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.


Pixar to Celebrate Día de los Muertos

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

It’s Día de los Muertos for Lee Unkrich (Toy Story 3). The untitled Pixar movie will celebrate the vibrant Mexican holiday known as Day of the Dead, in which the deceased are remembered and honored Nov. 1-2, in connection with the Catholic holidays of All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day. Darla K. Anderson (Toy Story 3) will produce.

Meanwhile, Bob Peterson’s dino movie gets a title and a release date: The Good Dinosaur (May 30, 2014). What if the cataclysmic asteroid that forever changed life on Earth actually missed the planet completely and giant dinosaurs never became extinct? Pete Sohn (Partly Cloudy) co-directs and John Walker (The Incredibles) produces.

Also, Pete Docter’s untitled “Inside the Mind” feature (exploring the emotions of a girl, the second female protagonist in Pixar history) was also given the release date of June 19, 2015. Ronnie del Carmen (Up) co-directs and Jonas Rivera (Up) produces.

Meanwhile, yesterday at CinemaCon 2012 in Las Vegas, John Lasseter brought out John C. Reilly to promote Disney’s next animated feature, Wreck-It Ralph (Nov. 2), about an arcade video game baddie-turned nice guy, directed by Rich Moore.

Skyfall Videoblogs Second Unit in Shanghai

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

The latest Skyfall videoblog from focuses on the exotic second unit work in Shanghai with comments from second unit director Alexander Witt, first assistant director Michael Lerman,and production manager Angus More Gordon. Of particular interest are the blue neon-lit highways and skyscrapers, which provide an ultra-modern vibe to the action-centric drama helmed by Sam Mendes and digitally shot with Arri Alexa by Roger Deakins.

Meanwhile, Activision announced the autumn release of the 007 Legends video game on PS3 and Xbox 360, which ties together six classic plot lines (including Skyfall) in honor of the 50th anniversary. Touts new maps, weapons, and characters and a multi-player experience.

Content Creators Unite Behind NVIDIA at NAB

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

Content creators ranging from 2012 Oscar winners Industrial Light & Magic (Rango) and Pixomondo (Hugo) to up-and-coming independents such as Bandito Brothers (Act of Valor, Waiting for Lightning) are increasing the speed, quality, and productivity of their workflows through the adoption of GPU computing featuring NVIDIA Quadro, and Tesla GPUs.

“GPU computing is a key component of our innovation roadmap,” said Dave Story, CTO of Lucasfilm. “To achieve the breakthroughs we’re known for, we constantly evaluate the tools and technology that our artists rely on for uncompromising quality and maximum efficiency. To that end, we’re developing our own tools and using commercial software to leverage the immense power available to us through NVIDIA CUDA architecture and both NVIDIA Quadro and Tesla GPUs.”

To improve the creation process — from importing and processing high-resolution camera data through the entire post-production process — leading software providers are expanding the breadth and depth of their GPU-accelerated product offerings. One example is Adobe Systems Incorporated, which is demonstrating at NAB a landmark upcoming new release of Adobe Creative Suite 6 that uses NVIDIA GPUs to accelerate Adobe Premiere Pro CS6, Adobe SpeedGrade CS6, Adobe Photoshop CS6, and, most notably, Adobe After Effects CS6, which benefits from a new 3D ray tracing feature that is up to 27x faster on NVIDIA GPUs.

“I use After Effects every day, and 90% of my work is post-production with a heavy dose of motion graphics mixed with tons of video editing,” said Steve Taylor, senior creative director of Digital Spatula. “By using the new 3D ray tracing capability in After Effects, running on an NVIDIA Maximus-equipped workstation, I’m getting so much more done in less time, freeing me up to be more creative and thoughtful about the project. I’m no longer interrupted by having to switch to a second 3D application to create compelling, animated 3D text, and logos. Not only is it powerfully fast, efficient and easy to use, but After Effects CS6 also gives me more time to focus on delivering higher quality productions.”

NVIDIA Maximus technology combines the power of NVIDIA Quadro professional graphics and NVIDIA Tesla parallel processing in a single workstation, enabling customers to, for instance, create motion graphics while rendering effects in the background — with no impact to the artist’s interactivity.

