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.


Gravity at 5D | FLUX

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

Chris deFaria, who oversees development of VFX and animation at Warner Bros., revealed Thursday night at the 5D | FLUX conference at USC that Alfonso Cuaron is turning production on its head with Gravity (Nov. 21), the marooned in space adventure starring George Clooney and Sandra Bullock. Framestore is the lead VFX company and the sci-fi movie is being post-converted in 3-D.

“Instead of trying to create real people and what they’re doing, let’s turn it around and create almost an entirely animated film and then backwards engineer the people into that film,” he explained. “As a matter of fact, let’s not even engineer the people into the film, let’s engineer their faces. So you’ve got these little faces inside these little helmets. But there was a big hiccup that we came to I didn’t realize until later, which was that we began building it as an animated film and Alfonso had an idea that he wanted the shots to be incredibly long, and I said, ‘How long?’ And he said he wanted the first shot to be really long. And I said, ‘You mean, 40 seconds?’ ‘No, 17 minutes.’ So it ends up the film only has 156 shots in the entire two-hour movie, many of them six, eight, 10 minutes long.

“But the moment we went to work prevising this, we went into shot production. We were prevising shots and the assets we were building digitally and the angles we were creating in the camera, we were virtually committing to during that process. But when we began to bring in both the production designer [Andy Nicholson] and the DP [Emmanuel Lubezki], we realized that we were committing to many things, not just shot design but lighting, direction, every prop, every single doorway, every single distance so that when we shot somebody’s eyes, they were converging at the right distance point. And we had a myriad of tools to deal with that. But we didn’t create the virtual world and let the live action drive what was ultimately going to be the shot. We actually created the shot and then made the live action work within it.”

The conference was presented by the 5D Institute in association with the USC School of Cinematic Arts and Autodesk.


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.”

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.”

The 5D | FLUX Schedule

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

Immersive design consortium 5D | Institute will kick off their world-building design discussion series in Los Angeles on March 13-15 with 5D | FLUX presented in association with Autodesk and USC School of Cinematic Arts. 5D | FLUX will consist of three, 120-minute interactive sessions spanning three evenings aimed at encouraging in-depth conversations about world-building across disciplines. Each session will be held 7-10 pm at the Ray Stark Family Theater at the USC School of Cinematic Arts. Tickets are available for purchase here.

Sessions are $25 each or $60 for a three-day pass.

World-building refers to the iterative design process that creates and actualizes the story space across media, be that game, film, animation, theater or architecture. This process of developing a dimensional, fictional world created for that story to take place occurs before a specific narrative is locked down. Tuesdayʼs “Inception” session will cover imaging and developing of worlds; Wednesdayʼs “Prototyping” session will discuss testing the story space and visualizing the world; and Thursdayʼs “Manufacturing and Finishing” session will center on building and experiencing the world.

The collaboration with USC School of Cinematic Arts has been a vital component in bringing 5D | Flux to life as the school has been a steadfast supporter of the 5D | Institute. As an education facility, the schoolʼs importance to the film, television, and interactive community is undeniable, making it the perfect partner to host the design forum. The detailed schedule is as follows:

Tuesday, March 13: Inception: Imagining and Developing the World
“World-building for independent cinema: ʻUpside Downʼ”
Presentation By: Alex McDowell, 5D Creative Director, Designer (Man of Steel, Fight Club, Minority Report)
Opening Remarks: Tom Wujec, Design Software Innovator, Autodesk Fellow
Moderator: Peggy Weil, Adjunct Professor USC and Digital Media Designer
Panelists: Rick Carter, Production Designer (War Horse, Avatar, Jurassic Park)
Angus Wall, Editor (The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, The Social Network)
Tom Wujec, Design Software Innovator, Autodesk Fellow
Michael Wilkinson, Costume Designer (Man of Steel, 300, Watchman)

