VFX News 02/01/11

California Visual Effects Firms Facing a Bleak Landscape


  For 11 years, Nathan McGuinness ran a successful visual effects house in California. His Santa Monica  company, Asylum Visual Effects, created the World War II submarine battle scene in “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” the flying dragon straddled by Nicolas Cage in “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” and the bionic anatomy of Sam Worthington’s character in “Terminator Salvation.”

But the impressive credits, along with an Academy Award nomination, couldn’t keep his business afloat. Unable to cover even the rent, McGuinness closed shop late last year, laying off nearly 100 workers.

“We were a good company, we were efficient, we did our jobs well, but we just couldn’t compete with the overseas markets,” the Australian native said.

California’s visual effects industry, which pioneered the use of computers to create and manipulate images in live-action films, is under siege.
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Half a dozen visual effects houses have shut their doors in the last three years, including three in Los Angeles County, pushing hundreds of visual effects artists out of high-tech and skilled jobs that pay $75,000 to $150,000 a year. Los Angeles County, where the visual effects industry has been concentrated, has seen more than 1,000 jobs in the visual effects and post-production sector vanish over the last decade, according to state employment data.

Visual effects in filmmaking used to be created by using physical props, animatronics and models — think of the spaceship gliding overhead in the opening credits of “Star Wars” — but today they frequently are produced on computers. The technology represents the cutting edge of filmmaking, involving teams of digital artists trained in 3-D modeling, computer animation and computer graphics.

Even though demand for visual effects in movies is greater than ever thanks to spectacles such as “Avatar” and “Tron: Legacy,” several California visual effects companies are clawing for survival. The reason is a familiar one to American industry: mounting competition from foreign rivals that can do the work cheaper.

By taking advantage of tax credits in Vancouver, Canada, and London — where visual effects work for “Iron Man 2” and “Inception” was done — or employing low-cost labor in China, Singapore and India, filmmakers are able to shave tens of millions of dollars off a movie’s production budget.

Not long ago the visual effects industry was dominated by a few California companies with their own proprietary techniques and tools, along with the artists trained to use them. Now, thanks to advances in technology, the adoption of standardized techniques and readily available digital workforces, the industry has fanned out around the globe.

For filmmakers under orders to hold movie budgets in check, availing themselves of tax credits and low-cost labor is simply smart business. Visual effects eat up as much as 30% to 40% of a movie’s budget, and more than $50 million on major studio films.

“With those kinds of numbers, these film tax rebates, while always of value, are now impossible to ignore,” said Chris deFaria, executive vice president of digital production, animation and visual effects for Warner Bros., which plans to shoot several movies in Britain including “Jack the Giant Killer” and “Dark Shadows.”

Leading California visual effects companies such as Digital Domain, Rhythm & Hues and George Lucas’ Industrial Light & Magic have adapted by opening studios in Vancouver,  Singapore, Mumbai and other foreign locales, creating digital pipelines in which data files can be readily transferred around the world. Technicolor’s international visual effects house, MPC, has offices in London and Vancouver, as well as Santa Monica.

At the same time, Indian corporations Tata, Reliance and Prime Focus have planted roots in Los Angeles, recruiting visual effects artists to compete for business.

The march toward globalization, however, has had devastating effects upon small to mid-size California companies that don’t have the resources to build a global network.

“It’s really a blow to the state to lose these jobs,” said Jeff Barnes, co-owner of CafeFX, the Santa Maria, Calif.-based visual effects shop that closed in December after 17 years in business. The company, which had an office in Santa Monica, employed as many as 175 people a year ago. “Something has got to be done or it’s going to be like what happened to the aerospace industry in California.”

The state’s film tax credit program has brought little relief to California’s beleaguered visual effects industry because it excludes big-budget features, the principal employer of visual effects. And the state is seeing worked siphoned off to Vancouver, where a film tax credit program targets visual effects houses.

