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

New Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol Image

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

How’s this for a ghostly image of Tom Cruise from Brad Bird’s upcoming Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol (Dec. 21)? Looks a little like Eminem, who sings “Won’t Back Down” in the trailer. The IMF is shut down when Cruise’s Ethan Hunt is framed for a terrorist bombing, and he must go rogue (like 007 has so many times before him) to defeat the real culprits. Co-starring Jeremy Renner and Simon Pegg. VFX by ILM (supervised by John Knoll). Will screen in IMAX.

Alembic 1.0 Released

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

Alembic 1.0, the open source project jointly developed by Sony Pictures Imageworks and Lucasfilm Ltd. was released to the public today in a joint announcement at SIGGRAPH 2011 in Vancouver.

Alembic is the computer graphics interchange format developed by the two entertainment giants last year and focused on efficiently storing and sharing animation and visual effects scenes across multiple software applications. It was designed to handle massive animation data sets often required in high-end visual effects and animation, which are routinely developed and produced by companies such as Lucasfilm’s Industrial Light & Magic and Lucasfilm Animation Ltd and Sony Pictures Imageworks. The studios each saw the need for a tool like Alembic, something that would fit within existing pipelines and allow for customization at the facility level without impeding the ability to share work.

In addition to the features announced at last year’s SIGGRAPH, Alembic 1.0 includes automatic data de-duplication. The software automatically recognizes repeated shapes in complicated geometry and only writes a single instance to disk. This makes Alembic 1.0 use dramatically less disk space than promised without requiring any extra steps on the part of the user and can improve both write and read performance as well. In the case of hero deforming humanoid characters, including hair, shot caches have been reduced by more than 70%.  For complex, deeply hierarchical and mostly rigid assets like the Transformers characters, tests have shown cache reduction in the order of 98%.

The code base for Alembic is available for download on the project’s Google Code site and more information can be found online at: www.alembic.io.

Joint development of Alembic was first announced at last year’s Siggraph by Lucasfilm’s visual effects company Industrial Light & Magic and Sony Pictures Imageworks. The companies joined forces when it became apparent that they were independently developing software designed to solve, a problem universally faced by the visual effects and animation production community: how to easily share complex animated scenes across a variety of disciplines and facilities regardless of what software was being used.

Alembic includes tools that allow collaboration while working with a generic, extensible, data representation scheme. In essence, it distills complex and often proprietary, animated scenes into application-independent files with baked geometric results. These baked results can be fully re-importable across the range of supporting software.

Alembic addresses a fundamental issue in a world where assets are shared across many companies. Alembic’s production-ready ability to seamlessly translate shapes across a wide variety of applications saves time and resources,” said Rob Bredow, CTO of Sony Pictures Imageworks. “By releasing Alembic as an Open Source project, users have the opportunity to improve the software based on their needs and experience. We’re really starting to feel the positive effects of Open Source, as a community of visual effects and animation professionals come together to solve problems more effectively today than ever before.”

 “Alembic is giving us space efficiencies beyond our most optimistic expectations and at effectively the same time cost as before.  This is sure to have a significant impact for anyone who uses the format and we are excited to be able to share this with the Open Source community,” said Tommy Burnette, Head of Global Pipeline at Lucasfilm Ltd.  “Previously each facility had to produce their own unique solutions to the problem of efficient caching and scene handoff, but the beauty of Open Source is that with strong collaborative efforts we can effectively provide solutions for everyone.”

Both studios have made strides with open source software and recognize the importance of such initiatives, ILM with the industry standard OpenEXR format and Imageworks with OSL, Open Color I/O, Maya Reticle, Field3D, Scala Migrations and the newly release PyP.

SIGGRAPH 2011 News

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

Highlights from SIGGRAPH 2011:

Fusion-io, a provider of a next-generation shared data decentralization platform, is collaborating with NVIDIA, Thinkbox Software, and Tweak Software, to accelerate entertainment production by demonstrating full resolution, real-time digital content creation for many of the industry’s most powerful applications.

“Entertainment artists who use Fusion’s ioMemory technologies can now spend more time creating and less time waiting for content to load, playback and render,” said Vincent Brisebois, Fusion-io Product Manager. “Multiple SSDs configured in a RAID can provide basic throughput, but struggle to provide the low latency required for delivering interactivity in powerful content creation applications. By working with our innovative partners NVIDIA, Thinkbox Software and Tweak Software, we are helping studios and artists unlock their creativity. Now, not only can artists do more faster, but with the flexibility offered by Fusion-io and our partners, studios can focus on the artistry that separates good from great.”

