VFX News – 04/20/15

George Lucas Thinks Marvel Will Remake Howard the Duck

(vanityfair.com)              Even though he’s a self-proclaimed retiree, having sold the company that bears his name for a tidy sum, George Lucas is still pretty in-tune with the trends that make Hollywood run. During an onstage conversation with Stephen Colbert at the Tribeca Film Festival, Lucas somehow wound up talking about the famous 1986 flop. The filmmakers had actually asked him for advice, Lucas revealed—after all, he was the guy who turned a little green puppet into a sage master in Star Wars. But he told them, “You can’t put a dwarf in a duck suit and make it work.” They didn’t listen, and the rest is cult movie history.

Now, however? A CGI duck—like the one that made a cameo in last summer’s Guardians of the Galaxy—could make anything possible. Lucas in almost certainly right in predicting a Howard the Duck remake, not that he’ll be the one to make it. The conversation began and ended with Lucas talking about his love for experimental films, both the ones he made as a student at USC and the ones he plans to make in his retirement. “A lot of my friends have yachts,” Lucas said. “I am just going to waste [the money I could have spent on yachts] making movies that will never make any money.”

Colbert—his white beard even bigger than Lucas’s famous one—remained as clever an interviewer as he was for those four-minute segments on The Colbert Report, successfully wrangling Lucas away from his preferred rambling anecdotes. Colbert would ask a direct question, like trying to verify the rumored THX-1138 Easter Egg in all of Lucas’s movies, and Lucas would tell a ten-minute story about his battles with the studio while making American Graffiti. Eventually Colbert started Cliffs Notes-ing Lucas’s long answers, summing up the director’s advice to an aspiring filmmaker in the audience with “I can translate that: go to Hollywood and suffer.” Then again, Lucas wasn’t bad at summarizing his own stories either; he ended a tale about how he became the sole owner of the rights to Star Wars with “And that’s how I got rich.”

Lucas came prepared with plenty of damning stories about nameless studio execs—they cut five minutes out of THX 1138, wanted to release American Graffiti on television, and apparently weren’t even that crazy about Star Wars. As it turns out, even some of his filmmaker pals didn’t get it either—when Lucas showed them an early cut, Brian de Palma apparently said, “What the hell is the Force?” Only Steven Spielberg, Lucas’s longtime partner in crime, saw the future: “Steven jumped up and said ‘This is going to be the biggest movie of all time.’ And everyone said, ‘Oh, poor Steven.’ ”

It wouldn’t be the last time someone judged Lucas’s taste, and he seems well aware of it. Colbert is far too polite to bring up anything like “George Lucas raped my childhood” or the like, but Lucas was well-prepared with jabs at himself (“I’m famous for wooden dialogue,” to which Colbert retorted “It’s not wooden, it’s hand-crafted”) and another detailed explanation of why he digitally altered the original Star Wars trilogy for re-release in the late 90s.

Whether or not Lucas was annoyed by, or even aware of, J.J. Abrams’s comments about returning Star Wars to the very “retro feel” Lucas was trying to erase with those digital updates, wasn’t clear. The director was nothing but complimentary, if a little distant, when asked about the upcoming Star Wars: The Force Awakens, claiming several times to not even know what the story would be and wishing JAbrams and company all the best. He hasn’t even watched yesterday’s big trailer, though he saw it being mentioned on the news.

But, as was obvious with that Howard the Duck crack, Lucas is no lion in winter, slinking away from the entertainment industry he utterly transformed in 1977. If anything, stepping away from Star Wars will only allow him to invest in the world the way the rest of us have all these years. “The one thing I regretted about Star Wars is I never got to see it,” Lucas said. “I never got that thrill.”

Captain America: Civil War Will Be Shot in IMAX

(denofgeek.us)             Captain America: Civil War is the first Marvel movie to be shot in IMAX…and also the first narrative movie to use digital IMAX cameras.

Well it’s official, if you want your superhero throwdown to be epic these days, you better unpack the IMAX cameras….but perhaps not the ones you’d expect.

Little over a month after Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice takes IMAX screens by storm, you’ll quickly be able to see Captain America, Spider-Man, and Iron Man in full IMAX glory for the first time with Captain America: Civil War. However, Civil War will also be the first major production to utilize IMAX’s new 2D Digital Arri Cameras—not the 70mm format that has made IMAX famous.

