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.

Below the Line

Immersed in Blu-ray: A Night to Remember

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in 3-D, Below the Line, Blu-ray, Cinematography, Festivals, Home Entertainment, Movies, Tech, Trailers | 1 Comment

Before James Cameron’s monumental Titanic (released theatrically this week in a costly and painstaking 3-D conversion), there was Roy Ward Baker’s A Night to Remember (1958), which is currently out on Blu-ray from the Criterion Collection. Elegant, restrained, and gripping come to mind, and for many this remains the key movie to watch about the Titanic disaster. (Next Saturday, of course, marks the 100th anniversary and the TCM Classic Film Fest has the U.S. premiere of the restoration at the Chinese at 9:30 pm.) Scripted wonderfully by Eric Ambler, A Night to Remember (starring Kenneth More and featuring Honor Blackman and a very young David McCallum) is a study in “nobility under pressure,” as film critic Michael Sragow reminds us in his enlightening Criterion notes.

Geoffrey Unsworth’s black and white cinematography is sumptuous once again, thanks to the ITV Studios Global Ent. restoration (carried out at the Perivale Archive). Deluxe 142 partnered on the digital picture restoration, scanning the original 35 mm camera negative on an ARRI Laser Scanner at 2K resolution.

“On A Night to Remember, … there are two important features — both associated with the film’s maritime location – which needed to be taken into consideration, explains Deluxe 142′s David Collard. “First, dancing highlights on water meant that you couldn’t automate restoration on these sections of the film because the highlights might be identified as dust and removed. Second, use of the automated stabilization tools would be an issue on sections of the film featuring lifeboats because they would attempt to correct the natural rolling of the boats. Image Systems’ Relativity and Clarity were used to soften the grain build up, which you inevitably get when you go from first to third generation film stock.”

According to Fiona Maxwell, restoration project advisor, “Another challenge was to put the film back to its original full length, as there was a scene which was originally removed for the release. This was the scene where Kenneth More helps a survivor holding a baby out of the water. He checks to see if the baby is breathing but, sadly, the child is already dead. The shot of a child being lowered into the water by Kenneth More was absent from the original release negative.”

Trevor Brown, the colorist at Deluxe 142, explained: “ Due to the censor cut we had to reinsert the missing shot and to cover the nasty join on the cut negatives. We inserted a fade down and up in DI. We had to do a little bit of an edit on this because of some negative damage but it’s in the original film.”

BBC Interviews Craig About Skyfall

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in Below the Line, Clips, James Bond, Movies, Tech, VFX | Leave a comment

The BBC’s Lizo Mzimba visited the set of Skyfall at Pinewood and here’s the full online interview with Daniel Craig interspersed with clips of Bond running through central London. He said Casino Royale flew by and he wasn’t sure what he was doing, while Quantum of Solace was “the tricky second album. His third outing has higher expectations, of course, because it coincides with the 50th anniversary. Craig wants this one to be “bigger and better” and he wants to leave his mark. He’s not quite sure yet what his contribution is to making Bond relevant, but Craig continues to reference Ian Fleming and is post-war ethos, “finding some hero out of the mess that was the Second World War.” Craig also admits that there’s “a humor and campness to Bond movies that has made them very entertaining and a reason to watch them, and they become an event in people’s sort of film calendars.”

Meanwhile, the Daily Mail reports that teaser trailer is due May 25th with Men in Black III.

Immersed in Blu-ray: Redux

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in Below the Line, Blu-ray, Cinematography, Home Entertainment, Movies, Oscar, Tech | Leave a comment

There’s been some welcome double-dipping lately with two best picture Oscar winners: Warner Home Video has given us a 70th Anniversary remastering of Casablanca that’s worth singing “La Marseillaise,” and Fox Home Ent. has provided a more accurate rendering of The French Connection, thanks to the participation of cinematographer Owen Roizman.

