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

The Artist’s Schiffman Talks Retro Code

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in Below the Line, Cinematography, Clips, Movies, Oscar | Leave a comment

I spoke with Oscar-nominated cinematographer Guillaume Schiffman about shooting The Artist in black and white for my TOH column at Indiewire.  Schiffman turned it into a code predicated on the rise and fall of silent star George Valentin (Oscar-contending Jean Dujardin). It was a back to basics approach in which Valentin was depicted at the outset in crisp black and white and got grayer and muddier as the film progressed. The more dramatic, the greater the presence of shadows; the more comic, the lighter in tone it got.

To Kill a Mockingbird on Blu-ray

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

This week saw the 50th anniversary release of To Kill a Mockingbird on Blu-ray (Universal Home Ent.). It’s one of the most beautifully crafted and emotionally stirring films ever made, and Gregory Peck’s Oscar-winning Atticus Finch is a performance for the ages. He is a model of fairness, stubbornness, devotion, courage, and love, as the Harper Lee adaptation by Horton Foote concludes. Russell Harlan’s sensitive black and white cinematography strikes the right visual tone in keeping with the themes of the racial drama. And Elmer Bernstein’s gentle, melancholy score is embedded in our memories right along with the movie. I had the great pleasure of meeting Peck on a few occasions, which has only enhanced my enjoyment of the film. This is a Blu-ray worth owning, to be sure. And kudos to Technicolor for helping restore it.

However, time has been unkind to the elements and it is not a pristine transfer. Robert Harris has an informative post about the condition of the film elements and an analysis of the mastering.

Super Bowl 2012 Trailer Sunday

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

If it’s Super Sunday, it must be Trailer Sunday!

Before watching the big game today between the New York Giants and New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLVI in Indianapolis on NBC, here’s a glance at a few of the movie spots for Disney/Marvel’s The Avengers (May 12), Disney’s John Carter (March 9), Lionsgate’s The Hunger Games (March 23), Paramount’s The Dictator (May 11), G.I. Joe: Retaliation (June 29). Plus there’s the Ferris Bueller’s Day Off parody for Honda’s new CR-V,

Rango Grabs 5 Annies

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in 3-D, Animation, Annies, Below the Line, Editing, Events, Movies, Music, Production Design, Shorts, stop-motion, Tech, VFX, Virtual Production | Leave a comment

Rango was the top winner at last night’s Annie Awards from ASIFA-Hollywood at UCLA’s Royce Hall. The surreal lizard comedy directed by Gore Verbinski and animated by ILM nabbed five awards, including best animated feature. But the wealth was spread around quite evenly, with eight films splitting the 12 feature awards, including two for DreamWorks’ Kung Fu Panda 2, (such as best director for Jennifer Yuh Nelson); and two for Steven Spielberg’s The Adventures of Tintin, animated by Weta Digital.

It was a surreal evening hosted by Patton Oswalt (Remy from Ratatouille), who quipped his way during scripted and unscripted moments, such as when the wrong envelope was opened for one of the TV winners. There was even fun parody of Oswald’s Young Adult with Remy.

Winnie the Pooh, Rio and Arthur Christmas each received one award, as did the live-action films Transformers: Dark of the Moon and Rise of the Planet of the Apes, which were honored for animated elements.

Rango also won the new Members’ Favorite Award, which is voted on by the entire ASIFA-Hollywood membership, including student and affiliate members. The other awards are chosen by select committees of professionals in the field.

As far as the TV categories, The Simpsons was named Best General Audience Animated TV Production, while Disney’s Prep & Landing: Naughty vs. Nice won four awards. Other TV winners included The Amazing World of Gumball, Disney Jake and the Never Land Pirates, Secret Mountain Fort Awesome and The Penguins of Madagascar. In one of the biggest surprises, Adam and Dog by Minkyu Lee took the short award over the National Film Board of Canada’s Sunday and Wild Life.