The news was released Monday via Variety, where Joe and Anthony Russo talked about being the first filmmakers to fully utilize the new IMAX-specific lens from Arri, a camera manufacturer based in Germany.

“[Digital] allows us to keep rolling and do multiple takes while keeping the energy up,” Joe Russo said in a statement. “Our motto is you can only build a film with what you bring into the editing room, and we like to bring as much as we can.”

In many respects, this turns Captain America: Civil War into its own historic milestone since it will be the first narrative feature released in which IMAX’s closely guarded (and coveted) cameras will be made to record a digital image.

Indeed, it almost seems counterintuitive to the entire pretense of directors beginning to shoot select scenes in IMAX, which was introduced to audiences and filmmakers by celluloid purist Christopher Nolan on the production of The Dark Knight. Nolan has continued to use the 65mm cameras for larger and larger portions of later blockbusters with The Dark Knight Rises and Interstellar, which has also led to other filmmakers to follow suit, including Brad Bird on Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol, Francis Lawrence on The Hunger Games: Catching Fire, and J.J. Abrams on Star Trek Into Darkness and Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

How much of Captain America: Civil War will be produced on the Arri 2D remains to be seen, but it may be the most complete film to be released in an IMAX format. Yet, if it doesn’t have the highest resolution and tangibility of film grain that made the approach such an event in The Dark Knight, I remain weary to call it “IMAX.” However, it is certainly another harbinger of the digital revolution and film’s demise when the IMAX company is starting to rely on digital cameras, as well as apparently being at work at producing digital 3D IMAX cameras for the future…

Johnny Depp’s a No Show for Pirates of the Caribbean Filming

(tv3.ie)        The 51-year-old actor was due to return to Australia last week ahead of filming resuming today (20.04.15), but insiders claim he has failed to fly back from Los Angeles, meaning production on the movie has been reshuffled so they can work without him.

A source told the Gold Coast Bulletin: ”Everyone’s hoping they have managed to get him on another flight.

”But he still hadn’t hopped on a plane on Friday morning, which means production will already be running behind when principal photography starts again. Even if he managed to fly out over the weekend, the delay has forced the directors to change their shot lists for the week. They’ve had to rearrange what they can and can’t shoot before filming.”

Filming on the blockbuster was halted when Johnny returned to the US for treatment last month after he injured his hand, reportedly after hitting a glass door during a heated conversation with wife Amber Heard.

Despite the claims, a movie spokesperson insists filming is going ahead as planned while the actor continues to recover from surgery on his hand.

The spokesperson told Australia’s Sydney Morning Herald newspaper: ”Johnny Depp is on schedule for what and when he is required to film. He’s been in recuperation from the surgery and I’m assuming it’s coming along extremely well. The next step is for us to continue making a fifth edition to one of the most popular franchises in film history.”

And the Oscar Goes to … London. Visual Effects, High Tech and the Future of Cinema

(huffingtonpost.co.uk)              Napoleon famously said Britain is a nation of shopkeepers. If he were to visit any cinema today, he’d probably come to a different conclusion: the UK, and London in particular, has become the go-to centre for computer-generated special effects.

Only 10 years ago there were maybe 1,000 people working in the visual effects (VFX) industry in the UK. Today, that figure has grown about sixfold.

In March, visual effects studio Double Negative won the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects for its work on the science-fiction epic Interstellar. This marks the fourth time in the past eight years that a London-based studio has taken home the award.

Gravity, Inception, Benjamin Button, Batman and the Harry Potter films were all buffed and polished to perfection in London. VFX houses like Double Negative, Framestore, Cinesite, The Mill and MPC are becoming household names.

Generous tax breaks make the UK a cost-effective option for filmmakers. But it’s the unarguable talent – and their embrace of technology – that has made London a sure-fire guarantee of quality.

The Tech Behind the Visual Magic

The graphics cards at the heart of this tech were originally developed to drive bleeding-edge 3D graphics in video games but, over the last decade, they’ve been fine-tuned to power the incredible number of pixels and particles that make up the spectacular effects in cinema’s biggest blockbusters.

