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.

Virtual Production

Letteri Talks Tintin and Apes

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

In my latest TOH column at Indiewire, Weta’s Joe Letteri compares The Adventures of Tintin with Rise of the Planet of the Apes, overcoming the Uncanny Valley with authentic and detailed facial muscles, Weta’s new fur and lighting design, which altered performance as well. Spielberg, in fact, served as the film’s lighting consultant, switching to a film noir look for interiors. The new virtual camera’s ability to shoot on location with the other actors (along with these other refinements) will definitely improve Gollum’s performance in the new Hobbit film as well. You can listen to an audio Q&A with Letteri at the Autodesk Area site!

Trailering The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

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

The thrill, the chill, and the reverie are back when we return to Middle Earth in the first trailer from Peter Jackson’s The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey (Dec. 14, 2012). It begins with a letter from the elder Bilbo Baggins (Ian Holm) to nephew Frodo (Elijah Wood) about his adventures as a young man, and we’re introduced to Martin Freeman as the younger Bilbo, who gets seduced into reclaiming the lost Dwarf Kingdom of Erebor from the dragon Smaug; his encounter with 13 comic dwarfs until darkness sweeps upon the land.

Ian McKellen is prominent as the wizard Gandalf, in search of adventure and then later much more pensive. And we get glimpses not only of Frodo but also Galadriel (Cate Blanchett), too. Plus there’s the hint of danger with Goblins, Orcs, Wargs, and giant spiders. Oh, yes, it ends with a shot of Gollum (Andy Serkis looking as great as ever) muttering about his “precious.”

Trailering More Dark Knight Rises

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

Chris Nolan has given us the ultimate disaster movie, among other delights, judging by the new trailer for The Dark Knight Rises (July 20, 2012) that posted today on Apple. Among the highlights: Tom Hardy’s Bane destroying a football field (a CG field day for onset supervisor Paul Franklin and Double Negative); a mysterious figure limping with a cane and his tiny reflection in glass fixture on a desk (Bruce Wayne?); Anne Hathaway’s Selina Kyle warning Wayne of a coming storm; Gary Oldman’s Commissioner Gordon unable to stop the riot in the streets; Christian Bale as a brooding Wayne; a flashback or return to the League of Shadows from Batman Begins; a glimpse of the new Batwing in action. Plus more IMAX footage. Can’t wait for the July 20, 2012 release.

Spielberg Talks Tintin, War Horse

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

In my latest TOH column for Indiewire, Spielberg tells me why he went performance capture with The Adventures of Tintin and the importance that War Horse holds for him. Later in the week, I will post my complete conversation with Spielberg.!

Trailering Jack the Giant Killer

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

Bryan Singer directing Jack the Giant Killer (June 15, 2012, in 3-D and 2-D and IMAX) is an interesting creative match with lots of potential. The first trailer looks somewhere between Superman Returns and the X-Men franchise with Braveheart thrown in for good measure: sumptuous, iconic, sexy, epic, adventurous, fairy tale. Get a load of that beanstalk and those fire balls. Can’t wait to see it. Hoyt Yeatman is the onset VFX supervisor and Digital Domain is the primary VFX studio, with MPC providing support with others.

Jack the Giant Killer tells the story of an ancient war that is reignited when a young farmhand unwittingly opens a gateway between our world and a fearsome race of giants.  Unleashed on the Earth for the first time in centuries, the giants strive to reclaim the land they once lost, forcing the young man, Jack, into the battle of his life to stop them.  Fighting for a kingdom, its people, and the love of a brave princess, he comes face to face with the unstoppable warriors he thought only existed in legend—and gets the chance to become a legend himself.

The fantasy stars Nicholas Hoult, Stanley Tucci, Ian McShane, Bill Nighy, Eleanor Tomlinson, and Ewan McGregor

Golden Globes Gets Animated

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

Grabbing Best Animated Feature nominations today for the 69th Golden Globe Awards are the five studio films you could count on: Steven Spielberg’s The Adventures of Tintin from Weta Digital (Dec. 21); Aardman/Sony’s Arthur Christmas; Pixar and John Lasseter’s Cars 2; DreamWorks’ Puss in Boots; and Gore Verbinski’s Rango, the front runner and ILM’s first animated feature. Gnomeo & Juliet’s “Hello Hello” from Elton John and Bernie Taupin was nominated for Best Original Song.

What does this mean for Oscar? I think it’s a race between Rango and Tintin with the other two or three spots wide open. But don’t be surprised if one of the 2D indies sneaks in, such as A Cat in Paris.

