VFX News 06/20

‘Green Lantern’ Box Office Disappoints

(theatlanticwire.comavclub.com)                This weekend’s box office was full of disappointment. Warner Bros.’ Green Lantern managed to secure the top spot, but after it’s strong debut Friday, sales plummeted 22 percent Saturday, dashing hopes that the film would be a blockbuster (despite its miserable reviews). According to The Hollywood Reporter, Lantern earned $52.7 million, below the hoped-for $55 million mark. As the movie cost $200 million to produce, even before its marketing expenditures, there was a high bar for performance. To put it in context of other blockbuster action flicks, Lantern did worse than both Thor and X-Men: First Class.

Although Green Lantern is actually one of the more established of the non-Superman-or-Batman characters, just to put it in perspective, the adaptation’s debut was behind those of even Ghost Rider and Daredevil, which has to sting a little. Of course, there were other contributors besides familiarity, like the fact that Ryan Reynolds still hasn’t proven he can open a movie on his own (another strategy producers may need to revisit soon), and the fact that the reviews were awful. But given its $200 million budget and the year or so they spent hyping it as the next huge franchise, it seems like the somewhat lukewarm opening may make Warner Bros. reconsider those recently announced, hubristic plans to extend Green Lantern to three films or beyond, unless it’s out of pure spite.

“Transformers” Gets IMAX 3D Early Screenings

(comingsoon.net)                   Paramount Pictures has announced it will open Michael Bay’s “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” exclusively at 3D and IMAX locations across the United States beginning at 9PM local time on Tuesday, June 28th, allowing moviegoers nationwide to be among the first to see the latest installment in the hit franchise, and the first to be shot in 3D. The movie will open wide beginning at 12AM on June 29th.

“Michael Bay has created an incredibly engaging and immersive 3D experience with this latest movie, one that will undoubtedly be among the most entertaining movie going experiences of the summer,” said Paramount’s Vice Chairman Rob Moore. “Providing fans an opportunity to see it early in 3D is a great way to kick off the movie’s opening.”

13 Animators, 12 VFX Artists Invited to Join The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences

(animationmagazine.ne)            The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences has invited 13 animators, 12 visual effects artists and a total of 178 filmmakers and film industry executives to join its ranks.

Animators on the invite list includes such high-profile names as Sylvain Chomet, Tomm Moore, Teddy Newton and Bob Peterson.

Visual effects luminaries invited include Rob Bredow, Peter G. Travers and Brian Van’t Hul.

The 2011 invitees are:


* Geefwee Boedoe – “Let’s Pollute,” “Monsters, Inc.”
* Alessandro Carloni – “How to Train Your Dragon,” “Over the Hedge”
* Sylvain Chomet – “The Illusionist,” “The Triplets of Belleville”
* Jakob Hjort Jensen – “How to Train Your Dragon,” “Flushed Away”
* Biljana Labovic – “The Cow Who Wanted to Be a Hamburger,” “Idiots and Angels”
* Tomm Moore – “The Secret of Kells,” “Backwards Boy”
* Teddy Newton – “Day & Night,” “Ratatouille”
* Bob Peterson – “Up,” “Finding Nemo” (also invited to the Writers Branch)
* Javier Recio Gracia – “The Lady and the Reaper,” “The Missing Lynx”
* Andrew Ruhemann – “The Lost Thing,” “City Paradise”
* Kristof Serrand – “How to Train Your Dragon,” “Sinbad: Legend of the Seven Seas”
* Shaun Tan – “The Lost Thing,” “Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hears a Who!”
* Simon Wells – “Mars Needs Moms,” “The Prince of Egypt”

Visual Effects

* Tim Alexander – “Rango,” “Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire”
* Rob Bredow – “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs,” “The Polar Express”
* Tim Burke – “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 1,” “Gladiator”
* Peter Chesney – “No Country for Old Men,” “Men in Black”
* Paul Franklin – “Inception,” “The Dark Knight”
* Kevin Tod Haug – “The Twilight Saga: Eclipse,” “Quantum of Solace”
* Florian Kainz – “Mission: Impossible III,” “The Perfect Storm”
* Marshall Krasser – “Iron Man 2,” “Titanic”
* Sean Phillips – “Alice in Wonderland,” “The Polar Express”
* Peter G. Travers – “Watchmen,” “The Matrix Reloaded”
* Brian Van’t Hul – “Coraline,” “I, Robot”
* Mark H. Weingartner – “Sex and the City 2,” “Inception”

Rango Blu-Ray To Include A Director’s Cut

(bleedingcool.com)                The first I caught any indication that the theatrical version of Rango was anything less than how director Gore Verbinski would have wanted it was yesterday, when the BBFC classified a longer, “director’s cut”. This never happens with these CG toons.