Behind the glamour of Hollywood awards, it’s innovation in less-than-sexy areas like IT infrastructure that are quietly revolutionizing the VFX business. Case in point: IBM announced this February that Sohonet has chosen data centre services from its Softlayer cloud services subsidiary.

This may not mean much to the average cinema-goer, but the Sohonet Media Network is used by the media and entertainment industry to connect studios, production and post-production facilities across the globe via high-speed cloud networks.

The VFX industry is also embracing virtualisation technology and cloud computing because they allow studios to quickly scale up during busy periods, without overinvesting in physical workstations. And they add another layer of security by keeping confidential work in the data centre.

The bottom line of this attention to the latest technology is a stronger UK VFX industry, and even more popcorn-spilling thrills for movie fans.

VR: The Next Frontier in Filmmaking

The UK VFX industry’s track record of success not only entertains, but influences and inspires. The new London office of Lucasfilm’s Industrial Light & Magic is currently working on the highly anticipated sequels Avengers: Age of Ultron and Star Wars: Episode VII.

London’s blend of artistic excellence and technical know-how may further prove its value as Hollywood places its bet on the next game-changing technology: virtual reality, or VR.

3-D, the last major innovation in filmmaking, failed to have the desired impact at box offices, despite the notable success of films such as Avatar and Framestore’s Gravity. Box office takings dropped 2.9 per cent, or around £34million, from 2013 to 2014 in the UK and Ireland.

Now there’s hope that VR will be able to do what 3-D couldn’t: reignite people’s excitement about going to the cinema.

Oculus – the biggest name in VR technology – is making waves in the entertainment industry with Story Studio, the company’s new in-house film and game developer collective. Story Studio is exploring and sharing tools and techniques designed to help people craft entertainment experiences within VR. And it marks a shift in focus by Oculus away from purely gaming, at least in the short term.

Lost, Story Studio’s first attempt at a VR short film, was released in January and became the subject of considerable buzz from the media who were lucky enough to see it first-hand. With plans to release four more VR cinema experiences this year, the studio clearly has exciting plans for the future.

I, for one, can’t wait to see their work hit the local Odeon … but only after they’ve first passed through the safe hands of one of the UK’s top VFX studios.

Star Wars Behind the Scenes: The Live Motion Capture Future

(slashgear.com)                Today we’re taking a peek at how Star Wars is being made. The creation process, you’ll find, isn’t all that different from how video games are made. Video games like Star Wars 1313. Even though J.J. Abrams has assured the public time and time again that practical effects are king in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, we’ve got reason to believe that this doesn’t necessarily mean that everything is as it seems –here we’ll also be explaining why that’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Back this March, we attended a conference called GTC – this is a graphics conference hosted by NVIDIA, a company that makes graphics processors (amongst other things). At this conference, NVIDIA CEO Jen-Hsun Huang made clear that Lucasfilm was using NVIDIA technology to make the next Star Wars movie.

“I’ll create any technology that helps them make Star Wars faster,” joked Huang at the conference.

Lucasfilm followed up on Huang’s comments. “To create the most immersive and visually exciting imagery imaginable,” said Lucasfilm Principal Engineer Lutz Latta, “Lucasfilm artists and developers need optimal graphics performance and GPU power.”

Onstage, Huang stood in front of a slide which showed R2-D2 and C-3P0 on a desert environment that looked quite similar to what we thought at the time was Tatooine.

It was revealed to us at that time by an official at Industrial Light and Magic that “The R2/3PO image is not from any Star Wars film, it was simply a test.”

We later discovered that this test originated at BAFTA 2013. Via the Inquirer, we learned that Lucasfilm chief technology strategy officer Kim Libreri spoke about how “developments in computer graphics have meant Lucasfilm has been able to transfer its techniques to film-making, shifting video game assets into movie production.”

Full article:  http://www.slashgear.com/star-wars-behind-the-scenes-the-live-motion-capture-future-17379718/

VR Experience “Back to Dinosaur Island” Confirmed By Crytek For Two Events

(vrfocus.com)               Fatih Özbayram, producer at videogame developer Crytek confirmed at the weekend via Twitter that virtual reality (VR) experience Back To Dinosaur Island will be coming to two additional events in Germany. The demo which wowed crowds at GDC 2015 (as well impressing us) and that is set to be developed by Crytek into a full AAA videogame, was confirmed for both Quo Vadis and FMX 2015.