“To make a movie so far afield from the norm was very gratifying,” admits Hal Hickel, Rango’s animation supervisor. “It’s hard to buck the trend but we’re so thrilled to be getting such a great response. And it was a great fit for us to work in a world that had such a photographic and textured look. The freedom not to be in that live-action box was new and exciting and it was helpful having Roger Deakins come in and show us that we had all these lighting options. We looked at There Will Be Blood, and liked the solutions they came up with for those hot, dusty exteriors.

“Where do we go from here? We’re dying to do another one, with or without Gore. In fact, I’d prefer to do something else that’s completely original. We can do so much more.”

For director Chris Miller, Puss in Boots provided an opportunity to do something totally different from the Shrek world and was a liberating experience. “It’s reflected in the movie,” Miller adds. “Guillermo [del Toro] came aboard at a great time for us. It was fated in a way. It was surreal when he asked to participate and helped us achieve the story we wanted to tell. We’ll see if there’s an appetite for the cat to come back.”

“I’m just delighted that the brilliant craftsmanship, hard work, and dedication of the team who made Arthur Christmas has been honored by a Golden Globe nomination,” remarks director Sarah Smith. “Thank you to the HFPA; we hope the movie gives Christmas pleasure!”

The Golden Globes will air live on Sunday, Jan. 15, 2012 at 5:00 pm PST on NBC.

Richardson Talks More Hugo

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

Cinematographer Bob Richardson went back to square one in shooting Hugo in 3-D. As he simultaneously studied the films of Méliès and the photographic works from that period, he began evaluating the Alexa.

“I did not attempt to measure digital capture against film capture,” he explains. “I went into this experience as producing a digital 3-D product against a fair amount voices asking for a different approach. Meaning that most prefer to use digital capture to emulate film. After speaking with Marty, we both agreed that first and foremost we were creating a 3-D experience and that would require digital cameras. Thus, whatever color space the Alexa’s provided was to be the one we worked within and to place the 2-D film presentation in a secondary position.

“Immediately I learned that one should not take one’s previous ‘film” experience and lay that flatly atop 3-D digital capture without questioning previous patterns of behavior. I realized very early on that I needed to be schooled by a master: Vince Pace was my first teacher; Rob Legato was my constant teacher and companion; and then practice brought a comfort zone.”

The next step was to determine how to take the data and manipulate it. An onsite lab and theater facility was built at Shepperton in London and Greg Fisher was hired to color correct the dailies. “Vince had his team stereo correct our dailies and Marty wanted us to develop a lut for autochrome [a red-orange, green, and blue-violet system, which the Lumière Brothers experimented with in the early 20th century in conjunction with 3-D] for the flashback sequences, which was developed by Rob Legato and Greg Fisher.

“Unfortunately, we were unable to duplicate the exact look but in the process of attempting to create an autochrome feel we came up with what is now the primary base of the film, and the [predominant] blue hue is a direct result of that lut. I found that the blue in the autochrome lut needed a base blue on set. I talked with my gaffer and we set the overhead lights that were currently tungsten with full blue gel. That was often used in combination with white light on the floor to light the actors. The autochrome picked up on the blue and shifted it toward what you see in the film. The sense of depth was enhanced by a combination of cool and warm. We tested shooting sequences with one tone and the result was not as strong a sense of depth as when we mixed cool and warm. Within the film we used that piece of knowledge to our advantage. Certain sequences went completely blue or white with no mixture. That can be seen in the second sequence between Hugo and Méliès at the toy store. A cooler base with little mix of white or warm was used.”

Aside from conveying a hyper reality with tremendous layers of depth and particulate matter that leaps off the screen, Hugo’s 3-D also brings us closer to the characters and actually influences the direction of the performances. “I agree with you completely here — the 3-D gives a sense of intimacy that is not as evident in 2-D,” Richardson suggests. “I must admit that it is somewhat of a mystery to me, why, with some, it works better than with others. I felt that Christopher Lee [as the compassionate bookstore owner] took to 3-D in a phenomenal way. His medium shots and close-ups bear his soul to the audience. The same can be said for the Ben Kingsley close-ups as Méliès in and around the toy store. When an actor is in the zone, the 3-D enhances that performance.”