In the NVIDIA booth (#453), the Fusion-io video wall showcases how Fusion ioMemory technology combined with the NVIDIA QuadroPlex 7000 Visual Computing System provides the throughput necessary to play 12 full HD(1080p) uncompressed video feeds simultaneously off a single workstation with interactive graphics processing unit (GPU)-based color correction. The video wall demonstration will be running on an HP Z800 workstation equipped with the NVIDIA QuadroPlex 7000 and Fusion ioMemory modules.

“Working with Fusion-io, we’ve created an impressive, large-scale visualization technology demonstration at SIGGRAPH for show attendees,” said Jeff Brown, general manager, Professional Solutions Group, NVIDIA. “By combining Fusion’s ioMemory technology with our powerful QuadroPlex 7000, we’re demonstrating how to enable real-time color correction and processing of a dozen simultaneous uncompressed HD video streams – without being bottlenecked by disk speeds.”

At Autodesk booth #429, Fusion ioMemory technology will accelerate demonstrations of Autodesk Composite software, which is included in the 3ds Max, Maya, and Autodesk Softimage software applications. The Autodesk software packages feature integrated 3D modeling, animation, rendering, and compositing tools that enable artists and designers to quickly ramp up for production.

“Autodesk Composite software can be enhanced by technologies like Fusion ioMemory to help artists see their visions come to life more quickly,” said Rob Hoffmann, senior product marketing manager, Autodesk.  ”When 3D artists can immediately see the impact of each tool and adjustment, their imagination is freed to try new and innovative approaches to creative storytelling.”

Fusion ioMemory will be also integrated into a Supermicro SuperServer 8046B-6RF server in the Thinkbox Software Pacific Rim suite at the Fairmont hotel. This system provides increased speed and efficiency in demonstrations of Krakatoa, Thinkbox’s production-proven volumetric particle rendering, manipulation and management toolkit. Krakatoa provides a pipeline for creating, shaping and rendering vast quantities of particles at unprecedented speed to represent natural phenomena like dust, smoke, silt, ocean surface foam, plasma and even solid objects.

“We have clients working with billions of particles per frame to create photo-real smoke, fire, water, creatures made of ink, and photorealistic visualization of volumetric objects such as bones and skin. When saving or loading those particles, we have found nothing faster than Fusion-io,” said Chris Bond, Thinkbox Software CEO and founder. “We first tested Krakatoa 1.0 with Fusion-io. When we realized the potential of ioMemory, we optimized Krakatoa 2.0 to take advantage of its capabilities, and now our loading performance is an order of magnitude better.”

Meanwhile, Thinkbox Software launched a new Professional Services offering. Thinkbox clients can now tap the company as outsourced R&D to customize Thinkbox software, integrate it into their pipelines and/or develop custom software tools.

“With tight deadlines and increasingly high client expectations, studios are continually challenged with creating new and compelling imagery and managing efficient workflows while at the same time integrating new software. This is a challenge we know well, as many of us have been developing software and custom artist tools on the job for feature films for years,” said Thinkbox CEO Chris Bond. “Not only do we have the expertise, but beyond our commercial software we have an extensive and diverse codebase that we can tap to customize solutions for our clients.”

The company recently completed its first Professional Services projects, one of which included custom development and early access to X-Mesh, a highly specialized mesh renderer and geometry caching toolset Thinkbox has been developing that supports 3dx Max and Softimage 3D animation software, for the animation and visual effects studio Blur.

In booth #963, Tweak Software will be utilizing ioMemory technology from Fusion-io to accelerate its flagship RV software. RV supports dual stream output for stereo playback, embeds audio in the SDI signal, and takes advantage of RV’s flexible tools for review, editing, collaboration, an notation and comparison of media. At SIGGRAPH 2011, RV will be demonstrating its integration package that combines RV’s real-time playback with the compositing abilities of The Foundry’s Nuke software and Fusion ioMemory. The integration allows artists to save various iterations of their Nuke renders on the ioMemory and then immediately play them back in real-time in RV.

“Artists get a big benefit by combining the blazing fast memory technologies from Fusion-io with RV’s advanced image and sequence playback abilities,” said Seth Rosenthal, co-founder of Tweak Software. “The ability to stream film-res, stereo, high-dynamic-range imagery on the artist desktop or in the screening room gives artists immediate feedback so they have more time to try new things and get better results. This is all made possible by the remarkable data throughput and reduced latency offered by Fusion-io.”

