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.

Tech

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.

Ridley Scott Wants More Blade Runner

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in 3-D, Below the Line, Home Entertainment, Movies, Tech, VFX, Virtual Production | Leave a comment

Now that Ridley Scott has gotten a pleasant taste from revisiting Alien with the 3-D Prometheus (June 8, 2012), Deadline.com reports that he’s signed on for more Blade Runner with Alcon Ent. and producers Bud Yorkin and Cynthia Sikes. It’s uncertain if the project would be a prequel, sequel, or spinoff (like Prometheus), since no script has been written, but the news has stoked Anne Thompson and other journos. Why not? The landmark 1982 sci-fi/neo-noir not only ushered in cinematic cyberpunk, but also the fascination with the phantasmagorical Philip K. Dick (Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?) that continues to this day.

Back in 1986, Scott told me he was fascinated with the notion of Harrison Ford’s weary Deckard as a secret replicant, but that he was never given the budget to convey it clearly or convincingly. As we know, he attempted to massage the clues in various iterations, culminating with the Blu-ray release in 2007 of the “Final Cut.” I suspect that this renewed opportunity to definitively close the book on Deckard’s identity is a major appeal, along with the chance to bring the imaginative and prescient universe up to date with state-of-the-art CG and 3-D. After all, the original took place in L.A. in 2019 and remains one of the best-looking films ever made.

Indeed, when I had the chance to revisit Blade Runner with Scott in honor of the Blu-ray release, he gave a hint about its timeless appeal that bears repeating: “I think it’s the cast that keeps everything really alive… and the unusual blow-by-blow and organic engagement of one character throughout each scene… Everything makes sense: If you want to read at the end of the film that there are parallels to where we are today, it’s all there… I think that when scientists get stymied, they look to the possibility of God for just sheer imagination.”

10th VES Awards Scheduled for 2/7/12

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

The Visual Effects Society (VES), which represents approximately 2,500 VFX artists and practitioners worldwide, will hold the 10th Annual VES Awards Show on Feb. 7, 2012, at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills. The Annual Awards show is where the most outstanding work in 23 VFX categories is presented and the artists who created them are honored.

Meanwhile, in light of the recent open letter from VES exec director Eric Roth about the “unsettled” state of the VFX industry, there should be plenty of discussion and debate about jobs, healthcare benefits, and unionization/guild representation at the upcoming Production Summit (“Trending the Global Marketplace”) on Oct.1, from 9:00 am to 7:00 pm, at the Montage in Beverly Hills (http://www.visualeffectssociety.com/production-summit-2011).

Among the confirmed speakers will be Ted Gagliano (president of feature post at Twentieth Century Fox), Steve Papzian (president worldwide physical production at Warner Bros.), Bob Pisano (president and COO, MPAA), Stephan Trojansky (co-founder Scanline VFX), VFX guru Doug Trumbull, Tony Wible (director of media & entertainment, Janney Montgomery Scott), and Tom Wujec (Autodesk fellow).

Important dates for the 10th Annual VES Awards:

•           Aug. 15, 2011 — Rules & Procedures (www.visualeffectssociety.com/ves-awards)

•           Oct.10, 2011 — Submissions open

•           Nov. 15-30, 2011 — Period for uploading of viewing materials

•           Nov. 30, 2011 — Submissions close

•           Feb. 7, 2012 – Awards ceremony, Beverly Hilton Hotel, Beverly Hills, California

Trailering The Darkest Hour

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

The trailer is now available along with concept art for the Timur Bekmambetov-produced The Darkest Hour (Dec. 21), about a group of American tourists trying to survive an alien attack in Moscow. Directed by Chris Gorak and starring Emile Hirsch, Olivia Thurlby, and Max Minghella, The Darkest Hour has electrifying-looking creatures that descend on the planet to devour our energy. VFX is supervised by Dmitry Tokoyakov, with lots of cool-looking particle work for the “lethal wave energy” that shreds its victims. The vendors include Soho VFX, TIC, BUF Compagnie, Universal Production Partners, and Polygon Ent. Definitely a fresh design for the aliens. Tesla would be proud!

