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

It’s About Time: The Artist and Hugo

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

The Artist and Hugo are truly miraculous bookends that should be studied in introductory film courses: Michel Hanazavicius pays tribute to Hollywood silents and the classical golden age in a very old school approach, and Martin Scorsese delves into the magical world of Georges Méliès while soaking up the experimental French sound films of the same period, only pushing 3-D to new depths of dynamic immersion with the latest digital tools.

But it’s not about technology or technique: it’s about the primacy and poetry of visual storytelling — pure and simple. Both directors and their crews return to square one to rediscover the past and reclaim the present. Their films are about loneliness and the search for identity, artistic expression, and the longing to lose oneself in the cinematic dream world of the movies to escape the harsh realities of life. They are also about the importance of dealing with change, which is timeless and timely, given the precariousness of our global situation. The Artist and Hugo are not unique but they are sustaining.

This is important not only for jaded cinephiles but also for filmmakers struggling to find their way in the new digital paradigm and a new generation of filmgoers that has no use for the past. Earlier this year, I met an amiable waiter who admitted that he has no interest in movies made before he was born. I found his lack of curiosity shocking. Surely, he read books written before his time. Yes, he admitted, only when it came to movies they seemed foreign and dated. Well, perhaps he’s not alone and perhaps The Artist and Hugo will make the cinematic past come alive and help connect the dots to the present.

In speaking with Hanazavicius and three of his crew, they were certainly liberated by their back to basics journey: learning for the first time how to construct a monochromatic world in keeping with the rise and fall of screen star George Valentin (the marvelous Jean Dujardin, who’s like a cross between Doug Fairbanks and Gene Kelly), and emphasizing a more abstract form of expression without the use of dialogue. Hanazavicius said simplicity was the most difficult challenge.

The same goes for Scorsese and his team on Hugo, a film about forgotten dreams, memory, and time. That sweeping opening that takes us through the Paris train station and into the eye of a hidden child is a marvel of CG and practical effects, something that Méliès would’ve applauded. And the stereoscopic brilliance is part of the narrative, pushing the depth beyond any previous 3-D movie, including Avatar. It’s fulfilling the promise of House of Wax and Dial M for Murder, thanks to more advanced technology. But the technology is merely serving the needs of the storytelling. We are there with Hugo and experience the storybook world right along with him. When the drawings fly around the room and animate like flip books, it’s magical. When Ben Kingsley as Méliès addresses the audience at the premiere, he extends into our space to address us intimately. Scorsese and his colleagues conceived and executed the movie entirely in 3-D. 2-D was an afterthought. No wonder James Cameron told Scorsese that it’s the best photographed 3-D movie he’s ever seen.

George Miller Talks Happy Feet 2

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

I speak with George Miller about starting Dr. D Studios for Happy Feet 2, improved toe-tapping penguins, and the thrill of the Krill in my latest TOH column at Indiewire.

Illumination Gets Woody Woodpecker

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

After purchasing Paris-based animation studio Mac Guff for Illumination (to be called Illumination Mac Guff), Universal Pictures is now setting up Woody Woodpecker as a feature for Chris Meledandri’s rapidly expanding slate (Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax, the Despicable Me sequel).

THR reports that Blades of Glory scribes John Altschuler and Dave Krinsky are in talks to develop the crimson-coiffed cartoon character co-created by Walter Lantz.

With news that Sony Pictures Animation is making Popeye on the heels of its blockbuster Smurfs movie, and with Tintin off to a great start in Europe, comic strip characters going CG are getting hotter all the time.

NVIDIA Launches Maximus

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

NVIDIA introduced the Maximus workstation, which brings together the power of an NVIDIA’s Quadro GPU and the new Tesla C2075 companion processor under a unified technology. With the support of HP, Dell, Lenovo, and Fujitsu, NVIDIA Maximus-powered workstations are now available to impact engineering and design workflows.

According to David Watters, “[P]rofessionals have the freedom to act on ideas immediately. For example, when a product designer believes a component of their design is complete, NVIDIA Maximus allows them to immediately begin validation simulation at their desk — while still continuing to act on new design ideas with full interactive 3D graphics. Their creative work process is no longer tied down by the limitations imposed on them by traditional workstations.”

See below how Maximus increases particle simulation in Autodesk Maya 2012 and performs rapid photoreal renderings in 3ds Max 2012. Learn more about NVIDIA Maximus technology at

DreamWorks Goes Real-Time

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

DreamWorks’s Jeffrey Katzenberg revealed at this week’s Techonomy Conference in Tucson, Arizona, that after three years his studio is making great progress with real-time rendering R&D with Intel, teasing that the Holy Grail is within sight for animation and social media.

”An expert animator can do about three seconds of animation in a week,” Katzenberg suggests. But DreamWorks is currently spending “many tens of millions of dollars” and as a result of experiments with Intel’s Sandybridge multi-core processor, has already seen 50 to 70x improvement in productivity.

”The problem is software does not let you optimize all this,” adds Katzenberg, with animators working with low-res files before sending it overnight for rendering and then having to do it again. “It is almost like having a 1,000 horsepower engine in your car and driving 30 mph… The Holy Grail would be for us to have an artist actually see their work as they do it.”

DreamWorks (which is exploring the idea of going solo after its distribution deal expires with Paramount) has already rewritten all of its in-house software during the course of this collaboration that runs through 2012.

However, while real-time rendering is working wonders for lighting and simulation, some animators remain skeptical that real-time rendering will offer appreciable improvement for all rendering needs.