Well – apart from now.

The additional material has not altered the film’s certificate, which remains PG, or the advisory note, which is still “Contains mild threat and scary scenes.”  Indeed, the only distinction apparent at this stage is in the run time, going from 102 minutes and 48 seconds to 107 minutes and 8 seconds.

What could that extra 4 minutes and 20 seconds contain?
Whatever it is, I’m sure it’s pretty odd. I’m also pretty confident it’s not an alternative ending, because one of those is being listed as a supplement.

I’m really looking forward to seeing Rango again, particularly in this extended version. That’s not something I’ve ever felt about any of Verbinski’s other films. Excting.

‘Captain America’ Sequel Already In The Works

(screenjunkies.com)                   The writing duo of Stephen McFeely and Christopher Markus filled in on a screenwriters panel for the Los Angeles Film Festival’s “Coffee Talk” series. Roberto Orci had a conflict so we got the writers of Captain America: The First Avenger instead. They joined Diablo Cody, Dustin Lance Black and Josh Olson to discuss the writing industry for aspiring filmmakers and fans.

As the panel broke up into the hallway, I cornered McFeely for some follow-up questions about his big summer movie. We discussed the process of writing Captain America, and the early plans for the sequel.

Q: When you write the Steve Rogers scenes, do they assure you they’ve got the visual effects to do it so you can just write what you want?

SM: Oh yeah. We’ve done a number of CGI movies now and you just have to rely on people who are much better at this than you are and have a lot of experience in terms of making this lion realistic or making that guy’s head really look red or making that guy look 98 lbs. And they do. They do every time. I’m always amazed.

Q: But at the screenplay stage, they don’t know how they’re going to do it. So do they just say they’ll figure it out, you go write?

SM: Yeah, not on the first draft. We don’t have to worry. In our heads, he’s 98 lbs. just as in our heads that lion can talk. In our heads, that’s Peter Sellers playing that part. We don’t have to worry about that particularly on draft one and two. Then we’ll be in the room. That’s what’s exciting on Captain America, we’re in the room all the time where we go, “All right, is it going to be a head replacement? Is it going to be a different actor? Are we going to double cast this?” All the possibilities came up and they’re really smart guys, Chris Townsend particularly, would say, “All right, here’s how the best way to do it is for these particular shots.” It’s a big deal because that’s the first act.

Q: Is Captain America the last big one who hasn’t been done yet?

SM: Good question. Off the top of my head, I can’t think of other big ones. It depends where you rank people. They haven’t done a Flash yet in DC.

Q: Well, they haven’t even done Wonder Woman yet.

SM: They haven’t done a big screen Wonder Woman so there are certainly big characters on the DC side. Marvel, not just the Marvel Studio movies but the license to other studios, they’ve been at it for a few years now. In Marvel there’s 5,000 characters so there is going to be a law of diminishing returns. Is everyone going to go to a Luke Cage movie and are you going to make it for the same amount that you made Avengers for? There’s risk vs. reward.

Q: We know he comes into modern day for The Avengers, but is there room to go back to WWII?

SM: Well, our hope is that there is room and we’re negotiating how to do that now. The story will likely be in the present day. We’re experimenting with flashback elements for more period World War II stuff. I can’t say much more than that but we made it baggy enough to refer to more stories in the past.

Q: So you left gaps in Captain America 1 where you can always say something else was going on back then?

SM: Absolutely. He had more adventures than just the one you’re going to see in the movie.

Q: Do you know who the villain of Captain America 2 would be?

SM: It’s undetermined. I will pass that question, how about that?

Q: When would you be scheduled to work on a sequel?

SM: We’ve already made the deal so I was at Marvel last week. We’re talking and passing stuff back and forth all the time. They just sent me a big PDF file of comics.

Ridley Scott’s ‘Prometheus’ Creature Designer: ‘It’s Such An Undertaking’

(moviesblog.mtv.com)                    Despite the fact that production on “Prometheus” is in full swing, we still don’t know much of anything about Ridley Scott’s revisit to his “Alien” beginnings.

We know that the cast is pretty killer, featuring star Noomi Rapace, Charlize Theron, Michael Fassbender, Idris Elba and newest addition Guy Pearce. We also know that while there will be plenty of “Alien”-esque nods and imprints in the film, Scott and backing studio Fox have assured us that it is not a prequel, sequel or reboot.

There are still so many things we don’t know however, so at the off chance we encounter folks working on or around the film, it is our duty as film fans and journalists to pepper him/her with questions, like when we ran into ‘Prometheus” creature designer Neville Page earlier this week and asked him how he’s approaching the alien design on the film.