Berlin-based Quo Vadis 2015 first took place in 2003 and is Europe’s longest standing video game conference. This year it will be open from Tuesday April 21st for two days through to April 22nd.

Additionally, Back to Dinosaur Island will be a part of the twentieth annual FMX conference on animation, effects, games and transmedia. Taking place in Stuttgart over May 5th-8th, the event will include talks by VR pioneer Mark Bolas and major digital players such as Walt Disney Studios and Weta Digital as well as a specific talk on ‘Virtual Reality Developments at Crytek’ presented by CRYENGINE Creative Director Frank Vitz in which Back to Dinosaur Island is guaranteed to play a major role.

VRFocus will continue to bring you developments from Crytek as they continue to push their VR development.

Sony Working with Simon Cowell on a New Animated Film Called ‘Finn’

(businessinsider.com)              Sony Pictures may be working with Simon Cowell on a new animated feature film called “Finn,” according to a series of leaked Sony emails published online by Wikileaks.

The film was “officially a project” at Sony Pictures as of June 2014. Since these emails were written almost a year ago, plans for the film may have changed since then.

In an email written by Syco Entertainment senior vice president Adam Milano to then Sony Pictures co-chairwoman Amy Pascal on June 6th, 2014, Milano writes “Sorry I missed you. I was just calling to say we are VERY excited that Finn is officially a project with you guys.”

Milano also writes that “Simon [is] extremely happy” and that “we’re going to go turn this into Happy Feet,” referencing the smash 2006 animated film about a penguin, which won the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature.

In an email dated September 23rd, 2014 labeled “Note from Simon” sent by Syco Entertainment executive assistant Olivia Newhouse to Amy Pascal, Newhouse relays a thank-you note written by Cowell.

“We love the writers and I think what they have done is really clever. Momentum seems the key now because this is such a good original and timely idea … I can make these ideas work with your support. I did it with music and then TV and now I believe films.”

While the film’s name “Finn” and Milano’s comparison to “Happy Feet” suggests the movie could involve a bird or penguin of some sort, no further details about the plot or characters of the project have been revealed.

Film Technician Injured in Fireworks Blast Sues Weta

(stuff.co.nz)              Kiwi film heavyweight Weta Digital is facing a $1 million lawsuit after a film technician suffered horrific injuries during a booze-fuelled fireworks party.

The Wellington-based film studio, which has helped produced four of the top 10 grossing films of all time, is accused of negligence for injuries sustained by production assistant Carmen Acosta during a break from filming in New Orleans.

After a day’s filming Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, a Weta crew including Acosta and New Zealander Ants Farrell returned to their downtown hotel.

The group had bought fireworks to let off on the roof of the Residence Inn Hotel during a boozy Fourth of July party in 2013.

Court documents lodged with the District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana claim Farrell, a veteran of more than two dozen films, came up behind Acosta and ignited the firework with a lighter as she was holding it.

“When the plaintiff realised the firework had been lit, she attempted to put the firework on the ground when it suddenly exploded in her hands throwing her down to the ground.”

The accident caused serious injury to Acosta, a California-based film technician, leaving her with a broken finger, a fractured wrist, fractured fingers and massive lacerations to her hands.

Acosta suffers “mental pain and anguish” from the incident and has physical pain constantly in her hands.

The court has been told that although the roof of the Residence Inn was supposedly off-limits, the production team had numerous parties with alcohol on the roof over the month  before July 4.

Acosta claims Weta Digital is liable through the “long-arm statute”, which allows for US courts to claim damages from overseas businesses.

Her lawyers claim Weta and Farrell failed to exercise reasonable care while handling an unreasonably dangerous device . Acosta is also suing the hotel for failing to stop them going to the roof.

Lawyers acting for Acosta served Weta Digital and Farrell at its Wellington offices in June last year, seeking substantial damages understood to be more than $1 million.

Weta responded by saying Acosta’s lawyers had failed to follow proper process, and the petition for damages should have gone through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Chief operating officer David Wright said Weta had forwarded the envelope addressed to Farrell to an address in the United Kingdom.

