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.

performance capture

Cameron’s Deepsea Dive Inspires Avatar Sequels

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

James Cameron admitted that his recent record-setting solo dive to the Mariana Trench in the torpedo-shaped Deepsea Challenger has provided invaluable inspiration for his upcoming Avatar sequels, which will explore the oceans of Pandora and will be shot at a higher frame rate of 60 fps to improve the 3-D presentation.

“The best inspiration I got for Avatar 2 and 3 was dealing with the ‘master navigator’ culture in Micronesia,” Cameron said in Tokyo Friday, where he attended the Japanese premiere of Titanic 3-D.”

Indeed, it is presumed that the bio-luminescent colors of Avatar are inspired by the indigenous Micronesians, a seafaring culture that navigated the Pacific for centuries without the aid of compasses or charts.

Cameron, who is partnering with National Geographic, plans two more dives seven miles to the deepest point in the world before embarking on pre-production.

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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Immersed in Blu-ray: Tintin, Descendants, More Disney

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in 3-D, Animation, Blu-ray, Home Entertainment, Movies, Oscar, performance capture, Shorts, Tech, VFX, Virtual Production | Leave a comment

This week marks the debut of The Adventures of Tintin (Paramount Home Ent.) as well as Happy Feet 2 (Warner Home Video) flat and in 3-D on Blu-ray. Both look stunning but Tintin remains a performance capture revelation, thanks to Steven Spielberg and the wizards of Weta. Just look at the above screen capture from It’s a breathless adventure that combines the Hergé design with a touch of photoreal and film noir. The set includes such informative extras as The Journey to Tintin (which explains Spielberg’s history with the project and his reasons for going performance capture); The World of Tintin; Tintin: Conceptual Design; Tintin: In the Volume (a look at how it’s captured); and Animating Tintin (which reveals the keyframe work that makes it come to life).

While the Krills (Brad Pitt and Matt Damon) definitely stole the spotlight in Happy Feet 2, Dr. D (under the supervision of Rob Coleman) raised the level of animation: Along with improving the penguin facial animation and overall performance (the entire rigs were redone from Softimage to Maya), Will & Bill were also pretty daunting with their expressive bug eyes, feelers, 10 dainty legs, and semi-transparent, bioluminescent bodies. Contains the Behind the Story making-of doc and the delightful I Tawt I Taw a Puddy Tat short.
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Stanton’s Leap of Faith with John Carter

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

Read my commentary about John Carter in my TOH column at Indiewire: In essence, it’s a continuation of that retro vibe that Michel Hazanavicius and Martin Scorsese captured with The Artist and Hugo: rediscovering the past to reclaim the future. But in Stanton’s case, it’s obviously a riskier leap of faith. We’ll have to wait and see if John Carter hits his mark or if his journey ends here. Regardless, Stanton at least got the opportunity to rescue Burroughs’ hero from obscurity.

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!

Trailering Brave with ‘The Prize’

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

A new “Prize” trailer has been released for Pixar’s upcoming Brave (June 22). It’s a marvelously hyper real riff on The Adventures of Robin Hood, in which princess Merida (Kelly Macdonald) defies her parents to reveal her skill in an archery contest featuring some very off-beat techniques.

Meanwhile, in other recent Disney and Pixar tech news, there’s info floating around about a new Disney short for this year, Paperman, directed by John Kahrs (formerly with Pixar and animation supervisor on Tangled), touting a game-changing technique that leap frogs MoCap that’s co-created by Disney animator Eric Daniels (Deep Canvas).

I know that Disney has also been experimenting with translating hand-drawn into CG post Tangled. Now, according to, John Musker apparently revealed at the Annies that he’s working on a project with Ron Clements involving such an interface.

Finally, Big Screen Animation reports that Pixar Research Group (with the participation of David DiFrancesco) is developing a system for capturing light fields for use in 3-D cinematography and videography. According to application info, “data collected by these light field imaging systems can then be used to produce 2D images [or] right eye/left eye 3D images… as well as to render and manipulate images using a computer graphics rendering engine and compositing tools.”