(VIDEO)   Take a look:   http://moviesblog.mtv.com/2011/06/17/prometheus-ridley-scott-alien/


‘Tree of Life’ Visualizes the Cosmos Without CGI

(wired.com)            For his cryptic family drama The Tree of Life, director Terence Malick wanted to conjure a vision of the cosmos. To do so, he recruited visual effects genius Douglas Trumbull and dropped a bombshell: Malick had no interest in computer-generated visuals. He wanted to go old-school.

Trumbull, the Oscar-winning go-to guy for epic visuals, created effects for 2001: A Space Odyssey, Close Encounters of the Third Kind and Blade Runner. For Tree of Life, he teamed with Dan Glass (Matrix Reloaded) and got to work.

They used a variety of materials, according to Cinematography.com, to create the majestic stream of imagery that can be seen in the exclusive video embedded above.

“We worked with chemicals, paint, fluorescent dyes, smoke, liquids, CO2, flares, spin dishes, fluid dynamics, lighting and high speed photography to see how effective they might be,” Trumbull told the moviemaking website. “It was a free-wheeling opportunity to explore, something that I have found extraordinarily hard to get in the movie business. Terry didn’t have any preconceived ideas of what something should look like. We did things like pour milk through a funnel into a narrow trough and shoot it with a high-speed camera and folded lens, lighting it carefully and using a frame rate that would give the right kind of flow characteristics to look cosmic, galactic, huge and epic.”

Expanding upon its limited theatrical release, The Tree of Life opens in additional cities Friday. Winner of the Palme d’Or at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, the sci-fi-inflected PG-13 drama stars Sean Penn, Brad Pitt and Jessica Chastain.

(VIDEO)   http://www.wired.com/underwire/2011/06/tree-of-life-douglas-trumbull/

Sci-fi “Paul” Sequel Would Need Double The Budget

(monstersandcritics.com)          Actor Simon Pegg has hinted there may be a sequel to his hit new sci-fi movie Paul.

The British star plays the lead role in the new film along with his close pal Nick Frost and he admitted they would do another one if the story was right.

Speaking to Collider, he said: ‘If we could think of a story that was absolutely justifiable, that was worth doing, I would do it again.

‘But so I could have that experience again and enjoy working with people, the camaraderie and the friendship.’

He added: ‘Nick and I have this idea that we had out on the way to Area 51 that was really funny. It was like oh, this could be great. It would cost an absolute f***ing fortune.

‘If it involved more than one Paul, it would mean that we’d have to have twice that budget again. The idea was it was called Pauls. Again, it was like From Dusk Til Shaun, that title is so good we have to make that film.’

New Technology Revs Up Pixar’s ‘Cars 2’

This image, from Pixar’s ‘Cars 2,’ showcases two of the new effects the studio created for the new movie, which opens Friday. One is the extremely realistic open water, including the foam and spray, and the other is the reflectivity off of cars like Finn McMissile.
(Credit: Disney/Pixar)

EMERYVILLE, Calif.–We all know what the reflections off cars or the roiling of the ocean are supposed to look like. So if you are tempted to believe that what you’ll see in “Cars 2” proves that Pixar has made its first live-action film, think again.

This is the hit-making studio that breaks new technological ground with most of its new films, and “Cars 2,” which opens Friday, is no exception. Where its technicians applied real physics to the escape of thousands of balloons in “Up,” or true lighting effects to the rolling and pitching of plastic garbage bags in “Toy Story 3,” Pixar has once again pushed its computing powers to the limit–and gone well beyond them.

With “Cars 2,” as the film’s director and Disney chief creative officer John Lasseter pointed out at a recent event in San Francisco, the filmmakers invented several new ways to handle common effects, and though innovating for the sake of innovating isn’t the studio’s style, it seems to come with the territory of making a new Pixar film.

And creating new effects doesn’t come cheap. According to Apurva Shah, the supervising technical director on “Cars 2,” Pixar had to triple the size and scale of its legendary render farm in order to achieve the computing power its new effects required for the film. But don’t expect the studio to rest on its computing laurels for its next movies. Given its penchant for upping the ante with each new project, it’s a good bet that even more new Dell render blades will be making their way to Pixar’s headquarters here soon.

Water effects
When the team members behind “Cars 2” began working on the film in 2006, they realized that because one of the biggest sequences in the film takes place on and around an ocean-based oil rig, they wanted to step up their approach to animating open water. Already, Pixar had taken the industry in new directions with its underwater effects for “Finding Nemo.” But now, Shah said in an interview in his office, the team hoped to improve on the current industry best for an ocean’s choppy surface.