Scorsese & Cameron Talk 3-D

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

It’s a trip watching this brief conversation about Hugo and 3-D between James Cameron and Martin Scorsese interspersed with the clips. Too bad the impact is lost without 3-D. But when Cameron first compliments Scorsese, he can barely contain himself from laughing: “The beauty of what you did was you integrated it with the color, with the composition, with the camera movement, with the acting, with everything. I would say it’s like a 16-cylinder Bugatti firing on every cylinder, and 3-D is one of those cylinders.”

Scorsese explains that he uses 3-D as part of the narrative, what with the spatial opportunities of the train station and the clock interiors, and Cameron admits that it’s the best 3-D photography he’s seen because he’s “embraced it as part of his artistic medium” rather than just adding another color to the palette.

Hugo is a 3-D game-changer in elevating it to a higher artistic plateau. Now let’s see what other prestigious directors can do with it.

Trailering Titanic in 3-D

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

Paramount has just released the first trailer and poster touting the return of Titanic in 3-D on April 6, 2012 in IMAX 3D and Real D 3D. Even without the benefit of a stereoscopic glimpse, you still get a greater sense of depth and intimacy. Just imagine what it’ll be like to go inside the ship and explore it more fully, not to mention how it’ll enhance those faces. Although I wasn’t able to attend the recent presentation at Paramount, the response was very positive, even among journos not receptive to conversion. This was echoed by VFX supervisor Rob Legato (Hugo), who worked on Titanic and saw some test footage as well.

However, I recently spoke with James Cameron, and, while admitting that he isn’t a fan of conversion and found the experience “freaky” to fix and redesign (at the very best you’re only getting 90% — and that’s after working on it for a year and spending $18 million), he’s understandably proud:

“The result of it, I think, is stunning,” Cameron admitted. “So I would imagine that fans that saw it multiple times and cherish the big screen experience are the ones that are going to get it. But you’ve also got a whole new generation that has never seen it in a movie theater. There’s a certain type of movie, whether it’s The Godfather or Avatar or Titanic, where you actually make a decision: I’m going to give myself the experience of watching this unbroken. And it will therefore do something to me. There will be an emotional result of having gone through that experience. And it’s not about finding out what the movie’s about. When you rush out on opening weekend to see some new movie, you’re just hoping it’s good and you’re going to see something you’ve never seen before. But when something is defined or known, like Avatar in week five or Titanic in week 16, people will line up for that. They make that deal with themselves and with their friends to go and subject themselves to that experience, and that’s unique. And you can’t get that on other platforms — it’s about going to the movie theater.”

Not So Anonymous VFX

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

Now that the Academy has expanded the VFX category to five nominees, it gives movies with more supporting work a better chance to compete. This is perfect for Uncharted Territory’s superb virtual recreation of Elizabethan London for Roland Emmerich’s provocative Shakespeare authorship drama, Anonymous.

One of the first prestigious movies to be shot digitally with the new Alexa at the Studio Babelsberg in Potsdam-Babelsberg, Germany, Volker Engel and Marc Weigert (who also served as exec producers in a more creative capacity) built the entire city of London in the computer, relying on accurate maps prior to the Great Fire of 1666.

They constructed tens of thousands of buildings (which were very crooked by design) in a system they created called OGEL (LEGO spelled backwards). They utilized three types: half-timbered, stone, and mansions along with one-offs such as The Tower of London and the Globe Theatre. They made basic variations (one floor, two floors with different roof types) and LEGO’d them together.

The OGEL software was customized in-house primarily because of the nature of the crooked design, which was also part of its charm, according to Weigert. They worked regularly in 3ds Max with both hand and automated work. They wanted to adhere to the map and accurately depict what London supposedly looked like.

“We wanted to use visual effects to create history as it was, so we built the White Hall Palace, for instance, which was Queen Elizabeth’s home,” Weigert explains. “It doesn’t exist anymore and is in a totally different place and looks totally different. But we built it accurate to old paintings.”

Ironically, the original White Hall was more of a red brick palace. “The interesting thing about the old one was that it had actually been built over a long period of time, and they kept adding to it, so there are at least two or three different styles on the outside,” adds Engel.

What’s especially new in Anonymous are the wide panoramas of London across the Thames. “We had several sweeping helicopter or ‘balloon’ shots that show sweeping vistas,” Weigert continues. ” There was a lot of detail in these vistas, not only thousands of people arriving at the Globe, but also row boats, ships on the Thames that have sail animation blowing in the wind, cats on roofs, birds and chickens, and cows in the street, even laundry blowing in the wind.”

This required a lot of R&D for new projection mapping techniques and moving the assets around in the compositing realm, allowing for quicker turnaround, using projection techniques in Fusion. Engel and Weigert thus worked with eyeon to develop new tools, including full 3D water as a compositing package inside Fusion, which helped create the River Thames.

Trailering Snow White and the Huntsman

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

Like Alice in Wonderland, this Snow White is a far cry from the Disney fairy tale; in fact, this is a far cry from Tim Burton’s Alice. As TOH’s Sophia Savage points out, Universal’s initial trailer for Snow White and the Huntsman (June 1, 2012) sells the sultry sex appeal of Charlize Theron’s evil Queen. But this sword and sorcery epic (the first in a trilogy) looks like Excalibur on steroids, with Snow White (Kristen Stewart) and the Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth) locked in a ferocious power play. Lots of slicing and chopping, morphing, and other VFXy mayhem and transformations by the likes of Pixomondo, Rhythm & Hues, Double Negative, Legacy, The Mill, Baseblack, and BlueBolt.

Spielberg, Tintin, and the Race for Oscar

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

In my TOH column, I discuss my positive reactions to The Adventures of Tintin, which closed the AFI fest Thursday night. It’s not only a serious animated Oscar contender but also a game-changer for performance capture, as Weta navigates successfully through the uncanny valley.