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. ┬áBeginning 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.

Trumbull Talks Frame Rates and 3-D

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in 3-D, Movies, Tech, VFX | 1 Comment


James Cameron and Peter Jackson aren’t the only directors on a crusade to usher in faster frame rates: VFX guru Doug Trumbull (2001: A Space Odyssey, Close Encounters of the Third Kind), who most recently consulted on Terrence Malick’s Tree of Life (, wants to go even further. He’s been experimenting with frame rates that go as high as 120 that would deliver the ultimate in hyper real spectacle, including vastly superior 3-D. At the same time, Trumbull wants to shed his guru image status and return to directing again (Brainstorm was his last feature in 1983).

“I spoke with [Cameron] recently when were at NAB and I’ve also been trying to get to Peter Jackson because he’s already committed to 48 frames [for The Hobbit]. I think it’s the very small steps of a larger movement because I’m convinced there’s a whole other world of exceedingly higher frame rates that’s in the pipeline. I just shot a test using the Phantom 65 with a Zepar 3-D adapter on it, shooting at 120 frames. And we’re posting it now at 120 frames. And I’ve got a projector that’ll show it at 120 frames. And so we’re going to be able to show footage at 120, 60, 48, 30, 24.”

Trumbull made a “very simple, elegant” discovery that with a digital camera you can shoot with a 360 shutter, which allows you to blend any two or three frames together to recover the blurring you need if you want to go to a slower frame rate. That means when you increase the frame rate without the blur, you increase the impact of action sequences that are suddenly more vivid.

Trumbull has made a test reel showing off his experiments titled Showscan Digital (an update of his legendary breakthrough with 60 frames for large-format film exhibition in the mid-’80s that proved too cost-prohibitive except for theme park rides).


As for 3-D, Trumbull has a simple solution for the brightness issue that has so many in an uproar: better screens. He recently met with Stewart Filmscreen, the premier project-screen manufacturer, and tried to convince them to return to the era of super high gain silver Torus screens.

“You need silver for 3-D if you’re using any kind of polarization,” Trumbull observes. “It’s a screen built into a frame that has a vacuum behind it so the screen takes on a curvature that reflects the light back to the audience, rather than allow the light to just bounce back up into the ceiling or into the walls, or down to the floor. It’s a way of recovering two or three times the amount of light that’s been lost, which is what you need to do in 3-D. I’m trying to remind the industry out there that there’s a product that’s well-tested and works great and you can get 3-D with much brighter imagery if you just put in a better screen.”

From Trumbull’s lips…


Digital Domain’s Tradition Studios Gears Up

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

Last week Digital Domain Media Group (DDMG) lured Pixar’s Brad Lewis (co-director of Cars 2 and Ratatouille producer) to helm animated features for its fledgling Florida-based Tradition Studios. It’s a sign that DD intends to compete with the big boys for a share of the lucrative family market at a fraction of the cost while still delivering quality CG. It also means the opportunity to produce original content, which is in shorter supply with so many sequels.

I’ve just learned that another Disney alum, Pam Coats (Mulan), who recently served as creative liaison on Gnomeo & Juliet, has also joined DDMG to head development for Tradition.

Meanwhile, DDMG is in the process of raising $115 million in an IPO, slated for this summer, some of which will be earmarked for financing the Port Lucie-based Tradition. And the studio is constructing a new 130,000 square-foot facility scheduled for completion at year’s end.

There is plenty of animation talent available in the region. Tradition has already signed former Disney vets and Florida natives Aaron Blaise and Chuck Williams (Brother Bear) to produce and direct (there are currently four “family friendly” projects in development at Tradition). Blaise and Williams previously worked at the Disney Florida studio, which reached a high point with Lilo & Stitch but shuttered after Brother Bear with the demise of hand-drawn animation. Plus DDMG, chaired by John Textor, has partnered with Florida State University on a degreed program at Digital Domain Institute, a special public/private collaboration that will help develop new talent.


Connery Transforms Dark of the Moon

Posted on by Bill Desowitz in Animation, James Bond, Movies, Tech, VFX | 1 Comment

Look closely at the new Sentinel Prime in Transformers: Dark of the Moon. The legendary, conflicted Autobots warrior, who holds the key to crushing the Decepticons, may be voiced by Leonard Nimoy, but is actually modeled after Sean Connery. Who better, right? Notice the iconic face, the commanding presence, especially the eyebrows — it’s unmistakable.

And yet the regal Sentinel Prime was not inspired by Connery as James Bond or even as the larger-than-life Daniel Dravot in John Huston’s The Man Who Would Be King (1975). Instead, he was patterned after Connery’s outraged British Army prison camp inmate in Sidney Lumet’s The Hill (1965).

“For more of the intense moments, we pulled a clip from an old black-and-white military movie [The Hill] where he had a monologue screaming at the camera,” suggests Industrial Light & Magic animation supervisor Scott Benza. “We showed that to Michael [Bay] and he agreed that was the character we were looking for. And we found the best reference from older movies of him. We did the same kind of [animation] test we did for Transformers, kind of acting explorations where we pulled a clip from one of his movies and did a side-by-side comparison.”

Of course, the whole reason Sentinel Prime’s face is more expressive — and, indeed, more human-looking — along with all the other bots in Dark of the Moon, is because of ILM’s vastly improved animation. The rig is expanded and there are a greater number of modeling plates. Plus better lighting illuminates the richer detail, which is crucial for the Avatar-like 3-D spectacle that Bay was after.