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.

Virtual Production

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.

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

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.

ADG Wants to Organize Previs Artists

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

Visual effects artists aren’t the only ones being courted by guilds and unions: The Art Directors Guild, Local 800 of the IATSE (ADG), wants to organize previs artists, and has launched an informational site called Artists for Direct Action.

“It’s a natural fit for previs talents to be represented by the Art Directors Guild,” said president Tom Walsh in a prepared statement.  “Our new site will let them know what they can do to claim for themselves the rights all other ADG members currently enjoy.”

ADG claims a long history of visualization synergy with previs artists through its existing crafts professionals: production designers and art directors; scenic and graphic artists; set designers and model makers, illustrators, storyboard, and matte artists.

ADG organizer Peter Koczera noted the guild’s new website will be regularly updated and that he personally is available 24/7 to guide previs artists through the procedures they may follow to assert their rights as artists in the workplace.

It just so happens that I have a prominent association with both the ADG and The Previsualization Society. In fact, I moderated a day-long previs session at the ADG back in January 2008 that directly led to the formation of the Society (see above photo). So I understand the craft of previs and its importance to the industry, and the tug-of-war that exists in a competitive but mutually respective turf war. Moreover, I also understand and appreciate the artistic importance of the crafts associated with the ADG, and how they are leading the way in a whole new digital paradigm.

Thus, in trying to be balanced, I reached out to the Society and got the following response:

“The Previsualization Society, a non-profit trade organization, was formed for a singular purpose — educating professionals who consume and practice previs in order to maximize the effectiveness of the process. A previs department collaborates with a wide range of disciplines and departments from one end of production to the other. Everyone involved needs to be working together toward a common purpose, and the Society has been tasked to focus on fostering the necessary understanding. The ADG was the original anchor and host of the ASC-ADG-VES Joint Technology Subcommittee on Previsualization. The first announcement of The Previs Societies existence was made at ADG headquarters. The Previs Society will continue to pursue our mission of education regardless of what actions the ADG takes in pursuit of its goals.

“The Society was formed to be a collaborative voice for the previs discipline. ADG seems to want to draw the Society into the debate over whether unionization  is right for employees and employers involved in previs. The Society is not the forum for this debate and should not be drawn into it.

I will definitely be exploring this further.

Getting Immersed with John Gaeta at the Palo Alto Fest

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

As part of the inaugural Palo Alto International Film Festival this weekend, I will have a casual conversation with Oscar-winning visual effects designer John Gaeta (The Matrix movies, Speed Racer) about interfacing with media, the future of movies, and possibilities for more experiential storytelling. The event will take place Sunday at 3:00 at Talenthouse in downtown Palo Alto, and will be streamed live.

Additionally, there will be two screenings of Méliès’  A Trip to the Moon, with Technicolor’s Tom Burton discussing the celebrated digital restoration (Saturday at 2:00 and 4:00).

Here’s the complete speaker line-up:

Friday, September 30, 12-1p

2 – 3 p.m. Tim Draper: The Future of Media, http://paiff.slated.com/2011/films/timdraper_paiff2011_paiff2011

3 – 4 p.m. Making the Startup Kids with Vala Halldorsdottir and Sesselja Vilhjalmsdottir; http://paiff.slated.com/2011/films/makingthestartupkids_paiff2011_paiff2011

4-5 p.m. How Much Is Your Idea Worth? with Saad Khan (CMEA CapitalFilm Angels) and Eric Edmeades (Kerner Group), moderated by Sunil Rajaraman (Scripped.com); http://paiff.slated.com/2011/films/isyourideaworthanything_paiff2011_paiff2011

5:30-6:30 p.m. Global Cinema Tomorrow with Alesia Weston (Sundance Institute), Santhosh Daniel (Global Film Initiative), Jasmina Bojic (United Nation Association Film Festival); http://paiff.slated.com/2011/films/globalcinematomorrow_paiff2011_paiff2011

7-8 p.m. Encyclopedia Pictura: Isaiah Saxon, Daren Rabinovitch, Sean Hellfritsch; http://paiff.slated.com/2011/films/encyclopediapicturaisaiahsaxondarenrabinovitchseanhellfritsch_paiff2011_paiff2011

