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

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.”

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.

Disney to Bring out Big Guns at D23 Expo

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

OK, Disney’s D23 Expo (Aug. 19-21 at the Anaheim Convention Center) is shaping up to be a mini Comic-Con. They will tout footage and discussion of Pixar’s Brave and Monsters University, Andrew Stanton’s live-action John Carter, Marvel’s The Avengers, Tim Burton’s Frankenweenie, Disney’s The Muppets and CG-animated Wreck-It Ralph, Oz The Great and Powerful, and more. Rich Ross, chairman, The Walt Disney Studios; Sean Bailey, president, production, The Walt Disney Studios; John Lasseter, chief creative officer, Walt Disney and Pixar Animation Studios; and Kevin Feige, producer and president, Marvel Studios, will preside over the sneak peeks.

In celebration of 25 years of Pixar power, five sessions will be devoted to its artistry and technical wizardry:

* A Conversation with the Pixar Creative Team – Enjoy a rare opportunity to spend some time with the key figures responsible for Pixar’s unprecedented success, including John Lasseter (chief creative officer, Walt Disney and Pixar Animation Studios), Jim Morris (general manager, Pixar Animation Studios), Pete Docter (director, Monsters, Inc., Up), Andrew Stanton (director, Finding Nemo, WALL-E), Bob Peterson (co-director, Up), Lee Unkrich (director, Toy Story 3), Mark Andrews (director, Brave), and Dan Scanlon (director, Monsters University).

* The Characters of Monsters University – Director Dan Scanlon and Production Designer Ricky Nierva discuss how they combine hair, horns, and a lot of heart to bring the wonderful Monsters University characters to life.

* Michael Giacchino’s Music of Pixar – In this musical presentation, award-winning composer Michael Giacchino explores his early influences through the creation of modern-day classic scores from Ratatouille, Up, and Cars 2.

* The Art of Brave – Production Designer Steve Pilcher and Shading Art Director Tia Kratter show how they and their team put paint to canvas and fingers to computer keys to create the stunning visuals of Scotland for Disney•Pixar’s upcoming film Brave.

* Pixar Shorts – This retrospective screening of the animation studio’s legendary short films will be followed by a panel discussion with several of the filmmakers, including Ralph Eggleston (director, For the Birds), Andy Jimenez (director, One Man Band), Angus MacLane (director, BURN-E), Pete Sohn (director, Partly Cloudy), Teddy Newton (director, Day & Night), and Enrico Casarosa (director, La Luna).

Expo attendees will also have access to advance screenings of an all-new 3-D version of The Lion King, presented by RealD 3-D, coming to theaters and homes this fall, and the upcoming ABC holiday special Prep & Landing: Naughty vs. Nice from Walt Disney Animation Studios.

Tickets to the D23 Expo are available at www.D23Expo.com. Admission includes access to all experiences and entertainment at the D23 Expo, including the Disney Legends Ceremony, and can be purchased for single days or for the full three days of festivities. Admission is $47 for a one-day adult ticket and $37 for children 3-12. Three-day passes are $136 for adults and $106 for children. Members of D23: The Official Disney Fan Club will receive a discount for up to four admissions, as well as early entry to each day of the D23 Expo for themselves and their guests.

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.”