Letteri Talks Tintin at Autodesk Screening

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

At Tuesday night’s Autodesk screening of The Adventures of Tintin (Dec. 21) at the Landmark in LA, senior visual effects supervisor Joe Letteri admitted there’s no escaping the Uncanny Valley. The key, he told host David Morin, is to make sure that you get all the details right on the face to overcome any creepiness. That was the secret to Weta’s success. They leveraged the Avatar technology but improved the lighting to handle all the indoor scenes.

Speaking of lighting, when asked why director Steven Spielberg took a lighting consultant credit, Letteri said it was probably in keeping with the latest trend on animated films (Roger Deakins being the most prominent), but that there was nobody else to fill that role. However, Letteri revealed that Spielberg drove the lighting. At first, they were going to emulate the brightly-colored style of Hergé throughout, but Spielberg found it too flat-looking so he decided on a film noir look for interiors and nighttime scenes.

Meanwhile, the bravura two-and-a-half minute motorcycle chase in Morocco occurred as a result of the previs offering so many long master shots that Spielberg decided to utilize one in the film.

Snowy, the dog, proved challenging because of his white, curly fur and trying to maintain the spirit of Hergé’s odd design for the terrier. Weta used Maya and nCloth and Spielberg made sure that Snowy stole every scene he was in.

When asked if animation and VFX are converging, Letteri pointed to the screen and indicated that Tintin’s the proof.

And for those wondering why Tintin didn’t make the Academy’s list of 15 VFX Oscar contenders, Letteri said it didn’t help that several members of the Visual Effects Branch Executive committee have yet to see it. On the other hand, no animated entries made the cut, so there continues to be a bias against animation or a hard-to-classify hybrid such as Tintin.!

Apes Rises on Blu-ray

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

Rise of the Planet of the Apes, one of the surprise hits of the year as well as a surprisingly terrific reboot (it’s made quite a few 10 Best lists), arrives this week on Blu-ray (Twentieth Century Fox Home Ent.). Weta Digital and Andy Serkis combine to make Caesar an extraordinary achievement in digital acting. It’s the favorite to take the VFX Oscar, and I call Serkis “The Man of a Thousand Digital Faces” in my TOH column at Indiewire. Fox is rightly giving him a best supporting actor Oscar campaign, though he’s clearly the heart and soul of the movie, directed by Rupert Wyatt.

Rise is certainly a reference quality Blu-ray; it looks sharp and sounds thunderous (sound editing/effects are also Oscar contenders) with lots of bonus feature that I haven’t had time to check out yet. For instance, there are 11 deleted scenes and I’m hoping the death of Franco’s scientist is among them, along with several featurettes such as “Breaking Motion Capture Boundaries,” “The Genius of Andy Serkis,” and “A New Generation of Apes.”

“We rewrote skin, muscles, fur, and eyes one more time to do them a little bit better,” admits Joe Letteri, Weta’s senior visual effects supervisor, who also oversaw The Adventures of Tintin. “But I think making the performance look as realistic as possible is still the main thing that we accomplished.”

Weta placed the performance capture actors out on location or on set with the other actors. Rather than using reflective optical markers for motion tracking, they developed an active LED system with infrared lighting that allowed Weta to  work in a variety of conditions and match the cinematography.

Weta also developed a new facial muscle system still in progress that delivers better capture and animation, particularly for secondary motion. “It’s a problem that’s not easily understood because the facial muscles don’t behave like the other muscles in the body,” Letteri adds. “They are not so bound by the skeleton. But on a face they’re moving other muscles around and other tissue, and there are deep embedded layers that have an impact on what kind of shape they do, which is really complex and why in the end we wind up sculpting a lot of these things.”

They made Caesar more human because they wanted him to look a little more intelligent than the rest of the apes and to stand out among them. “You could see it in his eyes: we made the irises a little smaller so you get a better idea where he’s looking; the muzzle is slightly smaller; and the forehead is shaped a little bit more like a human’s.”

The shock of recognition in Caesar’s eyes when he realizes how and why he must lead the revolt is Letteri’s favorite moment. To achieve this Weta made a new model that more realistically captures movement in and around the eyes and how they are affected by different lighting conditions.

They’ve signed Serkis to continue his Caesar pantomime, and I can’t wait to see how they evolve the story in the sequel, as it eventually dovetails into the original’s time-warp journey with Taylor.

Bob Richardson Goes Blue for Hugo

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

In my latest TOH column for Indiewire, I chat with Hugo cinematographer Bob Richardson about discovering the joys of an autochrome look that goes hand-in-hand with the 3-D. It’s yet another fascinating link back to the roots of early French cinema.