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.

Trailering Apollo 18

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

What if there were a secret follow-up Apollo mission in December of 1973 funded by the US Department of Defense and kept under wraps by NASA that went awry, ensuring that we never returned to the moon? That’s the conspiratorial premise of Apollo 18 (opening Friday), directed by Gonzalo Lopez-Gallego and co-produced by Timur Bekmambetov. Shot like actual footage captured by the two astronauts on that horrifying mission, the result looks like Blair Witch in space.

The minimal VFX (around 100 shots) were by Image Engine (District 9) and Russian-based Bazelevs and Artifex Studios. They are mostly focused on creative set extensions of the lunar surface that you see in the trailer. Production design is by Andrew Neskoromny and cinematography by José David Montero.

Oscar Watch: Mid-Year Top Animation Contenders

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

As we head into the fall awards season, I look at where the animation Oscar race is heading at TOH at IndieWIRE in this Year of the Sequel…

Frankenweenie Very Personal for Burton

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

Don Hahn told me today at the Lion King 3-D junket that Tim Burton’s stop-motion Frankenweenie (Oct. 5, 2012) is such a personal project that he’s helming for the first time without a co-director. “This is Tim’s story; it’s about him growing up in Burbank with his dog,” Hahn said. “So I don’t know how else to describe it except it’s very personal for him.”

The exec producer, who goes all the way back to the old Disney days with Burton (who turned  53 on Thursday), added that shooting in black-and-white and 3-D helps elaborates on the great monster movies of the ’50s that Burton loves. In fact, the director always intended to make Frankenweenie as a stop-motion feature, though it wound up as a celebrated live-action short in ’84. This will allow him, for instance, to further explore the Frankenstein myth. The movie is being made in London and has about four more months of production.

With stop-motion enjoying a mini renaissance (next year will not only see the release of Frankenweenie but also Laika’s ParaNorman and Aardman/Sony’s The Pirates!, with Henry Selick’s ShadeMaker in the wings for Disney/Pixar), Hahn said it’s “incredibly fashionable.” But the digital world allows them to “shoot the movie on camera bodies with interchangeable lenses; we have video taps to be able to watch the progress while we’re working; and then 3-D is probably the other big breakthrough because part of the fun of stop-motion is being on this little child-size set, and, with 3-D, you feel like you’re there. And Tim’s really excited about that… So it’s a technique as old as time and that hasn’t changed. It’s still move a puppet, take a frame, but a lot of the tools around it have changed to allow us to do it a little faster and a little better.”

After unexpectedly losing his beloved dog Sparky, young Victor harnesses the power of science to bring his best friend back to life — with just a few minor adjustments. He tries to hide his home-sewn creation, but when Sparky gets out, Victor’s fellow students, teachers, and the entire town all learn that getting a new “leash on life” can be monstrous.

Frankenweenie will be a reunion of sorts with Winona Ryder, Catherine O’Hara, Martin Short, and Martin Landau supplying voices.

Anonymous Gets VFXY at Toronto

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in Below the Line, Events, Movies, Oscar, Tech, Trailers, VFX, Virtual Production | Leave a comment

Anonymous (Oct. 28), Roland Emmerich’s provocative political thriller about the identity of William Shakespeare — Amadeus meets Shakespeare in Love — is one of the techie treats premiering at The Toronto International Film Fest. The movie posits that Edward de Vere, 17th Earl of Oxford (Rhys Ifans), is not only the incestuous lover of Queen Elizabeth I (Vanessa Redgrave), but also the real author of the Bard’s works. As the Essex Rebellion conspires against her succession, political intrigue abounds between the Tudors and the Cecils.

Shot at the Studio Babelsberg in Potsdam-Babelsberg, Germany, (the first major movie to use Arriflex’s new Alexa digital camera), the VFX challenge was to virtually recreate Elizabethan London. This task fell to Uncharted Territory, headed by Volker Engel and Marc Weigert, who’ve taken on more of a production partnership with Emmerich since 2012. They serve as exec producers on Anonymous.

Thus, after lots of testing, Weigert tells me that we can expect some stunning advancements in digital cinematography and High Dynamic Range Imaging (HDRI) for photoreal environments that match seamlessly with the 70 sets that were built.

9/11 Anniversary Vibe to Pre-TIFF Oscar Predictions

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in Below the Line, Events, Movies, Oscar, Tech, Trailers, VFX | Leave a comment

The Gurus o’ Gold made their initial predictions for best picture Oscar nominations heading into the Toronto International Film Festival, and, guess what? There’s a definite post 9/11 10th anniversary vibe with a lot of upheaval and soul-searching.

1. The War Horse

2. The Ides of March

3. The Artist

4. Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close

5. The Descendants

6. Midnight in Paris

7. J. Edgar

8. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

9. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

10. The Tree of Life

Well, obviously, the specter of 9/11 looms large in Stephen Daldry’s Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close (Christmas Day), in which a precocious 9-year-old (newcomer Thomas Horn) searches the five New York boroughs for the lock to the mysterious key left by his father (Tom Hanks), who perished in the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center.

Talk about reconnecting, land baron George Clooney reaches out to his two daughters in The Descendants (Nov. 23) from the always quirky Alexander Payne. Then director/actor Clooney turns the dirty and corrupt political culture on its head in search of reform and redemption in The Ides of March (Oct. 7).