With “Nemo,” Shah explained, Pixar had come up with a “softer-looking water,” but with “Cars 2,” the team felt that audiences would be expecting the oil rig sequence to feature edgier, stormier water.
Tech explodes in Pixar’s ‘Cars 2′ (images)

To achieve that, they explored a series of new water systems and ended up applying a mathematical wave model called Tessendorf, Shah said, which allowed for the creation of “more cuspy,” sharper sea waves.

This was also important, he said, because the sequence involves a large boat rolling in and out of the high waves, and that required having the seas appear rough as the boat slammed into the water, and the water slammed onto the boat. It was crucial, then, to find the way to show the boats–which are also characters in the film–moving through the water and undulating in it, kicking up surf and foam and a trailing wake, and having it look right. If the effects weren’t extremely realistic, Pixar’s thinking went, audiences wouldn’t buy it.

And then there was one more challenge. With the oil rig scene taking place at night, there would be a lot of lights shining down on the water, and the team needed the illumination effects to look right as well. “Normally, water in films up to now has been treated like a surface,” Shah said. “It may have some details, but it’s mostly like a 2D surface. We wanted to treat water like volume. So when searchlights penetrate the water, [we gave] you this volumetric feeling.”

Similarly, the team had to handle the shadows that would be cast deep into the water from tires floating on the surface.

All of this was more than just a technical achievement. Pixar is known for storytelling and creativity, and Shah said that for the artists on the film, having the technology to make sophisticated water effects served the most important master of all: the story. So in that sequence, the audience sees the search for one of the film’s main characters, a car called Finn McMissile–voiced by Michael Caine–and the filmmakers knew that the emotion in the sequence would be aided by moviegoers’ eyes not focusing on poor effects. And in this case, that meant inventing the techniques to solve the problem.

“We don’t set out to do something new,” Shah said. “We look at the [story] boards…and where we feel the existing technology isn’t giving us what we need, we try to take it forward…It goes back to, what do we want to put on screen, and what are the tools that are missing.”

In a film where cars are the main characters and glitz and glamor is provided by the story line and the environment–scenes were set in and around Italian coastal towns and amid the bright lights of Tokyo–it wouldn’t do to cut corners for effects that wouldn’t make the cars feel real, even if they do talk.

This image, from Pixars Cars 2, showcases the reflectivity effects that the studio created for the new film. Here, we see Lightning McQueen reflecting the lights of Tokyo.
(Credit: Disney/Pixar)

For one, Shah said, designing the shading and reflections for the cars was a factor of the idea that while humans have skin, cars have “these beautiful clear-coat paint jobs with reflections that bring out their lines.”

In the original “Cars,” Pixar used the latest technology for the shading and reflections, but with “Cars 2,” the artists had new tools at their disposal. One of the main steps forward was being able to design the “paint” to appear to have “suspended metal flakes that give you sheen and sparkle,” Shah explained. In the first “Cars,” such flakes wouldn’t have worked, he said, as they’d have gotten lost.

But too, the technology used for the reflections was upgraded for the new movie, giving the cars “really beautiful broad sheens we weren’t able to get before,” Shah said. And that was important since Finn McMissile and other cars in the movie have very high-end paint jobs that needed to explode on the screen.

“We came up with a different mathematical representation for them that does a much better job even when it becomes finer,” Shah said.

Gatling gun physics
The average person may not know what the physics are for bullets fired from a Gatling gun, but they would likely be able to feel it if such a sequence wasn’t done properly.

Shah explained that another part of “Cars 2” featured just such a scene–a cacophony of bullets, tracers, smoke, bullets colliding with objects, and more. And in order to get it to look right on screen, Shah and his team turned once again to physics.

Recalling the work Pixar did with balloons on “Up,” Shah said the scene ended up requiring some video game references. The approach, he explained, came from the idea of a real-time shooting game, in which a player pulls out a gun and shoots in whatever direction they choose. That requires a good physics engine to determine what happens. “So we created our own little [virtual] world so we could do that,” he said.

To be sure, the filmmakers were able to go into the sequence and “finesse” certain elements, but in general, Shah said, the results showcase what Pixar was able to create by letting physics loose on the bullets and what they hit. It was, he said, the collision of multiple simulations at once: Rigid body dynamics involving the bullets flying from the gun; volumetrics with the gun’s smoke; and more. The actual bullet holes in the wall was a “cheat,” he said, involving adding a second surface to the wall. But the scene features the bullets going just where the physics engine said they should, apart from any specific human direction.

Render farm
One of the keys to Pixar’s ability to do what it does is the giant, powerful render farm located in its main headquarters building here. This is serious computing power, and on “Cars 2,” it required an average of 11.5 hours to render each frame.