“We’re very aware of the problems facing California visual effects companies, but currently the program is limited due to available funding,” said Amy Lemisch, director of the California Film Commission.

Most visual effects companies operate on narrow profit margins of 5% or less. So the loss of a single contract can be enough to push some companies over the edge.

CafeFX thrived for many years, landing big jobs on “Shutter Island,” “Pan’s Labyrinth” and “Alice in Wonderland.” But business began to dry up when the recession hit and clients began scrambling for tax breaks and rebates offered elsewhere.

“We would bid stuff at break-even and they would say, ‘We can do the work for 20% to 40% less going offshore to Canada, U.K. or Australia,’ ” Barnes said.

For example, CafeFX bid for work on “Devil,” produced by M. Night Shyamalan, but the movie and much of the visual effects work ended up being done in Ontario, Canada. “We just couldn’t make the numbers work,” Barnes said.

Barnes also had hoped to pick up subcontract work on Walt Disney’s recently released “Tron” film from Venice-based Digital Domain. But Digital Domain farmed out extra work to studios in Vancouver, where it has an office, as well as to companies in India and Mexico.

The closing of Illusion Arts, one of Hollywood’s most established visual effects houses, in 2009 sent shockwaves through the local industry. Bill Taylor and his partner, Syd Dutton, had operated the company, which employed nearly 20 people, for 26 years, specializing in creating synthetic environments such as skies and lakes on scores of films, including “Bruce Almighty” and “Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian.”

“We were just losing bid after bid,” said Taylor, who now works as a consultant. “All the work was going to Vancouver, London, Bulgaria and India.”

California-trained visual effects artists are still in demand, but often now have to travel overseas for work.

McGuinness of Asylum is relocating to Singapore to head a visual effects operation for London-based company Double Negative Visual Effects. Former visual effects supervisor Ben Grossmann traveled to Britain to work on Martin Scorsese’s first 3-D film, “Hugo Cabret,” after being laid off at Syndicate, the Santa Monica-based division of CafeFX.

He now supervises a crew of visual effects artists in eight locations across five countries with Pixomondo, an international company with offices in L.A. and Germany.

“We have the best artists here in the world,” Grossmann said, “but they are pretty much the most expensive artists in the world.”

Source:             http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-ct-visual-effects-20110201,0,3461953.story

Cameron Talks “Battle Angel,” “Avatar 2”

(darkhorizons.com)               With the 3D underwater adventure he produced hitting this week, James Cameron has been out doing press for the film and has spoken briefly about both the “Avatar” sequels and his long-gestating “Battle Angel Alita” adaptation.

Asked if ‘Battle Angel’ is still happening, Cameron tells Collider that “I’m obviously going to be pretty busy for the next five years [with Avatar 2 and 3]. And so I had to consider, do I hand this project off to another director? And then I thought, ‘No, I love it too much’…It’s such a rich world. What I’m going to do is take the spine story and use elements from the first four books. So, the Motorball from books three and four, and parts of the story of one and two will all be in the movie.”

Meanwhile with the “Avatar” sequel, one of the challenges Cameron has set himself is improving the 3D experience – not the technology to film it, rather the way its presented at the exhibition stage. He tells SpeakEasy that “For ‘Avatar 2,’ what I’m most interested in is getting theaters to up their light level, and we want to shoot the movie at 48 or maybe even 60 frames a second, and display it at that speed, which will eliminate a lot of the motion artifacts that I think are causing some people problems.”

He goes on to say “People talk about feeling sick or something like that, and I think it’s because the image is strobing. That’s a function of the 24 frame frame rate, which has actually got nothing to do with 3D. It’s just made more apparent because the 3D is otherwise such an enhanced, realistic image, that all of a sudden you’re aware of this funky strobing which you weren’t aware of.

DreamWorks Animation to Adapt Sid & Krofft’s Lidsville

(comingsoon.net)             DreamWorks Animation SKG, Inc. today announced that it will bring the Sid & Marty Krofft characters from the 1970’s television series “Lidsville” to the big screen in a feature film by the same name.