Wednesday, March 14: Prototyping: Testing the Story Space and Visualizing the World
“Building Worlds in Animation: How To Train Your Dragon”
Presentation By: Pierre Olivier Vincent, Production Designer (How to Train Your Dragon, Flushed Away)
Patrick Hanenberger, Production Designer (Rise of the Guardians)
Moderator: Henry Jenkins, Media Scholar/USC Provost Professor
Panelists: Jerrica Cleland, Cinematographer/Animator (Arthur Christmas, Finding Nemo, Toy Story)
Jim Bissell, Production Designer (Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, 300, E.T.)
Alex McDowell, 5D Creative Director, Designer (Man of Steel, Fight Club, Minority Report)
Tom Meyer, Production Designer (Real Steel)

Thursday, March 15: Manufacturing and Finishing: Building and Experience the World
“Design for Virtual Production: ʻReal Steelʼ”
Presentation By: Andrew Jones, Art Director (Oz: The Great and Powerful, Avatar, Alice in Wonderland)
Jeff Wisniewski, Art Director (Tintin, Real Steel)
Opening Remarks: David Morin, Autodesk
Moderator: Mike Fink, VFX Supervisor (Avatar, TRON: Legacy, Blade Runner), USC SCA Faculty
Panelists: François Audouy, 5D Founding Committee, Production Designer
Ron Frankel, Previs Innovator (Fight Club, Minority Report)
Habib Zargapour, Creative Director (Microsoft Games Studios), VFX Supervisor (Twister,
A Perfect Storm, Star Wars: Episode I)
Chris Defaria, Producer, Warner Bros (300, Watchman, Harry Potter)

For more information about 5D | FLUX, please visit:

Robust Houdini 12 Available

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

Side Effects Software is now shipping Houdini 12, built on a powerful new geometry engine with targeted optimizations to dynamics and rendering and a reworked OpenGL 3 viewport. Houdini 12 also includes Bullet solver integration, Pyro FX 2, faster, more accurate FLIP fluids, production-ready cloth, an Alembic exporter, and more.

Houdini’s Mantra renderer, recently recognized with a Scientific and Technical Achievement award from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences, now brings physically-based rendering to volumes such as smoke and fire. Mantra also includes a 300 times speed improvement when instancing to points.

“Houdini has refined the dynamics framework and crystallized the smoke/pyro simulation pipeline to make for a very robust and phenomenally fast workflow to create multithreaded and GPU-assisted grid-based volume simulations and rendering. The speed gains going from Houdini 11 to Houdini 12 are beyond an order of magnitude in this respect,” says Theodor Vandernoot , Sony Pictures Imageworks. “The ease of training FX artists using Houdini 12 for volume simulations is now straightforward, and the feedback and iteration time makes for an enjoyable workflow for volume rendering.”

During beta testing, many studios opted to put the new version into production. The significantly faster simulation times were particularly popular, especially when using the GPU to run fire and smoke simulations using OpenCL.

Houdini 12 can be downloaded from immediately with Houdini Escape available for as low as $1,995 and Houdini Master available for as low as $6,695. The free Apprentice Edition can also be downloaded today and Houdini Apprentice HD is available for an annual fee of $99.

For more, visit:

5D, USC, Autodesk Present Worldbuilding Summit

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

FLUX: Digital Design and Worldbuilding for Narrative Media is a three-part exploration into design as the backbone of digital narrative media, addressing the changing role of the designer in storytelling through world building practices. Presented by The 5D | Institute, the USC School of Cinematic Arts, and Autodesk, the Summit — curated by Alex McDowell (Creative Director, 5D | Institute) and Peggy Weil (USC SCA Interactive Media Division) — will be held March 13–15 at USC’s Ray Stark Family Theatre in Los Angeles, and will include panel discussions, audience participation, and networking receptions.

Worldbuilding is the new metaphor for the creation and actualizing of the story space in narrative media and will be the theme of the Summit. It addresses narrative design thinking, the immersive process and the experience of creating new worlds. It expresses the full arc of the role of design in storytelling.