Not that the earlier Casablanca was disappointing. But the new 4K scan and MPEG-4 AVC coding looks superior to me: inky blacks, higher contrast, and a more pleasing grain structure that amounts to a starker image. Overall, the intrigue going on at Rick’s place seems far more mysterious thanks to the more pronounced chiaroscuro effect.

On the other hand, after experimenting with a Moby Dick-like digital desaturation for the initial 2009 Blu-ray release of The French Connection, director William Friedkin has pacified his outraged cinematographer, Owen Roizman, by reverting to the gritty, if erratic, look of his acclaimed thriller. The two apparently kissed and made up during their earlier Exorcist Blu-ray collaboration. Thanks to for this stunning screen capture. I’m still uncertain if the night scenes are dark enough but if Roizman is pleased, I have no complaints. Still, I think I’ll go back and re-watch the revisionist version just for fun. Let’s hope this Best Buy exclusive gets a wider release sooner than later.

Meet the Skyfall Bond Girls

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in Below the Line, Books, Clips, James Bond, Movies, Tech | Leave a comment

With photographers infiltrating top secret locales in London, Scotland, Surrey, and Turkey, has released videoblogs about the two Bond girls of Skyfall: Bérénice Marlohe, who plays mysterious and seductive baddie Sévérine, and Naomie Harris, who portrays rough-and-tumble MI6 field agent Eve. Amid press conference footage, photo sessions, and a shot descending an escalator, Marlohe reveals that she’s drawn to the duality that defines the Bond girl, while Harris explains during weapons training footage that her character is no nominal colleague. She appears to be a far cry from Moneypenny or perhaps will evolve into a new incarnation.

The Hunger Games Rallies Behind VFX

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

I spoke with VFX supervisor Sheena Duggal about The Hunger Games, the year’s first blockbuster (the third highest opener of all-time at $155 million). They somehow wrangled 1,200 VFX shots (64 minutes worth) in 23 weeks at a fraction of the cost. It’s ubiquitous but mostly transparent, of course, in keeping with director Gary Ross’ vision of a gritty, verite visual design that focuses on the POV of Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence). In other words, we are immersed in the Hitlerian, dystopian, survival of the fittest nightmare.

Duggal supervised the work of more than a dozen VFX companies (including Hybride, Rising Sun Pictures, Pixomondo, ILM, Rhythm & Hues, Whiskytree, Digiscope, Clearcut FX) along with previs by The Third Floor and Halon and postvis by Proof.

“There was tremendous pressure on us that we were constantly looking for creative ways to make up for the lack of time and money,” Duggal explained. “And then we had to work really hard to come up with extra solutions and then sell these out, particularly things like the Tribute Parade, which is an epic sequence.” So with a limited set and space they put on this elaborate Nuremberg-like rally with massive roto.
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The Return of Napoleon This Weekend in Oakland

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

I highly recommend taking in the fully-restored Napoleon beginning today at Oakland’s Art Deco Paramount Theater. Abel Gance’s legendary epic has never looked better, thanks to more than 30 minutes of additional footage discovered by Kevin Brownlow. Plus you’ll get to enjoy Carl Davis conducting his rousing score in person for the first time in America with the Oakland East Bay Symphony. I spoke with Brownlow and Davis for this week’s Immersed in Movies column at TOH at Indiewire.
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More Prometheus Trailered Internationally

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

Last week we reveled in the IMAX’d trailer for Prometheus (June 8 in 3-D), which is awe-inspiring. The iconic spaceships and architecture and Geiger vibe are palpable, yet there’s something wondrous as well. It had lots of VFXy action as well. This week we’re treated to the longer, more leisurely international trailer, which goes deeper into the alien mythology and the overall narrative flow while maintaining the mystery. There’s photographic evidence of the remnants of an ancient alien culture, which leads two scientists (Noomi Rapace and Logan Marshall-Green) on expedition to discover our origin. Along for the ride are android Michael Fassbender and corporate exec Charlize Theron. Oh, are they in for a surprise. And so are we.
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Going Upside Down at 5D | FLUX

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

As part of this week’s three-day 5D | FLUX conference at USC about World Building (presented by the 5D Institute in association with the USC School of Cinematic Arts and Autodesk), production designer Alex McDowell discussed his work on the fascinating indie, Upside Down, a futuristic Romeo and Juliet love story in which Jim Sturgess and Kirsten Dunst are not only separated by class but also by space. The two worlds have their own gravitational pulls but are on top of one another.

