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 New In Time

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

Fox has released a new In Time trailer (Oct. 28) from Andrew Niccol, which contains more of the framing of Justin Timberlake’s character for murder along with the class divisions and sexual overtones. In a futuristic sci-fi twist on Hitchcock’s pursued pursuer, time is currency and the wealthy live forever while the poor struggle for every minute of their 25-year limit. Timberlake has more time than allowed and takes Amanda Seyfried hostage to crack open the corrupt society that has set him up. Matt Bomer and Cillian Murphy (as the time keeper) also shine. Roger Deakins’ gritty cinematography is up to its usual high standards, as is Alex McDowell’s alluring production design, evoking a Fight Club-like underworld. VFX by Luma, Wildfire, Soho, Rez-Illusion.

Weta to Show Off R&D at SIGGRAPH 2011

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

For the first time, SIGGRAPH is expanding beyond the U.S. and will be in Vancouver next week. And when I was recently in Wellington, I asked Weta’s senior visual effects supervisor, Joe Letteri (Rise of the Planet of the Apes, The Adventures of Tintin), about their presentations at SIGGRAPH.

Weta will present two new R&D advancements at SIGGRAPH: an art directable water simulation and a new subsurface lighting technique (both demonstrated in Tintin). “They need to be where you want them and when you want them,” he said about the water simulation.” And the subsurface “allows us to better resolve finer details near the top surface of the skin in a way that’s computationally cost-effective.”

Here are the presentations at SIGGRAPH 2011:

A Quantized-Diffusion Model for Rendering Translucent Materials

With these new techniques for rendering translucent materials such as human skin, modified diffusion theory and a new quantized-diffusion method derive efficient and accurate scattering functions for both offline and real-time rendering.

Eugene d’Eon
Weta Digital Ltd

Geoffrey Irving
Weta Digital Ltd

Tuesday, 2:00 pm – 3:30 pm | East Building, Exhibit Hall A
Session Chair: Jaakko Lehtinen, NVIDIA Corp.

Guide Shapes for High-Resolution Naturalistic Liquid Simulation

To efficiently obtain natural-looking liquid simulations subject to art direction, this method processes approved low-resolution geometry into a “guide shape” just below the liquid surface. The final high-resolution simulation runs just a surface layer constrained by the guide, with benefits for both speed and control.

Michael Nielsen
Weta Digital Ltd

Robert Bridson
University of British Columbia and Weta Digital Ltd

Wednesday, 3:45 pm – 5:35 pm | East Building, Exhibit Hall A
Session Chair: Nils Thuerey, Scanline VFX

New Monkey Business

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

“It’s a question of simian survival.”

It’s as true in Rise of the Planet of the Apes as it was in the 1968 original Planet of the Apes. Only now we have a new origin story for the 21st century propelled by genetic engineering and CG DNA for the apes, courtesy of Weta Digital.

Yes, Andy Serkis’ remarkably nuanced portrayal of Caesar finally puts to rest any notion that performance capture can’t evoke pathos and is unworthy of recognition. His primate pantomime is utterly believable because of his character arc and Weta’s latest advancements in photoreal animation. The new facial model adds all the dynamics, ballistics, and secondary motion, while keeping the volume of the face. The fur is is now directly manipulated for greater detail. And the muscles in and around the eyes fire more accurately coupled with requisite moisture and refractive lighting. Speaking of which, lighting is more realistic overall, thanks to the new active LED system of motion tracking and the ability to shoot on location and on set with the other actors.

Such interaction is key, according to Serkis as well as Terry Notary, the talented movement coach, ape stunt coordinator, and choreographer. He played Alpha, father of Caesar, Bright Eyes, his mother, and Rocket, the ferocious Alpha-male, along with 20 or so other background apes during the rampage.

“It’s not the big stuff that makes the difference when I’m choreographing movement but the little nuances,” Notary suggests. “And it was so much about getting into how to be still in the character and how to just live by doing nothing. Actually the quadrupedding, the leaping, that looked great. I developed arm extensions and that are about a foot long and have these cuffs go in your arms and it worked out great because we could make it look and feel as though [we] had the same anatomy as an ape.”

