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

Oscar Potential for Potter Finale

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in 3-D, Animation, Below the Line, Home Entertainment, Oscar, Production Design, VFX, Virtual Production | Leave a comment

Just as the Oscar race starts heating up, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2 came out on Blu-ray last week (Warner Home Video), bolstered by a compelling FYC trailer (see below). As expected, the exciting and sublime finale looks and sounds spectacular in the home theater. Director David Yates wanted to end on a stirring operatic flourish in 3-D and he succeeded. The question now becomes: What are the Oscar chances for the most successful film franchise?

Well, as I’ve already commented for TOH, Part 2 is a definite contender for VFX (supervised overall by Tim Burke). It’s the culmination of superlative work that put the London industry in Soho on the global stage, and is worthy of the highest honor. From the first-time CG Hogwarts by Double Negative (demonstrated nicely in the Blu-ray’s “Blowing Up Hogwarts” in Maximum Movie Mode) to the thrilling Gringotts break in and escape on a sullen dragon (also Dneg), to the Room of Requirements escapade with fire creatures (MPC), to the Hogwarts battle (Dneg and MPC), to the ethereal encounter with Dumbledore (Framestore), and the final confrontation with Voldemort (MPC).

“Environments, especially, have been a breakthrough, says Burke.” It’s all HDRI, and that way of photographing textures has given us incredibly detailed shots and the ability to relight things. It’s all based on the proprietary tools to stitch this stuff together and make it work.”

The biggest achievement, in fact, was Hogwarts, which was computer-generated for the first time both for budgetary and artistic reasons. “Basically, we were able to design and execute shots right up to final delivery,” Burke adds. “It gave us a lot of flexibility. We were able to render things quickly without fussing around. It seems to me that we can turn around iterations so much quicker than ever before.”

Since the ongoing war takes place at Hogwarts throughout the second-half of Part 2, it was essential that the battleground display sufficient detail and dynamic compositions, particularly since the final film is the first in 3-D.

“David wanted to create these fantastic, big shots that link different parts of the action in different areas, going from outside the school to inside the school,” Burke continues. “And all of the development that we’ve done and the extra high-resolution that we’ve corrected for have allowed us to fly around [immersively] during critical moments of the battle, and has made the whole experience very visceral.”

Aside from VFX, though, there’s plenty of other below-the-line Oscar potential, including sound mixing and effects. But Stuart Craig’s production design has progressed brilliantly throughout the franchise. Indeed, the eccentric retro wizard world has been a continuing character: Hogwarts, Diagon Alley, Gringotts. Plus the safe haven of the Weasley home, the Burrow, and, toward the end, the heavenly visit with Dumbledore at King’s Cross Station with white mist (also Framestore).

Finally, Alan Rickman’s mournful performance as Snape is a revelation along with Daniel Radcliffe’s ascension into manhood. Aren’t they Oscar worthy? And while Best Picture seems a long shot, we’ll have to wait and see how the nominations turn out.

NewTek Launches LightWave 11

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

NewTek’s LightWave 11 offers instancing, flocking, fracture, bullet dynamics, virtual studio and interchange tools. It fits into any studio pipeline seamlessly, offering support for Autodesk Geometry Cache, and FBX, including pixel-perfect camera matching with Autodesk Maya cameras. It also supports the Unity game engine and Pixologic GoZ ZBrush workflow, making it ideal for all production environments, including smaller specialized studios and individual artists.

Expanding on the production-proven workflow of LightWave 3D software, LightWave 11 is a complete out-of-the-box pipeline that puts award-winning modeling, rigging, effects, dynamics, animation, and final rendering at the fingertips of 3D artists. LightWave 11 was unveiled to guests of the NewTek “VFX Minds” event held at the Academy of Television Arts and Sciences in North Hollywood on Thursday evening. Industry icon Ron Thornton (Babylon 5 and Star Trek: Voyager) attended the unveiling and sees many creative possibilities for artists working with LightWave 11 software.

“Thanks to LightWave’s power and ease of use, I was able to quickly transition to the world of 3D for Babylon 5,” said Thornton of Red Earth VFX Studios. “LightWave is the one tool that allows artists to be artists instead of technicians. The advances in LightWave 11 are impressive and artists around the world have reason to celebrate.”

LightWave 11 Features

LightWave offers the Virtual Preview Renderer (VPR) for onscreen real-time rendering, Anaglyph Stereoscopic Preview for real-time interocular, “red-blue” anaglyphic separations, and more. Some of the many new feature enhancements in LightWave 11 include:


  • Duplicate a vast number of objects in a scene with very little memory overhead
  • Create huge polygon groups with great detail while retaining reasonable rendering times
  • Scale, position, rotate, and surface randomly cloned objects for realistic detail


  • Animate realistic motion of grouped objects such as such as birds, fish, insects, animals, aircraft, spaceships, and more, using a new motion modifier
  • Calculate crowd avoidance of neighboring objects, target alignment, and cohesive attractions with the motion modifier