Conrad Vernon (Monsters vs. Aliens, Shrek 2)–animation veteran and lifelong fan of the Krofft’s work–brought the project to DreamWorks Animation. Brothers Sid & Marty Krofft will serve as executive producers. Vernon, DreamWorks Animation’s head of development Alex Schwartz and development executive Chris Kuser are overseeing the project at the studio.

“Sid and I have had a longstanding relationship with Jeffrey Katzenberg and we’re excited to bring ‘Lidsville’ to DreamWorks Animation,” said Marty Krofft. “It’s incredible to envision a high-quality 3D animated movie being made out of one of our favorite shows.”

“The Krofft brothers helped define a generation with the wildly imaginative characters and worlds they created,” said Alex Schwartz, head of development for DreamWorks Animation. “I am thrilled that Conrad is joining forces with them on the first animated feature film adaptation of their work.”

“Over the past year I’ve had the privilege of working with and getting to know Sid and Marty and I thought their brand of crazy kookiness would work well at DreamWorks Animation,” added Vernon.

Lidsville will take inspiration from the premise of the original television series, in which a young rebellious kid falls into an alternate reality world of living hats and talking caps. The Los Angeles public TV station KCET Kids & Family Channel recently announced that it will feature the “Lidsville” television series in an all-new “The Sid & Marty Krofft Hour” together with H.R. Pufnstuf during its weekend programming block on Saturday and Sunday mornings from 9:30-10:30 a.m.

Stanton Updates “John Carter of Mars”

(darkhorizons.com)           Director Andrew Stanton (“Wall-E”) confirms that the film adaptation of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ “John Carter of Mars” is still very much in the midst of production and a good year of work is still to come.

“I’m not in post-production — I’m in digital principal photography now, which goes on for the rest of 2011, so I’m only halfway through the movie” he explains to MTV News. Asked about the film’s look, he says “I didn’t try to make it look like anything else. I really tried to make it its own thing. I tried to make a very historically accurate Martian film if that makes sense, so I’ll let you decipher that.”

The story follows Civil War veteran John Carter (Taylor Kitsch) who becomes a great hero on Mars, and its a live-action shoot mixed with a lot of computer animation. This was Stanton’s first non-animated film and he seemed to like the challenge – “When you’ve made animated movies your whole life, it was pretty exciting to be outside for a day, let alone for months,” said Stanton, a fixture at Pixar. “For as cold and as hot and as hard as it was, which I knew it would be, I was up for it and it was a blast. It was the hardest thing I’ll ever have done, but man, it was a great adventure. It was like sailing across the ocean, you know, everything that goes with that.”


10 Things You Didn’t Know About Guillermo del Toro’s Monsters

(io9.com)                               The New Yorker has published a long and amazingly in-depth article about the modern-day godfather of monsters, Guillermo del Toro. Here are the 10 coolest bits, including a look at the new Frankenstein, and what GDT’s Smaug could have been!

10 Things You Didn’t Know About Guillermo del Toro’s Monsters 1) What his Frankenstein monster looks like (now)

Inspired by the 1983 illustrations of Bernie Wrightson, the concept designs of GDT’s creature lacked a nose, and seemed far more gruesome than past Frankenstein creations (even the Robert De Niro version):

In accordance with Mary Shelley’s description, the head appeared to have been stolen from a cadaver: there was exposed sinew around the jaw, and the cheekbones looked ready to poke through the scrim of flesh. Most appallingly, the Creature lacked a nose; a single bridge bone protruded over an oval breathing hole.

Granted, this could all change as GDT spent a lot of time asking for a more Boris Karloff-esque chin along with new variations of the nose hole — perhaps make it semi-crushed and “about to slide off.”

