Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Worth a mention - 06/30/10

Underwhelming Results For VFX Pics

( The past five years have seen many movies with cutting-edge effects open in the May-June period, and more than few have gone on to win attention at Oscar time. But this year, though there have been some CGI-heavy films, most of the effects have been underwhelming. The eventual outcome in award races is a questionmark -- but there's no mystery why the 2010 effects have been so mild.

The triple whammy of the financial crisis, the WGA strike and SAG unrest caused a slump in movie production that has worried insiders for the past 18 months. The downturn was particularly worrisome for the visual effects business as high-budget tentpoles were pushed back, work dried up and some companies didn't survive.

Looking ahead, the rest of 2010 isn't packed with high-end vfx pics, either.

Now that slump is showing up at theaters as a May-June period short of the usual vfx-driven tentpoles -- and, along with that, soft grosses.

Coincidence? Probably not.

For decades, box office has been dominated by vfx-driven tentpoles and CG-animated features. In short: As goes the CG biz, so goes Hollywood. And so far, 2010's CG scorecard is mixed at best.

CG animation, which continued despite the slump, has been humming along nicely with three hits: "How to Train Your Dragon," "Shrek 4" and "Toy Story 3."

There's been a relative paucity, though, of live-action vfx pics. Typically, May and June bring three or four vfx titles with top quality work, and at least two that are clear Oscar contenders in the category. There are only two obvious contenders for the vfx Oscar -- both big hits -- this year: "Alice in Wonderland" and "Iron Man 2," and "Alice" opened in March. (Warner's vfx tentpole "Clash of the Titans" is also among the year's box office leaders, though the fx world's reaction to the 3D version could be a factor at Oscar time.)

This year saw "Iron Man 2" bow in May, then several pics with lots of CG but little buzz within the vfx community: "The A-Team," "Robin Hood," "Prince of Persia" and "Marmaduke."

Contrast that with last year, when May and June brought "Star Trek," "Terminator Salvation" and "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen." All three made the Academy vfx bakeoff.

May-June 2008 saw bows of bakeoff entry "Iron Man" plus "Indiana Jones IV," "The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian" and "The Incredible Hulk."

In 2007, May-June included "Spider-Man 3," "Pirates of the Caribbean 3," "Evan Almighty" (which quickly fizzled at the box office) and "Transformers." All but Spidey made the bakeoff.

May-June releases from 2005-2006 include bakeoff entries "Superman Returns," "X-Men: The Last Stand," "Batman Begins," "Revenge of the Sith" and "War of the Worlds."

The lack of cutting-edge CG suggests studios' ambitions have shrunk with their slates.

Vfx-driven tentpoles are the studios' biggest bets. They often benefit from the studio's most aggressive marketing campaigns. Marketing tie-ins for such pics generate additional publicity and audience awareness.

And there's a reason they're often vfx award contenders. Whether based on either an existing, successful franchise (like "Pirates of the Caribbean" sequels or the "Star Trek" reboot), popular comicbook characters (Superman, Batman, X-Men and Spider-Man) or pre-sold material from another medium ("The Chronicles of Narnia," "Transformers" and the Harry Potter pics), such fantastical stories give vfx artists a chance to get truly creative and create the "eye-popping" images that can anchor a marketing campaign and create audience buzz.

Such opportunities also attract the best vfx studios, supervisors and artists, and their work in turn raises the overall level of the picture.

Pics that inspire such creativity -- and such a full-court marketing press -- have been few this spring, though to be fair, Disney may have seen "Prince of Persia" exactly this way. Likewise Universal with "Robin Hood."

"The Twilight Saga: Eclipse" steps up the f/x from previous entries in the franchise, though "Twilight" relies more on story and stars than the creature work.

"The Last Airbender" and "Inception" both have the kind of vfx buzz recent tentpoles have lacked, with work from top shops supporting major directors. "Predators" and "Salt" could also surprise.

Last year, though, August indie "District 9" (also a vfx Oscar contender) stirred as much buzz as the big boys. There doesn't seem to be any equivalent on the horizon this year.

Holiday 2010 slates include a new Harry Potter, a new Narnia, and Disney's "Tron: Legacy" but aside from those titles, the schedule is relatively light on vfx excitement.

2011 looks to have a deeper lineup of CG blockbusters, when several highly-anticipated comicbook pics arrive and the Transformers return to theaters.

Effects pros say that year after year their studio clients ask them to deliver images no one has ever seen before. When they do, more often than not, big grosses follow.

What happens when clients ask for less? It looks like they get less back, too.

Gore Verbinski to Direct Walter Mitty Remake

(20th Century Fox) Just one day after the world got their first look at director Gore Verbinski's animated Rango, the "Pirates of the Caribbean" helmer is already set for what may be his next movie, a remake of the 1947 Danny Kaye vehicle The Secret Life of Walter Mitty for 20th Century Fox.

With a script by Steve Conrad, who wrote Verbinski's The Weather Man and the recent Sony hit The Karate Kid, the story will follow Walter Mitty, a wimpy comic book writer who dreams of being a hero and who suddenly finds himself caught up in an adventure trying to find the Dutch crown jewels that had been missing since World War II.

“Star Trek” Sequel Writer “Ready to boldly go.”

( Damon Lindelof went off the grid after “Lost” wrapped.

Hard to blame him. The media blasted its white-hot spotlight on Lindelof and his creative partner, Carlton Cuse, as the primetime television phenom approached its highly anticipated conclusion. Those who follow Lidelof on Twitter (@DamonLidelof) received infrequent updates during his European vacation … most of them about food or his inability to watch his beloved Lakers team as they made their recent title run.

But today, new news broke on Lindelof’s feed. He’s back in L.A. He’s getting back to work. And his next project is a script for the sequel to J.J. Abram’s “Star Trek” reboot, scheduled for release in 2012.

“Vacation officially over,” Lindelof tweeted. “Ready to boldly go.”

So are we. Last summer’s “Star Trek” reboot but the franchise back on the pop culture map, plugging younger actors like Chris Pine and Zachary Quinto into timeless roles once occupied by William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy.

Slash Film culled a few details on the direction of the sequel, which will be co-written by “Trek” collaborators Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci. They claim to the site that they have a “front runner” for a villain — stop hoping for Khan — and that the story will focus primarily on the newly established Enterprise team learning to maneuver as a family.

Andy Serkis Will Motion-Cap Caesar, the Lead of RISE OF THE APES!

(20th Century Fox) 20th Century Fox announced on Twitter that Andy Serkis is reteaming with the Weta Digital team ("The Lord of the Rings" trilogy, King Kong) for Rise of the Apes! He'll do the performance capture for Caesar, portraying the chimp who leads the simian revolt.

Set in present day San Francisco, Rise of the Apes is a reality-based cautionary tale, a science fiction/science fact blend, where man's own experiments with genetic engineering lead to the development of intelligence in apes and the onset of a war for supremacy. For the first time ever in the film series, the movie will feature photo-realistic apes rather than costumed actors.

Directed by Rupert Wyatt, Rise of the Apes stars James Franco, John Lithgow and Freida Pinto. The movie is scheduled to be released on June 24, 2011.

From Lon Chaney’s Hairy Mask to Twilight’s CGI Panda Dogs: The Evolution of the Pop-Culture Werewolf

( With Taylor Lautner set to re-howl in Twilight: Eclipse on Wednesday, and the shirtless, pantsless werewolf clan rampaging on this season's True Blood, it's been a big year for handsome men who turn into wolves. (Also, for strange high-schoolers.) But Jacob Black and Alcide didn't just emerge fully formed from the minds of Twilight and True Blood creators — their rugged yet fluffy wolf selves are products of decades of cinematic werewolf development. And so, to examine how we got from Lon Chaney Jr. in bear claws to Jack Nicholson in pointy teeth to the lithe, sexy CGI wolves of today, Vulture looks back on 75 years of movie and TV lycanthropy.


Enter the World of Rango!

( Rango. A film you, dear reader, and myself know very little about. Oh, sure... we're aware it has that guy, Johnny Depp voicing the lead character. And it finds the actor reuniting with his "Pirates of the Caribbean" director Gore Verbinski. The film has also lassoed Isla Fisher, Abigail Breslin, Bill Nighy, Alfred Molina and cinema vets Ned Beatty and Harry Dean Stanton. Furthermore, it's the esteemed ILM's first full-length animated feature film. Digest that.

Finished? Good. was invited to Blind Wink - just a stone's throw away from the Universal back lot and, coincidentally, where the bustling activity occurring on the set of Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides could be heard - where Verbinski and co-writer James Byrkit permitted us to nestle into their production office to gawk at four walls of impressive conceptual art and be the first to check out a number of sequences from the work-in-progress oddity of a film.

We next moved on to the offices of character designer Crash McCreery (Edward Scissorhands, Jurassic Park series, Pirates of the Caribbean series). In addition to his work on the film’s production design, McCreery acts as the office’s liaison with Industrial Light and Magic, who is handling the film’s animation. Verbinksi said of ILM:

We do our transmissions with ILM daily. We’re very much in production…We’ll do 6 to 8 hour transmissions with ILM. And then we physically go up there every other week to manage the production even though we had a very tight story reel with all the characters designed, all environments designed, all the voices recorded…It’s basically like being in production, there’s really no difference.