The case is expected to go before a jury, which could be responsible for awarding damages.

Farrell has worked on all six of the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit films, as well as King Kong and What We Do in the Shadows, as an electrician and lighting technician.

Weta Digital was co-founded by Sir Peter Jackson, and has won five visual effects Oscars. It’s most recent film, Fast and the Furious 7, is topping box offices around the world.

Earlier this week,  a worker on Jackson’s Anzac exhibition had his palm ripped out and lost a thumb in a “spindle monster” accident.

And in 2012, Weta Workshop forced firefighters to sign confidentiality agreements after a fire injured two workers at Wellington’s Stone Street Studios. One suffered burns to his nose and face after flames engulfed his head, and another worker burned his hand beating out the flames.

E3 2015 Unveils the Future of Video Games

(venturebeat.com)            The video game industry’s influence will be on display once again at E3 2015 in Los Angeles from June 16 to June 18. As the world’s premier trade show for computer, video, and mobile games, E3 is more than just a launch pad for industry-defining hardware and software. It also brings together tens of thousands of the best, brightest, and most innovative professionals in the interactive-entertainment industry, serving up games, peripherals, and new platforms. Games — and the gaming industry — have evolved tremendously in the past several years. With the explosive growth of gaming on mobile devices, the video game experience has naturally been brought to a much broader and diverse audience.

The changing face of gamers

Today’s video games provide rich, engaging entertainment across all platforms and have evolved into a true mass market with 59 percent of Americans actively playing along, according to a report released by the Entertainment Software Association (ESA), owners of E3*. In a sign of the industry’s continuing maturation, the average gamer is a 31-year-old adult who’s been playing for at least 14 years. The ESA also reports that nearly half (48 percent) of all gamers are female, and women over the age of 18 represent a significantly greater portion of the game-playing population (36 percent) than boys age 18 or younger (17 percent).

The console wars get mobilized

While PCs and video game consoles still reign among hardcore players, the industry has broadened its platform footprint significantly over the years to include smartphones and cloud gaming, among other innovative advancements. ESA’s report shows 44 percent of gamers play games on their smartphone, and 33 percent play on their wireless devices (e.g. iPad, laptop).

An American event with global implications

Video games continue to be a strong engine for economic growth. According to The NPD Group, computer and video game companies directly and indirectly employ more than 146,000 people across the U.S. In addition, from 2009 to 2012, the U.S. video game industry increased in size by more than 9 percent — four times the growth rate of the U.S. economy during the same period.

As the single most important event for international interactive-entertainment companies seeking to do business in North America, E3 gives European and Asian publishers, developers, and attendees an opportunity to maximize their own internal investments to a broader audience. As in prior years, what happens at E3 2015 will directly impact the future of the international gaming market.

More than the bottom line

Beyond engaging entertainment, video games help drive societal advancements. A study conducted at East Carolina University found a 57 percent decrease in depressive symptoms among those who played casual video games. North Carolina State University also released a study showing that gaming helps keep a grandparent’s brain limber as games challenge responses, concentration, and creativity. On the education front, ESA’s research found that 70 percent of teachers who use games in their classroom noted that they increased students’ motivation and engagement levels.

With the advent of smart TVs with large HD screens and surround sound audio, video games have found a special place in the center of the living room. What was once relegated to bedrooms, basements, and play rooms, video games are now a source of family entertainment. ESA’s report found that the majority of parents (56 percent) interviewed said video games are a positive part of their child’s life, while 88 percent think that gameplay is fun for the whole family, and 75 percent believe playing games offers a good opportunity to connect with their child.

Looking ahead

As E3 2015 comes closer, it is clear that the video game industry, with its impact on the economy, culture, entertainment, education, and the family dynamic, continues to play an ever-important role in our lives.

Mixing It Up: The Effects of the New Thunderbirds

(fxguide.com)              Reimagining Thunderbirds without puppets and with CG was always going to be a tough task. But production companies ITV Studios and Pukeko Pictures have, in the new Thunderbirds Are Go, sought to capture the essence of the original 1960s series by incorporating live action miniature sets into the fold – built by Weta Workshop no less. Added to that were practical elements such as water, smoke and dust that would help integrate the sets with CG characters and vehicles. We find out from the team behind the show how it was all made.x

Planning and previs

Filming Tracy Island.