Saturday, October 1, 11-12p

3:15-4 p.m. Paul Debevec: Achieving Photoreal Digital Actors; http://paiff.slated.com/2011/films/behindthesceneswpauldebevec_paiff2011_paiff2011

4:15-5 p.m. Steven Gaydos:  Writing “Road to Nowhere”; http://paiff.slated.com/2011/films/stevengaydos_paiff2011_paiff2011

5:15-5:30 p.m. Uwe Bergmann: Photographing Molecular Particles; http://paiff.slated.com/2011/films/uwebergmannphotographingmolecularparticles_paiff2011_paiff2011

5:30-6 p.m. Stuart Bowling: Advances in Cinema Image and Surround Sound; http://paiff.slated.com/2011/films/stuartbowlingadvancesincinemaimageandsurroundsound_paiff2011_paiff2011

6-6:30 p.m. Jim Helman: Hollywood in a Digital Worldhttp://paiff.slated.com/2011/films/jimhelmanhollywoodinadigitalworld_paiff2011_paiff2011

6:30-7 p.m. Jens Peter Wittenburg: Beyond 3D; http://paiff.slated.com/2011/films/jenspeterwittenburgtheimpactof3donstorytelling_paiff2011_paiff2011

Sunday, October 2, 2-3p

10:30-11:30 a.m. Digital Filmmaking & Distribution: Whose Tail is Wagging the Dog? with Michael Murphy (EVP, Gravitas Ventures), Dale Djerassi (President of Djerassi Films, Jaman Networks Advisory Board), John McCrea (GM, Tunerfish), and Danae Ringelmann (Indiegogo.com).  Moderated by Britt Bensen (Editor-in-Chief and Co-founder at On Demand Weekly); http://paiff.slated.com/2011/films/amovieinsearchofanaudience_paiff2011_paiff2011

12-12:30 p.m. Nickhil Jakatdar: The Future of Mobile and Movies; http://paiff.slated.com/2011/films/nickhiljakatdar_paiff2011_paiff2011

12:30-1 p.m. Brett Crockett: Delivering Cinema Sound to Mobile Devices; http://paiff.slated.com/2011/films/brettcrockettdeliveringcinemasoundtomobiledevices_paiff2011_paiff2011

3-4 p.m. Interfacing with Media: A Conversation with John Gaeta.  Moderated by Bill Desowitz (indieWire); http://paiff.slated.com/2011/films/breakingthefourthwallaconversationwithjohngaeta_paiff2011_paiff2011

4-5 p.m. Ditching the Divide – Merging Technology to Manufacture Cinema with Matthew Meschery (Director of Digital Initiatives, Independent Television Service (ITVS)) 
Katie Gillum (Associate Director, Disposable Film Festival) 
Hannah Eaves (Vice President/Digital & Engagement, LinkTV) 
Michella Rivera-Gravage (Director of Digital and Interactive Media, Center for Asian American Media (CAAM)) 
Tanya Marie Vlach (Eye-Camera/Eye, Tanya).  Moderated by Santhosh Daniel (The Global Film Initiative); http://paiff.slated.com/2011/films/ditchingthedivide_paiff2011_paiff2011

The complete festival lineup is available at: http://paiff.slated.com/2011/schedule/week

Star Wars Goes Into Orbit on Blu-ray

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

So much for the backlash: The Complete Star Wars Saga (Fox Home Ent.) bowed as the all-time catalog Blu-ray title last week, selling 1 million units for $84 million. Are we surprised. That should give Blu-ray a big boost, with Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park, Jaws, E.T., and the Raiders of the Lost Ark trilogy.

Ironically, the first time I ever heard of Blu-ray was when George Lucas touted the HD format back in ’95, two years before the launch of DVD. And, not surprisingly, the Saga looks and sounds terrific in HD. Sure, the prequels look superior because of digital improvements, but the original trilogy, despite some blemishes, dazzles as well. You can see such sharpness and detail (including the wear and tear on R2). And it’s fun comparing the wondrous Yoda puppet with the CG version (introduced now in Phantom Menace). Yes, there are the notoriously new revisions, but they’re minor and actually work in the overall scheme of things.