But some sequences were especially complex, particularly those involving ray tracing–which involves simulating light hitting surfaces, essentially “trying to simulate photons.” And as a result, a huge amount of computing power was needed to process frames that took as much as 80 or 90 hours to render, Shah said. And that meant that the studio “bulked up our render farm.”

He said that Pixar had to triple its size, and today, the render farm features 12,500 cores on Dell render blades. As well, the file servers, network backbone, and every other piece of the computing puzzle was boosted in order to handle the making of “Cars 2.”

But Pixar’s next films are sure to tax even that computing infrastructure, Shah said. Those movies will benefit from the scaling out done for “Cars 2,” but the next projects will surely offer up their own creative challenges that could force the studio to expand the render farm yet again. Shah said things like human characters and their skin, hair, and cloth are sure to stretch even today’s farm to its limits.

For the time being though, Pixar feels “Cars 2” is the state of the art. Yet, because the point of all the technology is to make things feel real, the studio whole-heartedly hopes audiences never notice it at all.

2D Ticket Sales Outpace 3D on Ticket Selling Website

NEW YORK (Hollywood Reporter) – 2D movie ticket sales on Fandango for Warner Bros. weekend release “Green Lantern” and the final installment of “Harry Potter” are outpacing 3D ticket sales in a possible latest sign of 3D fatigue, BTIG analyst Richard Greenfield said Friday.

He cited the live “top sellers” data on the Pulse section of Fandango’s iPad app, saying that the sales trends for the superhero movie come despite what he called a “massive 3D promotional push” for “Green Lantern” on Fandango, YouTube and elsewhere.

“Harry Potter and the Deathly Hollows: Part 2” ticket sales went on sale earlier this week, and 2D tickets are in the top 5 on the “top sellers” list, while 3D tickets are not, the analyst highlighted.

We continue to believe U.S. consumers are frustrated with the amount of 3D movies Hollywood is producing, especially when combined with excessive ticket prices,” Greenfield said.

“In addition, we suspect the darkness of 3D is starting to impact movie satisfaction (this was a key problem with “Pirates 3D,” with both “Green Lantern” and “Potter” starting off with darker imagery and then layering on 3D glasses that darken the images further),” Greenfield added, pointing out the disappointing performance of a range of recent 3D releases.

Michael Chabon Pens “Magic Kingdom”

(latinoreview.com)                Pulitzer Prize-winning author and scribe Michael Chabon (“Spider-Man 2,” “John Carter of Mars”) has been hired to pen the script for Disney’s family adventure “Magic Kingdom” says Heat Vision.

Back in March, Chabon initially talked with the film’s director Jon Favreau about it before any meetings with Disney had taken place. After some quiet deal making, an agreement closed this week.

Ron Moore (“Battlestar Galactica”) penned the initial draft which required a re-write due to a different direction being taken when Favreau came on board.


Warner Bros. Takes on Arthur & Lancelot, Line of Sight

(Heat Vision)                Warner Bros. Pictures has acquired David Dobkin’s spec script Arthur & Lancelot, reports Deadline. The site says the script is a $90 million budgeted re-imagining of the classic tale to be directed by Dobkin. He’ll also produce with Lionel Wigram, and Jeff Kleeman is executive producer.

The studio has also lined up “Halo: Reach” writer Peter O’Brien to work on the script for Line of Sight, about an elite commando squad transporting cargo while dealing with a global threat, says Heat Vision.

The site adds that Warner Bros. initially picked up the project in March as a spec script written by F. Scott Frazier for Silver Pictures, where Joel Silver and Andrew Rona are producing.


Modern Technology Sparks Blast from the Past for JJ Abrams

Don’t get him wrong: JJ Abrams – creator of Alias; co-creator of Lost; director of Star Trek and Mission Impossible III; producer of Cloverfield; god to geeks everywhere – loves digital. He loves its speed, its immediacy, the way digital has democratised the tools and resources of filmmaking. He loves playing with it, shooting with it, staging huge FX sequences with it.


‘‘I’m really torn,’’ Abrams says. ‘‘We could not have made Super 8 without the technology that, in many ways, creates a sort of entitled, instantaneous and often thoughtless and thankless experience. There’s a kind of  frivolousness that comes with digital culture, this sense of entitlement that you can get the information you want, the instant you want it, whenever you want it.’’

Cutting-edge as he is, Abrams feels a strong nostalgia for analog, and his sci-fi mystery thriller Super 8 serves as a valentine to the good old days of his adolescence when, as a burgeoning filmmaker, computers were in their infancy, movie effects were done with models and the closest thing kids had to mobile phones were their toy walkie talkies.