2) His High School short film about a toilet monster MUST be released

“In high school he made a short about a monster that crawls out of a toilet and, finding humans repugnant, scuttles back to the sewers.” Where is this film, where can we watch it, and why isn’t this being sold to the masses?

3) The Mountains of Madness monsters (The Shoggoth and The Old Ones) could be the most complex del Toro designs to date.

Just the explanation for the Shoggoth creatures in GDT’s next film have us scratching our heads. We have no idea how he will execute this.

“Let’s say that creature A turns into creature A-B, then turns into creature B, then turns into creature B-C. And by the time it lands on a guy it’s creature E.” He discussed one grisly Shoggoth transformation: “It’s like when you grab a sock and you pull it inside out. From his mouth, he extrudes himself.”

And that’s not all the director goes into great detail about “abandoned coral reef” world he’s building for the monsters in which the Old Ones will “torpedo through tubes” to get from one area to another.

“A coral reef is a shitload of skeletons fused together, right? All the technology those creatures have, all their technology is organic. You and I use metals, plastics. These creatures don’t have weapons or chisels. They create other creatures as tools.”

In the early stages GDT referred to the The Old Ones as “cucumbers with wings,” but later on the author got a much better look at the concept designs for the beasts which will open up like a “Swiss Army Knife” revealing wings and tentacles.

The oceanic motif was particularly evident in the design of the Old Ones. Del Toro’s enthusiasm for the lionfish had endured, and the aliens’ wings echoed their flamboyant fins. In motion, he explained, the Old Ones would appear buoyant-“unbound by gravity.” As the camera tracked them caroming around the city, the viewer would feel disoriented, like a panicked scuba diver inside a cave.

But bringing to life H.P. Lovecraft’s Shoggoth is much more complicated.

Since the Shoggoths could mutate into anything, there was no fixed silhouette, but many would feature a “protoplasmic bowl,” an abdomen-like area from which new forms could sprout. One maquette was a disorienting twist on classic Lovecraftian form. It looked like a giant octopus head with tentacles jutting from the top and the bottom-a fearful symmetry. “That’s my belly in the middle,” del Toro joked. In another maquette, the Shoggoth had sprouted two heads, each extending from brontosaurus-like necks. Their skulls could be smashed together to destroy victims. “The idea is to create craniums that function as jaws,” he said. The Shoggoths would often create ghastly parodies of human forms; as they pursued the humans, they would imitate them, imperfectly.

4) He Keeps his journals locked in a safe in his bathroom

For each film GDT creates an amazing “Leonardo codex” that is stuffed with creatures designs, notes and story details.

5) What The Hobbit’s Dragon Smaug could have looked like!

One of those books was filled with production notes on the dragon Smaug from The Hobbit — the project which GDT sadly abandoned. Still, this dragon sounded absolutely amazing:

I paused at what looked like an image of a double-bitted medieval hatchet. “That’s Smaug,” del Toro said. It was an overhead view: “See, he’s like a flying axe.” Del Toro thinks that monsters should appear transformed when viewed from a fresh angle, lest the audience lose a sense of awe. Defining silhouettes is the first step in good monster design, he said. “Then you start playing with movement. The next element of design is color. And then finally-finally-comes detail. A lot of people go the other way, and just pile up a lot of detail.”

I turned to a lateral image of the dragon. Smaug’s body, as del Toro had imagined it, was unusually long and thin. The bones of its wings were articulated on the dorsal side, giving the creature a slithery softness across its belly. “It’s a little bit more like a snake,” he said. I thought of his big Russian painting. Del Toro had written that the beast would alight “like a water bird.”

Smaug’s front legs looked disproportionately small, like those of a T. rex. This would allow the dragon to assume a different aspect in closeup: the camera could capture “hand” gestures and facial expressions in one tight frame, avoiding the quivery distractions of wings and tail. (Smaug is a voluble, manipulative dragon; Tolkien describes him as having “an overwhelming personality.”) Smaug’s eyes, del Toro added, were “going to be sculpturally very hidden.” This would create a sense of drama when the thieving Bilbo stirs the beast from slumber.

