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.

Trailers

Pooh at IndieWIRE

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

“Winnie the Pooh vs. Harry Potter” marks my debut today with Thompson on Hollywood (TOH) at IndieWIRE, where I will be writing regularly about animation, VFX and below-the-line.

 

 

 

 

 

It All Ends for Potter

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

Watching the end of Harry Potter in The Deathly Hallows: Part 2, I was struck by how it all coalesces wonderfully like a magical spell. I admit that I wasn’t totally hooked until The Prisoner of Azkaban, the third installment, when Harry’s rite of passage finally seemed arduous and riveting.

But the narrative unfolds and climaxes nicely with operatic action, and stirring revelation, justifying the strategy to divide Deathly Hallows into two parts. There are plenty of surprises and delights, of course, beginning with the horcrux raid of Gringrots and the thrilling ride atop the poor dragon that has been enslaved. Or the Hogwarts statues that come to life in grand Harryhausen fashion (Isn’t it about time, incidentally, that the London VFX community, which has come of age with Harry, gets some Oscar love?)

Then there are the unlikely heroes that emerge to prove their strength and loyalty to Harry and Hogwarts. And those solemn moments of recognition and reversal that are the fundamental stuff of drama and help Harry fulfill his destiny as the Chosen One, including a sublime moment with Snape and surreal encounter with Dumbledore.

Ultimately, it becomes clear why J.K. Rowling captured lighting in a bottle with Harry Potter: She conjured just the right mixture of Christ parable, Greek tragedy, Shakespeare, King Arthur, Grimm, Dickens, Wagner, Oz, The Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, among others, along with a dash of Joseph Campbell for good measure.

But that wasn’t enough: Rowling and the filmmakers made Harry the Millennial sensation by tapping into the post 9/11 ethos of fear and terror. Director David Yates makes this most clear in the image of falling ashes during the destruction of Hogwarts.

Yet the most successful film franchise rests with the maturation of its three leads: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint. No other franchise has taken its stars on a journey from adolescence to adulthood in real time as closely as this one. It’s amazing to look back at The Sorcerer’s Stone and see how far the actors and characters have come in a decade. And now that it’s over, we’re going to want to revisit the previous films and connect the dots and read between the lines. In that sense, our journey with Potter has just begun.

Pooh: A Hand-Drawn Poster Child

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

I have a Winnie the Pooh article at AWN. I was very impressed with Pooh: It not only captures the wit and simplicity of the original Disney shorts from the ’60s, but also plusses them in visual richness (art director Paul Felix exquisitely captures the soft English light) and narrative daring (SpongeBob owes a dept to the looney gang of the Hundred-Acre Wood). We’ll see how well it does at the box office, once the Harry Potter onslaught vanishes, and if it finds broad appeal, but rest assured: 2D isn’t dead at Disney — it just smells funny, as Frank Zappa would say.

Trailering Hugo

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

The Hugo teaser trailer is now available (shortened from Hugo Cabret and opening Nov. 23). It’s immediately clear that it’s Martin Scorsese’s valentine to French cinema, particularly Georges Melies (Ben Kingsley), the father of special effects. He soaks up the period with steam trains and mechanical gizmos.”It’s Neverland and Oz and Treasure Island all wrapped into one.” The director/cinephile’s first foray into 3-D and children’s wonder is surely a holiday must-see.

An adaptation of Brian Selznick’s bestseller about an orphan boy (Asa Butterfield) living a secret life in the walls of a Paris train station in the 1930s and a mysterious encounter with Melies. Scorsese told The Guardian: “Every shot is rethinking cinema, rethinking narrative — how to tell a story with a picture. Now, I’m not saying we have to keep throwing javelins at the camera, I’m not saying we use it as a gimmick, but it’s liberating. It’s literally a Rubik’s Cube every time you go out to design a shot, and work out a camera move, or a crane move. But it has a beauty to it also. People look like… like moving statues. They move like sculpture, as if sculpture is moving in a way. Like dancers…”

Rob Legato serves as overall supervisor; Pixomondo LA is the lead vendor. He told me a while back that “the Melies recreations are stunning-looking. In some cases impossible for the trained eye to see what might have been restored from what was recreated. First choice, of course, is restoration but we have recreated some moments and the behind-the-scenes shooting of the same. We recreated the glass house studio and the painted backdrops and fantastic costumes. A treat for film lovers.”