Hugo to Get Plenty of FMX Love

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

Hugo will get two presentations at FMX 2012, the 17th conference on Animation, Effects, Games, and Transmedia, May 8-11 in Stuttgart, Germany. VFX supervisor Rob Legato and Ben Grossmann (Pixomondo’s VFX supervisor) will discuss the game-changing 3-D along with the VFX challenges of pulling off Martin Scorsese’s Oscar-nominated ode to Méliès.

Then, Matthew Gratzner (New Deal Studios) joins Grossmann to dissect the impressive train sequence in a second presentation. While New Deal Studios created the train as a model both in the computer and on set before the crash was filmed, Pixomondo created further visual effects, which involved, amongst others, texturing the train and turning it into a digital model.

Meanwhile, VFX supervisors Juri Stannosek (Pixomondo) and Rainer Gombos (HBO), who create the work for the medieval fantasy series Game of Thrones, reveal which visual effects await the audience in the 2nd season of the critically acclaimed show based on George R.R. Martin’s best-selling A Song of Ice and Fire series of fantasy novels.

Christian Cordona (Look Effects) — one of the VFX supervisors who works on the American crime series Bones – imparts professional insights ranging from pre – through post-production.

Bioware’s Technical Artist Luis Alonso illuminates how the Mass Effect trilogy has evolved since Mass Effect came onto the market. The final installment, Mass Effect 3, is highly anticipated by fans and experts alike. The third-person role playing game The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings constitutes another gaming highlight at FMX. Lucjan Wiecek from the Polish video game publisher CD Projekt Red takes the audience on a journey into the breathtaking world of Geralt of Rivia, the Witcher.

The traditional, annual FMX presentation of “SIGGRAPH Papers,” this year curated by Michael Goesele from the Technical University Darmstadt, is supplemented by a new series on “Eurographics Papers.” This is a scientifically oriented track in cooperation with the European Assn. for Computer Graphics, curated by Prof. Carsten Dachsbacher, who teaches at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology. The following speakers have already confirmed their coming: Lars Krecklau (RWTH University Aachen), Diego Gutierrez (Universidad de Zaragoza), Kai Schröder (University of Bonn), Pascal Mueller (Esri Germany), Daniel Sykora (Czech Technical University in Prague), and Tim Reiner (University of Karlsruhe).

Joyce Talks Morris Lessmore and the Retro Vibe

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in 3-D, Animation, Books, Clips, Movies, Oscar, performance capture, Shorts, stop-motion, Tech, VFX | Leave a comment

I had a chance to catch up with Bill Joyce about his Oscar nomination for The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore, which has turned out to be the front runner. We discussed the similarities to The Artist and Hugo and some of his latest projects.

You’ve really captured the zeitgeist with your retro short, considering the similarities with The Artist and Hugo. Have you given this much thought?

Yeah, I guess the first dose I got of it was when Hugo came out and I love Méliès. In fact Brian Selznick [the author] and I are good friends. We had the same editor at Harper Collins back in the day and we love the same stuff, and one of the things we talked about was Méliès and automatons. And I knew all the stuff that had gone on with bringing Hugo to the screen — my friend, Chris Wedge, worked on it. And then the movie comes out, and they did the Méliès stuff so beautifully and that’s when I realized that we were on the same wavelength in revering the past and revering the filmmaking of the past with using miniatures and the Fleischer brothers and the way they did their miniature work on their Popeye cartoons.

You were all going back to the roots of this and making it relevant.

There’s something pure and innocent and hand-crafted about that that seems so direct and strong. It’s just so strange how it’s all come together this same year. And then The Artist comes out of nowhere. When I saw it — Brandon [Oldenburg, his Moonbot Studios partner] and I had studied the silent films when working on Morris so intensely and really learned the language of the pantomime and the camera setups and all that stuff. And, my god, these guys have absorbed all the same stuff and it just felt strange like the zeitgeist had this undercurrent for everybody.