Interestingly, a few years ago I asked Lucas what order I should introduce to my boys, and he unhesitatingly replied chronologically instead of the order they were made. Well, it didn’t work out that way — until now. The boys insisted on watching the prequels first, which are their favorites, and I joined them. I must confess that it was a fascinating way to go. Surprise was sacrificed for suspense, obviously, but they took delight in pointing out the echoes that reverberated: Anakin saying, “I have a bad feeling about this,” which wraps around to Han in Episode IV, even though the trope originated with Han.

I haven’t had a chance to dip into the bonus features yet. I’m still reveling in the movies.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2bZ0OLfNlN4

Geeking Out with Cameron at the 3D Summit

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

I interviewed James Cameron for my Immersed in Movies column at indieWIRE’s  TOH. We spoke about 3-D for the Avatar sequels and just announced Disney theme park attraction, as well as the Titanic conversion. Cameron and tech partner Vince Pace spoke at the 3D Entertainment Summit this week in Hollywood, suggesting that the business model is working just fine despite some growing pains and speed bumps.

Meanwhile, Pace is continuing to improve the technology. He’s developing a smart rig (taking the focus puller and interocular guy out of the picture) while still working with manufacturers to create faster, lighter, and smarter digital cameras. He recently worked on Martin Scorsese’s Hugo, and came away refreshed at the emotional spectacle.

Moneyball: ‘The Island of Misfit Toys’

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in Below the Line, Books, Cinematography, Movies, Tech, Trailers, VFX, Virtual Production | Comments Off

Moneyball (opening today) reminds us that baseball is as much about psychology as poetry. As with anything in life, you can’t fulfill your promise without confidence and nurturing. And, not surprisingly, director Bennett Miller follows Capote with another literate and mournful biopic of a creative iconoclast on a life-changing journey. Only in this case, Oakland A’s general manager Billy Beane (Brad Pitt at his most fascinating and charismatic best) is spiritually adrift because baseball has broken his heart (he blew his chance as a player). But that doesn’t prevent the driven and resourceful Beane from reinventing himself,  rekindling his love once again (the script by Aaron Sorkin and Steven Zaillian crackles with metaphor and wit).

Moneyball ironically begins in 2001 with the A’s losing a devastating playoff series to the Yankees, and subsequently losing their stars to free-agency. With a small payroll, there’s just no way to compete with the Yankees, but, thanks to a young economics wiz (Jonah Hill), Beane embraces a revolutionary approach to scouting players through computer analysis, and slowly transforms his “island of misfit toys” into a competitive team, and going on a wild, record-breaking ride in the process.

Moneyball is fundamentally about the difficulty of adapting to change and learning to survive and thrive with less — an apt metaphor for our times. Wally Pfister ‘s cinematography has a gritty yet surreal quality at times, in keeping with the volatile tone. The transparent VFX wizardry involving stadium seating is by Rhythm & Hues (supervised by Edwin Rivera).

Fall/Holiday Preview: Five Glorious VFX Films to Watch

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

I preview five VFXy films to keep an eye on this fall/holiday season in my TOH indieWIRE column: Hugo (Nov. 23), Real Steel (Oct. 7), Immortals (Nov. 11), Anonymous (Oct. 28), and Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (Dec. 16). And not a contemporary setting among them.

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

Trailering Twilight Breaking Dawn — Part 1

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in Animation, Below the Line, Books, Cinematography, Costume, Editing, Movies, Production Design, Tech, Trailers, VFX, Virtual Production | Leave a comment

The second trailer went online yesterday for The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn — Part 1. And it doesn’t disappoint in teasing the tense wedding, bed-breaking sex, and horrifying pregnancy that will unleash the powerful offspring, which poses a threat to both the vampire and werewolf clans. It’s the ultimate in post-modern kitsch, with sex, birth, and death, which is probably what attracted Bill Condon in the first place. Imagine Gods and Monsters meets Chicago.

Meanwhile, Tippett is back doing CG wolves, and there is other VFX from Method, Modus, Lola, Hydraulx, Wildfire, Spin, Image Engine, Mr. X. And there’s stylishly spooky below-the-line work from production designer Richard Sherman (Gods and Monsters), cinematographer Guillermo Navarro (Pan’s Labyrinth), costume designer by Michael Wilkinson (Watchmen), and editor Virginia Katz (Dreamgirls).

What’s to become of Edward and Bella? Opens Nov. 18.