The evenings will be divided into Inception (imagining and developing the world): “World Building for Independent Cinema: Upside Down” with McDowell and moderator Peggy Weil (digital media designer); Prototyping (testing the story space and visualizing the world): “Building Worlds in Animation: How to Train Your Dragon” with production designers Kathy Altieri and Patrick Henenberger and moderated by Oscar-winning VFX supervisor and USC SCA faculty member Mike Fink; and Manufacturing and Finishing (building and experiencing the world): “Design for Virtual Production: Real Steel” with art directors Andrew Jones and Jeff Wisniewski and moderated by media scholar and provost professor at USC, Henry Jenkins.

With this first in a series of Worldbuilding Summits, the 5D | Institute and the USC School of Cinematic Arts will use their unique access to frame an investigation into the language and practices of digital design methodologies, applying learning from thought leaders in core media industries to an interdisciplinary discussion space within and across media.

FLUX: Digital Design and Worldbuilding for Narrative Media
March 13–15th, 2012 | 7–10 pm

The Ray Stark Family Theatre (in the George Lucas Building)
USC School of Cinematic Arts, SCA 108
900 W. 34th Street
Los Angeles, CA

NVIDIA Previews GTC 2012

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

NVIDIA’s third GPU Technology Conference, GTC 2012, will be held in San Jose, May 14-17. It is the flagship in NVIDIA’s global series of events focused on how the GPU is transforming science. It is expected to draw the greatest minds in the scientific, engineering, research, and developer communities from more than 40 nations.

For more information or to register, visit the GTC website.

“In just a few short years, GTC has become the single most important event for scientists and researchers who use GPUs to advance their work,” said Steve Scott, CTO for Tesla at NVIDIA. “The leading figures in astronomy, bioinformatics, cloud computing, and neuroscience, among many other fields, will be sharing their latest computing techniques, technologies and real-world experiences.”

GTC 2012 will include keynotes, presentations, research posters, tutorials, and hundreds of instructional sessions from top experts. It will again feature the Emerging Companies Summit, where some of the world’s most innovative startups showcase new technologies. It will also include networking events throughout the week, enabling experts to share information.

A partial list of those scheduled to present at GTC 2012 are experts from:

  • Supercomputing and research centers: Barcelona Supercomputing Center, CERN, National Institute of Natural Sciences/Institute for Molecular Science (Japan), Irish Centre for High-End Computing, Chinese Academy of Sciences/Institute of Process Engineering, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, Naval Research Laboratory, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory
  • Corporations: Citrix Systems, Cray, GE Intelligent Platforms, HP, ING Bank, LEGO, Microsoft, Siemens Corporate Research, Synopsys, Tata Motors Limited, Technicolor VMware
  • Universities: Johns Hopkins University, Nanyang Technological University, National Tsing Hua University, Stanford University, Texas A&M University, Tokyo Institute of Technology, Tsinghua University, University of Bonn, University of Calgary/Department of Chemical & Petroleum Engineering, University of California at Berkeley, University of Hamburg/Institute of Applied Physics and Microstructure Research Center, University of Hong Kong, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, University of Michigan, University of Pennsylvania

In addition, NVIDIA and Los Alamos National Laboratory, a leading U.S. national security research institution, will co-host at GTC 2012 the Accelerated High Performance Computing Symposium, bringing together leaders in supercomputing to share knowledge to help solve the most crucial supercomputing technology challenges.

Also co-located at GTC 2012 will be the new InPar 2012 academic conference, which provides a first-tier venue for peer-reviewed publications in the field of innovative parallel computing.

The GTC website will provide GTC 2012 attendees and the GPU computing community with the latest news and information from the event. The site serves a year-round resource, featuring details of keynotes, technical sessions and events from regional GTC events, as well as conference scheduling tools, social media resources, and much more.

Sponsors for GTC 2012 include: HP, Microsoft, Supermicro, PNY, Adobe, Dell, Los Alamos National Laboratory, Lenovo, CAPS, Bull, Synnex, Cooley, TSMC, Amazon Web Services, Next IO, GE Intelligent Platforms, Appro, Fusion IO, and SGI.