Trailering Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows

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Holmes (Robert Downey Jr.) and Watson (Jude Law) are back and the game’s afoot with Professor Moriarty (Jared Harris) in Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (opening Dec. 16). Naomi Place plays Slim, the latest femme fatale, and Stephen Fry is along for the explosive Victorian ride as brother Mycroft Holmes. Looks just as action-packed as ever, as Guy Ritchie continues his mashup of Holmes, Bond, and Jim West.

Chas Jarrett is back as overall VFX supervisor, with Framestore, MPC, and Cinesite sharing duties.

Trailering John Carter

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

Walt Disney Pictures has released the John Carter teaser trailer this morning and it looks terrific, melding sci-fi and Western sensibilities (but uniquely different from Cowboys & Aliens). Coming off the heels of WALL•E, Pixar’s Andrew Stanton has made a smooth transition to live-action sci-fi with his visually striking adaptation of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ John Carter of Mars book series. Shot in Monument Valley, John Ford country, John Carter looks organic to the period.

Taylor Kitsch plays Confederate soldier John Carter teleported to Mars (or Barsoom), where he gets caught up in a civil war and the aggressors are 12-foot pale green, slim Tharks. Peter Chiang is the onset VFX supervisor and Double Negative is the primary vendor, with support from Cinesite, MPC, and others.

Definitely the forerunner to Avatar; however, this is no CG intensive movie. The VFX seamlessly blends in with the real world locations and exotic vibe in a photoreal way. The animated Tharks look dangerous and vulnerable at the same time.

The cast also includes Lynn Collins, Samantha Morton, Mark Strong, Ciaran Hinds, Dominic West, James Purefoy, Daryl Sabara, Polly Walker, Bryan Cranston, Thomas Hayden Church, and Willem Dafoe. John Carter opens March 9, 2012

Shane Acker Follows 9 with Plus Minus

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in Animation, Education, Shorts, Trailers, VFX | Leave a comment

What’s Shane Acker been doing since 9? Making another post-apocalyptic short, Plus Minus.

But this time at the Gnomon School of Visual Effects in Hollywood for the past three years (via its Gnomon Studios production entity). Plus Minus, which is about the inferno of territorial fighting between demonic forces of art and commerce, will be released in the fall for Oscar consideration. It’s co-directed by Aristomenis (Meni) Tsirbas, best known for his work on the award-winning animated films The Freak and Battle for Terra (which was adapted into a feature like Acker’s Oscar-nominated 9 short from UCLA).

Teaming with instructors and aspiring artists at Gnomon, Acker worked with Tsirbas, Green Lantern visual effects supervisor Tefft Smith and Gnomon students to create Plus Minus, training them on the intricacies of a professional style production pipeline.

Judging from the trailer, Plus Minus looks even richer, funnier, and more operatic than 9.

Meanwhile, Acker has been tapped by HIT Ent. to direct its live-action adaptation of Thomas the Tank Engine, in which a tween boy finds a way to reconnect with his father, who visited the island of talking trains known as Sodor when he was a child, but doesn’t remember it. Weta Workshop and Mattel are providing design work. Cinetic Media and the UTA Independent Film Group are handling funding and distribution. Thomas is scripted by Chris Viscardi & Will McRobb and Josh Klausner.

Trailering Tintin and Discussing Oscar

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

There’s a new trailer for Steven Spielberg’s The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn (Dec. 23), which reveals more of the performance capture animation and hyper-real world, adding fuel to the fire that the stylized effort to bring Hergé’s popular characters to life is worthy of Oscar consideration.