Weta to Show Off R&D at SIGGRAPH 2011

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

For the first time, SIGGRAPH is expanding beyond the U.S. and will be in Vancouver next week. And when I was recently in Wellington, I asked Weta’s senior visual effects supervisor, Joe Letteri (Rise of the Planet of the Apes, The Adventures of Tintin), about their presentations at SIGGRAPH.

Weta will present two new R&D advancements at SIGGRAPH: an art directable water simulation and a new subsurface lighting technique (both demonstrated in Tintin). “They need to be where you want them and when you want them,” he said about the water simulation.” And the subsurface “allows us to better resolve finer details near the top surface of the skin in a way that’s computationally cost-effective.”

Here are the presentations at SIGGRAPH 2011:

A Quantized-Diffusion Model for Rendering Translucent Materials

With these new techniques for rendering translucent materials such as human skin, modified diffusion theory and a new quantized-diffusion method derive efficient and accurate scattering functions for both offline and real-time rendering.

Eugene d’Eon
Weta Digital Ltd

Geoffrey Irving
Weta Digital Ltd

Tuesday, 2:00 pm – 3:30 pm | East Building, Exhibit Hall A
Session Chair: Jaakko Lehtinen, NVIDIA Corp.

Guide Shapes for High-Resolution Naturalistic Liquid Simulation

To efficiently obtain natural-looking liquid simulations subject to art direction, this method processes approved low-resolution geometry into a “guide shape” just below the liquid surface. The final high-resolution simulation runs just a surface layer constrained by the guide, with benefits for both speed and control.

Michael Nielsen
Weta Digital Ltd

Robert Bridson
University of British Columbia and Weta Digital Ltd

Wednesday, 3:45 pm – 5:35 pm | East Building, Exhibit Hall A
Session Chair: Nils Thuerey, Scanline VFX

New Monkey Business

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

“It’s a question of simian survival.”

It’s as true in Rise of the Planet of the Apes as it was in the 1968 original Planet of the Apes. Only now we have a new origin story for the 21st century propelled by genetic engineering and CG DNA for the apes, courtesy of Weta Digital.

Yes, Andy Serkis’ remarkably nuanced portrayal of Caesar finally puts to rest any notion that performance capture can’t evoke pathos and is unworthy of recognition. His primate pantomime is utterly believable because of his character arc and Weta’s latest advancements in photoreal animation. The new facial model adds all the dynamics, ballistics, and secondary motion, while keeping the volume of the face. The fur is is now directly manipulated for greater detail. And the muscles in and around the eyes fire more accurately coupled with requisite moisture and refractive lighting. Speaking of which, lighting is more realistic overall, thanks to the new active LED system of motion tracking and the ability to shoot on location and on set with the other actors.

Such interaction is key, according to Serkis as well as Terry Notary, the talented movement coach, ape stunt coordinator, and choreographer. He played Alpha, father of Caesar, Bright Eyes, his mother, and Rocket, the ferocious Alpha-male, along with 20 or so other background apes during the rampage.

“It’s not the big stuff that makes the difference when I’m choreographing movement but the little nuances,” Notary suggests. “And it was so much about getting into how to be still in the character and how to just live by doing nothing. Actually the quadrupedding, the leaping, that looked great. I developed arm extensions and that are about a foot long and have these cuffs go in your arms and it worked out great because we could make it look and feel as though [we] had the same anatomy as an ape.”

Perhaps now the cognitive gap between performance and recorded image that exists in the industry can be broken down. And if Rise becomes a box office success and spawns more sequels, eventually intersecting with the original story, which is already hinted at, imagine the possibilities for more evolved performances. And yet despite the cumbersome makeup, one still marvels at John Chambers’ Oscar-winning achievement and how expressive and entertaining Kim Hunter, Roddy McDowall, and Maurice Evans were in the original, which had the right mixture of drama and satire. Rise definitely has room for growth.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8YyMqmDeoxI

Giving Rise to Apes at IndieWIRE

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

Everyone seems to be going Ape today, so I take the opportunity at IndieWIRE to dig into Weta’s great performance capture advancements on Rise of the Planet of the Apes and how Andy Serkis is the beneficiary with his remarkable performance as Caesar. It looks like Deathly Hallows: Part 2, Transformers: Dark of the Moon, and The Tree of Life have some Oscar VFX competition as we head into the second-half of the year.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8YyMqmDeoxI