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.

FMX 2012 Announces Speakers

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

FMX 2012, the 17th conference on Animation, Effects, Games, and Transmedia will take place May 8-11 in Stuttgart, Germany, with Autodesk as the first official partner, and such speakers as Transmedia pioneer Henry Jenkins, Nuno Bernardo, and Marek Koterski. Immersed in Movies is proud to be a media partner and I will be attending for the first time, and look forward to blogging about the presentations.

Jenkins will provide a Transmedia overview, and Bernardo (founder of beActive) will discuss his very own interactive on-line series Sofia’s Diary — the first international series of its kind — in a track curated by Inga von Staden.

Cloud computing trends will be a hot topic, curated by Ludwig von Reiche, senior director for business development of NVIDIA.

There will be a focus on Canada, Poland, and the Baltics, including a presentation of Marek Koterski’s film Baby sa jakies inne executed by the post-production house The Chimney Pot.

Animation Mentor at CTN-X

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

Animation Mentor, the online animation school whose grads have contributed to such Oscar contenders as Cars 2, Puss in Boots, Rango, and Rio, will be attending CTN animation eXpo (CTN-X) as an educational partner and sponsor. Animation Mentor is inviting students and artists to visit their booth, meet mentors and attend presentations by Dr. Stuart Sumida, mentor Kevin Koch and Animation Mentor CEO and co-founder, Bobby Beck. CTN-X takes place Nov. 18-20 at the Burbank Marriott Convention Center. The animation industry’s foremost authority on anatomy and fight choreography, Dr. Stuart Sumida, professor of biology at California State University, San Bernardino, will be conducting a martial arts demonstration sponsored by Animation Mentor on Nov. 19, 5:30 – 6:30 p.m. Sensei Bill Ryusaki, who is Dr. Sumida’s sensei, Sensei Nurys Saldana, Sensei Tim Komori and senior martial arts students will be participating in the event. For animators, this presentation will combine physical demonstrations with detailed descriptions of anatomical principles, explanation of skeletal anatomy, and other valuable insights that are necessary to animate realistic fight sequences. The demonstration will build upon the techniques Dr. Sumida recently discussed in Animation Mentor’s highly-attended “Anatomy of a Fight” webinar. “We’re honored to have Dr. Sumida, Kevin Koch, our mentors and the senseis take part in CTN-X this year,” states Beck. “CTN-X is a perfect forum for Animation Mentor to reach aspiring animators and to inspire them to pursue their dreams. We are always excited to have new students meet our mentors and guests, and to enjoy some of the Animation Mentor experience.” Beck will also participate in the Educators Panel, “Are They Trained and If So For What?,” Nov. 18, 5:00 – 6:15 p.m., with Lori Hammond (AI/Hollywood), John Mahoney (CalArts), Brian Bradford (Gnomon), and moderated by Tenny Chonin. Additionally, Koch will be presenting a workshop on the “Dos and Don’ts of a Demo Reel” on Nov. 19, 2:00-3:45 p.m. Animation Mentor and CTN-X are co-sponsoring a party that will be held Nov. 18 from 7:00 p.m.-midnight. The Animation Mentor booth (B44) will be open: Nov. 18, 12:00-7:00 p.m.; Nov. 19, 10:00 a.m. – 7:00 p.m.;and Nov. 20, 10:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m. Attendees are invited to stop by (or register online) to schedule one-on-one meetings with an admissions advisor or to visit the Animation Mentor booth. Attendees can meet a mentor on Nov. 18, 1:00-2:00 p.m.; Nov. 19, 10:00-11:00 a.m., 12:00-1:00 p.m., and 3:00-4:00 p.m.; Nov. 20, 10:00-11:00 a.m., and 12:00-1:00 p.m. Also in attendance will be the Animation Mentor crew, including Cheryl Hoke, director of student enrollment and admissions; Suzanne Francois, student care manager; and Becca Romeo, career services manager. For further information about Animation Mentor’s activities at CTN-X, please visit