  • Pre-fracture objects that are ready for destruction with a new Modeler tool that is designed to  complement Bullet Dynamics in Layout
  • Animate explosions with or without using dynamics
  • Control the density of fractures by applying weight maps to objects

Bullet Dynamics

  • Deliver physics-based animation with the Bullet Dynamics engine in Layout and the new Fracture tool in Modeler
  • Collapse buildings, create explosions, or quickly place objects in a natural-looking random pattern

Virtual Studio and Interchange Tools

  • Support for new controller types, including the Sony PlayStation Move, allow users to easily control and record the item results with a LightWave channel
  • Import and export model and texture data to Pixologic ZBrush software with GoZ technology

Additional LightWave 11 features include powerful new render buffer capabilities, robust Python scripting functionality, FiberFX enhancements, and user interface improvements.

LightWave 11 Pricing and Availability

LightWave 11 is expected to ship Q4 2011 for a suggested retail price of US$1495. Upgrade pricing from earlier versions of LightWave will be US$695. Educational pricing is also available. For more information, please visit

Scorsese on Hugo and 3-D

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

After a screening of Hugo earlier this month at the Regal Stadium 14 in LA, Martin Scorsese proclaimed in a panel discussion moderated by director Paul Thomas Anderson that the experience was an “enjoyable headache…a discovery with each shot.” But in the excitement of “going back to square one,” he came away convinced that 3-D is now part of the toolset. He said “every facet of it was a redesigning of how to make pictures.” It was also a “recreation of a boy’s memory of where he was in the past.”

Thus, Hugo is a bridge. It’s like watching Antoine Doinel trapped in a clock with a rear window view of Scrooge, who, in this case, is forgotten French film pioneer Georges Méliès. And to soak up the period of Paris from 1929-1931, Scorsese studied such surrealist films as René Clair’s Le Million and Under the Rooftops of Paris as well as Jean Vigo’s Zero de Conduite and L’Atalante.

But recreating the legendary films of Méliès (including the recently restored A Trip to the Moon) as well as his glass studio gave Scorsese “a great deal of enjoyment.” It took nearly a year to pick and choose what to use with the final decisions coming about four weeks before shooting.

Scorsese, who was joined by production designer Dante Ferretti, cinematographer Bob Richardson, composer Howard Shore, editor Thelma Schoonmaker, and VFX supervisor Rob Legato, underscored the vital influence of the whole transitional period from silent to sound, right down to the autochromatic look of the cinematography.

“He couldn’t trust using colors so he painted the sets — the sets were done in black-and-white,” Scorsese explained. “And most of the costumes were in black-and-white. The rest he borrowed from the theater and those were in color. A lot of the makeup was heavily done a certain way: in some cases, people painted gray with black lips. Because until panchromatic film came into existence, it was very difficult to get the true grays and blacks and whites, so this became interesting on set.”

Ultimately, Hugo is a valentine to the history of cinema and its crucial preservation, and should be required viewing in every introductory movie course.

But it’s the future that Scorsese addressed in his final comments on 3-D, which he has managed to use creatively like no other filmmaker yet in this stereoscopic renaissance. Riffing on the theatricality of House of Wax and Dial M for Murder, Scorsese uses depth to frame his sublime story and to make every object a character. But it’s “a heightened expression of reality” that goes beyond theater and 2-D.

“For me, it’s just another element to tell a story,” he explained. “Most people have stereo vision so why belittle that very important level of our existence? There’s gotta be a way to find, for all our technical expertise, a comfortable way of dealing with [it]. The cameras are getting smaller, the issue of glasses is being worked on. If everything moves along and there are no major major catastrophes, we’re headed towards holograms. Why can’t you have 3-D where Hamlet comes out to the middle of the audience and says, ‘To be or not to be?’ I mean, they do it theater. Why can’t you have it in a movie theater or at home? You have to think that way. Don’t let fashion inhibit you if you’re being creative.”

18 Animated Features Submitted for Oscar Race

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

Here are the 18 animated features submitted for consideration in the Oscar race for the 84th Academy Awards. They will now be evaluated and short listed by the animation committee, which will lead to five eventual nominees if 16 qualify or four if at least 12 qualify. And, yes, in the end I think The Adventures of Tintin will qualify because it meets the qualifications of frame by frame animation despite the performance capture. Same should apply to Mars Needs Moms.

The Adventures of Tintin
Alois Nebel
Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked
Arthur Christmas
Cars 2
A Cat in Paris
Chico & Rita
Gnomeo & Juliet
Happy Feet Two
Hoodwinked Too! Hood vs. Evil
Kung Fu Panda 2
Mars Needs Moms
Puss in Boots
The Smurfs
Winnie the Pooh

ILM Boosts Pipeline with Katana 1.0

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

Industrial Light & Magic has provided a big boost to The Foundry by purchasing site licenses in both San Francisco and Singapore of its new Katana 1.0 look development package. The Foundry took on a commercial version of the production-proven look development and lighting tool by Sony Pictures Imageworks, which continues to actively use and improve Katana.