Set in 1979, Super 8 tells of a group of teenage kids who are making a zombie film when they – and their super 8 camera – witness the spectacular crash of a train carrying a secret Air Force cargo. The scene is easily the most visually jaw-dropping Abrams has yet composed and ranks as one of the best rail-related prangs in movie history.

Yet while the staggering photo-realism he achieved would have been impossible without digital effects, Abrams insists the have-it-now culture that accompanies it is a mixed blessing.

‘‘I am someone who (misses) the lack of speed of analog, the forced time that would be imposed upon you, that you had to think about what you had done while you’re waiting for a film to be developed,’’ he says. ‘‘Or the contemplation that would go into a cut on film, because you knew that if you put a cut right there you couldn’t uncut it by hitting CMD-Z!”

He wanted Super 8 to breathe the period.

‘‘Even though we had the opportunity to use technocranes and Steadicams and all sorts of digital CG post-production work, I wanted the film to have the feeling, as much as I could, of movies that would have been made in that era.

‘‘There’s something about that time that speaks of experience and thought that is somewhat lacking from today. Even the idea of wanting to get a new song, the effort it took to go to the record store to get it – what you might see on the way, what you might hear when you got there; the experience that actually resulted in a physical, tangible object that you held in your hand.’’

Following in the tradition of his idol/producer Steven Spielberg, Super 8 features an idealised version of the director as a young teen. Charles (Riley Griffiths) is the budding director ushering his cast about, enthusiastically lining up shots and constantly pining for “production values”. He also makes a big point about the importance of human interest in his story so that people will care about what’s going on. Abrams says it was a playful bit of meta-commentary about filmmaking in general, and about Super 8 in particular.

“Because it was a movie about these amateur filmmaker kids making a film I thought `here’s an opportunity to give a little wink to the audience about process and how various things that you’re about to see done in the film itself were things that the kids themselves, in their roughshod, ham-fisted way, are trying to do with their movie.

“We’re saying to the audience that’s what storytellers try and do, which is connect the audience to a character through a passion that they have. The parallels between what we did as kids and what we’re doing now, a lot of times (the difference just comes down to) the film stock being larger, the crew being better, the lighting being improved, the finish being high end.” So the principles are the same, only the levels of experience and budget have changed? “Exactly right!” Abrams exclaims.

Despite the huge resources at his disposal – he is very proud of the work done by Industrial Light and Magic, the effects house created for Star Wars by George Lucas, his other idol –  Abrams was careful not preside over an empty, FX-driven spectacle.

Indeed, when challenged over whether the threads of mystery he builds up in the first half of the film have a sufficiently satisfying payoff, he stresses that his primary concern was on the emotional journey of his central character Joe (Joel Courtney).

“To me, the spectacle and action was, frankly, a sideshow. That was never the point of the story. With what happens at the ending of the film, I was feeling that another film might have made that the raison d’être, whereas I really wanted the emotional story of these characters to be the thing you’re focussing on while what was happening in the background normally would be the focus of (a more conventional) genre movie.

“So, for me, the thing you’re talking about when you finally get to (resolving) the mystery (elements) of the story, I’m afraid the point, or at least the ambition, was for the events to act as a catalyst for this character who goes from being this follower, to finding his own voice, to fighting for what he believes in, to finding love, to confronting the things that scare him the most – not the least of which is his father.”

A fan of mystery ever since being mesmerised by the seminal TV series The Twilight Zone by Rod Serling – ‘‘he was a profound influence on me’’ – Abrams, 44, has traded on the allure of playing guessing games with his audiences, both in his work and in the savvy manner he uses the internet to market them through buzz-generating viral videos, a la Cloverfield. ‘‘I feel the mystery of film is something I really miss in cinema,’’ he says.

And he’s certainly earned a rabidly loyal following. For whatever accomplishments Abrams can claim in the normal world, the stature he assumes among the inmates of Geekdom is almost god-like. Asked what he represents to the Comic Con faithful, or what profundity his fans read into his work and Abrams scratches his head.

‘‘There’s probably no good answer that I could give to that,’’ he admits. ‘‘It’s something I’m not even comfortable doing, commenting on myself from the outside. I can’t even think of that. What I can say is that I’m grateful to anyone who sees projects I’m involved in and derives some kind of pleasure from them. (As to) what I represent or what people think of me? I’m sure there are as many detractors as there are admirers!’’

Some have certainly highlighted the contrast between the stunningly original and ground-breaking nature of his TV work and how his films, thus far, have been a sequel, a franchise reboot and heavily derivative sci-fi mystery thriller. How does he feel he is developing as a cinema director?

“I feel like I’m the last person qualified to answer that question!” he says. “I’m so close to the movie that it’s impossible to have any objectivity. My sensitivity is, truthfully, that I’m just thrilled we finished the movie and that the experience is now that people seem to be enjoying it. That gives me great pleasure.”