Verbinski also worked with ILM for the CG character of Davy Jones in the Pirates series and regularly compared creating animated characters to creating Jones. This helped Verbinski establish a good working relationship with ILM while also familiarizing himself with the computer animation process.

Full Press: &

Hundreds Line Up For Transformers Role

( MILWAUKEE -- A huge crowd turned out for bit parts in the upcoming squeal to Transformers movie franchise.

Slideshow: Hundreds Line Up For 'Transformers 3' Casting Call

"It's 'Transformers 3,' who wouldn't want to be in that?" said Starresa James who waited more than three hours to meet with the film's casting crew.

Hundreds of people apparently had the same idea, with some even spending the night to get a good spot in line.

"I didn't expect the turnout to be like this, but hey, nothing else to do on a Saturday morning," said Josh Stenz who is hoping to land work as an extra in the film.

According to Casting Coordinator Maryellen Aviano the movie's director found Milwaukee to be the perfect backdrop for certain scenes in the film. Now that a shooting location had been found they focused on filling the background with people.

"Instead of bringing people in from elsewhere, local people should be in the movie. The scenes that we are shooting here they will all be centrally located around one of our lead actors as business associates, so they're all going to be in the same scene," said Aviano.

Hundreds of people lined the streets outside Milwaukee's Hilton Hotel where the casting call was held Saturday.

The only requirement was for applicants to come dressed in business attire. Those who are selected will be playing business associates with one of the lead actors.

Chances are this is as close as some will get to stardom.

"I wish I could have big crowd scenes and put every single one of these people in it but it's just not possible," said Aviano.

The job pays $66 for eight hours of work, plus overtime.

Filming in Milwaukee begins in July.

Visual Effects Pioneer Harryhausen Turns 90

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - Ray Harryhausen, the visual effects pioneer and stop-motion master, turned 90 Tuesday.

His work has influenced Tim Burton, James Cameron, Sir Peter Jackson, George Lucas, Steven Spielberg and Sam Raimi. He even had an impact on the Pixar animators, who named the sushi restaurant where Mike Wazowski goes on his date in "Monsters Inc." after him.

Sony Pictures will celebrate his birthday on July 12 when it dedicates the Ray Harryhausen Theater on the studio lot. There will be a screening of Harryhausen's iconic 1963 film "Jason and the Argonauts."

Incidentally, Sony is releasing the movie for the first time on Blu-ray on July 6, and while a lot of Blu-ray transfers offer extras that are the same as DVD editions, this one has two brand new commentaries by Jackson and VFX artist Randall William Cook, and Harryhausen and film historian Tony Dalton. It's also got interactive original storyboards.

Mechanism Digital Develops Facial Replacement for Documentaries

( New York, NY - Mechanism Digital, a New York City visual effects and animation production company, has been ramping down from one of its most demanding projects of the year, and has also met many questions about how they accomplished the unique graphics in the recent MSNBC documentary, The McVeigh Tapes: Confessions of an American Terrorist.

The documentary is a two-hour special, narrated by Rachel Maddow, and aired on MSNBC to mark the 15th anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing. It featured almost 50 hours of audio tape never before released to the public. The tapes were an interview of Timothy McVeigh, in which he describes the preparation and implementation of his bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building. The tapes also offer biographical insight into the personal history of terrorist McVeigh.

Since very little film footage of McVeigh’s life and the attack itself exist, producer Peacock Productions went to long-time ally Mechanism Digital to develop the visual interpretation of the interview and flashbacks of the attack, ensuring that McVeigh’s recognizable face was depicted in the recreated events. In response, Mechanism conceived a new method of replacing an actor’s face with a computer-generated 3D model of McVeigh’s. A video showing an overview of the process is available for viewing on The Maddow Blog.
Traditionally, documentaries with limited footage from a historical event would employ conventional techniques like videotaping still photographs or shooting dramatized reenactments with blurred or hidden actors. The problems with these techniques are that they can’t depict emotions through facial expressions, and do not hold the audience’s attention for long. Peacock and Mechanism believed that this story deserved something much more unconventional. “For such an important chapter in American history, we really wanted to let the audience look into the eyes of the killer while listening to his voice,” recounted Lucien Harriot, VFX Supervisor and founder of Mechanism Digital.

Mechanism Digital’s involvement in the project began in pre-production. As Executive Producer, Lucien Harriot, spent considerable time planning and testing photographic layering techniques in the studio; working out all the kinks before going to set.

On the set, Peacock shot thousands of high resolution photographs of recreated scenes, visual elements and a stand-in actor depicting McVeigh in action. Mechanism then built a CG 3D model of Timothy McVeigh’s face and replaced every frame of the actor’s face with it.

Mechanism’s unique approach to facial replacement had never been used in documentary filmmaking before which gave the compositor every possible frame of final rendered CGI in advance. In developing and refining this technique, multiple 3D models of McVeigh’s head were pre-rendered every two degrees of rotation on two axes. Two sequences of frames were a combination of 11 expressions and 11 eye positions. The number of images was then doubled by rendering two camera focal lengths to match the lenses used on set; totaling over half a million images and layers. These images were brought into After Effects with Mechanism’s custom expressions allowing the compositing artists to rotate McVeigh’s photo realistic head in real time within the program.

Art Director Mark Palkoski comments on how critical today’s audiences have become: “You can’t get away with just 80% real and expect the viewer to get lost in the narrative – instead, the audience would be constantly taken out of the story due to face jarring. Our studio achieved significantly closer to 90% realism.”

In January, Harriot joined Peacock in Texas to supervise the first seven scenes with the shooting crew, who would continue for three more weeks. “Instead of traditional action, we invented a ’multi-plane shooting’ technique with the Canon 5D SLR camera, specifically for The McVeigh Tapes,” stated Harriot. Generally, the multi-plane effect is applied to archival images when no film exists; where the foreground is cut out and the background must be repainted. To reduce labor intensive post-retouching, Harriot directed the crew to shoot each element (foreground, mid-ground, background) separately so that hand-painting would not be necessary.

Back in the studio, Mechanism’s artists combined the CG layers, effects and photographic elements by compositing them in After Effects’ 3-D space. Dramatic camera motions were set to produce the highly stylized motion footage making up the 650 shots and exceeding all expectations in the finished product.

Full Press with pics:

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Worth a mention - 06/29/10

First Look at Rango, Voiced by Johnny Depp

(Paramount Pictures) Paramount Pictures has provided with the new poster for Rango which gives you a first look at the title character voiced by Johnny Depp. Directed by Gore Verbinski (the "Pirates of the Caribbean" films), the film also features the voices of Isla Fisher, Abigail Breslin, Bill Nighy, Stephen Root, Ray Winstone, Beth Grant, Ned Beatty, Harry Dean Stanton and Alfred Molina.

We got an early peek at the March 4, 2011 release today and were impressed by what we saw. You can expect a write-up from the production office visit and the new trailer tomorrow!

Take a look:

Vampire Academy Coming to the Big Screen

( Preger Entertainment has acquired the film rights to Richelle Mead's New York Times best-selling book series "Vampire Academy" (Penguin/Razorbill Books). In its first week of publication, "Spirit Bound," the fifth book in this series, achieved a New York Times and USA Today #1 best-selling series ranking, while simultaneously debuting as the #1 best-seller in Australia and New Zealand.

The "Vampire Academy" book series is a coming-of-age, action driven, "paranormal romance" fantasy. It is set in the present day against a hidden universe of vampires, half-humans, alchemy, and magic.

Sony Pictures Digital Names Theater in Honor of VFX & Anim Legend Ray Harryhausen

CULVER CITY, Calif., June 28 /PRNewswire/ -- On the eve of his 90th birthday, Sony Pictures Digital Productions is excited to announce the renaming of its 119-seat screening theater after visual effects pioneer Ray Harryhausen. The honor comes just days after the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA) paid tribute to the creative legend in London with a special award feting his contributions to film.

The Ray Harryhausen Theater will be formally dedicated on Monday, July 12, 2010, with the unveiling of a sign displaying the theater's new name, a reception, and the screening of one of Harryhausen's seminal hit films, JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS. The 1963 classic, originally produced and released by Columbia Pictures (now part of Sony Pictures Entertainment), has been lovingly restored to its original splendor by Sony Pictures. The film makes its debut on Blu-ray Disc on JULY 6 – the fifth Harryhausen Blu-ray title from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, the most of any filmmaker from the label. The disc features new commentaries by Harryhausen himself, as well as Oscar®-winning director Peter Jackson, along with film historian Tony Dalton and visual effects expert Randall William Cook, and a new interview with Harryhausen with filmmaker John Landis.

"It's an incredible honor to have this theater named at the studio I called home," says Harryhausen. "It means as much to me as my Academy Award® and the BAFTA honor I just received, especially knowing that it is a working theater where visual effects artists and animators work every day."

Full Press:

Cloudy Helmers Building LEGO Movie

(Heat Vision) Warner Bros. Pictures has hired Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs helmers Phil Lord and Chris Miller to write and direct the LEGO movie.

Based on the popular building blocks, the movie will mix live action and animation. The studio is keeping the plot tightly under wraps, but it's described as an action adventure set in a LEGO world.

Dan Lin and Roy Lee are producing and LEGO's Jill Wilfert is executive producing.