“Maximus literally saved the day for us,” said James Fox, CEO of Dawnrunner Prods. “We had a client ask us for overnight changes on a job that had taken us 32 hours to render. There was no way we could pull that off. We had just gotten our Maximus system and decided the only way to meet the deadline was to put it into production right then and there. We used it to run Adobe CS5.5 and Autodesk 3ds Max and completed the job with time to spare. No way could we have done that without Maximus technology.”

At the 2012 NAB show, a number of companies are introducing support for NVIDIA Maximus technology, including Adobe, Blackmagic Design (DaVinci Resolve), Chaos Software (V-Ray RT), Cinnafilm (Dark Energy), eyeon Software (Fusion), GenArts (Sapphire), and Quantel (Pablo).

“Blackmagic Design is excited to support NVIDIA’s new Maximus configurations for Windows with DaVinci Resolve,” said Grant Petty, CEO of Blackmagic Design. “By combining a single NVIDIA Quadro and Tesla GPU with Resolve, customers will be able to enjoy incredibly high performance color correction features, such as the ability to process an uncompressed RGB HD resolution video with five layers of real time color correction and image blur at 24fps. With a single Quadro and four Tesla GPUs, colorists using Resolve are able to color correct more than 20 layers of HD video in real time.”

“We’ve seen the adoption of GPU computing more than double by software vendors in just one short year from NAB 2011 until today,” said Greg Estes, industry executive, media and entertainment for NVIDIA. “It’s pretty clear that customers across the content creation spectrum are embracing NVIDIA CUDA as the architecture of choice for GPU computing, and our software partners are seeing that they can grow their business by being on the forefront of this trend.”

Autodesk Comes out Smoking at NAB

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

NAB started out auspiciously today with Autodesk’s important announcement that Smoke 2013 is not only completely redesigned for the average editor — and not just the VFX pro — but that it also offers all of its high-end features at an affordable new price of $3,495 (a substantial drop from $15,000) . Autodesk Smoke 2013 video editing software is repackaged with an easier interface for a fall release as an all-in-one tool for the Mac.

“Autodesk combined over 20 years of visual effects leadership and customer feedback to create video editing and effects software that serves the current and evolving marketplace for high-quality video content. Early feedback has been gratifyingly enthusiastic,” said Marc Petit, SVP, Autodesk Media & Entertainment.

A recent Autodesk-commissioned survey of film and video production companies found that editors and studio owners are grappling with limited budgets, file management complexity, and tight project timelines. Of the respondents, 42% cited dealing with different file formats as one of the biggest challenges with current editing and finishing tools. In the survey, 82% called out Smoke software’s support for HD and higher resolution formats, and 60% its all-in-one package as the most valuable features to help combat production complexity and streamline their post-production workflow. The research illuminated a thriving professional video market with more Hollywood blockbuster-quality content required for web, new mobile platforms, interactive advertising, and traditional broadcast.

The professional video market is eagerly awaiting an improved post-production workflow and demanding pipeline efficiency. The new all-in-one Smoke, with its unified editing and effects workflow, can be that tool. Smoke can help editors simplify their workflow, centrally manage their media, work interactively with high-res media throughout their projects, and deliver high-end content.

To watch live streaming and on demand presentations from the Autodesk NAB booth, including Evan Schechtman’s integrated Final Cut Pro X to Smoke workflow for Grey Goose vodka, visit

Key Features
–The Smoke User Interface
(UI): An intuitive all-in-one creative workflow that combines track-based editorial, industry-standard editing conventions and proven Autodesk creative tools.
–ConnectFX: Powerful node-based compositing inside the timeline for high-end effects and advanced compositing without leaving the editorial environment.
–Creative Tools: A robust toolset with proven high-end finishing tools, Action for true 3D compositing, the Color Warper for professional grading and color matching, the Master Keyer for one-click chroma keying and stereoscopic 3-D editing and VFX.
–MediaHub: A modern approach to working natively with the most common formats that facilitates managing all project media from ingest to edit to effects and archiving.
–Lower System Requirements: Runs on the most recent generation of Apple iMac and MacBook Pro systems using high-bandwidth Thunderbolt storage and IO bringing true high-end video effects to flexible desktop and mobile workflows.