If Abrams often sounds like a traditionalist at heart, that’s because he is.

“There was a brand of movie that used to be made, even including Jaws, that was about ordinary people going through extraordinary things. Even when they were scary, these films had a big heart. You knew you weren’t dealing with some sadistic filmmaker who was just going to make you squirm and feel bad about humanity. There was an overriding optimism, even when things were dark.

“So, for me, it was more important to say with Super 8 that this is a movie experience you can have where you feel good about things, where you leave the theatre feeling better than when you went in, that has a big heart, that there’s a big, good message about first love and family and people’s resilience and ability to overcome tragedy.”

While Abrams is still marking his territory in cinema, he has firmly established himself as one of TV’s great flag planters; he created the hit secret agent series Alias and co-created the landmark mystery series Lost with Jeffrey Lieber and Damon Lindelof, to whom he emphatically credits with the show’s season-to-season success.

Along with people such as Aaron Sorkin (The West Wing), David Chase (The Sopranos), Matthew Weiner (Mad Men), Alan Ball (Six Feet Under) and David Simon (The Wire), Abrams helped foster a climate change in American TV wherein audiences were treated as intelligent participants rather than as passive consumers.

‘‘I certainly feel like there is an incredible amount of extraordinary work being done in TV America TV right now,’’ he says. “I feel lucky to have any part in that. It used to be a medium that people looked down on, it was a lesser form, but because there have been amazing story tellers like Chase and Sorkin and others that you’re now able to look at TV as an incredible opportunity to tell long-form stories where characters and situations evolve over time.’’

When it comes to his many influences, Abrams traces his yearnings to make films back to the advent of Star Wars in 1977. The last time he saw it was only a few months ago, and he can’t wait to see it again in September when it comes out on Blu-Ray.

“The thing about Star Wars is that it is just the most spectacular combination of the everyman going through the extraordinary adventure,” Abrams gushes. “Despite taking place a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away,  when you meet Luke Skywalker he’s the classic hero. The idea that his he and his life intersect with the rebellion and those droids and Obi Wan and Darth Vader – it’s mind-blowingly, beautifully inventive.

“That Lucas started Star Wars by calling it No 4 is off-the-charts brilliant. He threw you into the middle of this spectacular universe; it was the sheer boldness with which he approached that movie.

“The whole thing just smacked of why I wanted to make movies; it was transportive, it was the ultimate magic trick – and it was funny, too. It has a wonderful humour and humanity, and to pull off that combination where you’re feeling emotional, you’re feeling the adventure, you’re feeling the comedy – your jaws open from the sheer spectacle of it. Star Wars was just an incredible combination of action, adventure, humanity, comedy and pathos. You couldn’t have done better.”

Unilateral Disarmament:  Movie Tax Credit Trend May Have Peaked

(economist.com)             Lights, cameras, subsidies, action!

LOTS of states would love to be California and have their own little Hollywood. Film crews would then come to town and spend money in hair salons and hotels, and local politicians could pose with film stars. So why not call it “economic development” to justify the huge tax credits that lure film producers? As of last year, more than 40 states had such incentives, costing them a record $1.4 billion.

Even California itself plays the game, believing that it has to defend itself against the poachers. In 2003, when only a handful of states (principally Louisiana and New Mexico) offered incentives, California made two-thirds of America’s big-studio films. Now it makes far fewer than half. Film LA, an organisation that co-ordinates permits for film shoots in Los Angeles, says that without California’s own tax credit, “2010 would have been the worst year” since the mid-1990s for filming in Hollywood. As its marketing blog gibes: “It is extraordinarily unlikely that the 137 productions that filmed in Michigan since 2007 chose to shoot there for creative reasons, a favourable climate or a deep and talented film-crew base.”

All this costs money, which legislators volunteer on behalf of taxpayers. Many tax credits (a percentage of a film crew’s local expenditures) exceed the filmmaker’s total tax liability to that state. The credits have even become an industry unto themselves: brokers slice them into tranches and trade them. In Iowa filmmakers were selling their credits until that state shut its programme in 2009. Last month an Iowa judge sentenced a producer to ten years in prison for fiddling credits.

Incentives do not have to involve tax credits. Some states simplify the paperwork by just giving out cash (calling it “rebates” or “grants”). Others exempt film-makers from sales or hotel taxes or give them other perks.

All this is silly. First, as Joseph Henchman at the Tax Foundation, a non-partisan think-tank, puts it, even when a state succeeds in luring film crews, they rarely boost the economy or tax revenues enough to justify the costs of the incentives. Film companies usually import their staff (stars, stuntmen, etc) and export them again when the shoot is over. The local jobs they create (hairdressers, sound technicians, pizza deliverers) are mostly temporary.