Perhaps now the cognitive gap between performance and recorded image that exists in the industry can be broken down. And if Rise becomes a box office success and spawns more sequels, eventually intersecting with the original story, which is already hinted at, imagine the possibilities for more evolved performances. And yet despite the cumbersome makeup, one still marvels at John Chambers’ Oscar-winning achievement and how expressive and entertaining Kim Hunter, Roddy McDowall, and Maurice Evans were in the original, which had the right mixture of drama and satire. Rise definitely has room for growth.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8YyMqmDeoxI

Giving Rise to Apes at IndieWIRE

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in Animation, Movies, performance capture, Tech, VFX, Virtual Production | Leave a comment

Everyone seems to be going Ape today, so I take the opportunity at IndieWIRE to dig into Weta’s great performance capture advancements on Rise of the Planet of the Apes and how Andy Serkis is the beneficiary with his remarkable performance as Caesar. It looks like Deathly Hallows: Part 2, Transformers: Dark of the Moon, and The Tree of Life have some Oscar VFX competition as we head into the second-half of the year.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8YyMqmDeoxI

First Looks at Superman and Catwoman

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

So what are we to make of our first glimpses of Henry Cavill’s Man of Steel and Anne Hathaway’s Catwoman? Cavill, who was deemed too young for Bond, strikes a familiar if grittier pose in keeping with the presumably more grounded reboot being directed by Zack Snyder and shepherded by Chris Nolan. “I’ve never gone after an actual character in making movies from graphic novels or comic books,” Snyder told me a while back. “I’ve gone after literary or thematic concepts. Where I feel like with Superman, you’re going after a mythology in general. Very different… It’s funny because the thing about Superman that’s stylistically interesting to me is that he’s relevant if he’s real. That’s what Chris Nolan and I talked about early on. The only way I could do this is if Superman were living in the real world with us. And I think that helps him to be credible. It’s just funny because, for me, I haven’t made a real film.”

Amy Adams plays Lois Lane; Laurence Fishburne is the new Perry White; Kevin Costner and Diane Lane portray Clark Kent’s adoptive human parents, Jonathan and Martha Kent; Russell Crowe commands Superman’s Kryptonian father Jor-El; and Michael Shannon recreates villainous General Zod.

As for Hathaway’s Selena Kyle, there’s barely a hint of a feline disguise, though she’s certainly high-tech like Batman with her goggles and cycle. Nowhere near as sexy as Emma Peel but could be a good foil to the grieving Bruce Wayne, who must also battle the menacing Bane (Tom Hardy). With Marion Cotillard as the new ally, Miranda Tate. Nolan vows this will end the trilogy with a sense of realistic and satisfying closure.

The Dark Knight Rises opens July 20, 2012 and The Man of Steel bows June 14, 2013.

Trailering Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy

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

While awaiting the steely Bond 23 (Nov. 9, 2012), John le Carré’s masterful Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy gets a big-screen remake, and it looks like it delivers all the delicious espionage goods. Gary Oldman reprises the role of George Smiley made famous by Alec Guinness in the ’79 mini-series, the anti-Bond called out of forced retirement to weed out a Soviet mole, possessing the same “quiet intensity and intelligence” to pull off the end of Cold War cat-and-mouse. Colin Firth, Tom Hardy, Mark Strong, Ciarán Hinds, and Benedict Cumberbatch round-out the remarkable cast of suspects. Tomas Alfredson (Let the Right One In) directs from a script by Bridget O’Connor and Peter Straughan. Thankfully, this really is a teaser in the best sense. I once had the pleasure of interviewing le Carré (David Cornwell) about The Tailor of Panama: “In retrospect, the Cold War was a war of fantasies as well as a war of hardware. It was a war of perception,” he told me back in the spring of 2001.

VFX by Framestore (some animation and matchmoving, supervised by Oskar Larsson). Opens Nov. 18 from Focus Features, and I see lots of Oscar potential.

Cowboys & Aliens VFX on IndieWIRE

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

I’ve got an article about ILM’s space invaders from Cowboys & Aliens under my new Immersed in Movies moniker at IndieWIRE’s TOH.

Will Zemeckis’ Yellow Submarine Resurface?

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

With yesterday’s Hollywood Reporter announcement of Robert Zemeckis’ ImageMovers resurfacing at Universal with a two-year, first look deal, does this mean that his performance capture-animated Yellow Submarine is back on track? We’ll know soon enough.

However, when reporting on Mars Needs Moms in March, the last movie made for Disney at  ImageMovers Digital in Marin County, production designer Doug Chiang told me that Zemeckis was still very enthusiastic about re-imagining the 1968 Beatles classic and proud of the test, and apparently Paul McCartney was supportive as well. It was previously announced that the director had secured the rights from Apple Corps. to use 16 Beatles songs, and that Cary Elwes, Dean Lennox Kelly, Peter Serafinowicz and Adam Campbell would portray the Fab Four.