Best Animated Feature
Rango – Paramount Pictures and Nickelodeon Movies present A Blind Wink/GK Films Production

Annie Award for Best Animated Special Production
Kung Fu Panda – Secrets of the Masters – DreamWorks Animation

Best Animated Short Subject
Adam and Dog – Minkyu Lee

Best Animated Television Commercial
Twinings “Sea” – Psyop

Best General Audience Animated TV Production
The Simpsons – Gracie Films

Best Animated Television Production – Preschool
Disney Jake and the Never Land Pirates – Disney Television Animation

Best Animated Video Game
Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet – Shadow Planet Productions, Gagne/Fuelcell


Animated Effects in an Animated Production
Kevin Romond “Tintin” – Amblin Entertainment, Wingnut Films and Kennedy/Marshall

Animated Effects in a Live Action Production
Florent Andorra “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” – Industrial Light & Magic

Character Animation in a Television Production
Tony Smeed “Prep & Landing: Naughty vs. Nice” – Walt Disney Animation Studios

Character Animation in a Feature Production
Jeff Gabor “Rio” – Blue Sky Studios

Character Animation in a Live Action Production
Eric Reynolds “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” – 20th Century Fox

Character Design in a Television Production
Bill Schwab “Prep & Landing: Naughty vs. Nice” – Walt Disney Animation Studios

Character Design in a Feature Production
Mark “Crash” McCreery “Rango” – Paramount Pictures and Nickelodeon Movies present A Blind Wink/GK Films Production

Directing in a Television Production
Matthew Nastuk “The Simpsons” – Gracie Films

Directing in a Feature Production
Jennifer Yuh Nelson “Kung Fu Panda 2” – DreamWorks Animation

Music in a Television Production
Grace Potter, Michael Giacchino “Prep & Landing: Naughty vs. Nice” – Walt Disney Animation Studios

Music in a Feature Production
John Williams “Tintin” – Amblin Entertainment, Wingnut Films and Kennedy/Marshall

Production Design in a Television Production
Mark Bodnar, Chris Tsirgiotis, Sue Mondt and Daniel Elson “Secret Mountain Fort Awesome” – Cartoon Network Studios

Production Design in a Feature Production
Raymond Zibach “Kung Fu Panda 2” – DreamWorks Animation

Storyboarding in a Television Production
Brian Kesinger “Prep & Landing: Naughty vs. Nice” – Walt Disney Animation Studios

Storyboarding in a Feature Production
Jeremy Spears “Winnie The Pooh” – Walt Disney Animation Studios

Voice Acting in a Television Production
Jeff Bennett as Kowalski “Penguins of Madagascar” – Nickelodeon and DreamWorks Animation

Voice Acting in a Feature Production
Bill Nighy as Grandsanta “Arthur Christmas” – Sony Pictures Animation, Aardman Animations

Writing in a Television Production
Carolyn Omine “The Simpsons -Treehouse of Horror XXII” – Gracie Films

Writing in a Feature Production
John Logan, Gore Verbinski and James Byrkit “Rango” – Paramount Pictures and Nickelodeon Movies present A Blind Wink/GK Films Productions

Editing in Television Production
Ted Machold, Jeff Adams, Doug Tiano, Bob Tomlin “Penguins of Madagascar” – Nickelodeon and DreamWorks Animation

Editing in a Feature Production
Craig Wood, A.C.E. “Rango” – Paramount Pictures and Nickelodeon Movies present
A Blind Wink/GK Films Production


Winsor McCay Award —Walt Peregoy, Borge Ring, Ronald Searle
June Foray — Art Leonardi
Special Achievement — Depth Analysis

The Artist Has Bloopers

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in Below the Line, Clips, Movies, Oscar | Leave a comment

Can’t get enough of The Artist? Now there’s funny blooper reel that has emerged online. Line flubs, tennis mishaps, and more of Jean Dujardin’s charm. Delightful.