5D creative director McDowell (Man of Steel), who’s always been drawn to stories with strong social strata, explained the flow of World Building: Inception (in which the world is developed), Prototyping (in which it is tested and visualized), Manufacturing (in which it is produced and captured), and Finishing (in which it is completed in post and experienced).

McDowell suggested that Upside Down (directed by Juan Diego Solanas) offered the perfect opportunity to test this workflow while also being a definite design challenge. “In order to work within this relatively low-budget film, a convincing way of understanding the world, building backwards here, starting with models and then painting over the models, allows you to really look at the experience of the world, even in Photoshop,” he explained.

They looked locations in Montreal for converting into spaces that could be built up or down. “The set that we built allowed characters to be composited on the ceiling,” McDowell added. “The really complicated thing here was eye line: How do you actually track the eye lines between characters that are performing in two different spaces and have to interact with each other?

They used a real camera connected in real-time to a slave remote camera with a motion control unit receiving the data from the encoders, with a computer calculating both video signals composited in real-time to allow one frame per image… Some really interesting, complex solutions to this film played out with a d-vis process to get the eye lines to connect and to be able to build these two sets that had to be stitched together.”

Skyfall Returns to Bond’s Roots

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in Below the Line, Books, James Bond, Movies, Tech, VFX | Leave a comment

Along with taking us deeper into M’s back story, Skyfall will apparently take us back to Bond’s Scottish roots for the first time as their stories converge, according to a Surrey-based nature photographer/blogger. There are spoiler details on the site. Another photographer, Simon Bridger of Flynet, has snapped other images of the exterior buildings constructed in Surrey (see above), which match the Glencoe footage shot earlier. Thanks to MI6 for providing further info. An interest in Bond genealogy is definitely required if you wish to delve further into this.

Man of Steel’s S Discussed at 5D | FLUX

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in 3-D, Animation, Below the Line, Education, Events, Movies, Production Design, Tech, VFX, Videogames, Virtual Production | 2 Comments

This week’s three-day 5D | FLUX conference at USC (presented by the  5D Institute in association with the USC School of Cinematic Arts and Autodesk) offered informative discussions about the new paradigm for World Building and virtual production. Among the highlights was the revelation Tuesday night concerning the mythology of Superman’s iconic S in Zack Snyder’s Man of Steel by costume designer Michael Wilkinson.

Wilkinson explained that since they created a “neo-medieval” back story for Krypton (which included the creation of a new language), it made sense to utilize the suit design as part of the mythology. “Everyone on Krypton wears this suit,” he suggested. Using ZBrush and rapid prototyping, Wilkinson came up the blue/gray color and chainmail look. “It has function and purpose and a logic to this fantastical world,” he added.

Wilkinson spoke as part of the Tuesday night panel discussion about Inception (imagining and developing the world). He was joined by production designer Rick Carter (Avatar, War Horse, Lincoln), Autodesk fellow Tom Wujec (who gave a separate presentation about the state of digital design for cars, shoes, virtual cities, and how creativity is trying to keep up with new technology), and writer/producer Rick Jaffa (Rise of the Planet of the Apes), who is busy scripting a sequel that will further the Moses story about Caesar.

Carter said he wished that World Building would go away as a territorial battle and offered a higher philosophical discussion about world and story melding together as cause and effect. He espoused Jung in describing Avatar as “The Wizard of Oz meets Apocalypse Now” or “EKG meets MRI.”