Since the show is achieved with a combination of live action models and CGI, one of the early considerations in making Thunderbirds Are Go involved breaking down how shots and sequences would be achieved. “We went through the scripts and decided what sort of action a set needed to do,” explains production designer Ben Milsom. “From that we decided what should be a miniature and what should be digital. Most exteriors, especially organic environments, were done as a scale miniature – because you got a huge amount of detail out of them. The miniature would always read so well as a physical model, whereas the CG world was used in better areas such as interiors, vehicles and characters.”

“Whether it was a miniature or CG,” adds Milsom, “it was always trying to maintain a style and an aesthetic regardless of whether it was CG or miniature. Then we’d tie the two together as well as we could.”

A miniature landscape.

Weta Workshop, which built the miniature sets, contributed 2D artwork and concept designs for the environments and crafts. Milsom oversaw further concept design and artwork that then moved into a rough CG modeling phase, led by models and assets supervisor Sven Trotter. “I’d then take a CG model to one of my artists and we’d do a paint over and do a keyframe,” says Milsom, “and put it into an environment that’s telling the story of that episode – so you’re seeing that craft doing what it’s supposed to be doing.”

Airport miniature.

Similarly, maquettes for the miniature sets would be constructed to rough out the final look and those would also be turned into CG previs versions, allowing artists to work out camera moves and also decide on what scale the final sets should be built. “All the assets are created in the previs world, then the episode is previs’d with exactly the right dimensions so we know all the shots are achievable,” explains Milsom. “That previs or miniature is placed into the correct shooting stage so we know exactly where it’s going to sit on the shooting stage and how it’s going to be shot and where the camera will be placed. It’s almost like a virtual rehearsal.”

Making miniatures

Thunderbirds HQ.

From the maquettes, Milsom would then put together a briefing package for Weta Workshop. “I’d give them my maquette, the dimensions of the set, the previs shots, tons of reference, so say we were building a landing strip in the desert I’d find photographs, the type of sand and everything they needed.”

Hangar miniature.

Some of the most significant Weta miniatures included Tracy Island, hangar areas and an underwater sea lab that required remote control. Tracy Island, for example, was built at twelfth scale and was surrounded by real water. “It was the very first miniature we filmed,” notes Milsom. “We finished the island and then we built a huge tank around the island for the site with an infinity edge, so the water was constantly overflowing and they were pumping that into the tank, so that you got that horizon beyond the island. Considering the size of our stage, we did pretty well to achieve that edge.”

Source with images:    http://www.fxguide.com/featured/mixing-it-up-the-effects-of-the-new-thunderbirds/

Studio Ghibli’s When Marnie Was There Could Be Its Last Film

(gameinformer.com)                 Studio Ghibli has a relationship with the video game industry, whether it’s simply a matter of influence, or as is the case with Ni No Kuni: Wrath Of The White Witch, a direct partnership. It’s newest film, When Marnie Was There, is significant because there is a possibility it may be the studio’s last film.

The film released in Japan last year and is getting localized for North America this summer, which is what you will see in the trailer below.

The studio’s most notable director, Hayao Miyazaki, retired recently after releasing The Wind Rises, and it currently has no other films in production as it pauses to re-assess its goals. It’s unclear what’s in store for the studio’s future.

Alongside Ni No Kuni: Wrath Of The White Witch, Studio Ghibli was also involved in the PlayStation 2 game Magic Pengel: The Quest for Color. Films like Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind also served as an important influence on elements of the Final Fantasy series (the airships, specifically). Castle in the Sky also influenced games like The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, and most recently, Professor Layton and the Azran Legacy.

For more on the Studio Ghibli and video game industry overlap, head here for an interview with Level-5 President Akihiro Hino about working with Ghibli. You can also head here for a story about our visit to the Studio Ghibli museum while in Japan for Tokyo Game Show last year.