Katana is specifically designed to address the needs of a highly scalable asset based workflow to:

  • Allow updating of assets once shots are already in progress.
  • Share lighting set-ups, such as edits and overrides, between shots, and sequences.
  • Allow use of multiple renderers and specifying dependencies between render passes.
  • Allow shot specific modification of assets to become part of the lighting “recipe” for shots to avoid having to deal with large numbers of shot specific asset variants.

Extensive APIs mean it integrates with current pipelines, shader libraries and workflow tools, whilst its collaborative nature allows it to scale to meet the needs of even the most demanding productions.

“We worked closely with The Foundry over the past year on specific features and functionality we wanted to see in Katana and after implementing it in production, we believe the package shows great promise and we look forward to our continuing relationship with The Foundry as we integrate technologies such as Katana into our production pipeline,” boasts John Knoll, ILM’s senior visual effects supervisor.

“We’re pleased to release Katana, a product highly anticipated by pipeline engineers and lighting supervisors,” adds Bill Collis, The Foundry’s CEO.

“We are excited to see Katana cutting its teeth outside the halls of Imageworks and becoming available for artists and facilities everywhere,” said Rob Bredow, CTO, SPI. “The Foundry is a tremendous partner and by broadening the adoption of Katana and product support, a new generation of artists and productions can benefit from this innovative production-proven technology.”

New Hugo Trailer & Poster

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

As you can see by the new Hugo poster and trailer, the look is getting more dazzling, the visual details more intricate, and the action swifter and more mysterious. To be sure, there’s a melancholy undercurrent that we’re told has a terrific payoff. Can’t wait to see what Martin Scorsese has conjured for his first 3-D movie. Opens Nov. 23.

Zoic’s Stetson to Receive VES Founders Award

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

Congrats to Mark Stetson for his upcoming VES Founders Award, which he will receive on Oct. 20 at the annual membership meeting. I’ve interviewed Mark on several occasions during his tenure at Sony Pictures Imageworks, including Superman Returns, the Blade Runner digital enhancements for the Blu-ray, and Dave. He’s always helped me understand what’s what in VFX.

These days, the Oscar winner for Fellowship of the Ring is creative director for the Feature Films VFX division at Zoic Studios, where he’s worked on Red Riding Hood, 30 Minutes or Less, Premium Rush, The Wettest County in the World, and The Grey.

“It’s an honor to be recognized by my peers at VES with the Founders Award,” said Stetson.  “Throughout my career I’ve strived to push the boundaries and expectations for visual effects.  It is a pleasure to receive recognition for something that is not only a career for me, but also a passion.”

Stetson got his start with model work for such films as Star Trek:The Motion Picture, Close Encounters of the Third Kind — The Special Edition, and Escape from New York.  From there, he supervised miniature effects for numerous high-profile productions, including Blade Runner, Ghostbusters, Die Hard, Total Recall, Batman Returns, and Edward Scissorhands, True Lies, and Waterworld, among others.

In 1997, Stetson was recognized with a BAFTA Award for his debut role as overall visual effects supervisor for The Fifth Element. He received his third Academy Award nomination and BAFTA Award nomination for Superman Returns.

The Wachowskis Are Jupiter Ascending

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

It’s great news that the Wachowskis are venturing back into mind-bending sci-fi territory with Jupiter Ascending, reports Deadline. They will apparently go into production next spring for the secretive Warner Bros. project. And this will follow next year’s Cloud Atlas, which they are currently co-directing with Run Lola Run’s Tom Tykwer. Adapted from the David Mitchell novel, Cloud Atlas is pretty trippy in its own right with six travelers reincarnating throughout time to solve an existential mystery. The ensemble piece stars Tom Hanks, Hugo Weaving, Susan Sarandon, Halle Barry, Keith David, and Jim Broadbent. Dan Glass (The Tree of Life) is VFX production supervisor.

The timing for another game-changer by the Wachowskis couldn’t be better. They ushered in the virtual production revolution with The Matrix and have raising the bar with each successive film, including the underrated Speed Racer. Advances in technology (including HDRI and performance capture) and the ascendance of 3-D only make it a better digital sandbox. Think of the immersive possibilities.

Fall/Holiday Preview: Four Films to Get Animated About

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

I provide a sneak peek of The Adventures of Tintin, Puss in Boots, Happy Feet 2, and Arthur Christmas in my weekly Immersed in Movies column at indieWIRE’s TOH. Can’t wait to see them all, but from what I’ve seen they strive for strong performance and thrusting us in unique worlds (or, in the case of Happy Feet 2, returning us to the Antarctic with a new adventure).

Tintin Fanboy Fun

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

Now we have a Tintin fanboy featurette that gives us the marvelous backstory of Spielberg and Jackson teaming up to adapt Hergé and what attracted them to his fantastic adventures and Ligne claire (clear line) style that he pioneered. We get a glimpse of the performance capture process, the Raiders connection, and the seminal CG Snowy dog test with Jackson pretending to audition as the drunken Captain Haddock.