The duo "prepared a presentation that not only had to pass muster with Warners brass but also with execs from Lego, which is extremely protective with its toys and brand and had a significant hand in the process," adds the trade.

Lord and Miller are currently developing the 21 Jump Street movie and plan on doing LEGO after that.

VFX Supervisor Steven Eric Hodgson Has Died

( Steven Eric Hodgson, an accomplished and acclaimed visual effects supervisor for numerous feature films and TV projects, died suddenly June 16 while on the set of the upcoming TV series “Camelot.”

Starz sent M&C a statement revealing that Hodgson, who was 50 when he died, had been battling cancer for several years.

Hodgson was crewed up on Starz’ “Camelot,” the upcoming series focusing on the King Arthur legend, when he died. He had worked on films "The Uninvited," "Vantage Point" and the mini-series “Impact.”

Hodgson was nominated for a Gemini Award – Canada’s highest honors for work in TV – in 2009 for his effects efforts on “Impact,” and in 2004 for “The Collector.” His effects work on “Impact” earned him a Leo Award – celebrating film and TV productions from British Columbia – and “The Collector” netted him a Leo Award nomination.

Born Oct. 6, 1959 in Bellshill, Scotland, Hodgson was based in Vancouver. He is survived by his wife Patricia, children Michael, Lawrence, Madison and Elizabeth, and his brother Craig Hodgson.

A funeral for Hodgson will be held July 1 in Cobham, Surrey, in the UK.

Hodgson’s memory will also be celebrated at a memorial service in Vancouver later this summer.

The family asks that donations in Steve Hodgson’s name be made to the BC Cancer Foundation

Space Nazi Trailers Draw Crowd Funding for Iron Sky

( Thanks to a pair of knock-out fake trailers, a team of Finnish filmmakers will soon start shooting an outlandish sci-fi Nazi movie financed in part by fans who flipped over the clips.

The first teaser for Iron Sky, embedded below, has pulled more than 1.3 million YouTube views since its release two years ago. The follow-up clip (above), released last month, continued the momentum as the project’s website harvested micro-investments from 52 fans enticed by the spooky-sleek visuals.

The trailers also generated buzz on the strength of the bizarrely original Iron Sky premise: During the closing days of World War II, Nazis in flying saucers escaped to the moon. In 2018, they plan a victorious return to Earth.

With 90 percent of the feature-length project’s $8.5 million budget now funded, casting for Iron Sky is nearly complete, with filming set to begin in Australia and Germany this fall.

CGI maestro Samuli Torssonen supervised Iron Sky’s visual effects after spending seven years working on zero-budget feature Star Wreck. For the Iron Sky trailers, “everything was either shot by ourselves or created by our VFX team at Energia Productions,” Torssonen told in an e-mail. “I think for indie productions it is very important to have in-house creative which can archive visually impressive shots with a decent budget.”

Torssonen relied on Maya 3-D software to craft the trailers’ visual effects. “Every shot was filmed against blue/green screen in a local studio,” he said. “Every shot, of course, also had quite a lot of CGI.”

Take a look:

International 3D Society Commences 3D University July 17

(PRNewswire) The International 3D Society will be presenting a "3D University" educational series for 3D professionals in association with the Entertainment Technology Center at USC. The first class is scheduled for July 17, 9 a.m.-3 p.m. at The Walt Disney Studios and will focus on several 3D applications and processes. The July seminar will concentrate on 3D theory and applications related to basic capture and stereography concepts; shooting sporting and live events; and budgeting and workflow.

A blue-ribbon panel of experts in the educational series will include Phil McNally, Stereoscopic Supervisor, DreamWorks Animation (DWA); Bruce Dobrin, Principal Technology Architect, Sony 3D Technology Center, Sony Corporation of America; Steve Schklair, Founder and CEO, 3ality Digital Systems, the technology and production subsidiary of 3ality Digital, LLC; John Nicolard, Head of Digital Production, FotoKem and Phil Lelyveld, Business Development and Strategy Advisor, USC Entertainment Technology Center.

The 3D University series is an immersive, ongoing, stereoscopic 3D education and training program created to improve the core competencies of professional participants. The courses are offered to Society members and ETC sponsors for free with live demonstrations and discussions.

"We're pleased to offer Society members this unique opportunity to acquire the latest information available that will help to advance their careers and 3D education," said Jim Mainard, International 3D Society Vice-Chair and Head of Production Development of DreamWorks Animation (DWA).

Jim Chabin, President of the International 3D Society, added, "I3DS was formed to provide professionals in our industry with 'a clear path' to 3D expertise. This first seminar will demonstrate the key 3D Best Practices needed to attain levels of 3D achievement."


Bruckheimer Weaponizing 'Top Gun 2'

( The release for Disney's "The Sorcerer's Apprentice" is just around the corner, so of course producer Jerry Bruckheimer is going to get grilled on future projects. One of those might be a sequel to the eighties hunk-fest "Top Gun", since Tom Cruise could get more time on his hands if "Mission: Impossible 4" is off his list.

Anyways, MTV got to chat it up with Bruckheimer and squeezed some information on "Top Gun 2" from him, mainly whether or not it's happening again.

"We tried to develop [a sequel] and we couldn't do it-- I was with my partner Don Simpson," Bruckheimer explained. "And then Tom took it over and he tried to develop something and it never quite happened." That's all in the past though. It turns out that "Top Gun" has been the subject of much more recent sequel discussions as well.

"We were recently approached again to start talking about it but, you know, nothing yet," he continued. "We kicked around some ideas because the aviation community has completely changed since we made the movie a long time ago. So we have to find a way in and how to incorporate the Maverick character into it."

King Kong 360 3-D Opens Today in Hollywood

( Only the coolest movies get their own theme park rides.

Last week, film buffs descended on Orlando, Florida to drink butterbeers and ride roller coasters during the grand opening of “The Wizarding World of Harry Potter,” part of Universal Studios’ larger theme park. Today, our attentions cross the country for yet another opening tied to a successful movie franchise: King Kong.

In what is being described as the “world’s largest 3-D experience,” this interactive ride at Universal Studios Hollywood takes patrons on a 5-minute tram ride through Kong’s world on Skull Island. But “King Kong” director Peter Jackson and his creative team at Weta Digital Limited worked their own magic to improve the experience. Guests will get their first look today.

Leading up to the release, the L.A. Times interviewed Weta visual effects supervisor Matt Aitken, while Slash Film dug up some “Making of” clips regarding the history of the ride, as well as Jackson’s involvement in the improvements. Check them out here and here. They are good previews for what promises to be a wild ride.

Now if Jackson could just figure out this “Hobbit” mess, we’d be all set.

Awards News, Breaking News, Entertainment News, Movie News, Hollywood News

"Avatar" Crew Hired to Make Next 'Sherlock Holmes' in 3-D

( British director Guy Ritchie will make the next 'Sherlock Holmes' movie in 3-D.

He has already started working on the script and may hire some of the crew who worked on James Cameron's 'Avatar' for the 3-D effects.

Ritchie had earlier spoken about his desire to use special effects in his movie.

'I love 3-D, although it's quite obvious whether a film would work in 3-D or not. Especially films which subsequently have been turned 3-D don't always look good. When it comes to technological innovation, I'm a geek anyway. I can remember going to a 3-D event in Los Angeles three or four years ago,' quoted Ritchie as saying that time.

'They showed an explosion. The feeling of hell breaking loose on screen was incredible and terrifying at the same time. You could literally feel how intensely 3-D effects influence our perception of a scene, which is a positive aspect for a film. I will surely work with 3-D in the near future.'

The VFX Of Marmaduke

( Director Tom Dey called on several FX shops for Marmaduke, the story of a loveable Great Dane who moves to Orange County with his unsuspecting family. Under overall VFX supe Craig Lyn, artists brought to life several talking animals mostly via CG face replacements, although some key scenes featured an all-digital title character. We take a look at the work by Cinesite, CIS Vancouver and Rhythm & Hues.

Making Marmaduke talk

The majority of the real talking animals in Marmaduke were handled by Cinesite in London, which delivered 650 shots of different dog and cat breeds. Cinesite visual effects supervisor Matt Johnson spent three months on set in Vancouver during the shoot and drew upon previous work for Beverly Hills Chihuahua. "We developed a projection-based hybrid technique where you start with the real dog's performance," said Johnson. "Then you build and model the head and track the live action, then take the geometry and re-project the live action performance back over the animated geometry. Sometimes you have to go with a fully-CG head when the dog is making some extreme movements, but that's the basic technique."

Full Press with Pics:

Russian Spies Use Computer Graphics To Smuggle Secrets

( Eight individuals were arrested Sunday for allegedly carrying out long-term, “deep-cover” assignments in the United States on behalf of the Russian Federation, the Justice Department announced today. Two additional defendants were also arrested Sunday for allegedly participating in the same Russian intelligence program within the United States. According to the charging documents deep cover Americanized agents transmitted messages from wireless laptops with information hidden in computerized images.

Eight individuals were arrested Sunday for allegedly carrying out long-term, “deep-cover” assignments in the United States on behalf of the Russian Federation, the Justice Department announced today. Two additional defendants were also arrested Sunday for allegedly participating in the same Russian intelligence program within the United States. According to the charging documents deep cover Americanized agents transmitted messages from wireless laptops with information hidden in computerized images. (see complaints).