Del Toro wanted to be creative with the wing placement. “Dragon design can be broken into essentially two species,” he explained at one point. Most had wings attached to the forelimbs. “The only other variation is the anatomically incorrect variation of the six-appendage creature”-four legs, like a horse, with two additional winged arms. “But there’s no large creature on earth that has six appendages!” He had become frustrated while sketching dragons that followed these schemes. The journal had a discarded prototype. “Now, that’s a dragon you’ve seen before,” he said. “I just added these samurai legs. That doesn’t work for me.”

6) GDT published a book just about Alfred Hitchcock

He published a book-length essay on Alfred Hitchcock. (Discussing “The Birds,” del Toro notes that “in the terror genre, an artist, unbound by ‘reality,’ can create his purest reflection of the world-the cinematic equivalent of poetry.”

7) Why GDT no longer lives in Mexico

In 1998 his father was kidnapped. After 72 days and two ransoms, they released Federico and GDT moved the entire family to America.

“I highly recommend you save your father’s life. You don’t see yourself as somebody’s child anymore. You become a man saving another man.” He claimed that the experience had ended his “perpetual puberty.”

8) GDT’s “Bleak House” is better than Disneyland

The Bleak House, where the man does most of his work has over 5,000 comic books, a kitchen full of fetuses, Edward Gorey illustrations, concept art from the original Fantasia, giant statues from the original Hellboy films, and a pool. When can we come visit?

9) The Pale Man from Pan’s Labyrinth was originally inspired by folds of loose skin

The infamous Pale Man demon was originally going to look much different, much more wrinkly and loose — inspired by the way skin hangs when after someone has lost a lot of weight. You can see the images from his journals in this video (a long with a lot of other early monster sketches and concept art).

Click to view

10) As a kid GDT befriended the local embalmers (as you do) at a mental hospital. This explains a lot.

“I saw a guy with a split skull walking down the street,” he said. “The guy wasn’t mentally stable, because somebody had hit him, and I took him to the hospital. And they said, ‘We’ll take care of him.’ I came back the next morning, and they said, ‘We returned him to the mental ward.’ So I went there, and they said that he escaped in the night. I went to the director and I said, ‘What kind of hospital is this?’ And she said, ‘Look, if you have something to say about it, come and volunteer.’ So I got to know the embalmers. One day I visited, and there was a pile of fetuses, new arrivals. Maybe it’s magnified in my memory, but I remember it being this tall.” He lifted his arm to his waist.

Source:               http://io9.com/5747879/10-things-you-didnt-know-about-guillermo-del-toros-monsters

VIDEO: The CGI in ‘Black Swan’, Explained

(towleroad.com)                 A fascinating look at the visual effects used in Black Swan.

Take a look:   http://www.towleroad.com/2011/01/watch-the-cgi-in-black-swan-explained.html

Exclusive  look: “ART OF DISTRICT 9”; Weta update

(fangoria.com)                   Movie tie-in books usually come out day and date with the films they promote, but the THE ART OF DISTRICT 9 (Collins Design; Hardcover; $34.99) has emerged more than 18 months after the Peter Jackson-produced movie’s debut. See below the jump for the reason this lavish coffee table book just debuted now, check out a few exclusive pics and read about what’s going on at Jackson’s Weta Workshop, the Oscar nominees behind the 2009 alien assimilation hit.

Take a look:               http://www.fangoria.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=3323:exclusive-look-art-of-district-9-weta-update&catid=36:demo-articles&Itemid=56

James Cameron to Receive Harold Lloyd Award at International 3D Society Creative Arts Awards

LOS ANGELES–(EON: Enhanced Online News)–James Cameron has been named the 2011 recipient of the Harold Lloyd Award, it was announced today by the International 3D Society in Hollywood.