But it makes sense considering the times we live in and what we’re grappling with.

It’s so hard and complicated to make a silent film like that. And the artistry that’s in place to make The Artist is astonishing. And, actually, when I heard about it, I thought it sounded cool but I couldn’t imagine it working. Usually when you try and resurrect an old way of storytelling, especially an old cinematic way of storytelling, it ends up feeling not pure and like a stunt and not emotionally true. It just feels like an exercise in style. And for both Hugo and The Artist, I thought they totally tapped into the thing that made them brilliant and emotional to begin with. And so form became function in a way, but it was completely true to the storytelling experience and that’s rare. And it amplified the content. I think shot for shot, The Artist is probably the most thoroughly and thought out film I’ve seen in a really long time.

So let’s bring it back to your work.

We just wanted to make it feel hand-made again, that somehow that felt important, and with books being more a tactile thing, it seemed to go very strongly with the story we were grappling with. And then the more we got into it, Bill, there’s this character that’s in a book, this Humpty character, he should be animated two-dimensionally — he’s a flat illustration. It actually doesn’t make sense to make a 3D model of him, it makes more sense to make a 2D model. We sat around asking ourselves: Can we really do that? Are we just giving in to our fetishist love of 2D? No, this really is the best way to tell this story. It was just really neat to come up with a framework to indulge all our enthusiasms.

Tell me about The Numberlys.

It’s a reworking of Metropolis for kids. It’s in black and white and turns to color because in that world there’s only numbers and its inhabitants, the Numberlys, and five of them go, “We need something else besides numbers,” so they make up the alphabet; having made up the alphabet, that brings about color. We still get into this whole surreal instance of storytelling but we didn’t go miniatures again because it doesn’t help our theme. It’s pretty much silent except when they finally get words. It’s an app first and we’re finishing the short now and then it’ll be a book. It’s like the landscape’s changing so fast: Do we make a short first or an app first? It didn’t seem to make much difference. And then we’re going to start our next one after that, which is Mr. Spam Gets a New Hat. I don’t know why he’s called that but it’s all going to be in color. But it’s a musical.

What’s the style?

It’s early Ernst Lubitsch.

My favorite.

Me too. And they’re incredibly charming: Love Me Tonight. And so we want to explore making a musical matter again. Or somehow translate that crazy leap of faith that musicals make. It seems not ridiculous that you would burst into songs. It’ll be Lubitsch-like with a really early Technicolor look. Again, very much a parable…

It’s amazing: Bill Plympton’s here and and he’s been working on a restoration of Winsor McCay’s The Flying House, and he showed it to us a few minutes ago and it’s amazing. I think it was the last animated piece that Winsor McCay did and it was almost unwatchable. It had degraded so badly. And Plympton took the position: What would McCay do now? It’s in color and has sound and a musical score, which didn’t exist when he did the original short. And it sounds like sacrilege but it’s actually one of the most charming things I’ve seen in a very long time. The color in it looks exactly like the Nemo comic strips looked at the time. He did this amazing job of matching the style of the color with the bold animation of McCay’s. And then he got rid of the title cards and McCay had actually animated lip sync for the characters that matched what the title cards were saying, though he didn’t need to. So once Bill discovered that, he had Patricia Clarkson and Matthew Modine do the dialogue and it matches up beautifully.

How is Rise of the Guardians coming along?

Oh, man. We’re less than a year out and it’s really coming together. It’s true to what I wanted it to be. It’s beautiful and the 3-D’s really nice. I wasn’t that keen on 3-D at the start, but, after seeing Hugo and what we’re doing here, I’m becoming more and more of a convert. And, actually, Tintin was very good in 3-D.

You’re reinvigorating the superhero genre with an infusion of fairy tales: Santa, the Tooth Fairy, the Easter Bunny, Jack Frost.

When you think about the fact that most the original comic writers were Jewish and were tapping folklore like The Golem, I’m just bringing it back around again.