Second, since virtually all states are at it, the programmes largely cancel out one another; no state gets a lasting advantage. The craze resembles a beggar-thy-neighbour trade war (with mutually destructive tariffs) or the federal tax code with its loopholes for every lobby and thus higher rates for all. In the language of cold-war nukes, it would be mutually assured destruction (MAD). The only winner is the film industry. In essence, a rich bloke in a Brentwood villa gets money from a poor taxpayer in West Virginia.

Fortunately, this has begun sinking in. Arizona, Arkansas, Idaho, Kansas, Maine, New Jersey and Washington have recently ended, suspended or shrunk their programmes. Many others, struggling with budget deficits, are considering doing the same, investing the money in something permanent or even leaving it to taxpayers. “2010 will likely stand as the peak year,” thinks Mr Henchman.

Full Article:   http://www.economist.com/node/18805941

Film Wizards Used Latest Performance Capture Technology for ‘Rise of the Planet of the Apes’

The ape revolution begins on a soundstage inside Vancouver’s aptly named Mammoth Studios amid a crash of laboratory equipment and primal screeching.

Upon closer inspection, the cacophony isn’t coming from real apes gathered for the filming of a scene from the upcoming movie ” Rise of the Planet of the Apes,” but from band of actors of various sizes in tight gray unitards with LED markers pasted all over. The actors’ faces, freckled with green dots, are continuously being filmed by head-mounted camera rigs while they trash the animal testing cages in the fictional bio medical company Genesys.

It’s a technique called performance capture and actor Andy Serkis is a master.

Loping around on arm extensions, Serkis — who has made a career out of performance-capture work since he played Gollum in the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy — really does move like a real long-armed ape.

And once the computer animators are done working with all the digital information from his markers, he’ll look like a real chimpanzee, too.

“We’ve arrived at a stage where other actors who are playing live-action characters are not fazed by it in the slightest,” says Serkis, who plays Caesar, a chimpanzee turned into an evolutionary revolutionary by the well-meaning, but misguided experiments of scientist Will Rodman (James Franco).

“They can just see a performance going on and say okay, ‘So we don’t look the same but I think it would be equally as strange to act against someone in a chimp suit.’ ”

Franco’s name will be on the top of the marquee when the movie opens on Aug . 5, but just as important to the film are the behind-the-scenes performance-capture specialists from W eta, Peter Jackson’s New Zealand-based special effects company.

“Our goal was to give the appearance that Caesar was in front of the camera when all these scenes were being shot,” says Joe Letteri, senior visual effects supervisor at W eta and winner of four Academy Awards.

It sure beats reacting with a tennis ball that would later be replaced by computer animation, says Franco. This way, two actors are actually feeding off each other.

“The imagination just kind of takes over, just like you meet someone and the next day they are playing your mother,” Franco says. “You kind of roll with it if the scene is working. Andy was so good with the chimp behavior that it was actually pretty easy to fall into that kind of relationship.”

Recently, Letteri and Dan Lemmon, the Weta supervisor on the film, gave the Daily News an inside look at the technology.

Additional 30 Million Dollars Flows Into ‘Transformers 3’ Budget for 3D Effects

(aceshowbiz.com)                Director Michael Bay has added $30 million to “Transformers: Dark of the Moon” budget. Speaking in a recent interview, the director indicated that the cash was used to develop 3-D visual effect for the action sci-fi movie, which is slated to hit 2-D and 3-D theaters nationwide on June 29.

Although it is not easy shooting 3-D, Bay believed the visual effect worked well with his upcoming film. He said, “I don’t think everything’s right for 3-D. This was appropriate for 3-D, and it was a way to change this movie experience and a way to feel these robots. I think it worked for this picture.”

Even James Cameron, director of “Avatar”, praised the movie’s 3-D effects. “It’s pretty cool stuff. I just saw the whole picture. I like the depth. I like the fact that you’re using the 3-D aggressively and really embracing it. Like you ever do anything that’s not aggressive.”

Source;      http://www.aceshowbiz.com/news/view/00040843.html

‘Piranhaconda’ To Feature More Practical Creature FX

(badmovienite.com)               The wave of cult hybrid/genetically modified creature features continues with the Roger Corman produced Piranhaconda set to premiere on SyFy in October..

We have some behind the scene set pics from the upcoming film directed by Jim Wynorski and starring Michael Madsen and Rachel Hunter.  Pleasantly surprised that it looks like Piranhaconda will feature more practical creature FX instead of the overused crutch of CGI. 

Take a look:   http://www.badmovienite.com/?p=4776

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