Which leaves David Fincher to make sense of the the whole malaise in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (Dec. 21), in which Daniel Craig and Rooney Mara search for a woman missing for 40 years linked to a serial killer that was never caught.

And what would Oscar season be without allegorical period pieces to bridge the past and present: Steven Spielberg separates a boy (Tom Hiddleston) and his horse in War Horse (Dec. 28) like lovers during the tumult of World War I. In The Artist (Nov. 23), a French black-and-white silent, the talkie revolution in Hollywood of ’27-’31 hits the industry like an earthquake. Meanwhile, Leonardo DiCaprio gets caught in another identity mind twister of sorts in Clint Eastwood’s biopic, J. Edgar (Nov. 9); and the Cold War espionage games implode in the remake of Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (Nov. 18).

By contrast, Woody Allen does the time warp for spiritual guidance in Midnight in Paris, and Terrence Malick book ends his surreal ’50s family saga with contemporary context in The Tree of Life.

To be continued as we head into the Oscar season…

Small Fry Toy Story Short Served with Muppets

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

Pixar’s second Toy Story short, Small Fry, directed by BURN-E director Angus MacLane, will be served up with The Muppets on Nov. 23. Buzz gets the spotlight in this one when Bonnie inadvertently leaves him behind at a fast food joint, taking home a kids’ meal Buzz instead. Meanwhile, Buzz meets a gang of toys, including Jane Lynch as a mermaid.

Poor Buzz: looks like another face-off with a pretender. Can the kids’ meal toy tango?

Small Fry marks the second in the Toy Story Toons brand, coinciding with Pixar’s 25th anniversary.

Spielberg Adds 3-D Frisson to Fright Night

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

Steven Spielberg is apparently having a lot of fun with 3-D, and not just with Tintin. According to Fright Night VFX supervisor Joe Bauer, he added a dramatic touch to Colin Farrell’s pool attack. When the teenager releases a cross underwater, Spielberg added a more dramatic shot looking up in the cross part of the metal that is tumbling down through the water and toward the camera.

In addition, Spielberg wasn’t quite satisfied with the stage-four look of Farrell — it wasn’t scary enough. But when the filmmakers reviewed the original concept design, they discovered a shark-like look to the bite, so Spielberg recommended that they make it more, well, Jaws-like. So Luma, which did the bulk of the CG heavy lifting, including the vampire mouth rigging, post tracked more than a dozen shots and created an uglier bite in which the jaw opens much wider and we look deep into his mouth.

New Real Steel Main Event Featurette

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in Animation | Leave a comment

The futuristic robot boxing drama, Real Steel (Oct. 7), has a nice “Main Event” clip, showing off the fighting bots, the steely environments, and the sexy eye candy. It looks like The Champ meets Rocky meets Transformers meets Tron Legacy. No wonder Digital Domain did the VFX along with Legacy Effects, New Deal Studios, and Giant Studios. Hugh Jackman plays a down and out trainer who hooks up with his long-lost son to rehabilitate a has-been bot for the championship. Directed by Night at the Museum’s Shawn Levy.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EIhrREs5FIc

Trailering Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark

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

It’s pure Guillermo Del Toro and a throwback to The Innocents.

In fact, there’s a literal turn of the screw, as an 8-year-old girl moves (Bailee Madison) in with her father (Guy Pearce) and his girlfriend (Katie Holmes) and discovers tiny demonic creatures living in the basement of their Victorian mansion. The goblins torment her in this remake of a 1973 TV movie. Opening Friday, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark is directed by Troy Nixey (Latchkey’s Lament short), scripted by Matthew Robbins (The Sugarland Express) and Del Toro, and contains VFX from Spectral Motion, Iloura, and Weta Digital.

Disney/Pixar to Return to Annies

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in 3-D, Animation, Annies, Events, Home Entertainment, Movies, performance capture, Shorts, stop-motion, Tech, VFX | Leave a comment

ASIFA-Hollywood has announced its call for entries for the 39th Annual Annie Awards, scheduled for Saturday, Feb. 4, 2012, at UCLA’s Royce Hall in Los Angeles. And Disney/Pixar has ended its one-year boycott, according to The Wrap. That’s the reason why ASIFA replaced longtime president Antran Manoogian with respected industry vet Frank Gladstone, who’s revising the voting structure to include a more representative voice from every animation studio. Disney/Pixar has called for the establishment of a multi-studio advisory board.

The 2011 Annie Awards will be presented in 28 categories, including two new ones: Outstanding Editorial in an Animated Feature and Outstanding Editorial in an Animated Television Production. A “Member’s Favorite” award has also been added, but will be on a separate ballot located on the Annies website (www.annieawards.org). While Annie voting is limited to professional members, all members, both professional and associate, will be able to vote on this award.

Entries submitted for consideration will be from productions that were released in the U.S. between Jan. 1, 2011 and Dec. 31, 2011. The deadline to receive submissions and materials is Friday, Oct.14, 2011, by 5:00 pm.  The deadline to join ASIFA-Hollywood or to renew membership in order to participate in the Annie Award voting is Friday, Nov. 4, 2011.

Created in 1972 by veteran voice talent June Foray, the Annie Awards have grown in scope and stature for the past three decades.

For information on ASIFA-Hollywood, please visit www.asifa-hollywood.org.