“Jim has been gifted with both tenacity and vision in his quest to make stereoscopic capability part of filmmaking’s vocabulary. No other person has contributed more both technically and creatively”

“James Cameron has embodied Harold Lloyd’s vision and passion for dazzling audiences across the globe. With ‘Avatar’ and his commitment to 3D storytelling, it is appropriate that he is the first recipient of this most prestigious Annual Award,” said Suzanne Lloyd, Lloyd’s granddaughter and Chairman of Harold Lloyd Entertainment.

“Jim has been gifted with both tenacity and vision in his quest to make stereoscopic capability part of filmmaking’s vocabulary. No other person has contributed more both technically and creatively,” said Lenny Lipton, International 3D Society Awards Committee Chairman.

‘Avatar,’ which was written, directed and produced by Mr. Cameron, won seven (7) of the International 3D Society’s Lumiere™ Awards at its 2010 ceremony, including honors for Best Live Action Feature, Best Stereography, and Best Visual Effects. ‘Avatar’ went on to become the most successful motion picture in box office history, surpassing the previous record-holder, ‘Titanic,’ also written, directed and produced by Mr. Cameron. His other films include: ‘Aliens,’ ‘The Abyss,’ ‘Terminator,’ and ‘True Lies.’

“Harold Lloyd, one of Hollywood’s greatest filmmakers, was an early and tireless advocate of using 3D technology in film in the 1920s. He formed Hollywood’s first 3D Society and served as its first President,” said Jim Chabin, International 3D Society president.

Lloyd wrote, acted in, directed and produced more than 200 films. In a 1923 Los Angeles Times interview, Lloyd predicted that the person who “produces perfect stereo motion-pictures will have accomplished the greatest achievement since the first motion-picture.”

In addition to his films, the Harold Lloyd Archive contains more than 250,000 stereoscopic 3D photographs of Hollywood celebrities, events, people, and places Lloyd encountered while pursuing his passion for 3D photography.

The Award will be presented Wednesday, February 9, 2011 at the International 3D Society’s 2nd Annual Creative Arts Awards at Grauman’s Chinese Theatre in Hollywood. The award ceremony will be recorded and telecast in 3D as part of a two hour special on 3net™.

Long Before Computers, How Movies Made Us Believe

(wbur.org)                    Many of today’s blockbusters wouldn’t exist without the aid of computer generated imagery — think Avatar or Lord of the Rings. But movie magic long predates computers — once upon a time, long before the digital age, scenery and special effects were crafted entirely by human hands.

In her new book, Designs on Film, produced with the Art Directors Guild, journalist and interior designer Cathy Whitlock explores the past century of art direction and the creative effects that have lit up the silver screen.

Tricks Of The Trade

Take for example the cinematic magic of the film Dr. Zhivago. The epic saga of love and war during the Russian Revolution is set against the snowy backdrop of the streets of Moscow and the steppes of Russia.

“I can remember seeing that film years ago and freezing in the theater,” says Whitlock. “I mean, you just felt the coldness of that whole set — and ironically, that was filmed in the summer in Spain on a sound stage.”

Dr. Zhivago production designer John Box and his crew used visual tricks to transform the set into an authentic Russian landscape. To create Zhivago’s abandoned country estate that had frozen inside and out, Box constructed an opulent ice palace. (You can see the sketch for the ice palace in the photo gallery above.)

“They would literally spray all the architecture, the chandeliers, the interior furniture, with hot wax, and they’d pour cold water on it to create that ice effect,” Whitlock says.

The hardened white wax — glistening with water and sprinkled with marble dust — created a frigid and striking cinematic scene.

Without digital effects, art directors relied heavily on their own creativity, and new materials. The art deco designs of the Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers movies of the 1930s featured streamlined dance floors fashioned with an early form of plastic.

“The floors were made with a material, which was new at the time, called Bakelite,” Whitlock explains. “The dance floor was very hard to maintain, of course — all the high heels were constantly scratching the floors.”