Spielberg intends on qualifying Tintin in the animated feature category, even though the Motion Picture Academy has stiffened the rules by proclaiming that performance capture in and of itself is not considered animation. However, as I understand it, the rules are more nuanced: As long as the characters are not replicas of the actors (Daniel Craig, Simon Pegg, Jamie Bell, and Andy Serkis) driving the performances — which clearly they are not — and there is a team of animators shaping the look and crafting the performances in this full-CG world, then it should qualify. And, remember, there is already precedent: The Robert Zemeckis-produced Monster House was nominated in 2007.

However, Tintin has already become a lightning rod among traditionalists, as witnessed by a recent commentary in the Los Angeles Times. But, in light of Andy Serkis’ contention last Thursday during a CalTech discussion of Rise of the Planet of the Apes that performance capture is both actor-driven and collaboratively animated, the debate will surely continue.

Meanwhile, Anne Thompson and Kris Tapley cover the issue as well in their mid-summer Oscar Talk.

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

Trailering War Horse

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

It’s a busy year for Steven Spielberg with two Oscar contenders: The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn (Dec. 23), adapted from the popular Belgian comic, which should qualify for best animated feature, despite its performance capture technique and stiffer Academy rules, and War Horse (Dec. 28), adapted from the Michael Morpurgo novel (fabulously staged in London), about a bond broken between a heroic boy (Jeremy Irvine) and his indefatigable horse when it’s sold to the cavalry and sent to the trenches of World War One.

Obviously not VFX heavy (but Framestore’s Ben Morris serves as production supervisor), War Horse nonetheless appears wistful yet harrowing, continuing the director’s post 9/11 allegorical journey. It looks exquisitely shot by cinematographer Janusz Kaminski in concert with production designer Rick Carter’s own “Goya-esque” post 9/11 journey (War of The Worlds, Munich, Avatar, and the upcoming Lincoln with Spielberg).

CG Apes Rise at CalTech

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

Fox’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes (opening Aug. 5) was dissected at CalTech last night with a panel that included director Rupert Wyatt, Weta Digital VFX supervisor Joe Letteri, and performance capture star Andy Serkis (via Skype). The footage they showed impressively demonstrated the post-Avatar breakthrough in performance capture with head-mounted cameras (or E-motion) by the Weta wizards.

Indeed, for this first-time all-CG ape extravaganza, Weta reinvented what it achieved on Avatar by placing the performance capture actors in the live-action set or out on location. “Rather than using reflective optical markers for motion tracking, we developed an active LED system so we could use infrared lights and that allowed us to be able to work in a variety of conditions,” Letteri explained.

Coupled with a whole animation upgrade for hair, muscle, tissue, and eyes, the result is an utterly believable performance from Serkis as Caesar, the chimpanzee: tender, subtle, sympathetic, and conflicted. He’s raised by humans, but he evolves into an outsider shunned by people and ape alike, and becomes a revolutionary.

“Basically, you have to come up with another method of recording an actor’s performance, in a way that the technology has become more sophisticated,” Serkis said. “The idea is to make it more transparent so that it enables this fantastic interface between the performance capture actors and the other actors on the set and the director.”

Serkis maintained that there is no difference between performance capture and live-action acting. It’s about removing the layers and letting the performance come through in collaboration with the skilled animators.

Letteri even suggested that the industry has a cognitive gap to get over about the separation of performance and recorded image before it can fully understand and appreciate the craft.

For his part, Wyatt explained that they rejected the notion early on of using live apes and fully embraced the performance capture method for re-imagining this contemporary Apes origin story that mixes Conquest (the third sequel) with scientific research gone awry with the best intentions of curing Alzheimer’s.”They may be digitally rendered but they actually have a soul when you look into their eyes,” he offered. His hope is that the rebooted franchise would continue and eventually intersect with the original 1968 narrative.