The FBI conducted a multi-year investigation of a network of U.S. based agents of the intelligence organ of the Russian Federation (the "SVR").The targets of the FBI's investigation included covert SVR agents who assumed false identities, and who are living in the United States on long-term, "deep-cover" assignments. These Russian secret agents worked to hide all connections between themselves and Russia, even as they acted at the direction and under the control of the SVR; these secret agents are typically called “illegals.” The FBI broke into the homes of the spies to copy the hard drives on their computers. The spies used a technique called steganography to hide messages inside computer graphics and would transmit these messages over wireless networks.

Iron Baby VFX Comes Alive

( An Iron Man movie parody starring my baby girl. The costume was created by her uncle STROB

Take a look:

Monday, June 28, 2010

Worth a mention - 06/28/10

Peter Jackson in Negotiations to Direct The Hobbit Films

(Deadline, Heat Vision) On May 30th, director Guillermo del Toro made the surprising announcement that he would no longer be directing The Hobbit and its follow-up. At the time, "The Lord of the Rings" trilogy director Peter Jackson said:

Guillermo is co-writing the Hobbit screenplays with Philippa Boyens, Fran Walsh and myself, and happily our writing partnership will continue for several more months, until the scripts are fine tuned and polished. New Line and Warner Bros will sit down with us this week, to ensure a smooth and uneventful transition, as we secure a new director for the Hobbit. We do not anticipate any delay or disruption to ongoing pre-production work.

Our guess is that meeting went rather well, as Jackson is now reportedly taking over the director's chair for both films, in addition to executive producing and co-writing! His deal is being negotiated right now with New Line/Warner Bros. and MGM. Jackson will have to extricate himself from other project obligations to move forward with this.

Warner Bros./New Line tells that nothing is confirmed yet.

Academy Invites 12 VFX Pros To Join The Club

( The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences has issued its annual invitation list of new voting members. It has offered membership to 135 artists and executives.

New VFX Branch Members:

Matt Aitken – “District 9,” “The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring”
Karen Ansel – “Angels & Demons,” “Men in Black II”
Richard Baneham – “Avatar,” “The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers”
Eric Barba – “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” “Zodiac”
Paul Debevec – “Avatar,” “King Kong”
Russell Earl – “Star Trek,” “Transformers”
Steve Galich – “Date Night,” "Transformers"
Andrew R. Jones – “Avatar,” “I, Robot”
Dan Kaufman – “District 9,” “Ocean’s Thirteen”
Derek Spears – “The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor,” “Superman Returns”
Steve Sullivan – “Avatar,” “Star Wars: Episode III Revenge of the Sith”
Michael J. Wassel – “Hellboy II: The Golden Army,” “The Bourne Identity”

Full Press:,0

Disney Pixar’s “Toy Story 3″ Brings In A Total Of $226.6 Million

Disney/Pixar’s “Toy Story 3″ made $110.3 million its opening weekend and now it has made $226.6 million after being at the box office for under 2 weeks. Wow!

Hop's CGI Rabbit Designed by Peter DeSéve

( Speaking exclusively with at this morning's Despicable Me junket, producer Chris Meledandri discussed his next project, Hop, speaking for the first time about the lead character's design which has been done with artist Peter DeSéve.

The live-action film stars Russell Brand as the voice of a CGI rabbit, the son of the Easter Bunny who is about to inherit his father's title. When he's injured, the rabbit comes under the care of an out-of-work slacker (James Marsden), who oversees his recovery.

"You go for photorealistic details on fur, quality of eyes, and cloth because the bunny does wear a shirt," said Meledandri, "But the design itself is a characiture. bunnylike, but it's a Peter DeSéve design."

DeSéve, whose work most famously appears regularly as New Yorker covers, has contributed to the look of several animated films, including Finding Nemo, Mulan, the "Ice Age" films and Ratatouille.

Stop Motion Animation "The Addams Family" Moving Forward

(comingsoon.net0 Producer Christopher Meledandri just spoke with at the junket for Despicable Me, confirming that the rumored animated version of The Addams Family is moving forward, with Tim Burton involved, hopefully to direct.

Though he stressed that the project is in the very early stages, he did confirm that the film is planned for stop motion and not for computer animation. He added that the project will be based on the original Charles Addams comics that ran in The New Yorker and not the subsequent television series or the film adaptations thereof.

Additionally, it has not been determined whether or not the film would be released in black and white, though it is certainly something being considered.

"It's all very, very early, but we are developing with [Tim Burton directing] in mind," said Meledandri, "...We're just now at the story phase. Stuff has been written as though we are doing it in black and white, but that's not correct. It's not incorrect, but it's not correct. We haven't gotten to that point."

Even in VFX, Lies, Lies, Lies.

( Six months ago, a candidate for an editing position at Factory VFX Inc. told hiring producer Liz Crawford that he came recommended by an artist on staff at the Santa Rosa, Calif., visual-effects company. After the interview, Ms. Crawford says she called the artist so the applicant could say hello to his supposed associate. That's when it became crystal clear that the two men didn't know each other. "He admitted he had fibbed and walked out of the room," says Ms. Crawford.

Job hunters also commonly lie by taking credit for work they didn't do, inflating their salaries and saying they don't smoke when seeking positions at companies with no-smoking policies.

Full Press:

‘Avatar’ Dominates Saturn Awards

( LONDON - James Cameron’s ‘Avatar’ swept Saturn Awards with 10 prizes.

The innovative epic won awards for the Best Science Fiction Film, Best Music and Best Special Effects while on the other hand Cameron received the Best Director and Best Writing title, as well as The Visionary Award.

The event held by the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Films in Burbank, California also honoured the cast of the film Sam Worthington and Zoe Saldana as they walk away with Best Actors awards.

Sigourney Weaver was received the Best Supporting Actress award, reports the Daily Star.

The other movies to claim trophies were ‘Watchmen’, ‘Inglourious,’ ‘District 9,’ ‘Monsters vs. Aliens’ and ‘Drag Me To Hell.’

According to, this year’s (10) Life Career Award was handed to director Irvin Kershner. (ANI)

Walter Kronkite Visits Industrial Light and Magic (1981)

( Walter Kronkite visits ILM during the making of 'Empire Strikes Back'.

Take a look:

Friday, June 25, 2010

Worth a mention - 06/25/10

Wolfgang Petersen To Helm "Rock'Em Sock'Em Robots"

A lot of us assumed that Shawn Levy's "Real Steel" was based off of the Mattel line, right? Well I did, but unfortunately a lot of us were wrong with that notion. The toy company is supposedly teaming up with "Poseidon" and "Troy" director Wolfgang Petersen to go and make a film based off the little plastic objects.

Mandeville Films, responsible for backing movies like "Surrogates", is behind this strange production. There's also word that "Salt" and "Law Abiding Citizen" writer Kurt Wimmer is possibly attached to pen a draft of the script. Really, do we need another toy-based movie? It's bad enough as it is that we're being force-fed properties like "Transformers" and "Battleship", we really don't need more. Then again, there's tons of people who flock to theaters just to see shiny cool objects blow up or beat the living hell out of each other, so there's always going to be a market for it.

Ray Harryhausen to Get Special BAFTA

( LONDON -- One of cinema's original puppet masters, producer and visual effects creator Ray Harryhausen, is to be presented with a British Academy of Film and Television Arts' special award for his unique and outstanding contribution to cinema.

Director John Landis will host a special event this weekend to celebrate the special effects maverick's work which includes creating the creatures for cult classics such as 1981's "Clash of The Titans," "The 7th Voyage of Sinbad" in 1958 and "Jason and the Argonauts" in 1963.

The award will be presented during an evening hosted by BAFTA and the British Film Institute June 26 with well wisher contributions expected from James Cameron, Tim Burton, Ray Bradbury, George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, Guillermo Del Toro, and Aardman animations.

"Transformers 3" Live Action Stunts To Exceed "The Dark Knight"

(Chicago Tribune) The Chicago Tribune reports that the city's Office of Emergency Management and Communications held a news conference for the filming of Transformers 3 yesterday. The Michael Bay-directed sequel will shoot in the Windy City from July 10 through August 19. Here a clips from the report:

OEMC Executive Director Jose Santiago said the closures on LaSalle Street (8 p.m. July 9 to 5 a.m. July 12), the Michigan Avenue bridge (8 p.m. July 16 to 5 a.m. July 19) and Upper Wacker Drive (9 p.m. July 18 to 5 a.m. July 22) will have the most impact on traffic. He added that most of the movie's filming in Chicago will take place during daylight.

“It's an ambitious production … but we and the producers are committed to mitigating the disruptions and addressing community concerns,” said Chicago Film Office Director Rich Moskal.

What can Chicagoans expect from filming — besides traffic?

Moskal said recently a few “scenes they're planning could match if not exceed the spectacular stuff ‘The Dark Knight' production pulled off.”

Yes, he's talking about the 2008 Batman film that featured an 18-wheeler getting flipped over on LaSalle Street and a massive explosion that leveled the old Brach's Candy building on the West Side.

“Flying debris, flipping cars, stunts, that's the kind of stuff you'll probably be seeing here,” added Moskal.

Producer John Davis Adapting The Martian Chronicles?