AMPAS to Go Electronic for 85th Oscar Voting

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

The AMPAS has entered into an agreement with Everyone Counts Inc. to exclusively develop an electronic voting system for the 85th Academy Awards, to be held in 2013.

Everyone Counts will work with PwC, the Academy’s accounting firm of record, whose role in tabulating Academy members’ votes will remain unchanged. Over the next year, the Academy will undertake a rigorous security and user-acceptance testing process.

“This is the first of many steps that we’ll be taking toward developing a secure and convenient electronic voting system, beginning with next year’s ballot,” said Academy COO Ric Robertson. “We’re excited to have found great partners in the people who do this best.”

The selection of Everyone Counts is the result of an 18-month search conducted by the Academy. The company is internationally recognized for its expertise in election administration and computer security and its voting platform is a global leader in the election industry. Built into its technology and processes are multiple layers of security that include military-grade encryption techniques. The company’s other clients include the United States Department of Defense; the United Kingdom’s Ministry of Justice; the state of New South Wales, Australia; and the states of Oregon, Florida, and Washington.

“We are honored to have earned the trust of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences in bringing online voting to the Oscars starting next year,” said Lori Steele, chairman and CEO of Everyone Counts Inc. “Our company was founded to set a new standard of security, accessibility, and transparency in elections. We’re proud to be working with the Academy, an organization that also represents the highest standards in its field.”

“We look forward to working with Everyone Counts for next year’s 85th Academy Awards and beyond,” said Brad Oltmanns, balloting leader, PwC. “We are excited about the new electronic voting system, which will enable us to conduct the tabulation process with the same high level of precision, trust and integrity that we have for the past 78 years.”

Meanwhile, the Academy has launched “Celebrate the Movies,” a digital exhibition spotlighting iconic moments from 84 films, which will appear on billboards and showcased on an online gallery on Images will debut in groups of 20 within the next two weeks. The 84 films represented span eight decades, beginning with Bride of Frankenstein (1935) and culminating in Avatar (2009). The exhibition highlights all of Hollywood’s major genres, as well as independent, animated, foreign-language, and documentary films.

Oscar Nominations Full of Surprises

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in 3-D, Animation, Below the Line, Blu-ray, Books, Cinematography, Costume, Editing, Events, Home Entertainment, Movies, Music, Oscar, performance capture, Production Design, Shorts, Tech, VFX, Virtual Production | Leave a comment

Is it a three-way race for best picture between The Artist, Hugo, and The Descendants? Or really a two-way race between either The Artist and The Descendants or The Artist and Hugo? Hard to tell, but Hugo nabbed 11 nominations and The Artist 10 as the AMPAS announced the nominations for the 84th Academy Awards. But with the DGA honoring The Artist’s Michel Hazanavicius Saturday night, is there anything standing in the way of the black-and-white silent ode to Hollywood taking best picture?

The biggest surprise was that there were actually nine nominees for best picture instead of six or seven, as anticipated: Joining The Artist, The Descendants, and Hugo were Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close, The Help, Midnight in Paris, Moneyball, The Tree of Life, and War Horse. No real surprises as far as the choices. They’re all solid.

The five best director nominees were Hazanavicius for The Artist, Alexander Payne for The Descendants, Martin Scorsese for Hugo, Woody Allen for Midnight in Paris, and Terrence Malick for The Tree of Life. Could there be a split between best picture and best director?

With A Better Life’s Demián Bichir somewhat unexpectedly joining the best actor race, this one becomes a lot more interesting with George Clooney from The Descendants (the favorite), Jean Dujardin from The Artist, Gary Oldman from Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, and Brad Pitt from Moneyball.

How about the spellbinding Rooney Mara from The Dragon Tattoo upsetting the heavily favored Meryl Streep from The Iron Lady for best actress? Or does this one really belong to Viola Davis from The Help? Don’t forget the gender-bending Glenn Close from Albert Nobbs and the beguiling Michelle Williams from My Week with Marilyn. This has to be the most competitive category.