Matte Shot – A Tribute to Golden Era Special FX

(nzpetesmatteshot.blogspot.co.nz)              I had fully intended to have my career tribute article on matte exponents Ken Marschall and Bruce Block ready to roll for this final issue of Matte Shot for 2014, however it will be a little delayed as Ken uncovers and photographs more of his glorious matte art and old 35mm before and after clips that he feels will be of interest to me and my readers.  With that being the unavoidable case I had the option of just hanging on and waiting it out, or, being the impatient, now or never, go for broke type of fellow that I am I decided to assemble a ‘fill in’ article just so special effects fans won’t feel ‘hard done by’… and although it’s somewhat off tangent, I’m fairly sure most of you will approve and enjoy the following chronology and pictorial album of the next best special effect after matte art … the miniature.

I’ve been planning this retrospective on model work for a few years and wasn’t sure how or when to include it.  The site’s called Matte Shot for a reason as that medium has always been my lifes blood, as it were.  However, ever since I was a youngster I’ve been equally mesmerised by the use of the model, or miniatures if you prefer, in motion picture trick shots for as long as I can remember. I feel that miniatures – as with traditionally painted mattes – are the purest of the whole all encompassing realm of special effects with their success being to a considerable extent the result of – as much as anything else – the gut instinct and ‘eye’ of the miniatures exponent.

Miniature ships from NICHOLAS NICKLEBY (1947)
I vividly recall building model towns and ‘sets’ as a 11 year old and photographing these with a cheap Kodak Instamatic camera which had absolutely no control whatsoever over focus or aperture. A few years later when I was 13 or 14 my Dad bought me a Canon FTb SLR (still got it), and although it was still just static images, the leap forward was amazing.  I clearly recall trying to achieve maximum depth of field by ‘shooting’ model tanks, planes, war type set ups outdoors in bright sunlight and stopping the 35mm focal length lens down as far as I could to f22 if possible.  Then came the phase brought about upon seeing EARTHQUAKE on it’s first day in 1974 (in 70mm and Sensurround!!!) where the only good miniature was one which burned, swayed, collapsed or was deluged in a torrent of water.  So came the era where my model trains and crudely constructed buildings were purposely wrecked in glorious Agfa Colour 36 exposure still photos.

A landmark step up came about in 1977 when high school mates and myself at Mount Roskill Grammar School got together with a Super 8mm Elmo camera and made our own amateur disaster picture.  Lots of bad miniatures made out of small Plaster of Paris ‘bricks’ and toy cars, fires which were always way too big for the quite small models, some improvised pyrotechnics which were hair raising to say the least – which included setting a friend on fire and pulling apart fire crackers and making newer, more lethal squibs with the contents – as well as some haphazardly backwound split screen matte shots and superimposed flames which rarely ever stayed in register.  As with most similar projects, our imaginations far exceeded our pocket money and our ability, with this epic (titled 1984 after the David Bowie song which we stole for the titles and was our notion of when the world would be destroyed by a bloody big earthquake!) – It was never finished as is so often the case with these things.  But fun it sure was!

A.Arnold ‘Buddy’ Gillespie in the miniatures tank for BEN HUR (1959)
So, with that misguided amateur enterprise aside, let us take a look at some of the wonderful moments of miniature magic – and the technicians who created them.  I have a lot of material so depending upon the response to this article I just may well do a follow up article in due course.
As things turn out, a high proportion of miniature effects tended to be utilised in war films over and above any other genre, so it won’t be a surprise to the reader that a large number of said shots are featured here today. Some you’ve seen before, though many I’ve never seen anywhere else, so the miniature maniacs among you are in for a treat.  Some of the familiar ones I’ve upgraded with BluRay images and they look sensational.  I’ve also included some great behind the scenes photos here which are very, very rare.

One thing we should note, sadly, is the apparent demise of the motion picture miniature as a viable special effect.  Now correct me if I’m wrong, but it seems to me that it’s all gone the way of glass matte art into the garbage bin as more and more (and more!) cinematic illusions are solely the domain of the MacIntosh computer.  I was horrified when I learned that WETA workshop here in NZ had mothballed it’s vast model department a few years back and laid off all of those skilled model makers only to have all such work conceived as digital environments (gee I hate that term) henceforth.  My hopes were raised a little when I recently read that Richard Taylor’s WETA will be making the all new THUNDERBIRDS television series and I understand actual, genuine models will be utilised!  Can’t wait to see that, but they’d better not screw around with the designs and look of the original craft and vehicles or I’ll get very upset.
Robert and Dennis Skotak provide jarring nuclear devastation for TERMINATOR 2 – JUDGEMENT DAY (1991)