(24 Frames) Producer John Davis (his filmography) has optioned the film rights to the Ray Bradbury classic "The Martian Chronicles." The book is describes as follows:

Bradbury's Mars is a place of hope, dreams and metaphor-of crystal pillars and fossil seas-where a fine dust settles on the great, empty cities of a silently destroyed civilization. It is here the invaders have come to despoil and commercialize, to grow and to learn -first a trickle, then a torrent, rushing from a world with no future toward a promise of tomorrow. The Earthman conquers Mars ... and then is conquered by it, lulled by dangerous lies of comfort and familiarity, and enchanted by the lingering glamour of an ancient, mysterious native race.

Ray Bradbury's "The Martian Chronicles" is a classic work of twentieth-century literature whose extraordinary power and imagination remain undimmed by time's passage. In connected, chronological stories, a true grandmaster once again enthralls, delights and challenges us with his vision and his heart-starkly and stunningly exposing in brilliant spacelight our strength, our weakness, our folly, and our poignant humanity on a strange and breathtaking world where humanity does not belong.

Disney Sings Praises of A "Christmas Carol"

( Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment came to New York City this week, bringing a sack full of their most anticipated Blu-ray releases for the fourth quarter of 2010. Disney's A Christmas Carol has been much-vaunted as the studio's first Blu-ray 3D, and it will take advantage of much of what the format has to offer. In addition to preserving the breathtaking visuals (many of which have absolutely nothing to do with Charles Dickens' novella, by the way), the disc will offer some truly cutting-edge bonus features.

Not just the movie but the menus will be in 3D, as well what could be the first-ever 3D "making of" bonus feature, "Mr. Scrooge's Wild Ride," covering what it took to make the film. The Blu-ray will also offer an amazing Bonus View option that will put the unaltered live-action motion-capture footage of Jim Carrey and others on screen as picture-in-picture while the movie plays. And as an extra on top of the extra, director Robert Zemeckis, who has become more reclusive of late, will be providing a commentary specific to the picture-in-picture content.

Disney's A Christmas Carol arrives on Blu-ray 3D November 16, at a suggested price of $49.99 for the four-disc combo pack (Blu-ray 3D, Blu-ray, DVD and Digital Copy.)

M:I-4 Hangs In The Balance

( You know all of the constant talk that's been going on for "Mission: Impossible 4", how it's said to be in development at Paramount Pictures, all that good stuff? Well it could be nothing but talk if audiences don't completely eat up Twentieth Century Fox's "Knight and Day". The critical reception on the Cameron Diaz/Tom Cruise action film hasn't been positive, which is bad news if people want to see Ethan Hunt on the screen again once more.

Although a draft for "Mission: Impossible 4" has been turned in by Andre Nemec and Josh Applebaum, Paramount can shut the doors on production if no good profit comes in for "Knight and Day". Either that or Paramount can just blatantly cut Cruise out and put somebody else in the lead role. Regardless, there's a lot riding on "Knight and Day", so let's see whether or not it even does well today.

CEO of Kerner Group shines light on 3-D movies

( Some movie industry insiders suggest that moviemakers exercise caution when producing 3-D movies.

"I don't think 3-D is the future of movies. It is a step of movies," said Eric Edmeades, CEO of Kerner Group, a leading American company in the production of 3-D technologies. "Avtar is a great movie and a great example of 3-D. But most moviemakers today are not thinking of making another Avatar."

Filmmakers cannot rely solely on big budgets and extravagant special effects. Citing 3-D movies My Bloody Valentine and The Final Destination 4 as examples, Edmeades said 3-D movies can achieve box office success if 3-D technology and good story-telling are integrated.

Even moviemakers have expressed concerns about the use of 3-D.

"A lot of people rushed to make 3-D movies after witnessing the success of Avatar," Hong Kong director Pang Ho-cheung said. "They noticed how much money Avatar made instead of the advancement of the technology."

"3-D is just a technological advancement and does not change the nature of movies. It cannot save a bad picture," he added.

Edmeades agreed with Pang. He said, "3-D just makes more the movie that already is: If your movie is good, then 3-D will give it depth and make it better. If it is bad, it exposes that badness."

"It is important that story, characters and the rest of the effects and so forth are of high quality," Edmeades added.

Edmeades does not believe that every movie should be made in 3-D. He also said that 3-D technology will evolve. The moviemaking process will undergo radical changes within 10 years.

For example, it's not just the picture that's 3-D anymore.

Paul Ottosson from Venture 3-D and Hyper Emotive Films said a German company has invented a 31.1 sound system which can precisely match the movement of subjects in 3-D movies. In horror movies, for instance, it can achieve incredible effects.

A side effect of 3-D benefits the movie industry because it protects intellectual property rights. "It is not easy to steal movies on the screen," Edmeades said. "It gives a level of protection."

For China to become a world leader in 3-D moviemaking, Edmeades said it should start developing the technologies itself or partner with field leaders to learn from them.


Joe Letteri, Senior VFX Supervisor talks about Universal Studios Hollywood's upcoming King Kong 360 3D

( Universal Studios Hollywood is premiering its new King Kong 360 3D experience to the press on Tuesday, with a public grand opening on Thursday. To get you ready for the debut, here are two videos with the creators of the experience talking about the attraction, which will be part of the Studio Tour.

Take a look:

The Oscars Moving to January?

( Deadline reports that the Academy Of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences has apparently discussed potentially moving up the 2011 Oscars a full month so they would take place at the end of January - putting it only a week or two after the Golden Globes.

If it were to happen then the move would notably condense awards campaign time, force studios to issue DVD screeners earlier than planned,

John Lasseter Co-Directs "Cars" Sequel

( John Lasseter is set to co-direct the upcoming 3D Pixar sequel "Cars 2" reports Jim Hill Media.

Lasseter, who helmed the first film, had seemingly stepped aside so "Ratatouille" producer Brad Lewis could direct the sequel. Now it seems the pair will be working together on the project, quelling months of speculation.

"Cars 2" follows Lightning McQueen and his new crew chief Mater around the world as part of the "Race of Champions." It marks the company's first sequel outside their "Toy Story" franchise.

Ridley & Tony Scott Sci-fi "Ion" Akin To Avatar

(Heat Vision) Described as a sci-fi romance akin to Avatar, Ion comes from a spec script from Hollywood newcover Will Dunn and involves, "a man who travels to different Earths and dimensions in order to find his reincarnated lover."

Ridley and Tony Scott will produce the project with Fox through their company, Scott Free Productions.

Top 7 Animatronic VFX Beasties in Film

Take a look:

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Worth a mention - 06/23/10

DreamWorks Plans "Good Luck Trolls" Film

(The Hollywood Reporter) Fresh from their turn as a trainful of orphans in Toy Story 3, the Good Luck Trolls are being developed into their own (unrelated) DreamWorks film, reports The Hollywood Reporter.

Relative unknowns Adam Wilson and Melanie Wilson Labracio are set to develop a screenplay with Dannie Festa producing, in cooperation with Niels Dam, the son of the man who invented the original doll in 1959.

'Transformers 3' to Film in Detroit, Will Possibly 'Blow Things Up'

( Production reps confirmed yesterday to the Detroit Free Press that the third installment of "Transformers" will film partially in Detroit in August, putting to rest speculation that lasted almost six months.

Director Michael Bay was in Detroit in January scouting locations, and one building that caught his eye in particular was the abandoned Packard Plant on East Grand Boulevard.

According to the Warren, Ohio Tribune Chronicle, Paramount studios execs said "They fell in love with it because they can blow up parts in the movie and it won't matter."

The Packard Plant has been vacant since 2005 when Delphi Packard went bankrupt, and has been one of the major attractions for "ruin porn" enthusiasts in Detroit in recent years.

The "Transformers" franchise has a long-standing relationship with Detroit, having filmed parts of the first film at the Michigan Central Station.

It also gave GM vehicles starring roles in the first two films, including "The Bumblebee" that Shia LeBeouf's character buys in the first film, which is a Chevy Camaro painted orange and black.

VES To Present 2nd Annual Entertainment Industry Production Summit

The Visual Effects Society (VES), the world's premiere visual effects organization, announced today that it will hold its second annual Production Summit for the greater entertainment industry on October 23rd. Production Summit 2010: Navigating Tomorrow's Business Models will convene a unique consortium of leading creatives, executives and visionaries to look at how to thrive over the next five years in a rapidly changing global economic and technological entertainment environment. The event will bring together the entertainment community for a day of inspiration, conversation and collaboration. It will be held at the Ritz Carlton Hotel in Marina del Rey.

"Our inaugural Summit held last October proved to be an amazing success by offering a great opportunity to bring together leading creatives for a wide-ranging discussion covering the gamut from previs to building worldwide pipelines," says Eric Roth, Executive Director of the VES. "Because industry changes come so rapidly – on the creative, technological and business fronts – and will likely continue to do so for the foreseeable future, we decided that bringing key industry stakeholders together annually would be truly beneficial to everyone in our industry."

This year's summit will feature ongoing interaction between directors, producers, cinematographers, editors, technologists and visual effects leaders internationally acknowledged for their innovative thinking and responsibility for moving the industry into the next decade. Attendees will be encouraged to not only think outside the box but also to reinvent the business models of tomorrow which will guide the future of the entertainment industry as its technologies, financial challenges, shrinking schedules, globalization and proliferating distribution platforms continue to evolve.