Then there’s Moneyball’s Jonah Hill beating out Drive’s Albert Brooks for a best supporting actor nomination. Does The Beginner’s Christopher Plummer still take the Oscar? Or is The Fighter’s Nick Nolte the dark horse? But what about the nostalgia choice of Max von Sydow from Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close?

Melissa McCarthy from Bridesmaids makes the best supporting actress award a lot more interesting as well. She joins Bérénice Bejo from The Artist, Jessica Chastain from The Help, Janet McTee from Albert Nobbs, and Octavia Spencer from The Help.

Best original screenplay is a lot more fascinating with the surprising Bridesmaids (Annie Mumolo & Kristen Wig), Margin Call (J.C. Chandor), and A Separation (Asghar Farhadi) joining The Artist (Hazanavicius) and Midnight in Paris (Allen). Wouldn’t it be something if Bridesmaids pulled this one out?

Adapted screenplay honors also offered its surprises with The Descendants (Payne and Nat Faxon & Jim Rash), Hugo (John Logan), The Ides of March (Clooney & Grant Heslova and Beau Willimon), Moneyball (Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin, story by Stan Chervin), and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy (Bridget O’Connor & Peter Straughan).

The most surprising category of all? Animated feature in which two hand-drawn European indies, A Cat in Paris and Chico & Rita edged out Pixar’s Cars 2 and Steven Spielberg’s The Adventures of Tintin. Score one for the traditionalists. Still, they could’ve gone for Winnie the Pooh to lend a helping hand to Disney’s endangered 2D legacy. And this is the first time that Pixar’s been shut out of a nomination. Rango’s still the heavy favorite, which opens a one-week run on Friday at the ArcLight Hollywood. DreamWorks scored two nominations with Kung Fu Panda 2 and Puss in Boots, proving that emotional storytelling’s definitely on the rise over there.

Animated short nominees ranged from Pixar’s La Luna to The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore, A Morning Stroll (also honored at Sundance), and The National Film Board of Canada’s Sunday and Wild Life. Although this one is also wide open, I think La Luna might have the edge but don’t count out Wild Life or A Morning Stroll.

The VFX Oscar probably belongs to Weta’s Rise of the Planet of the Apes for the emotionally stirring CG Caesar. However, it was joined by the character-driven Transformers: Dark of the Moon and Real Steel (which beat out the favored Captain America:The First Avenger) and the completely inventive Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 and Hugo.

Best Picture

  • “The Artist” Thomas Langmann, Producer
  • “The Descendants” Jim Burke, Alexander Payne and Jim Taylor, Producers
  • “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close” Scott Rudin, Producer
  • “The Help” Brunson Green, Chris Columbus and Michael Barnathan, Producers
  • “Hugo” Graham King and Martin Scorsese, Producers
  • “Midnight in Paris” Letty Aronson and Stephen Tenenbaum, Producers
  • “Moneyball” Michael De Luca, Rachael Horovitz and Brad Pitt, Producers
  • “The Tree of Life” Nominees to be determined
  • “War Horse Steven Spielberg and Kathleen Kennedy, Producers


  • “The Artist” Michel Hazanavicius
  • “The Descendants” Alexander Payne
  • “Hugo” Martin Scorsese
  • “Midnight in Paris” Woody Allen
  • “The Tree of Life” Terrence Malick

Actor in a Leading Role

  • Demián Bichir in “A Better Life”
  • George Clooney in “The Descendants”
  • Jean Dujardin in “The Artist”
  • Gary Oldman in “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy”
  • Brad Pitt in “Moneyball”

Actor in a Supporting Role

  • Kenneth Branagh in “My Week with Marilyn”
  • Jonah Hill in “Moneyball”
  • Nick Nolte in “Warrior”
  • Christopher Plummer in “Beginners”
  • Max von Sydow in “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close”