As the saying goes, Rogers did everything Astaire did backwards and in heels — and much to the chagrin of the set crew, they were high-scuffing high heels.

“They had to go back and re-polish them between takes,” Whitlock says. “It was a high-maintenance material.”

In Chinatown, Roman Polanski’s 1974 classic, a private detective becomes mired in the battle for water rights in drought-stricken Los Angeles. The film’s production designer, Richard Sylbert, made water — and its absence — the movie’s visual motif.

“You had to have parched landscape. You had to have colors that reflected this parched landscape — hay, straw, orange-red, brown. … Watch[ing] that movie, you became thirsty,” Whitlock says.

Shot under a cloudless white sky, the only green in the film’s landscape occurs on lawns owned by rich people. You had to have money and power to be able to bring water to your property.

The Art Of Authenticity

“Film designers are narrative artists who translate the screenwriter’s concept into visuals that you can shoot,” says Thomas Walsh, president of the Art Directors Guild. And art directors and set designers will go to extraordinary ends to make a scene look authentic — especially when their job is to re-create something that actually occurred.

For the 1976 film All the President’s Men — about the uncovering of the Watergate scandal by reporters Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward — production designer George Jenkins and his crew meticulously re-created the Washington Post newsroom. The team did their research at the paper’s real office in Washington, D.C., Whitlock says.

“They literally itemized, measured, photographed and detailed every square inch of that newsroom. It was really incredible,” she says. “The Post sent them boxes of trash, a lot of papers, government directories, mail, things that they could use for authenticity to spread across the desk on the Burbank sound stage.”

Walsh says art directors spend countless hours foraging for artifacts to make the magic of movies look real. They’re “cultural anthropologists,” he says.

Yellow Brick Road: Neither Yellow Nor Brick

Sometimes just looking real is all that matters. In one of the most famous imaginary places — the land of Oz — the yellow brick road was not made with actual bricks, nor was it originally yellow. The path in The Wizard of Oz was painted onto a flat floor to make it a smoother surface for dancers. And the color?

“The story I’ve heard is that the initial yellow they used looked green in the camera test,” Walsh says. “Ultimately, they went down to the local hardware and bought their industrial yellow paint and it seemed to work just fine.”

So the problem of coloring the yellow brick road was solved, but what to do about Emerald City’s magical, colorful horses? Thanks to Jell-O crystals, Oz’s horses were white, then purple, then bright-red and yellow. But the solution wasn’t foolproof — between takes, the horses would lick off their sugary coatings and had to be colored all over again.

Another horse transformed by movie magic was the poor starved Civil War horse pulling Scarlett O’Hara’s wagon in Gone with the Wind. As it drags O’Hara back to her plantation home, the horse collapses from exhaustion.

“The original [horse] that was supposedly thin had gained weight, and his ribs were no longer visible,” Whitlock explains. “They had to paint dark shadows to make the horse look gaunt.”

Another special effect in Gone with the Wind required the burning of Atlanta. William Cameron Menzies and his team burned leftover sets from King Kong and The Garden of Allah in a lot in Culver City, Calif. It is said the flames were so high — at times up to 500 feet — that the local fire station received multiple calls from panicked Culver City residents. The magic of movies, designed to fool the eye with fun and fakery, to get audiences to truly believe. Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Indian ‘Lord of the Rings’ CG/Live Action Hybrid Set To Start

Kireet Khurana who is best known as the director of 3D animation Toonpur Ka Superhero is all set to make a Indian version of Lord Of The Rings.

Titled Prithvi the film will be set in a mystical world and will tell the story of a man’s journey to reclaim himself. The film will be set in a computer-generated environment and will be a mixture of live and computer generated characters. Khurana said, “It will have a blend of live and created characters in a computer-generated environment. “Toonpur Ka Superhero was simple as we only had to come up with a toon world. This one is a photo-realistic world with characters and monsters created in Photorealistic CG Imagery; a first-of-its-kind for Indian cinema, so the challenges are bigger.”

