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January 31, 2006

Best Visual Effects Oscar Nominations

for the 78th Academy Awards...

Achievement in visual effects:

“The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” (Buena Vista)
Dean Wright, Bill Westenhofer, Jim Berney and Scott Farrar
“King Kong” (Universal)
Joe Letteri, Brian Van’t Hul, Christian Rivers and Richard Taylor
“War of the Worlds” (Paramount and DreamWorks)
Dennis Muren, Pablo Helman, Randy Dutra and Daniel Sudick

my thoughts on this soon... ok, so as a shock to me Episode III did not make the short list, but this is a good thing. The amount of work in EPIII is jaw dropping and it looked amazing, but I thought it would be another ILM show because I knew War of the Worlds would make it in there as well. Anyhow, it it's going to be beast vs beast vs alien, and this year was a tough decision from the long list, there were so many great films for vfx, seamless and grand spectacles.

If it's seamless overall War of the Worlds should get it, but Kong's vfx shot count and the accomplishment of King Kong (the silverback gorilla) by itself deserves the gold, let alone the numerous other visual effect sequences, but not all of it was seamless by far... same can be said for Narnia, there was some good work and some rough work. Aslan the Lion looked damn fine indeed, but the look of the beavers was a bit dodgy, even though the animation was grrreat! The work Weta Workshop did was fantastic, but overall It did well in the box office but I don't see it winning the golden man, I can't say Kong vs WotW are 2 vfx films from different worlds both achievments in their own right but it's gotta be KONG!

check out the complete list of nominees...


(variety) This year's visual effects nominations prove the Academy
can be a coldhearted place.

It was the last chance to honor "Star Wars," the franchise that all but
invented the modern visual effects blockbuster and helped create the modern
vfx industry. But the effects branch put sentiment aside and went with "The
Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe," "King Kong" and
"War of the Worlds."

This year, it seems, the branch favored films in which vfx make an emotional
contribution to the story, particularly with CG characters such as Kong and
the lion Aslan. Without such a character, "War of the Worlds" may be at a
disadvantage, even though it emerged from the summer blockbuster season with
the most buzz for its vfx work.

The clip reel shown to the effects branch at the "bake-off" was stunning,
and its alien tripods are terrifying. The choice to stick close to the
hero's point of view makes them even more disturbing.

"Narnia" boasts some remarkably lifelike animal animation, from the lion
Aslan to the talking beavers and wolves to its fantasy beasts. The ability
of those animals to hold the screen opposite live actors weighs in its

"King Kong," though, boasts the CG performance of the year. Its eponymous
star combines facial performance capture (by thesp Andy Serkis) and detailed
hand animation. Kong holds his own as an actual character opposite Naomi
Watts and can bring a tear to all but the flintiest hearts. That's likely to
impress the general membership.

When it comes down to the final tally, the finer points of vfx technology
don't matter much. With many Academy members watching the movies on DVD, and
with relatively few of them possessing an educated eye for vfx, it's more
important whether the general membership likes the movie.

There's no obvious favorite among these three. "Narnia" is the biggest hit,
but there's grumbling that its vfx were uneven. "Kong" is too long and
didn't quite catch fire. The "War of the Worlds" story fizzles, and Tom
Cruise has become a distraction.

The race will come down to whether the Acad cries for Kong. Every tear shed
tips the scales his way. If their eyes are dry, "Narnia" could win on sheer

The Chronicles of Narnia
Dean Wright, Bill Westenhofer, Jim Berney and Scott Farrar

Oscar pedigree: Farrar, "Cocoon" win (1985)
Current kudos: Broadcast Crix (family film win), BAFTA (noms), VES (noms)
Why it'll win: "Narnia" is the biggest hit and most likable nominee.
Why it won't: It contains very uneven vfx work, with many weak shots.