3D, Motion-Capture/Cartoon Hybrid Sequel "Who Framed Roger Rabbit 2" Underway

( In case you forgot about it, Who Framed Roger Rabbit 2 is at long last being made, with the involvement of director Robert Zemeckis (last year’s A Christmas Carol) and original Roger Rabbit screenwriters Jeffery Price (How the Grinch Stole Christmas) and Peter S. Seaman (Shrek the Third).

Those that are intrigued to see a 3D, motion-capture/cartoon hybrid sequel to Roger Rabbit will take comfort in Hahn’s assurance that work on the script is underway and that “… if you’re a fan, pretty soon you’re going to be very, very, very happy.”

Disney Kills Jerry Bruckheimer’s Epic WWII Flick

( I have yet to read Steven Pressfield’s “Killing Rommel”, though I do have it on my reading list, somewhere between finishing “Point of Impact”, trying to slog my way through the first 100 pages of Justin Cronin’s monstrous “The Passage”, and starting on those Lee Child Jack Reacher novels that I’ve heard so much about. I was hoping to get “Rommel” done before the movie version from producer Jerry Bruckheimer
and Disney came out, and now it looks like I might get that chance, because according to Deadline, Disney has all but killed Bruckheimer’s adaptation of the Pressfield novel.

While he’s off in Hawaii shooting Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, Bruckheimer just had a high-profile WWII project killed by Rich Ross because it didn’t fit the studio’s family-friendly franchise mandate. Though Bruckheimer put two years of work into it, Disney has jettisoned an adaptation of the Steven Pressfield historical novel Killing Rommel.

'Poseidon Adventure' Director / VFX Artist Ronald Neame Dies at 99

(New York Times) Ronald Neame, who directed movies including "The Poseidon Adventure" and "The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie," died Wednesday in Los Angeles. He was 99.

The cause was complications from a fall, grandson Gareth Neame told the New York Times.

Neame worked in various areas of the movie business, including writing and even visual effects.

He was nominated for three Oscars: In 1947 and 1948, he shared screenwriting nominations with David Lean and Anthony Havelock-Allan for, respectively, "Brief Encounter" and "Great Expectations." Previously he was nominated for special effects on "One of Our Aircraft Is Missing" (with C.C. Stevens) for sound.

Reality Bytes: 3-D Data Demands Force CG Moviemakers to Get Creative with Computer Efficiency

( Moviemakers continue to up the ante in their quest to make film animation as realistic as live action, thanks to improvements in 3-D computer-generated (CG) graphics. These efforts can pay off in big ways—James Cameron's Avatar earned a mountain of money and three Academy Awards. But, as New Zealand digital effects–maker Weta Digital can attest, painstakingly creating three-meter-tall blue bioluminescent aliens required an unprecedented amount of computing power and data storage—and those resources are likely be dwarfed by subsequent projects.

"The biggest changes I've seen are in the complexity of the movies, starting with The Lord of the Rings," says Paul Gunn, data center systems administrator for Weta, the company responsible for the stunning visuals in The Lord of the Rings film trilogy as well those in as Avatar. A significant part of this complexity comes from moviemakers' demands that digitally rendered characters and scenes become more lifelike even when shot in close-up.

The main job of Weta's data center is rendering, a process that adds texture, shading, reflection and other visual aspects to digital images, "turning them into something we can produce on the screen," Gunn says. Avatar's graphics rendering required the services of more than 4,300 computer servers (containing nearly 35,000 central processing unit cores) to process digital images into movie-quality visuals—a system the company refers to as its "renderwall". For Avatar hundreds of visual effects artists fed terabytes' worth of work into the renderwall, which refined those computer-designed images into something closer to the finished product.

"We can't predict what an artist will need so we have to provide them with a smorgasbord of resources to work with," Gunn says. "That can be troublesome, because the dynamics of our data center environment changes quickly. We end up with fairly large surges in demand from several artists for a particular movie shot, which consists of a pile of individual frames."

This boils down to a heavy demand for similar or the same pieces of data, such as the computer code that creates the texture of the leaves in the rainforest on Pandora, the Saturnian moon where Avatar is set. "Texture is a set of data that's commonly used to give the movie a uniform look," Gunn says. "In the past we had this code on lots of different file servers." This was inefficient because the same four-terabyte master copy of the movie's images resided in 10 other locations throughout the data center. If the data were updated on one server, Gunn and his team would then have to make sure that same data were updated on all the servers on which it was stored.

For Avatar, instead of generating 40 terabytes of data that included 10 copies of the same information, Weta and data storage provider NetApp in Sunnyvale, Calif., devised a system that gave artists access cached data. A cache is a temporary memory buffer used to store data that is used most often, a setup designed to make data access faster and more efficient. Weta and NetApp created several caching servers on Weta's network to handle the large number of users requesting access to the movie's visual effects files.

All of the renderwall machines accessed these NetApp-caching file servers, which in turn accessed the master copy of the movie's images. When changes were made to the master images, these changes would automatically be reflected in the caching file servers as well, with minimal lag time. The cache servers held only the data most in demand by the movie artists, which turned out to be about 800 gigabytes of the original four-terabyte data set. "However, that 800 gigabytes of data was enough to answer more than 97 percent of all data requests," Gunn says.

NetApp's FlexCache software was used to automatically balance the renderwall's throughput requirements to keep data request bottlenecks from forming. "The key to caching is to understand what data is most in demand and who's demanding it," says Brendon Howe, a NetApp vice president and general manager.

Gunn says he cannot talk about any of the technology Weta is using for current and future movie projects, including The Hobbit or Planet of Apes sequel Rise of the Apes, but he can say that since the company implemented the caches for Avatar they have been able to improve the technology to make their system even more efficient.

A Few Words About Non-Union Studios and Organizing

( The thoughts and observations of the leaders of The Animation Guild (TAG), Local 839 IATSE.

Take a look:

Pirates 4, Cars 2 and Mars Needs Moms Coming to IMAX

(IMAX Corporation) IMAX Corporation and The Walt Disney Studios today announced a new agreement to release three additional 3D pictures to IMAX theatres in 2011. The titles included are Mars Needs Moms, starring Seth Green and Joan Cusack, slated for release on March 11, 2011 and executive produced by Robert Zemeckis; Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, starring Johnny Depp and Penelope Cruz, slated for release on May 20, 2011 and Cars 2, slated for release on June 24, 2011.

Each title will be digitally re-mastered into the image and sound quality of The IMAX Experience.

C'MON HOLLYWOOD: More Makeup Effects, Less CGI!

( My girlfriend and I caught SPLICE last weekend which was...well, interesting to say the least (it reminded me a lot of the MASTERS OF HORROR episode JENIFER) but one thing that definitely stood out was the makeup effects applied to Delphine Chaneac, making Dren a real creature as opposed to a CGI monster. There’s a reason people love eighties flicks, especially monster movies and it’s because they used real props back then (not that they had much of a choice) instead of the technological CGI mess we often see splashed across the big screen these days. Sometimes CGI fits (and is needed), but most times it doesn’t come close to the real thing.

"It's my tail isn't it? I swear it has a mind of its own."
Other than SPLICE, another really great example of recent makeup effects trumping CGI is THE WOLFMAN. It’s truly remarkable what gurus like Rick Baker can do with real actors (and whether you liked the movie or not, Baker made the apes in the PLANET OF THE APES remake look five kinds of awesome). Benicio Del Toro and Anthony Hopkins looked phenomenal in wolf form (of course they should after sitting in a chair for four hours) and the leg extensions used in both THE WOLFMAN and SPLICE to give their legs that raised canine look really adds some much needed (and welcomed) depth to the creatures. Sure, the time process involved for these types of suits, makeup and effects is no doubt taxing but they bring these creatures to life in such a believable fashion that the audience is breathless with both fear and delight.

Edward, Jacob, I'm pretty sure Benicio here could destroy them both.
I remember being intrigued and even excited when the first trailer for BOOGEYMAN came out back in 2005. The premise sounded cool, a dude getting stalked by the dreaded Boogeyman, a supernatural creature that came from his closet. I mean, come on, what kid from our generation didn’t lose a bit of sleep over the damn Boogeyman? Admittedly I dug the story (despite the fact it was PG-13) which doesn’t surprise me as it came from the mind of SUPERNATURAL’s Eric Kripke, but all hope was lost when I came face to face with the monster itself hovering over a bathtub in all its CGI glory. I actually turned to my girlfriend and said, “Are you fucking kidding me!?” Nope, I was not impressed.

I'm not sure if it's the lighting or angle but Jabba's looking pretty sexy here.
I hate to drag STAR WARS into this but of all the reasons why the original trilogy is and will always be superior to the latest one, the lack of GCI is probably top three. Jabba the Hut looked like a real...umm...worm thing as opposed to his CGI younger counterpart who came later. The Ewoks (love them or hate them) looked infinitely cooler than Jar Jar and his ridiculous fish people. I won’t just dump on the new STAR WARS flicks though as a couple of my favorites BROTHERHOOD OF THE WOLF and the recent OUTLANDER were fantastic action flicks whose monsters also suffered from overuse of CGI. Did this kill the movies for me, not really but that doesn’t mean they couldn’t have been done better.