First Looks at Superman and Catwoman

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

So what are we to make of our first glimpses of Henry Cavill’s Man of Steel and Anne Hathaway’s Catwoman? Cavill, who was deemed too young for Bond, strikes a familiar if grittier pose in keeping with the presumably more grounded reboot being directed by Zack Snyder and shepherded by Chris Nolan. “I’ve never gone after an actual character in making movies from graphic novels or comic books,” Snyder told me a while back. “I’ve gone after literary or thematic concepts. Where I feel like with Superman, you’re going after a mythology in general. Very different… It’s funny because the thing about Superman that’s stylistically interesting to me is that he’s relevant if he’s real. That’s what Chris Nolan and I talked about early on. The only way I could do this is if Superman were living in the real world with us. And I think that helps him to be credible. It’s just funny because, for me, I haven’t made a real film.”

Amy Adams plays Lois Lane; Laurence Fishburne is the new Perry White; Kevin Costner and Diane Lane portray Clark Kent’s adoptive human parents, Jonathan and Martha Kent; Russell Crowe commands Superman’s Kryptonian father Jor-El; and Michael Shannon recreates villainous General Zod.

As for Hathaway’s Selena Kyle, there’s barely a hint of a feline disguise, though she’s certainly high-tech like Batman with her goggles and cycle. Nowhere near as sexy as Emma Peel but could be a good foil to the grieving Bruce Wayne, who must also battle the menacing Bane (Tom Hardy). With Marion Cotillard as the new ally, Miranda Tate. Nolan vows this will end the trilogy with a sense of realistic and satisfying closure.

The Dark Knight Rises opens July 20, 2012 and The Man of Steel bows June 14, 2013.

Trailering Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

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

While awaiting the steely Bond 23 (Nov. 9, 2012), John le Carré’s masterful Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy gets a big-screen remake, and it looks like it delivers all the delicious espionage goods. Gary Oldman reprises the role of George Smiley made famous by Alec Guinness in the ’79 mini-series, the anti-Bond called out of forced retirement to weed out a Soviet mole, possessing the same “quiet intensity and intelligence” to pull off the end of Cold War cat-and-mouse. Colin Firth, Tom Hardy, Mark Strong, Ciarán Hinds, and Benedict Cumberbatch round-out the remarkable cast of suspects. Tomas Alfredson (Let the Right One In) directs from a script by Bridget O’Connor and Peter Straughan. Thankfully, this really is a teaser in the best sense. I once had the pleasure of interviewing le Carré (David Cornwell) about The Tailor of Panama: “In retrospect, the Cold War was a war of fantasies as well as a war of hardware. It was a war of perception,” he told me back in the spring of 2001.

VFX by Framestore (some animation and matchmoving, supervised by Oskar Larsson). Opens Nov. 18 from Focus Features, and I see lots of Oscar potential.

Cowboys & Aliens VFX on IndieWIRE

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

I’ve got an article about ILM’s space invaders from Cowboys & Aliens under my new Immersed in Movies moniker at IndieWIRE’s TOH.

Will Zemeckis’ Yellow Submarine Resurface?

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

With yesterday’s Hollywood Reporter announcement of Robert Zemeckis’ ImageMovers resurfacing at Universal with a two-year, first look deal, does this mean that his performance capture-animated Yellow Submarine is back on track? We’ll know soon enough.

However, when reporting on Mars Needs Moms in March, the last movie made for Disney at  ImageMovers Digital in Marin County, production designer Doug Chiang told me that Zemeckis was still very enthusiastic about re-imagining the 1968 Beatles classic and proud of the test, and apparently Paul McCartney was supportive as well. It was previously announced that the director had secured the rights from Apple Corps. to use 16 Beatles songs, and that Cary Elwes, Dean Lennox Kelly, Peter Serafinowicz and Adam Campbell would portray the Fab Four.

So, even though the ImageMovers Digital gang has disbanded (Chiang wants to direct, Kevin Baillie co-founded Atomic Fiction in Emeryville, and Huck Wirtz launched Bayou FX in San Rafael and Louisiana), they confirmed that they’d be willing to regroup when Zemeckis has a new project. Then again, Zemeckis could return to Sony Pictures Imageworks, where he helmed Beowulf and The Polar Express and produced Monster House. (He’s currently attached as producer at Sony Pictures Animation to adapt Chuck Sambuchino’s book, How to Survive a Garden Gnome Attack.) He could also make it at Digital Domain (Tron Legacy and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button), with its own performance capture prowess.

Who knows? There still might be a new 3-D journey to Pepperland to fight the Blue Meanies.