King Kong Joe Letteri, Brian Van't Hul, Christian Rivers and Richard Taylor

Oscar pedigree: Taylor, 4 Oscars; Letteri, 2 Oscars
Current kudos: Visual Effects Society (noms), BAFTA (noms), Toronto Crix
(special award for Andy Serkis)
Why it'll win: This remake has more and better dinosaurs than "Jurassic
Park," a gorgeous New York and that heartbreaking ape.
Why it won't: This remake is too long and not quite the hit it was supposed
to be.

War of the Worlds
Dennis Muren, Pablo Helman, Randal M. Dutra and Daniel Sudick

Oscar pedigree: Muren, 7 Oscars
Current kudos: VES (noms)
Why it'll win: Terrifying f/x are used in creative, unusual ways.
Why it won't: The vfx are better than the movie, which lacks passionate

Posted by dschnee at 8:13 AM

January 24, 2006

Disney to Acquire Pixar

Pixar Press Release

Pixar went for $7.4 billion buzz lightyears! geeez.

see also:

Toy Story 3 is no longer being made by the Circle 7 crew at Walt Disney Feature Animation... and if it will be, it will be done by Pixar.

"With this transaction, we welcome and embrace Pixar's unique culture, which for two decades, has fostered some of the most innovative and successful films in history. The talented Pixar team has delivered outstanding animation coupled with compelling stories and enduring characters that have captivated audiences of all ages worldwide and redefined the genre by setting a new standard of excellence," Iger said. "The addition of Pixar significantly enhances Disney animation, which is a critical creative engine for driving growth across our businesses. This investment significantly advances our strategic priorities, which include - first and foremost - delivering high-quality, compelling creative content to consumers, the application of new technology and global expansion to drive long-term shareholder value."

see also: Disney buying Pixar for $7.4 billion from the hollywood reporter.com

Disney to Acquire Pixar
Long-time Creative Partners Form New Worldwide Leader in Quality Family Entertainment
Ed Catmull Named President of the Combined Pixar and Disney Animation Studios and John Lasseter Named Chief Creative Officer; Steve Jobs to Join Disney's Board of Directors
Disney Increases Stock Repurchase Authorization

Burbank, CA and Emeryville, CA (January 24, 2006) – Furthering its strategy of delivering outstanding creative content, Robert A. Iger, President and Chief Executive Officer of The Walt Disney Company (NYSE: DIS), announced today that Disney has agreed to acquire computer animation leader Pixar (NASDAQ: PIXR) in an all-stock transaction, expected to be completed by this summer. Under terms of the agreement, 2.3 Disney shares will be issued for each Pixar share. Based on Pixar's fully diluted shares outstanding, the transaction value is $7.4 billion ($6.3 billion net of Pixar's cash of just over $1 billion).*

This acquisition combines Pixar's preeminent creative and technological resources with Disney's unparalleled portfolio of world-class family entertainment, characters, theme parks and other franchises, resulting in vast potential for new landmark creative output and technological innovation that can fuel future growth across Disney's businesses. Garnering an impressive 20 Academy Awards, Pixar's creative team and global box office success have made it a leader in quality family entertainment through incomparable storytelling abilities, creative vision and innovative technical artistry.

"With this transaction, we welcome and embrace Pixar's unique culture, which for two decades, has fostered some of the most innovative and successful films in history. The talented Pixar team has delivered outstanding animation coupled with compelling stories and enduring characters that have captivated audiences of all ages worldwide and redefined the genre by setting a new standard of excellence," Iger said. "The addition of Pixar significantly enhances Disney animation, which is a critical creative engine for driving growth across our businesses. This investment significantly advances our strategic priorities, which include - first and foremost - delivering high-quality, compelling creative content to consumers, the application of new technology and global expansion to drive long-term shareholder value."