Actress in a Leading Role

  • Glenn Close in “Albert Nobbs”
  • Viola Davis in “The Help”
  • Rooney Mara in “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo”
  • Meryl Streep in “The Iron Lady”
  • Michelle Williams in “My Week with Marilyn”

Actress in a Supporting Role

  • Bérénice Bejo in “The Artist”
  • Jessica Chastain in “The Help”
  • Melissa McCarthy in “Bridesmaids”
  • Janet McTeer in “Albert Nobbs”
  • Octavia Spencer in “The Help”

Animated Feature Film

  • “A Cat in Paris” Alain Gagnol and Jean-Loup Felicioli
  • “Chico & Rita” Fernando Trueba and Javier Mariscal
  • “Kung Fu Panda 2″ Jennifer Yuh Nelson
  • “Puss in Boots” Chris Miller
  • “Rango” Gore Verbinski

Art Direction

  • “The Artist” Production Design: Laurence Bennett; Set Decoration: Robert Gould
  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2 Production Design: Stuart Craig; Set Decoration: Stephenie McMillan
  • “Hugo” Production Design: Dante Ferretti; Set Decoration: Francesca Lo Schiavo
  • “Midnight in Paris” Production Design: Anne Seibel; Set Decoration: Hélène Dubreuil
  • “War Horse” Production Design: Rick Carter; Set Decoration: Lee Sandales


  • “The Artist” Guillaume Schiffman
  • “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” Jeff Cronenweth
  • “Hugo” Robert Richardson
  • “The Tree of Life” Emmanuel Lubezki
  • “War Horse” Janusz Kaminski

Costume Design

  • “Anonymous” Lisy Christl
  • “The Artist” Mark Bridges
  • “Hugo” Sandy Powell
  • “Jane Eyre” Michael O’Connor
  • “W.E.” Arianne Phillips

Documentary (Feature)

  • “Hell and Back Again” Danfung Dennis and Mike Lerner
  • “If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front” Marshall Curry and Sam Cullman
  • “Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory” Charles Ferguson and Audrey Marrs
  • “Pina” Wim Wenders and Gian-Piero Ringel
  • “Undefeated” TJ Martin, Dan Lindsay and Richard Middlemas

Documentary (Short Subject)

  • “The Barber of Birmingham: Foot Soldier of the Civil Rights Movement” Robin Fryday and Gail Dolgin
  • “God Is the Bigger Elvis” Rebecca Cammisa and Julie Anderson
  • “Incident in New Baghdad”James Spione
  • “Saving Face” Daniel Junge and Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy
  • “The Tsunami and the Cherry Blossom” Lucy Walker and Kira Carstensen

Film Editing

  • “The Artist” Anne-Sophie Bion and Michel Hazanavicius
  • “The Descendants” Kevin Tent
  • “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” Kirk Baxter and Angus Wall
  • “Hugo” Thelma Schoonmaker
  • “Moneyball” Christopher Tellefsen

Foreign Language Film

  • “Bullhead” Belgium
  • “Footnote” Israel
  • “In Darkness” Poland
  • “Monsieur Lazhar” Canada
  • “A Separation” Iran


  • “Albert Nobbs” Martial Corneville, Lynn Johnston and Matthew W. Mungle
  • “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2″ Edouard F. Henriques, Gregory Funk and Yolanda Toussieng
  • “The Iron Lady” Mark Coulier and J. Roy Helland

Music (Original Score)

  • “The Adventures of Tintin” John Williams
  • “The Artist” Ludovic Bource
  • “Hugo” Howard Shore
  • “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” Alberto Iglesias
  • “War Horse” John Williams

Music (Original Song)

  • “Man or Muppet” from “The Muppets” Music and Lyric by Bret McKenzie
  • “Real in Rio” from “Rio” Music by Sergio Mendes and Carlinhos Brown Lyric by Siedah Garrett

Short Film (Animated)