Cloud Computing, Greater Interoperability for Autodesk

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

For Autodesk’s 30th anniversary, it resumed its semi-annual summit in San Francisco to introduce the 2013 DCC suite of Maya, 3ds Max, Softimage, MotionBuilder, and Mudbox (shipping this spring and to be bundled together in an “Ultimate” package). At the same time, the software giant emphasized the importance of its cloud computing program, Autodesk 360 (formerly known as Autodesk Cloud). Autodesk 360 now provides even more cloud benefits to Autodesk Subscription customers, including additional cloud storage and the ability to access cloud services for rendering, simulation, design optimization, and energy analysis. Subscription customers now have up to 25 GB of storage and between 100 and 500 Autodesk cloud units per user, based on the suite edition they purchased, providing a competitive edge to respond to changing business requirements.

Indeed, chief executive Carl Bass (below) suggested that with such an “infinitely scalable resource,” this game-changer is akin to dry cleaning: “How much do I want to pay?” He suggested that cloud computing is the future of how simulation will be done, among other highly complex tasks, and part of a new eco-system in which “you’re the center of computing and community and collaborators.” He termed it “mobile cloud and social all in one place,” and predicted that the iPad will replace the PC.

Not surprisingly, the concept of cloud rendering is being aggressively adopted in the entertainment industry by, among others, Atomic Fiction, the spinoff VFX company from Robert Zemeckis’ ImageMovers Digital. In fact, Atomic Fiction is currently doing the VFX for Zemeckis’ return to live action, Flight, using a workable and efficient model for cloud rendering on a project by project basis, according to co-founders Kevin Baillie and Ryan Tudhope, who were present at the summit.

As for the new versions of the popular DCC suite, Autodesk announced a direct link between Maya and MotionBuilder and crowd simulation in Softimage as a way of competing with Massive. In addition, more interoperability is being stressed among all their software programs and various bundles.

Marc Petit (below), Autodesk’s SVP of Media & Entertainment, reiterated the goal of finding new ways of standardizing and optimizing VFX workflows to “take full advantage of globally distributed production resources.” To that end, Autodesk is working with the major studios “to develop and package workflows that address these challenges.” Virtual production and 3-D are particularly earmarked to expand the storytelling and visual potential in a post-Avatar paradigm shift.

Among the highlights of this expanded interoperability:

– Live character streaming between MotionBuilder and Maya provides an efficient way to previsualize a retargeting result in the final Maya scene before transferring the data between applications.

– More consistent hotkeys make it easier for Maya artists to navigate viewports in the 3D suite applications, and help artists familiar with 3ds Max to get up to speed with Softimage faster.

– The enhanced, consistent F-Curve Editor within 3ds Max, Maya, Softimage, and MotionBuilder now offers consistent functionality, helping animators transition between these applications more smoothly.

Autodesk HumanIK Interoperability with CAT (Character Animation Toolkit) provides a single-step, round-trip workflow to transfer 3ds Max CAT bipedal characters between 3ds Max, Maya and MotionBuilder. Enhanced interoperability between Maya and 3ds Max enables artists to move 3D data between the applications in a single step.

All editions of the Autodesk Entertainment Creation Suites now also include Autodesk SketchBook Designer 2013 concept art software. This product enables artists to explore and present new ideas for characters, props, and environments using an intuitive hybrid paint and vector toolset.

Autodesk Maya 2013 delivers powerful new toolsets for dynamic simulation, animation and rendering that offer new levels of creativity, while everyday productivity enhancements help artists work faster. In addition, the Open Data initiative introduced in Maya 2013 offers tools to help facilitate parallel workflows and better complexity handling.

Autodesk 3ds Max 2013 delivers ActiveShade support in the NVIDIA iray renderer; a new render pass system; and enhanced interoperability with Adobe After Effects and Adobe Photoshop software. The 2013 version also offers new tools for motion graphics, 3D animation, and simulation.

Autodesk Softimage 2013 delivers a new high-fidelity interactive environment and powerful new creative toolsets that include a new CrowdFX simulation feature set, along with enhanced modeling, animation, physics, and selection tools.

Autodesk MotionBuilder 2013 helps production teams more reliably acquire, aggregate and refine data, and offers a new nonlinear editing paradigm for virtual production. Highlights are the option to record live motion capture data directly to disk, a flexible new HUD (heads-up display), a floating viewer, and support for broadcast WAVE files.

Autodesk Mudbox 2013 helps artists create complex production-ready scenes with greater ease, with the Gigatexel engine and the ability to work efficiently with significantly more objects. In addition, Mudbox 2013 offers new multipurpose curves, support for edge sharpness data, and enhanced interoperability with Adobe Photoshop software.

