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.


Stainton to Head Paramount Animation

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

Paramount has tapped former Disney Feature Animation head David Stainton to run the new in-house animation division, signaling an end to the DreamWorks Animation partnership. Stainton capped his 17-year tenure at Disney by spearheading the difficult transition from hand-drawn to CG-animated movies, including Chicken Little, American Dog (retitled Bolt), and Rapunzel (retitled Tangled).

In his new role, which takes effect this week, Stainton will report to Adam Goodman, president of the Paramount Motion Picture Group.

As Deadline reports in breaking the story, Paramount Animation will attempt to emulate the successful model forged by Chris Meledandri at Fox/Blue Sky (Ice Age) and now with his Illumination Ent. company at Universal (Despicable Me). The initial plan will be to release one title a year, with budgets of up to $100 million. This is less than Paramount’s Rango, animated by Industrial Light & Magic, and currently the favorite in the Oscar animation race, grossing $240 million worldwide. The broadest range of family fare will be the mandate, according to the official announcement, with a key piece being titles under the Viacom’s Nickelodeon label.

However, it has not yet been reported who will animate the in-house division.

“The success of Rango this year helped us recognize our potential and ability to create wonderfully imaginative animated pictures with global appeal,” said Brad Grey, chairman & CEO of Paramount Pictures. “David is a proven leader with a broad portfolio of experience in animation and family entertainment. He will be a welcome addition to Adam’s highly talented team.”

“David’s accomplishments speak for themselves, and I am glad to welcome him to the lot as we start this exciting new chapter,” Goodman added. “With David’s leadership, we will look to build on what has been a very strong year for our studio in animation, with Rango and the upcoming Adventures of Tintin pointing to the kind of artist-driven, broad-appeal films we intend to make at Paramount Animation.”

“Today’s marketplace affords terrific flexibility as we set out to create fresh, new and different films and seek to attract great talent to Paramount,” Stainton said. “It is a great honor to be joining a company as storied and successful as Paramount and to be able to shape its future in animation. I look forward to helping usher in this new era.”

Meanwhile, The Aventures of Tintin, directed by Steven Spielberg and produced by Peter Jackson, will be Paramount’s next animated release on Dec. 21

Animated Tatsumi Enters Foreign Language Oscar Race

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in Animation, Books, Events, Movies, Oscar, Tech, Trailers | Leave a comment

Variety reports that Singapore has entered the animated doc, Tatsumi, about legendary Japanese manga artist Yoshihiro Tatsumi, in the foreign language Oscar competition. Directed by Eric Khoo and based on the book, A Drifting Life, and five of the artist’s short stories, Tatsumi centers on his impact in bringing manga to an adult audience during post-war occupied Japan. It was animated at Infinate Frameworks Studios in Batam, Indonesia.

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.

Arthur Christmas Trailer #2 Arrives

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

A new trailer for Arthur Christmas (Nov. 23) has gone live and it further demonstrates that Aardman and Sony are a great match and play to each others’ strengths. Aardman’s trademark British wit and offbeat designs are beautifully complemented by Sony’s lively character animation and sumptuous environments. It’s breakneck action and snappy timing as the family of Santas tries to salvage Christmas for a deserving child and the hapless Arthur comes of age.

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.

RIP Steve Jobs

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

Steve Jobs has passed away from cancer at the age of 56. The co-founder of Apple and chief executive of Pixar (he became a member of the board of directors of The Walt Disney 2006, following the acquisition of Pixar by Disney) was arguably the leading technological visionary of our time. He transformed the computer industry, revolutionized animation, and, most recently, reshaped delivery systems with the introduction of the iPod, iTunes, the iPhone, and the iPad.

In 1986, Jobs purchased the Graphics Group from Lucasfilm for $10 million and spun it off into Pixar, retaining Ed Catmull, who became CTO, and John Lasseter, who oversaw all film projects as exec producer. He eventually directed the breakthrough Toy Story in 1995, the first CG-animated feature.
I had the pleasure of meeting Jobs at a Pixar party in LA to celebrate its 15th anniversary. I had just written an overview of Pixar for the Los Angeles Times that was published earlier in the day. Jobs read it and thanked me for my kind words. He was casually dressed in jeans and a button down shirt, and struck me as very easy going and caring. He asked me if I’d every been up to Pixar, and I told him that I recently enjoyed covering Monsters, Inc. “You should come up during the start of a production,” he suggested. I took him up on the offer and got the first sneak peek of Finding Nemo for Premiere Magazine.
I also remember overhearing Jobs discussing the upcoming Oscar race with a couple of his Pixar colleagues. Shrek, which eventually won, was viewed as the front-runner, but Jobs remarked that Monsters, Inc. would wear longer because it had more going for it than topical satire. Always competitive and thinking about the future.

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.

Disney Steps Up Classic 3-D Conversions

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

Well, that didn’t take long. After the surprising success of The Lion King 3D (which is expected to cross $80 million today, coinciding with the Blu-ray launch), Disney plans to roll out more animated classics theatrically in 3-D: Beauty and the Beast (Jan. 13, 2012); Pixar’s Finding Nemo (Sept. 14, 2012) and Monsters, Inc. (Jan. 18, 2013, a precursor to the Monsters University prequel, which arrives June 21, 2013); and The Little Mermaid (Sept. 13, 2013).

Originally released in 1991, Beauty and the Beast, of course, was the first animated film ever nominated for an Academy Award for Best Picture. The 3-D conversion was actually completed before The Lion King‘s, and it’s already had a limited release at the El Capitan in Hollywood. Producer Don Hahn previously told me that while they learned a lot from the Beauty and the Beast 3-D conversion, The Lion King was much more challenging: the characters required more attention because of their horizontal design, as did the epic African locale. However, the result was a much more cinematic experience that pushed the envelope of hand-drawn 3-D conversion, overcaming the cardboard cutout factor.

Disney stereographer Robert Neuman figured out a wonderful hybrid aesthetic for hand-drawn 3-D. By creating the fusion of 2D animation with stereoscopic 3-D, he “created a new medium with a fresh look.”

The question now becomes: Is the enormous 3-D success of The Lion King a one-off or a game-changer?

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.