Pixar President Ed Catmull will serve as President of the new Pixar and Disney animation studios, reporting to Iger and Dick Cook, Chairman of The Walt Disney Studios. In addition, Pixar Executive Vice President John Lasseter will be Chief Creative Officer of the animation studios, as well as Principal Creative Advisor at Walt Disney Imagineering, where he will provide his expertise in the design of new attractions for Disney theme parks around the world, reporting directly to Iger. Pixar Chairman and CEO Steve Jobs will be appointed to Disney's Board of Directors as a non-independent member. With the addition of Jobs, 11 of Disney's 14 directors will be independent. Both Disney and Pixar animation units will retain their current operations and locations.

"Disney and Pixar can now collaborate without the barriers that come from two different companies with two different sets of shareholders," said Jobs. "Now, everyone can focus on what is most important, creating innovative stories, characters and films that delight millions of people around the world."

"Pixar's culture of collaboration and innovation has its roots in Disney Animation. Our story and production processes are derivatives of the Walt Disney 'school' of animated filmmaking," said Dr. Catmull. "Just like the Disney classics, Pixar's films are made for family audiences the world over and, most importantly, for the child in everyone. We can think of nothing better for us than to continue to make great movies with Disney."

The acquisition brings to Disney the talented creative teams behind the tremendously popular original Pixar blockbusters, who will now be involved in the nurturing and future development of these properties, including potential feature animation sequels. Pixar's 20-year unrivaled creative track record includes the hits Toy Story, Toy Story 2, A Bug's Life, Monsters, Inc., Finding Nemo and The Incredibles. Disney will also have increased ability to fully capitalize on Pixar-created characters and franchises on high-growth digital platforms such as video games, broadband and wireless, as well as traditional media outlets, including theme parks, consumer products and live stage plays.

"For many of us at Pixar, it was the magic of Disney that influenced us to pursue our dreams of becoming animators, artists, storytellers and filmmakers," said Lasseter. "For 20 years we have created our films in the manner inspired by Walt Disney and the great Disney animators - great stories and characters in an environment made richer by technical advances. It is exciting to continue in this tradition with Disney, the studio that started it all."

"The wonderfully productive 15-year partnership that exists between Disney and Pixar provides a strong foundation that embodies our collective spirit of creativity and imagination," said Cook. "Under this new, strengthened animation unit, we expect to continue to grow and flourish."

Disney first entered into a feature film agreement with Pixar in 1991, resulting in the release of Toy Story, which was hailed as an instant classic upon its release in November 1995. In 1997, Disney extended its relationship with Pixar by entering into a co-production agreement, under which Pixar agreed to produce on an exclusive basis five original computer-animated feature films for distribution by Disney. Pixar is currently in production on the final film under that agreement, Cars, to be distributed by Disney on June 9.

The Boards of Directors of Disney and Pixar have approved the transaction, which is subject to clearance under the Hart-Scott-Rodino Antritrust Improvements Act, certain non-United States merger control regulations, and other customary closing conditions. The agreement will require the approval of Pixar's shareholders. Jobs, who owns approximately 50.6% of the outstanding Pixar shares, has agreed to vote a number of shares equal to 40% of the outstanding shares in favor of the transaction.

The Disney Board was advised by Goldman, Sachs & Co. and Bear, Stearns & Co. The Pixar Board was advised by Credit Suisse.

Separately, the Disney Board approved the repurchase of approximately 225 million additional shares, bringing the Company's total available authorization to 400 million shares. Since August 2004 through the end of December 2005, Disney has invested nearly $4 billion to purchase nearly 155 million shares. Disney anticipates further significant share repurchases going forward, reflecting Disney's continued commitment to returning value to shareholders over time.

* Based on Disney's closing share price of $25.52 as of 1/23/06.

About The Walt Disney Company:

The Walt Disney Company (NYSE:DIS), together with its subsidiaries and affiliates, is a leading diversified international family entertainment and media enterprise with four business segments: media networks, parks and resorts, studio entertainment and consumer products. Disney is a Dow 30 company, had annual revenues of nearly $32 billion in its most recent fiscal year, and a market capitalization of approximately $50 billion as of January 23, 2006.