Autodesk also announced the 2013 version of its Autodesk Flame Premium software, which combines high-end visual effects and finishing tools with real-time color grading in a single solution. The 2013 version features:

– More creative and technical tools for advanced compositing and 3D relighting

– Interactivity enhancements in Action for an even more fluid creative experience

– Improved 3D tracking workflow for greater flexibility and control when positioning compositing elements in a scene

– Enhanced grading capabilities including new color grading presets to get started on look development, new media export workflow, and Tangent Element modular control panel support

Immersed in Movies Hosts FMX Frame Rate Panel

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

I will not only be attending my first FMX but I will also present a panel about higher frame rates with Doug Trumbull and RFX president Ray Feeney at FMX 2012. The 17th conference on Animation, Effects, Games, and Transmedia will take place May 8-11 in Stuttgart, Germany.

We will explore how higher frame rates will improve the quality of 3-D presentation and help forge a new cinematic language along with other innovations. While Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit is being shot at 48fps and James Cameron intends to shoot his upcoming Avatar sequels at 60 fps, Trumbull is already paving the way with his Showscan Digital process of 120 fps.

In addition, Trumbull provides an in-depth look into his prolific career (from 2001: A Space Odyssey to The Tree of Life). Also, Feeney presents a retrospective on the history of VFX. Feeney has created and implemented numerous new technologies, many of which have become industry standard techniques. Intimately familiar with Robert Abel and Associates (RA&A) from his time there, Feeney reveals how the innovative work of RA&A continues to influence various VFX developments and processes that are nowadays taken for granted — spanning from full ray-traced renders to fluid character animation.
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SIGGRAPH Mobile Launched

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

SIGGRAPH Mobile, inspired by the Symposium on Apps at SIGGRAPH Asia 2011, is a first-time SIGGRAPH program developed to showcase the latest advancements in mobile development.

SIGGRAPH Mobile seeks innovative mobile pioneers to submit their latest discoveries in the field of mobile graphics and apps. The program is divided into four submission categories:

Presentations – One speaker presents on a single topic, technology, or result
Panels – Multiple speaker presentation and discussion of a particular area
Workshops – Hands-on tutorials for current mobile technologies and tools
Demonstrations – Full-day demonstrations of the latest and greatest mobile applications, software, and hardware
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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:

SIGGRAPH 2012 Accepting Real-Time Submissions

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

SIGGRAPH 2012, which returns to the Los Angeles Convention Center, Aug. 5-9, seeks cutting-edge Real-Time Live! content to be presented as part of this year’s prestigious Computer Animation Festival. Examples of accepted real-time simulations and graphics submissions include:

Computer Games, Graphics & Demos

Interactive Animation, Simulations & Rendering Techniques

Military, Industrial or Scientific Visualizations

Research Projects

Real-Time Art Explorations

Interactive Data Visualization & Information Graphics

All content that is interactively controlled and rendered in real-time will be considered. Submissions must be able to be demonstrated in front of a live audience.

“Since its debut in 2009, Real-Time Live! has featured some of the most innovative work presented as part of SIGGRAPH’s Computer Animation Festival,” said Jason Smith, SIGGRAPH 2012 Real-Time Live! chair and digital production supervisor at LucasArts. “Each year the quality and diversity in real-time submissions showcases the best work occurring in the industry. This year’s program will continue this trend of dynamic innovation.”

According to Smith, since debuting at SIGGRAPH in 2009, the quality of submissions continues to be more competitive and impressive each year. This program provides SIGGRAPH attendees access to the industry’s pioneering work in the Computer Animation Festival. “As a community we embrace the diversity and origins of real-time innovation; these breakthroughs enable many industries to re-imagine their production pipelines, development techniques and commercial opportunities on a regular basis.”

The Real-Time Live! submission deadline is 9 April 2012. All real-time work will be reviewed by a professional jury of industry experts from traditional computer graphics, video games, and research organizations. Entries will be judged on creativity, innovation, performance, and most importantly, the ability to render in real time in front of a live audience as part of the Computer Animation Festival. The top selections will be played and demonstrated live on a PC or game console.

View detailed information on how to submit Real-Time Live! content.

Highlights from SIGGRAPH 2011 Real-Time Live!