Come on Rodriguez, don't let me down.
One of my favorite special effects monsters of all time returns to theatres in a big way this summer, that’s right ladies and gents I’m talking about PREDATORS. Using dudes in suits with insanely cool makeup and body armour is THE way to go as far as I’m concerned. The face huggers and chest bursters from the ALIEN films are also up there on my list of favorites but again, I’m all for what looks more “real”. Hollywood has been slowly coming back around as directors and producers continue to fight for less CGI based effects which makes me happy and I’m hoping they continue to win this war. CGI effects have their place in films for making the impossible look probable but when it comes down to creature/monster effects there’s no substitution for the real thing.

Andy Huang's Digital Face: CG's New Boy Wonder

( A graduate of the University of California, Andrew Huang got his start in art long before leaving high school. However, it was his short film mega-hit Doll Face, which generated world-wide acclaim and fame. Having gone viral on Youtube years ago, with several million hits, Doll Face is emblematic of Huang's signature melding of live action, animation and CG visual effects. And while continuing to create a lush portfolio of pet projects, Huang is now in big demand, designing and directing commercials and music videos for a bevy of top-tier clientele.

Interview & Video:

Live-Action Akira Must Be PG-13

( I'm pretty skeptical of The Hughes Brothers' upcoming live-action adaptation of AKIRA, as I’m sure many of you are. FROM HELL and THE BOOK OF ELI weren’t necessarily bad by any means, but not particularly noteworthy either. AKIRA is something of a beast, and I’m not sure the pair is up to task.

And now they’ll be stifled further with a PG-13 rating, something Albert Hughes recently said in a radio interview that the studio is demanding.

“The first thing they said to me was it had to be PG-13,” Hughes said and then followed up with labeling it as either being “a challenge” or a “hind-ridge.”

Hughes also goes on to say that if the movie is split in half (as the source material is over 2,000 pages), that he and his brother are "not into sequels” and they’d probably leave duties to someone else. That would leave the project rather disjointed, as you’re essentially splitting one film in half and leaving for the second part.

As for the PG-13? I guess sadly, that’s to be expected in this day and age, as film integrity will almost ALWAYS be sacrificed for box office receipts, even with a movie that is clearly not going to have mainstream appeal like AKIRA. Might as well do it right if you ask me.

Lucasfilm & Adidas VFX "Destroying" Homes

( A few weeks back, Adidas launched a creative advertising campaign to promote a collaboration between Adidas as LucasFilm, based on the popular Star Wars series of movies. Using StreetView and Google Earth imagery, combined with some IP address geolocation, the death star "blasts" your house with a giant Adidas logo.

You can try it yourself here.

While this was a creative campaign, they didn't quite think it all the way through. According to a story on Fast Company, they caused quite a ruckus in Japan:

As it turns out, the geo-detection system in Japan traces many IP addresses back to a large central server--a server that was located right next to the emperor of Japan's palace. Barbour's Death Star app had spent the night blasting away at the palace--a promo trick totally lost in translation. Soon, Adidas's customer service center was inundated with calls from confused Japanese citizens.



Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Worth a mention - 06/22/10

Swaping Prawns For Hobbits

TheOneRing reports that Peter Jackson wants Neill Blomkamp to take over the directing duties on "The Hobbit" prequels.

With Guillermo del Toro's departure, various names have been rumoured as candidates with Jackson himself indicating that if no-one else can be secured, he would take on the job.

His championing of Blomkamp though isn't a major surprise, the pair worked closely together on "District 9" which Blomkamp directed and Jackson produced.

The hiring would mean Jackson would likely have more creative control than if a long-running director (eg. Sam Raimi) with his own signature style came onboard, while Blomkamp's "District 9" demonstrated the rising new filmmaker's strong talent and skill whilst working within a budget.

The Lion King Goes 3D

(Empire) Producer Don Hahn confirmed to Empire plans for a theatrical release of The Lion King in 3D.

Though the conversion process is still in the early stages, the plan is for The Lion King to follow the upcoming 3D version of Beauty and the Beast, set for release sometime in 2011.

Hahn went on to tease the proposed Roger Rabbit sequel, saying only,"if you’re a fan, pretty soon you’re going to be very, very, very happy.”

The bad news for Disney fans is that hand-drawn The Snow Queen has been put on hold, though Hahn is quick to remind readers that even tabled projects can make triumphant returns, citing the years-in-development Beauty and the Beast as an example.

Image of the Day: Comparing Toy Story's CGI from 1999 vs. 2010

Take a look:

7 Cool Special Effects ILM Created For The Last Airbender

( 7 cool special effects ILM created for The Last AirbenderThe Last Airbender will carve a new path in visual effects, showing you things no movie ever has: water tentacles and gusts of fire. We visited Industrial Light and Magic, and saw what every other movie will be copying soon.

Whether Airbender satisfies fans of the classic Nickelodeon cartoon, and whether it succeeds in being a Star Wars for a new generation, one thing's clear after spending the day at ILM: It's going to be an innovative film from a VFX perspective, maybe as groundbreaking as The Matrix was in its day. Here are seven things the ILM team showed a group of visiting reporters a couple of months ago:

1) Fire that actually looks like fire. This is a lot harder than it sounds. Visual effects supervisor Pablo Helman recounts that he went outside and lit some stuff on fire, so he would have a bunch of studies of real fire to show to director M. Night Shyamalan. But when Hellman showed the footage of actual fire to Shyamalan, his response was, "You know what? That fire looks CG." Even real fire looked fake.

"[Shyamalan] didn't think he was ever really convinced by CG fire in a movie," says digital compositor Barry Safley.

What was the solution to creating fire that looked believable, and was able to "bend" in a way that still looked realistic? Burning Man! The designers got hold of some footage from the annual neo-hippie festival in Nevada, in which someone is controlling a pillar of fire, and barely keeping it in check. That footage gave the designers a clue to how to show the same sense of power and control, not to mention the structure of fire, in a simulation.

2) Showing water floating in a believable way. Another really challenging element to show being bent was water — the designers searched for ages to find some reference films for this element. They wound up with some YouTube videos, including one showing a guy punching through a water balloon, and one showing a guy being hit in the head with a water balloon in slow-motion.

Finally, they hit the motherlode: A NASA video of water in zero gravity.

The ILM crew showed us a video of Katara learning to bend water, filmed in Greenland. A ball of water flies out of the ocean and Katara tries to keep control over it. It starts to drip and finally loses its shape altogether. The messy water bubble flies through the air, and it does look impressive. It falls on her friend, and he's pissed.

A later scene shows a master of waterbending fighting, with snakes of water everywhere, and tentacles coming out of a steam pot. Katara manipulates the water to come out of some urns and cover the evil Prince Zuko, then freeze him. He looks around anxiously, and then he's encased in ice.

3) Figuring out what "air" looks like. The whole point of Aang is that he's an airbender, so what does it look like when you bend air? Is it like a gust of wind? Is it like clouds? In the end, the ILM team decided that what you want to see is what the air is pulling up — whether it's dust or snow, depending on what environment Aang is in. They used the same algorithm for air that they'd used for fire, except that they didn't render it as fire.

We saw some test footage showing Aang, with his hands tied, running around a room and climbing a wall while Prince Zuko shot fireballs at him. In another scene, Zuko shoots fireballs at Aang, who's spinning and waving his hands, using air to deflect them. In another scene, Aang is surrounded by spinning doors, and the Fire Nation is attacking him. He uses blasts of air to close the doors, and we saw how they rendered the lines of air.

"With the bending of the elements, you wanted to match the movements and the performance of the actor," says VFX supervisor Christian Altzmann. "You couldn't really start designing until you had that performance in the can."

The film-makers also decided that every type of "bending" should have its own martial arts style, just like a good Kung-fu film has the Crane style or the Dragon style.

Also, whenever someone manifests one of the elements, he or she has to do it in a way that's personal. We have to see it as an extension of their personality.

4) Momo, a CG creature with a real presence. In The Last Airbender, Aang has a pet flying lemur named Momo. The guy who brought Momo to life in this movie, Tim Harrington, also animated the famous sequence of Yoda attacking Count Dooku in Star Wars Episode II: Attack Of The Clones.

Noah Ringer, who plays Aang, carried around a blue-screen bag that stood in for Momo. But when it came to putting Momo into the scenes, says Harrington, they had to make sure that Momo could really interact with Aang. The VFX crew spent a lot of time at the zoo observing real lemurs. Then they shot footage of Noah pantomiming with an imaginary lemur — sometimes he had to pull his arm in a little so that the lemur's limbs would have a place to go. "We really needed to know where his head is, where his shoulders are, where his arms were going to be," says Harrington.

The hard part was Momo's wings, which are based on a bat's. Harrington spent a lot of time figuring out how to get the light to scatter through Momo's wing membrane. The mechanics of how Momo flies were based on the giant fruit bat, which Harrington figured was roughly the same weight. But the wings had to be able to fold up and disappear when Momo wasn't using them. In an early prototype, they stuck out over Momo's forearms, but then the designers folded the wings one more time, "so they folded nicely over the forearm," says Harrington.

5) A six-legged creature that walks naturally. There's no such thing as a six-legged mammal in nature, although obviously insects are six-legged. So realizing Appa, the six-legged flying bison, was a major challenge, says Harrington. Early versions of Appa were "a bit too far off-model from the show," he adds, but the show's creators and Shyamalan guided the VFX crew back to the show's model.