So, even though the ImageMovers Digital gang has disbanded (Chiang wants to direct, Kevin Baillie co-founded Atomic Fiction in Emeryville, and Huck Wirtz launched Bayou FX in San Rafael and Louisiana), they confirmed that they’d be willing to regroup when Zemeckis has a new project. Then again, Zemeckis could return to Sony Pictures Imageworks, where he helmed Beowulf and The Polar Express and produced Monster House. (He’s currently attached as producer at Sony Pictures Animation to adapt Chuck Sambuchino’s book, How to Survive a Garden Gnome Attack.) He could also make it at Digital Domain (Tron Legacy and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button), with its own performance capture prowess.

Who knows? There still might be a new 3-D journey to Pepperland to fight the Blue Meanies.

Rainmaker to Animate Escape From Planet Earth

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

Coinciding with SIGGRAPH’s first venture outside the U.S. into Vancouver next week, Rainmaker Ent. and The Weinstein Co. announced production of the CG-animated/3-D Escape From Planet Earth for a 2012 release. Cal Brunker (story artist on Despicable Me, 9, and Horton Hears a Who!) directs this wacky comedy that’s a mash-up of Hoodwinked! and Avatar (yes, more blue aliens).

Donna Gigliotti, TWC’s president of production, and Catherine Winder, Vancouver-based Rainmaker’s president and exec producer, will serve as producers.  Escape was written by Brunker and Bob Barlen based on an original screenplay by Tony Leech and Cory Edwards (Hoodwinked!).

On planet Baab, admired astronaut Scorch Supernova (Brendan Fraser) is a national hero to the blue alien population. A master of daring rescues, Scorch pulls off astonishing feats with the quiet aid of his nerdy, by-the-rules brother, Gary (Rob Corddry), head of mission control at BASA. When BASA’s no-nonsense chief Lena (Jessica Alba) informs the brothers of an SOS from a notoriously dangerous planet, Scorch rejects Gary’s warnings and bounds off for yet another exciting mission. But when Scorch finds himself caught in a fiendish trap set by the evil Shanker (James Gandolfini), it’s up to scrawny, risk-adverse Gary to do the real rescuing. As the interplanetary stakes rise to new heights, Gary is left to save his brother, his planet, his beloved wife Kira (Sarah Jessica Parker) and their adventure hungry son Kip!

Blu Goes Blu for Rio

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in 3-D, Animation, Home Entertainment, Movies, Tech, Trailers, Videogames | Leave a comment

There’s a lot of blue this week with The Smurfs hitting theaters for Sony and Rio coming out on Blu-ray today for Fox (with a lead macaw named Blu and Blue Sky doing the animation, no less). Happily, HD intensifies the craft and experience because Rio is really the star of Carlos Saldanha’s very personal tribute to his native country, despite the charming love birds (voiced by Jesse Eisenberg and Anne Hathaway) and madcap adventure. And as much fun as the 3-D was theatrically, the colors pop even more on Blu-ray without the dimness factor. Also, the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 really propels the bravura Carnival dance sequence.

As I reported previously for AWN, Blue Sky certainly raised its game to achieve the level of animation necessary to match Saldanha’s ambitious vision. “But even little things were complicated like populating the city with trees and flowers,” he said. “Those became our biggest problem complexity wise when the leaves were moving, and the technology we used had to be improved to handle this.”

Birds were the first challenge, of course. There are 12 bird species (chicken, crow, egret, frigate, goose, macaw, sparrow, spoonbill, toucan, cockatoo, cardinal and canary) and a total of 51 unique ones. The hero birds required special rigging for the wings, which double for gesturing when not used for flying. In the case of Blu, that’s most of the movie. In fact, Blu’s entire groom had around 5,000,000 individual hairs to make up all of the feathers.

“The wing rigs are complicated and you want to give them some personality and the ability to emote and articulate their feathers,” suggests Robert Cavaleri, CG supervisor. “And those are two very different kinds of control sets that you have to blend together in a way that allows to them to go from being like a normal bird and something that can be caricatured in a particular way.”

Extras include a deleted fruit stand scene, a tour of the real Rio, and three Angry Birds Rio offerings.