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.

VFX

Trailering The Avengers

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

The Avengers (May 4, 2012) appears to be in good hands with Joss Whedon, judging from the new trailer, which exhibits lots of Loki mayhem (ILM and Weta Digital have VFX duty on this epic) and superhero jostling. As anticipated, Robert Downey Jr. gets most of the screen time as Iron Man, and his ego doesn’t sit well with the other team members: Chris Evans as Captain America, Mark Ruffalo as the revolving Hulk, Chris Hemsworth as Thor, Scarlett Johansson as Black Widow, and Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye.

Trumbull to Receive VES Georges Méliès Award

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

Douglas Trumbull will receive the 2012 Georges Méliès Award from the VES, which will be presented at the 10th Annual VES Awards, held at the Beverly Hilton Hotel, Feb. 7, 2012. Trumbull, who’s advanced VFX with his pioneering work on 2001: A Space Odyssey, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Star Trek: The Motion Picture, and Blade Runner, has also directed Silent Running and Brainstorm. He also revolutionized large-format filmmaking with Showscan in the mid-’80s, which offered unparalleled viewing at 120fps.

Trumbull most recently served as a creative consultant on The Tree of Life birth of the universe sequence. With the privately-owned film studio, Trumbull Ventures, he is specializing in the development of advanced integrated systems for high-resolution digital production utilizing virtual sets and locations, high frame rates, 3-D, and advanced previsualization. Trumbull is presently developing multiple feature film projects that he intends to write, produce, and direct, using his virtual set technology

“Doug Trumbull is a leading light in the field of visual effects and technology,” said VES chair Jeffrey A. Okun.  “He is an innovator in all things entertainment and equally important is his genius for re-imagining the impossible into a compelling visual that not only has never been seen before but also goes to the heart of the storytelling. We are seriously honored to know and work with him.”

“It is truly an honor to receive the Georges Méliès Award from the Visual Effects Society,” said Trumbull. “My philosophy is that everything in a movie is an illusion of some kind, and I am very excited that the industry today is now embracing 3D, higher frame rates, and other opportunities that can expand the movie-going experience, and deliver to audiences the kind of immersive and other-worldly images that we in the VES can provide. The role of the VES at this time could not be more important, and I am very grateful to receive this astonishing recognition.”

Trumbull has been the recipient of the American Society of Cinematographer’s Lifetime Achievement Award, and has recently been selected by his peers as a VES Fellow of the Visual Effects Society (only the third to receive this distinction).

Previous recipients of the George Méliès Award were Robert Abel, John Lasseter, Phil Tippett and Ed Catmull.

The Tree of Life Goes Blu

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in Below the Line, Blu-ray, Cinematography, Editing, Home Entertainment, Movies, Music, Oscar, Tech, Trailers, VFX | Leave a comment

Terrence Malick’s The Tree of Life bows on Blu-ray today (Fox Home Ent.), providing the opportunity to dip into his brilliant summary statement about coalescing nature and grace. The imagery by cinematographer Emmanuel Lubezki is stunning in HD (which is why he’s the Oscar front runner so far). Coupled with the superb DTS-HD Master Audio 7.1 (the score by Alexandre Desplat is magnificent along with the use of various requiems), this is reference quality.

The Tree of Life is a free-form, existential journey that captures fleeting moments of life.  It primarily focuses on a Texas family in the 1950s, setting up a tension between nature (personified by Brad Pitt’s conflicted, talkative father) and grace (personified by Jessica Chastain’s peaceful and quiet mother).  It’s bookended by a present-day segment about the alienation experienced by the eldest son, Jack (Sean Penn), a successful architect haunted by childhood memories.  Early on, sparked by a moment of grief, the film suddenly leaps to a birth of the universe segment that addresses the meaning of the cosmos.

The bravura birth of the universe sequence can now be studied and appreciated more closely as well (also a VFX Oscar contender): “It’s a real coalescing of ideas and metaphysics about the history of the universe that takes us from [notions] of origins right through some semblance of the Big Bang to the early genesis of stars and galaxies and planets forming, ultimately life itself on planet Earth,” explains Dan Glass, the esteemed visual effects supervisor who oversaw the VFX-laden sequence.

The work was divided into three realms: Astrophysical, which dealt with the early cosmos and evolution of the universe, stars, galaxies and planets, principally handled by Double Negative in London (under the supervision of Paul Riddle); Microbial, the molecular and cellular origination of life, which was primarily done by the London boutique One of Us, with supplemental work by Method (the splitting off of DNA strands to form more complex organisms, supervised by Olivier Dumont) and the father/son team of Peter and Chris Parks, who shot interesting flows of colors; and Natural History, which focused on the much anticipated dinosaurs, created by Prime Focus/Frantic (supervised by Mike Fink and Bryan Hirota).

Editorially, Malick utilized what editor Mark Yoshikawa calls a “relay system of editing.” He adds, “He didn’t want the presence of the editors’ fingerprints on it.  That is why he always had Chivo [Lubezki] and Joerg [Widmer, the camera operator] grabbing bits that we could never really use for traditional coverage.  It was very challenging.”