Academy to Screen Digitally Restored Trip to the Moon

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

While anxiously awaiting Martin Scorsese’s fitting and inspired 3-D valentine to Georges Méliès, Hugo (Nov. 23), the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will present A Trip to the Moon (1902) on Tuesday, Sept. 6, at 7:30 p.m. at the Samuel Goldwyn Theater in Beverly Hills. This legendary film by Méliès, the father of special effects, will be screened in its original hand-colored version direct from its re-premiere at the Cannes Film Festival this May.

An original color print of A Trip to the Moon was recently discovered in poor condition and underwent delicate work to rescue and digitize the elements.  The restoration of the 14-minute work adapted from Jules Verne was carried out by Lobster Films, the Groupama Gan Foundation for Cinema, and the Technicolor Foundation for Cinema Heritage, and took place at Technicolor Los Angeles. The French band Air composed an original soundtrack to accompany the film.

The program will be introduced by film historian and archivist Serge Bromberg of Lobster Films and Tom Burton, head of the preservation department at Technicolor Los Angeles.  A newly restored print of A Trip down Market Street (1906), recorded by the Miles Bros. of San Francisco days before the famed earthquake leveled the city, along with rare primitive films such as 3-D versions of early Méliès films and turn-of-the century attempts at sound films, will round out the evening’s screenings.

A Trip down Market Street source elements are courtesy of Rick Prelinger, the Library of Congress.

Tickets to A Trip to the Moon are $5 for the general public and $3 for Academy members and students with a valid ID.  Tickets may be purchased online, at the Academy box office, or by mail.

The Samuel Goldwyn Theater is located at the 8949 Wilshire Blvd. in Beverly Hills.  Doors will open at 6:30 p.m.  For more information call 310-247-3600 or visit www.oscars.org.

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.

New Star Wars: The Clone Wars Blasts Off Sept. 16

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

Star Wars: The Clone Wars returns for a fourth season with a two-episode premiere on Sept. 16th at 8:00 pm on Cartoon Network. Battle lines intensify in the 22-episode season of the CG-animated saga from creator George Lucas and Lucasfilm Animation in Singapore. Judging by the trailer, there are even more classic connections to the original trilogy.

In the first two episodes of this three-part story arc, “Water War” and “Gungan Attack,” the inhabitants of the watery world of Mon Calamari find themselves on the brink of a civil war. The Jedi soon realize they will need the help of a powerful and amphibious ally to stop the war and drive out the Separatist invaders.

In discussing season three, director Dave Filoni told me that not only are they expanding the scope of the series with more organic environments but also improving the facial animation. Look for this to continue as well in the fourth season.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BCwuFtfYPqc

The Gravity of the 3-D Situation

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

In covering prestigious 3-D on Friday, I forgot to reference Alfonso Cuarón’s apparently mind-blowing Gravity (Nov. 21, 2012), which will be post-converted in 3-D and IMAX 3-D. The intimate sci-fi survival thriller stars Sandra Bullock and George Clooney as the lone survivors from a space station disaster who must float through space to return home. Gravity was indirectly in the news today, with Guillermo Del Toro touting his friend’s ambitious film in an MTV interview for Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark (Aug. 26). According to Del Toro, Cuarón consulted with both James Cameron and David Fincher; in fact, Del Toro hooked up Cuarón with Cameron to talk tech early on and was advised that what he had in mind was about five years away. Nonetheless, Cuarón has decided to push the envelope.

London-based Framestore is doing the VFX (under the supervision of Chris Watts, Where the Wild Things Are, 300), which is 60% animation with the balance consisting of a hybrid of CG and live-action elements (including MoCap). It’s previously been reported that the opening shot lasts about 20 minutes, surpassing the bravura long take from Cuarón’s last film, Children of Men. Good thing cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki (The Tree of Life) is shooting digitally.