  • “Dimanche/Sunday” Patrick Doyon
  • “The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore” William Joyce and Brandon Oldenburg
  • “La Luna” Enrico Casarosa
  • “A Morning Stroll” Grant Orchard and Sue Goffe
  • “Wild Life” Amanda Forbis and Wendy Tilby

Short Film (Live Action)

  • “Pentecost” Peter McDonald and Eimear O’Kane
  • “Raju” Max Zähle and Stefan Gieren
  • “The Shore” Terry George and Oorlagh George
  • “Time Freak” Andrew Bowler and Gigi Causey
  • “Tuba Atlantic” Hallvar Witzø

Sound Editing

  • “Drive” Lon Bender and Victor Ray Ennis
  • “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” Ren Klyce
  • “Hugo” Philip Stockton and Eugene Gearty
  • “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” Ethan Van der Ryn and Erik Aadahl
  • “War Horse” Richard Hymns and Gary Rydstrom

Sound Mixing

  • “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” David Parker, Michael Semanick, Ren Klyce and Bo Persson
  • “Hugo” Tom Fleischman and John Midgley
  • “Moneyball” Deb Adair, Ron Bochar, Dave Giammarco and Ed Novick
  • “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” Greg P. Russell, Gary Summers, Jeffrey J. Haboush and Peter J. Devlin
  • “War Horse” Gary Rydstrom, Andy Nelson, Tom Johnson and Stuart Wilson

Visual Effects

  • “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2″ Tim Burke, David Vickery, Greg Butler and John Richardson
  • “Hugo” Rob Legato, Joss Williams, Ben Grossman and Alex Henning
  • “Real Steel” Erik Nash, John Rosengrant, Dan Taylor and Swen Gillberg
  • “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” Joe Letteri, Dan Lemmon, R. Christopher White and Daniel Barrett
  • “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” Scott Farrar, Scott Benza, Matthew Butler and John Frazier

Writing (Adapted Screenplay)

  • “The Descendants” Screenplay by Alexander Payne and Nat Faxon & Jim Rash
  • “Hugo” Screenplay by John Logan
  • “The Ides of March” Screenplay by George Clooney & Grant Heslov and Beau Willimon
  • “Moneyball” Screenplay by Steven Zaillian and Aaron Sorkin. Story by Stan Chervin
  • “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy” Screenplay by Bridget O’Connor & Peter Straughan

Writing (Original Screenplay)

  • “The Artist” Written by Michel Hazanavicius
  • “Bridesmaids” Written by Annie Mumolo & Kristen Wiig
  • “Margin Call” Written by J.C. Chandor
  • “Midnight in Paris” Written by Woody Allen
  • “A Separation” Written by Asghar Farhadi

Tweedy Atmospherics in Tinker

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

In my latest Immersed in Movies TOH column at Indiewire, I soak up the tweedy atmosphere of the Oscar-contending Tinker, Tailor, Soldier Spy with cinematographer Hoyte Van Houtema, production designer Maria Djurkovic, and composer Alberto Iglesias. Most fascinating is the story behind that mesmerizing graphic on the wall of the MI6 conference room.

Seibel Talks Midnight in Paris

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

For my Immersed in Movies TOH column at Indiewire, production designer Anne Seibel discussed going back to the golden eras for the City of Lights in Woody Allen’s Oscar-contending Midnight in Paris. The biggest challenge: recreating the legendary Moulin Rouge using a modern concert hall.

Tomás Lunák Talks Alois Nebel

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in Animation, Below the Line, Books, Clips, Movies, Oscar, Tech, VFX | Leave a comment

Alois Nebel marks Tomás Lunák’s directorial feature debut and the first rotoscope animation done in The Czech Republic. He brought his film last week to the Palm Springs Film Festival. The Oscar contender for Best Foreign Language Film and Best Animated Feature is based on a graphic novel and depicts a lonely train dispatcher in 1989 who suffers from hallucinations of ghostly trains from the dark days of World War II that appear out of the fog and pull up outside the train station. Lunák’ discussed his cinematic journey via email. You can view the trailer and roto test below.