The Hugo Cineaste Factor

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

Martin Scorsese’s Hugo (Nov. 23) is indeed the work-in-progress mystery movie tonight at the New York Film Festival, as predicted by, among others, Deadline’s Pete Hammond and Hollywood Elsewhere’s Jeffrey Wells. Can’t wait to find out what the reaction is. Meanwhile, what fascinates me is the analysis that Wells got from someone who attended a September test market screening in Chicago. In fact, I already have it on good authority that the depiction of silent film legend Georges Méliès (Ben Kingsley), the father of special effects, is “a wonderful distillation” of Scorsese’s efforts to restore the reputation of Michael Powell (The Red Shoes), which is alluded to in the analysis. I’ve also heard that Scorsese’s stereoscopic aesthetic is very much rooted in the theatricality of House of Wax and Dial M for Murder, which is downplayed by the anonymous attendee.

Here are some of his other comments:

“Lots of wide-angle and tracking shots. In fact, there’s one tracking shot in the opening 10 minutes that outdoes the Copa shot in Goodfellas in terms of sheer technical razzle-dazzle — it follows Hugo across and around catwalks, down a ladder, around a spiral slide, through walls, etc.

“The most consistently impressive aspect of the 3D is actually the particulate matter Scorsese adds to all the shots in the train station — amber-hued dust, snow, seta, etc.

“I actually think it may be his most ‘personal’ film since…I don’t know, Goodfellas? … I shit you not — the last act is all about the importance of film preservation…. It’s a movie made for cineastes.”

Will Skyfall Fly for Bond?

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in Below the Line, Books, James Bond, Movies, Tech, VFX | Leave a comment

So, there’s been a lot of Bond news and speculation lately: the title Skyfall (based on several domain names privately registered for MGM and Sony Pictures), which might turn out to be true or just as bogus as Red Sky at Night. If true, it’ll be fun figuring out the context: Operation Skyfall?

What we do know, however, is that French TV actress Bérénice Marlohe has been officially signed as the next Bond girl along with Helen McCrory (Harry Potter’s Narcissa Malfoy) and Ben Whishaw (Layer Cake with Daniel Craig) in undisclosed roles. They will join Craig, Judi Dench, and Naomi Harris as Moneypenny. Javier Bardem and Ralph Fiennes have long been speculated as the super baddies, with scribe John Logan teasing a literal or metaphoric return of arch rival Blofeld as the head of the SPECTRE-like Quantum. That would fit Fiennes nicely. Or they could replay the old good/bad reversal game from For Your Eyes Only and The Living Daylights (culled from Fleming’s Risico short story).

Meanwhile, India has been derailed as a prime location because of a railway dispute involving a vital action sequence on top of a train, so they now will shoot in South Africa. Also, Istanbul returns to Bondage (previously used in From Russia with Love and The World is Not Enough) for the opening. Sultanahmet Square and Bosporus have been earmarked for 10-15 minutes of action. Finally, the exterior of Duntrune Castle in Scotland has been leaked by the owner as the site of Bond’s ancestral home for the climax in which all the villains are gathered.

The 23rd Bond entry begins shooting in November with Sam Mendes at the helm for domestic release Nov. 9, 2012, in honor the franchise’s 50th anniversary.

Remembering Steve Jobs, VES Summit, Gaeta

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

In this week’s TOH indieWIRE column, I elaborate on my memorable encounter with Steve Jobs and recap last weekend’s VES Production Summit and my casual conversation with John Gaeta at the Palo Alto Film Fest. Somehow it all fits.

Asbury Enters Pooch Café with Sony Pictures Animation

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

On the heels of its smash hit, The Smurfs, which has grabbed nearly $520 million globally, Sony Pictures Animation has hired Kelly Asbury (Gnomeo & Juliet) to write a CG-animated adaptation of Paul Gilligan’s popular comic strip, Pooch Café. The project is being exec produced by Gil Netter, Bridget McMeel, and John Glynn.

Asbury told me that he’s taking it one step at a time but there’s always the possibility that he could direct if Pooch Café gets greenlit: “It’s the world as seen through the eyes of this dog, Poncho, who’s roommates with a human, Chaz, and they’re really close,” Asbury explains. “But when Chaz falls in love, it becomes the disruption of a bromance by a real romance and then comedy ensues.”

Kelly describes Gilligan’s graphic style as a cross between Picasso and Charles Schultz, “a cubist world that is very appealing and its simple shapes would translate well into CG if done right.”

“Kelly’s wit and cinematic sensibility pairs wonderfully with the irreverent characters and wry comedy in the Pooch Café comic strip,” says SPA president Michelle Raimo-Kouyate. “We’ve been looking for something to do with Kelly, and this was a perfect match.”