According to Harrington:

We looked at polar bears, and we thought of the front two legs as arms that are offset slightly, and the back legs are legs... We looked at polar bears, bison [and] elephants to get kind of the physics and the weight right. We also looked at beavers. There are scenes where he actually swims and kind of uses his beaver tail in the water.

He showed us an early visualization in which Appa hovers in mid-air and a group of kids are hanging from his paws. Appa is looking over his shoulder, as if to say, "Let's get going." It starts as just a group of kids dangling in mid-air on a greenscreen, holding onto hangers that will be Appa's wrist pivots. Appa is added piece by piece, including his fur which responds to the wind, and his face, which has to be expressive and obviously intelligent — but not too human, or Appa becomes "creepy."

"[Shyamalan] thought of him as the big quiet kid in the class, who's really quiet and calm and keeps it together, but if a couple other kids get in a fight, he might be the one who steps in and keeps the peace," says Harrington. "Kind of a gentle giant."

Harrington and other designers faced similar challenges creating the Komodo rhino, which the Fire Nation people ride into battle — real Komodo dragons "have kind of a dorky walk," so the designers went for something closer to a bulldog's movements. He showed us an incredibly intricate composite CG shot of a Firebender riding a Komodo rhino off a ship, up a wall and over the top, where it shoots fire down at the people inside a walled city.

6) Facial motion capture. James Cameron's Avatar already pushed the envelope as far as capturing an actor's performance and translating it to CG goes, but Airbender may go even further. If you don't notice when Aang isn't being played by Noah Ringer, then Harrington and his crew will have succeeded.

There are actually three Aangs in the movie. There's Ringer, who's an accomplished martial artist and actually plays the character most of the time. There's his stunt double Jade, a girl who's roughly the same size and shape as Ringer, but you can kind of tell in some of the raw footage that it's not really Ringer. And then there's a CG rendering of Aang, who's doing some of the crazy acrobatics and ultra-dangerous stunts that no actor or stunt-person can do. We saw one scene where Aang flees the Fire Nation and runs and skips across a whole bunch of piers, which wobble realistically, and you can see that it's a long, long way down — this sequence is all CG, and there's a moment where the flesh-and-blood Aang drops out of frame for a second, and then reappears as CG Aang.

To put Ringer's face onto the other Aangs, Harrington captured a closeup of Ringer scowling and grimacing, with a billion dots to capture every aspect of the performance. This isn't just like Benjamin Button, Harrington points out — they didn't just have to put Brad Pitt's performance onto the old Benjamin Button without worrying if it was a perfect fit. "This has to be a one-to-one match," says Harrington. "This takes the geometry and shrink-wraps it, like dead on, to these dots, and animates it to the dots." So Noah's head is added to animated Aang, and in one or two cases, to the stunt-Aang, Jade.

7) Creating digital environments that feel like an extension of the real footage. The locations the film visits are based around the styles of the different tribes — so for example, when you visit the Northern Air Temple, you see a lot of precipices and mesas that only an airbender can reach. "They have the kites and they can control the air currents," says Altzmann. The production team studied a lot of temples in Burma and Cambodia and had someone actually do some filming in Vietnam, to make each shot look as real as possible.

Altzmann showed us one shot that started with a real valley, and then a computer generated temple and bridge were layered in — the temple is being sacked by the Fire Nation. In general, the team took a "less is more" approach to layering in computer-generated details to all the scenes, aiming for the most photorealistic images they could create. It was all part of the drive to make rural Pennsylvania and Greenland look like Asia.

Likewise, we see the huge armada of the Fire Nation, but the only physical prop was a short section of deck, and then the VFX team added the rest digitally.

The filmmakers put a lot of work into creating the contrast between the Southern Water Tribe and the Northern Water Tribe — you see that the Southern Water Tribe has lost everything and can't bend water very well any more, so they're stuck making igloos. Meanwhile, the Northern Water Tribe is the last bastion of free benders who haven't been captured by the Fire Nation, and their buildings have more ornamentation. Their architecture is loosely based on Tibet, and Altmann and Barry Williams put a lot of thought into creating a layout of their city that felt like people could actually live there.

Source with pics:

Carter Still Plans To Beat The "Devil"

( Warner Bros. Pictures has resurrected the magician tale "Carter Beats the Devil" which was originally in development back at Paramount in 2002 reports TheWrap.

Glen David Gold's debut novel is a fictionalised biography of the successful 1920's real-life magician Charles Joseph Carter (aka. Carter the Great). Carter invites then President Warren G. Harding on stage where he cuts him up and restores him.

Two hours later though the President is dead and Carter is at the centre of some very unwelcome attention. Various historical figures are part of the narrative including Harry Houdini, the Marx brothers and BMW founder Max Friz.

Michael Gilio will adapt the novel and Jon Shestack ("Air Force One") will produce. Tom Cruise and Paula Wagner were previously set up to produce the property back at Paramount.

Disney / Marvel Merger Begins With Dr. Strange

(Deadline New York) Marvel Studios has hired screenwriters Thomas Dean Donnelly and Joshua Oppenheimer to write the script for Dr. Strange, reports Deadline New York. The duo wrote the upcoming Conan, video game adaptation Uncharted: Drake's Fortune and a draft of Jon Favreau's Cowboys & Aliens.

In case you're not familiar with the character created by Stan Lee and artist Steve Ditko, you can read a lot of information at

The film could be the first one for Marvel Studios that gets distributed through Disney.

ILM Sup Bill George Creates ‘Sci-Fi Air Show’

( The site is the brainchild of ILM visual effects artist Bill George, who has created a virtual ‘air show’ with all sorts of classic sci-fi spaceships. There are tons of more "Sci-Fi Air Show" images of spaceships from Battlestar Galactica, 2001, Space 1999 and more.

Take the tour:

The Voyage of the CGI

( Is there any Hollywood movie coming out anymore that is not chock full of computer-generated imagery?

Apparently not, from the look of this new trailer for the latest film based on the series of classic books by C.S. Lewis, “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader.”

It’s due at Christmas and seems packed full–even in this short clip–with more techie eye candy than usual, including a painting of the sea on the wall that floods a room.

Take a look:

Gnomon VFX Students Training On Real Shows

LOS ANGELES--(BUSINESS WIRE)--Gnomon School of Visual Effects, the industry leader in professional training for artists in the entertainment and design field, today revealed that it has established Gnomon Studios, where advanced Gnomon students prepare for professional careers by working on short films in a studio environment under the guidance and mentorship of production professionals. Gnomon Studios is currently working on Academy Award-nominated Director Shane Acker’s new short film, “Plus Minus.”

“The students at Gnomon Studios are learning to work at the forefront of digital production, and making a short film is a great way to explore and test what they’ve studied in the classroom”

“While Gnomon students participate in group projects through their lab work, those projects don’t necessarily reflect the real-world structure and workflow of a visual effects studio,” said Alex Alvarez, founder and director of Gnomon School of Visual Effects. “Through internships at Gnomon Studios, our students are able to collaborate with renowned directors like Shane Acker on professional projects in a realistic studio environment. These projects give students invaluable experience working in roles directly linked to their career paths, which is already resulting in outstanding job placements for our recent graduates.”

Class of 2010 Gnomon graduate John Patrick worked on Gnomon Studios projects while the facility was being established, and has just been hired by Sony Pictures Imageworks as a Pipeline Technical Director.

Reflecting on his recent job search, Patrick noted, “I think employers are looking for people who are good at finding solutions to problems, which is especially true in technical areas. A demo reel is a great way to get to an interview, but Gnomon Studios gave me the training to prove that I've been in a situation where I've tackled real problems and met hard deadlines. I'd imagine that it’s rare to find students at other schools that have had that experience when they graduate.”

Gnomon Studios is located on the Gnomon lot in the heart of Hollywood. To provide an authentic training experience, the structure of Gnomon Studios mirrors professional visual effects shops. Students work in various roles ranging from concept artists, animators, art directors and producers. Following industry production standards, the director of each project takes on the role of the external client. The director, Gnomon founder Alex Alvarez and other Gnomon instructors and staff also serve as mentors who help guide students throughout the production process.

Short films, such as Acker’s “Plus Minus,” will be the core production focus of Gnomon Studios. Alvarez also expects Gnomon Studios to contribute to the occasional feature project when opportunities arise, as was the case with the facility’s recent contributions to the 2011 film “Green Lantern” and the popular TV series, “Fringe.”

Opinion: Keeping VFX Shops On Their "A Game"

( I'm not trying to fuel the fire here but if you compare Star War prequels to the Lord of the Rings trilogy its pretty clear to anyone that Weta was far superior with the CG. I mean, seriously, Gollum or Jar Jar? and before anyone says anything.. Attack of the Clones and Two Towers both came out in 2002. Now since then ILM has caught up (or arguable surpassed Weta) and their work on Pirates of the Caribbean is the best CGI I’ve ever seen. Seriously, Davy Jones and company were AMAZING! They’re both amazing FX houses and a little friendly competition is great for everyone. It keeps everybody on their “A game” and we the audience reap the benefits. Just watch Avatar and the CG was amazing! So cheers to both ILM and Weta! :)