What attracted you to the Alois Nebel graphic novel and how did you get involved in making your first animated feature?

The designer of the graphic novel, Jaromir 99, is also singer in the rock band Priessnitz and since 2001 I was shooting videoclips for them and worked also on the visual style of the band. During this period, the graphic novel was developed and gradually published in three parts: Bily Potok, Central Station, Zlate Hory. Later on, all three novels were published in one compilation book, Alois Nebel. Pavel Strnad, a producer, asked Jaromir 99 and Jaroslav Rudis to adapt the graphic novel into a film. The first version of the storyboard was created, which was very similar to the graphic novel.

It’s literally about getting lost in a fog of history. What’s the significance of the story for you?

For me it is a film about countryside, countryside that was humiliated and destroyed, but at the same time begins to defend itself. This fog could be the morning fog when nothing is seen yet. However, this fog eventually resolves and a new day begins.

What was the collaboration with him like?

We were in close contact with the designer for the entire making of the film. When the first versions of script were made, Jaromir 99 redrawn them into storyboard and these were imported into the script again. During the shooting, Jaromir 99 began to prepare materials for the animators — he redrew or prepared each of the already filmed shots. I think we spent more than two years in the same office. I would also like to mention, that my main role was to serve humbly, as it is a story of Jaromir 99 and Jaroslav Rudis, after all.

Why rotoscope? To capture the look and design of the graphic novel?

The main reason why we finally decided for rotoscope was that we tried to find the perfect way to adapt the graphic novel into a film. However, for all of us, it meant to forget almost everything we knew. At school, I mostly made puppet films and video clips; therefore, there was this fear of how I would be able to direct actors or the shooting itself. That’s why we decided to make a one- minute test already with Miroslav Krobot as the main character and the final result surprised us all in a very positive way. Suddenly, we began to feel that the rotoscope could serve the film well, and I also think that the results of the test shots helped us to secure finances for the film.

What was the experience like making the film? How was it done?

We knew that we can portray the original atmosphere of the graphic novel even if after we enriched the original sharp black and white drawing with the degree of gray and began experimenting with dismissing the filmed material into the background.

The filming itself differed from a classic filmmaking in a way that the whole filmed material served as a guidance for the animation and a base for the post-production. Expressive lighting, distinctive make-up, tonally adjusted decoration or the night scenes shot in the daylight — all of these served one thing — to provide the animators as much information as possible.

What was the editorial process like?

The communication with the editor, Petr Říha, was more in the imaginative level in the beginning, we talked more than actually edited. The filmed material served us as the background. We edited rough cut three months after the shooting, which was a base for the animations. Animations were inserted into this rough cut, they were superimposed, the backgrounds were added, and this way the very special layer of the film was created, but at the same time it was very important to preserve maximum imagination and keep the general conception of the film. This timeline was gradually complemented, re-edited during the entire process of post-production, and basically we saw the final version of the film only in the end of the post-production process. We saw it in the moment when it was impossible to make any other steps and we were left to hope that the initial intuition was correct.

What were your biggest worries?

I’m rather introverted and, as such, my biggest worries were directing the actors and communication with the film crew. In my opinion, thanks to the very elaborate preparations everything turned out great. The first problems, rather, arrived in the post-production period, when the film became molecules containing only components of the final film. As I mentioned before, this phase  was demanding on imagination and mainly there were times when it was crucial to make a good decision. I think that the constant immersion in the process and the inability to get distance were the most difficult in the entire project. I think I was lacking the experience that can be gained, of course, only with time. It is important for me to mention Miroslav Korobt, who was with the film from the very beginning and greatly contributed the creation of the character of Alois Nebel.

What are you most pleased with?

I am very glad that the final cut is quiet and austere and I hope that it might someday inspire somebody.