The strip stars Poncho, a cheese-loving, squirrel-fearing, toilet-drinking mutt who joins his canine friends at the Pooch Café, a neighborhood hangout where dogs can be dogs — comparing notes on such weighty issues as avoiding baths, zebra-flavored kibble, and the construction of a giant catapult with which to hurl all theEarth’s cats into the Sun. The strip was nominated for the National Cartoonists Society’s Reuben Award for Best Comic Strip in 2008.

Asbury co-directed Shrek 2, Spirit: Stallion of the Cimarron and has also worked on Kung Fu Panda, Shrek, Toy Story, Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas, Beauty and the Beast, and The Little Mermaid. He’s also a noted author and illustrator of several children’s books, and, as a change of pace, penned Dummy Days: America’s Favorite Ventriloquists from Radio and Early TV.

New Action-Packed Tintin Trailer Unleashed

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

A new Adventures of Tintin (Dec. 21) trailer has arrived, and it definitely amps up the action, which isn’t surprising after the slam-bang footage I viewed at Weta in July.

As I commented for indieWIRE, “[Tintin] looks like the best example yet of the fledgling and controversial [performance capture] technique, thanks to noticeable improvements in facial modeling, skin texturing, and more believable eyes. The result is a unique hybrid of caricature and photorealism. And despite the fact that most Americans are unfamiliar with Herge’s Belgian comic books, Spielberg has potentially pulled off a rousing adventure in the spirit of Raiders of the Lost Ark.”

And that’s what Spielberg and producer Peter Jackson are now trying to emphasize.

As for the performance capture, the rendering continues to improve and I see no Uncanny Valley ill-effects. The animation Oscar race just got potentially more interesting: “Tintin clearly pushes boundaries with a new kind of artistic layering of animated expression.” But I’ll know more, of course, after viewing the finished film in 3-D.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qLkgH8ORfk0

VES Production Summit Take Aways

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

Here are some take aways from Saturday’s VES Production Summit at the beautiful Montage Hotel in Beverly Hills:

* The industry needs better educated stereographers: They should know camera as well as post/VFX. However, there’s a DP turf war going on between the cinematographer and the stereographer, so the cinematographer needs to embrace bringing the stereographer in on the trio with the director, and the stereographer needs to understand the needs of the cinematographer.

* The latest tax incentive wrinkle has high-end VFX artists being lured away to other countries as a result of better lifestyle opps. So the talent pool is definitely improving overseas.

* Former MPAA president Bob Pisano suggested that sequencing and pricing have to be rethought since time-based windows obviously don’t work in the era of social media.

* X-Men: First Class had a hectic four-week post schedule for VFX and the whole production was turned around in less than a year, but, because they pulled it off, there’s a concern that this will become the norm and not the exception.

* Rise of the Planet of the Apes was hailed as “Apeatar” in the way that it leveraged the Avatar performance capture system and was done quickly and efficiently. But the original version had James Franco dying but it didn’t test well, but you can be sure the alternate version will be touted on the upcoming Blu-ray.

* A lack of clarity and preparedness before you go into production is consequential — that is the systematic problem at the heart of so much abuse of VFX artists that the VES is currently trying to address in its Bill of Rights.

Geeking Out with Gaeta at the Palo Alto Film Fest

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

It’s always stimulating talking to John Gaeta. Yesterday, I got to do it publicly for an hour at the inaugural Palo Alto International Film Festival. Gaeta discussed his vision of “deep cinema” and more complete convergence with interactive media, the breaking of the fourth wall, if you will. He traced the pioneering experiments in photographic motion by Eadweard Muybridge (appropriately in Palo Alto and the festival’s iconic logo) to his “Bullet Time” innovation in The Matrix to the current Kinect work with games that he’s doing with motion sensing technology at his Float company in San Francisco.

It’s Gaeta’s contention that while the movie industry is creatively stagnating, we’re on the verge of a new renaissance of technological innovation that will transform both movies and interactive entertainment into a deeper and more subjective experience within a decade. We’re talking holodeck with complete volumetric capture so viewers can watch from the viewpoint of the director or select their own individual perspectives. In other words, imagine going into the Matrix with Neo, or racing into the Photo Anime of Speed Racer, or being transported into the watercolor heaven of What Dreams May Come, let alone the dynamic world of Charles Foster Kane or the distant Pandora or some future universe conjured by a visionary director.

“The whole sensor revolution, really, is starting to pour itself in all manner of application… For instance, the only way to port people in a holographic way would be real time spatial acquisition of them and their textures and to bring them into some common viewing space.”

Gaeta said there will always be one thread of popular entertainment driven by the big or small screen experience because of the immense power of performance sculpted by storytellers in a way that we can’t construct ourselves. “But I do think that the universe these auteurs create is a place I might want to go deeper into… so that by toggling off the camera I could get a free view version and do anything I want, but it’s still the performance: I’m not bending the performance, I’m not changing it, I’m not changing the angle, and I can get all sorts of incredible, expository information…”

But there’s a dark side to the technology, Gaeta warned: Your life is going to be metricized and monitored in every way by Big Brother. But such invasion of privacy he hopes will be halted. Time will tell what will be unleashed.