*I’d like to take this moment to acknowledge the kind generosity of Robert Welch, who’s grandfather A.Arnold Gillespie thrilled us for decades at MGM as the foremost miniature expert in Hollywood.  I am most grateful to Robert for allowing me (once again) full access to Buddy’s extensive archive of photos, many of which are reproduced here.  Of course, for a full lowdown on Buddy Gillespie’s extraordinary career I strongly recommend the wonderful memoir The Wizard of MGM, which is essential reading and is available from Amazon.com
*I must also make mention of David Coker, whose grandfather Filippo Guidobaldi was the highly regarded models and special processes wizard of the British film industry for many years.  His is a most fascinating story in itself and I am very grateful to David for sharing some amazing stories and terrific never before seen photographs with me from the old Gaumont Lime Grove and Rank special effects departments.

LET’S MEET THE MINIATURISTS:

Full article with pics:     http://www.nzpetesmatteshot.blogspot.co.nz/2014/12/magicians-of-miniature.html

Happy Birthday! Andy Serkis Turns 51 Today

(comicbook.com)            Today is actor Andy Serkis’ birthday.

As Hollywood’s leading motion-capture actor, Serkis gained the world’s attention when he played Gollum in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy. As the man who made  “Precious” such a fun word to say, Serkis played Gollum in every Lord of the Rings film and The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.

Serkis also gave a critically lauded performance in the revived Planet of the Apes franchise, playing Caesar in Rise of the Planet of the Apes and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. He also played Captain Haddock in The Adventures of Tin Tin and Kong in Peter Jackson’s King Kong.

Fans can look forward to seeing Serkis in two of this year’s biggest films. He will play villain Ulysses Klaue in Avengers: Age of Ultron, and an undisclosed role in Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens.

Born in London, England, Serkis turns 51 years old today. Happy Birthday, Andy Serkis.

Captain America 2 Vfx Breakdown by BaseFX

VIDEO – Take a look:   http://forums.cgsociety.org/showthread.php?f=59&t=1271804

MIT’s Picture Language Could Be Worth a Thousand Lines of Code

(pcadvisor.co.uk)           Now that machine-learning algorithms are moving into mainstream computing, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology is preparing a way to make it easier to use the technique in everyday programming.

In June, MIT researchers will present a new programming language, called Picture, that could radically reduce the amount of coding needed to help computers recognize objects in images and video. It is a prototype of how a relatively novel form of programming, called probabilistic programming, could reduce the amount of code needed for such complex tasks.

In one test of the new language, the researchers were able to cut thousands of lines of code in one image recognition program down to fewer than 50. They plan to present the results at the Computer Vision and Pattern Recognition conference in June

With probabilistic programming, “we’re building models of what faces look like in general, and use them to make pretty good guesses about what face we’re seeing for the first time,” said Josh Tenenbaum, an MIT professor of computational cognitive science who assisted in the work.

Picture uses statistical inference to cut away much of the basic computational work needed for computer vision. It works much like the inverse to computer animation. Computer graphics programs, such as those used by Pixar and other animation companies, make two-dimensional representations of three-dimensional objects, given a relatively small amount of instruction from programmers. The Picture language works in the opposite direction. It can recognize an object within a two-dimensional image by comparing it to a set of models of what the objects could be.

The work stems from a program that the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency launched in 2013 to develop probabilistic programming languages to further facilitate the use of machine learning.

Although an academic pursuit for decades, machine learning is quickly becoming a feasible technique for commercial use, thanks to more powerful computers and new cloud machine learning services offered by Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure.

Although probabilistic programming does not require machine learning to work, it can provide a way to streamline the use of machine learning, Tenenbaum said.

“In pure machine learning, you drive performance increases by just collecting more and more data and just letting machine learning do the work,” Tenenbaum said. In probabilistic programming, “the underlying system is more knowledge-based, using the causal process of how images are formed,” Tenenbaum said.

Picture is one of a number of different probabilistic programming languages that MIT is currently working on. Another, more general-use, probabilistic programming language from the team, called Venture, can be used to solve other kinds of problems, Tenenbaum said.