So imagine Gary Lockwood’s Frank Poole from 2001: A Space Odyssey somehow making his way back home instead of being lost in space. That’s what Cuarón and Framestore have in store for The Gravity: photo-real zero-gravity in space, punctuated by the director’s long and fluid visual style, leaving “no cut points to hide behind,” according to Framestore.

Talk about crying “out for the extra element of space and depth,” which Martin Scorsese said about the stereoscopic implications of his upcoming Hugo (opening Nov. 23).

Mid-Year VFX Oscar Watch

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

In my weekly TOH column at IndieWIRE, I analyze the five mid-year frontrunners for the VFX Oscar. Good thing there are five slots now, with next year’s bake-off expanding from seven to 10 (though the presentations have been trimmed to 10 minutes).

Autodesk and Disney Pact on XGen Tech

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

Autodesk obtained an exclusive five-year licensing agreement for the XGen Arbitrary Primitive Generator technology (XGen), used most recently by Walt Disney Animation Studios (WDAS) in the hit animated film Tangled. XGen technology was first presented by WDAS in a research paper at SIGGRAPH in 2003 for the creation of computer-generated fur, feathers, and foliage. Since that time, XGen has been used to create the fur, hair, feathers, trees, leaves and rocks in Bolt;  the trees and bushes in UP; the dust bunnies, debris, trees, bushes, clover, and flowers in Toy Story 3; and the grass and trees in Cars 2.

In Tangled, WDAS used XGen to bring the lavish CG-animated world to life: from Rapunzel’s perfectly groomed golden locks to the film’s lush, vegetation-filled landscapes, including bushes, flowers, vines, grass, weeds, moss, thistle, ground mulch, fallen leaves, sticks, rocks, butterfly fur, airborne dust, leaves and trees, plus props such as roof tiles, arrow fletchings, a broom, and paint brushes.

XGen is a comprehensive system for generating arbitrary primitives on a surface. The system advances the state-of-the-art in the industry in several ways with its versatility, durability, and impact. XGen allows techno-artistic access to interpolation in an intuitive manner for artists, empowering them with a powerful and flexible framework for primitive generation, which is highly art directable. The genesis of XGen was a collaboration between the WDAS production and software teams to provide its artists with intuitive, creative tools for 3D animation — such as “grooming” tools for fur and hair — so that they can develop the look and feel of their characters and environments more quickly and easily. Senior Development Software Engineer at WDAS Tom Thompson was an initial creator and remains the chief architect of the software. Walt Disney Pictures’ agreement with Autodesk will enable Autodesk to make this technology available to artists to create digital entertainment.

“Twenty years ago, visual effects artists creating computer graphics were mostly mathematicians and scientists using highly technical and complex software tools that required significant amounts of custom programming,” explained CTO Andy Hendrickson, Walt Disney Animation Studios. “Back then, off-the-shelf software could not create the required details of nuance and emotion. Today, we were able to create XGen as an effective artistic tool because Autodesk provides studios like ours with comprehensive tools and a flexible, extensible platform to develop on. The Autodesk customizable toolset helps visual effects artists do their best work.”

“A key challenge in the visual effects industry continues to be the need to constantly evolve creatively while somehow controlling rapidly escalating production costs,” added Marc Petit, svp Autodesk Media & Entertainment. “To help customers better address this challenge, Autodesk has been working with industry leaders like Walt Disney Animation Studios to help them innovate faster and to make these new technologies more broadly accessible. Digital Entertainment Creation users are sure to benefit from developments designed by industry visionaries and proven in production.”

Walt Disney Animation Studios Director of Studio Technology Dan Candela said, “A primary focus for my team is to ensure that the production pipeline is streamlined in order to efficiently produce the best possible CG animation. With Autodesk’s Maya as a core piece of our toolset, we’ve developed over 100 plug-ins and extensions for the platform to enable our artists to create a movie of the quality of Tangled within necessary time and budgetary limits. Sharing our technology with the VFX and CG animation community raises the creative bar for the entire industry.”