Khurana is currently in talks with the technicians behind Hollywood trilogy Lord of the Rings in order to match the scale, story and visual effects of the popular Hollywood film. The Bollywood director confirms that “some of them have agreed, in principal, to collaborate” on Prithvi.

With pre-production underway Khurana is hoping to start filming for the movie by the end of 2011. Stay tuned because we will bring you all the updates, including who will be starring in the film as soon as it becomes available!

Dream Jobs 2011: Meet Weta Digital’s Master of Face Animation

(spectrum.ieee.org)                   Mark Sagar is taking a break from making faces for major motion pictures. It’s a sunny Tuesday in early summer, and he’s whipping up a couple of cappuccinos in a lounge at Weta Digital, the hot-as-the-sun special-effects house behind such blockbusters as Avatar, The Lord of the Rings trilogy, and the 2005 remake of King Kong. Based in a funky suburb of Wellington, New Zealand, the studio’s decor is all frowsy chic: This lounge we’re in houses a life-size stuffed gorilla, a pool table, and several racks of movie costumes. There’s a gourmet kitchen whose counters are heaped with delectables. The walls are covered with movie posters and brass dinosaurs (not life-size).

During my visit, Weta’s wizards are conjuring the dazzle for the highly anticipated DreamWorks/Steven Spielberg movie Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn. But as a harried Weta publicist informs me weeks after I conclude my interviews, the effects house wants nothing—nothing—said about Tintin. Or else I’ll never eat lunch in that town again.

For now, though, breakfast is served. Sagar sprinkles cinnamon and marvels at the existence of a movieland and supercomputing powerhouse on this island, where all the other noteworthy industries involve sheep or fast sailboats. ”What’s the chance of a high-tech film company existing on an island in the South Pacific?” Sagar wonders.

Left out of this small talk, somehow, is the fact that just moments ago he learned that he and three colleagues won an Academy Award. More on that later.

Sagar is as comfortable with art and aesthetics as he is with code and computers. The art/tech tug-of-war began in early childhood, in Kenya, where Sagar’s father was a systems analyst and programmer for the East African Railways. At home, his father would build radios and disassemble televisions, firing the youngster’s imagination with the wonders of modern electronics. His mother, a painter, took young Sagar to game parks, where she would point out the animals and sketch them for him. ”From the beginning, my influences were half technical and scientific and half artistic,” he says.

He got a B.S. degree in physics and math in 1988 at the University of Auckland, in New Zealand, where the family had moved when Sagar was 4. He thought about grad studies in physics, but decided instead to ”travel around the world painting and being a beach bum. I remember asking my mother for a quickie course in painting before I left.”

It came in handy. Over the next four years, he supported himself with odd jobs, bartending, and painting portraits of tourists in such places as China, Britain, and Nepal. ”It was my first inkling that I could do something artistic for a living.”

Returning to New Zealand in 1992, he enrolled again at Auckland, in a mechanical engineering graduate program. For his master’s, he built a 3-D computer model of the human eye, for a system being developed to train doctors on surgical robots. That led to a Ph.D. project in which he wrote the software to let people build biologically accurate computer models of complex human anatomy.

Then came a postdoc at MIT where, in 1996, some Hollywood types came calling, looking for smart techies to work on the technology to make virtual (computer-synthesized) actors. By this time Sagar had: 1) gotten married, to a woman named Justine he’d met during grad school; and 2) put together a computer model of the human face. He and a colleague, Paul Charette, who had built a computer vision and tracking system, combined their work into something that was basically a forerunner of a modern motion-capture system: Charette’s optical arrangement tracked dots on a person’s face, and Sagar’s software connected the dots into a computer-generated face that could be manipulated by the computer.

”We ended up making what was at that time the most realistic computer face that had been done,” Sagar recalls. It was based on Justine’s face, and what this little animation did was ask, ”Am I real or am I digital?”