensemble piece stars Tom Hanks, Hugo Weaving, Susan Sarandon, Halle Barry, Keith David, and Jim Broadbent. Dan Glass (The Tree of Life) is VFX production supervisor.

The timing for another game-changer by the Wachowskis couldn’t be better. They ushered in the virtual production revolution with The Matrix and have raising the bar with each successive film, including the underrated Speed Racer. Advances in technology (including HDRI and performance capture) and the ascendance of 3-D only make it a better digital sandbox. Think of the immersive possibilities.

Fall/Holiday Preview: Four Films to Get Animated About

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

I provide a sneak peek of The Adventures of Tintin, Puss in Boots, Happy Feet 2, and Arthur Christmas in my weekly Immersed in Movies column at indieWIRE’s TOH. Can’t wait to see them all, but from what I’ve seen they strive for strong performance and thrusting us in unique worlds (or, in the case of Happy Feet 2, returning us to the Antarctic with a new adventure).