Investor Conference Call:

An investor conference call will take place at approximately 2:15 p.m. PT / 5:15 p.m. ET today, January 24, 2006. To listen to the Webcast, turn your browser to www.disney.com/investors/presentations or http://corporate.pixar.com.

If you cannot participate in the live Webcast, re-plays will be available for domestic callers at (888) 286-8010 (PIN 56666399) and for international callers at (617) 801-6888 (PIN 56666399), or at www.disney.com/investors/presentations until 4:00 p.m. PT on Tuesday, February 7, 2006. An .mp3 version of this Webcast replay will also be available approximately 24 hours after the Webcast concludes at www.disney.com/investors/presentations.

Forward-Looking Statements:

Certain statements in this press release may constitute "forward-looking statements" within the meaning of the Private Securities Litigation Reform Act of 1995. These statements are made on the basis of the views and assumptions of the management of The Walt Disney Company and Pixar regarding future events and business performance as of the time the statements are made and they do not undertake any obligation to update these statements. Actual results may differ materially from those expressed or implied. Such differences may result from legal or regulatory proceedings or other factors that affect the timing or ability to complete the transactions contemplated herein, actions taken by either of the companies, including restructuring or strategic initiatives (including capital investments or asset acquisitions or dispositions), as well as from developments beyond the companies' control, including: adverse weather conditions or natural disasters; health concerns; international, political or military developments; technological developments; and changes in domestic and global economic conditions, competitive conditions and consumer preferences. Such developments may affect assumptions regarding the operations of the businesses of The Walt Disney Company and Pixar separately or as combined entities including, among other things, the timing of the transaction, the performance of the companies' theatrical and home entertainment releases, expenses of providing medical and pension benefits, and demand for products and performance of some or all company businesses either directly or through their impact on those who distribute our products. Additional factors that may affect results are set forth in the Annual Report on Form 10-K of The Walt Disney Company for the year ended October 1, 2005 under the heading "Item 1A—Risk Factors" and in the Quarterly Report on Form 10-Q of Pixar for the quarter ended October 1, 2005 under the heading "Risk Factors" section of Part I, Item 2.

For Additional Information:

This material is not a substitute for the prospectus/proxy statement Disney and Pixar will file with the Securities and Exchange Commission. Investors are urged to read the prospectus/proxy statement which will contain important information, including detailed risk factors, when it becomes available. The prospectus/proxy statement and other documents which will be filed by Disney and Pixar with the Securities and Exchange Commission will be available free of charge at the SEC's website, www.sec.gov, or by directing a request when such a filing is made to The Walt Disney Company, 500 South Buena Vista Street, Burbank, CA 91521-9722, Attention: Shareholder Services or by directing a request when such a filing is made to Pixar, 1200 Park Avenue, Emeryville, CA 94608.

Pixar, its directors, and certain of its executive officers may be considered participants in the solicitation of proxies in connection with the proposed transactions. Information about the directors and executive officers of Pixar and their ownership of Pixar stock is set forth in the proxy statement for Pixar's 2005 annual meeting of shareholders. Investors may obtain additional information regarding the interests of such participants by reading the prospectus/proxy statement when it becomes available.

The Walt Disney Company
Zenia Mucha – 818-560-5300
David Caouette – 818-560-8543
Michelle Bergman – 818-560-8231

Katie Cotton – 408-974-7269
Nils Erdmann – 510-752-3374


Disney buying Pixar for $7.4 billion

By Paul Bond
The Walt Disney Co. will pay $7.4 billion in stock to acquire Pixar Animation Studios, the companies said Tuesday.

The deal has Steve Jobs, the new-media maverick who is CEO of Pixar and Apple Computer, becoming the 14th member of Disney's board of directors.

The transaction, expected to close in the summer after the release of "Cars" -- the final movie under a previous partnership between Disney and Pixar -- creates a new animation studio headed by Pixar president Ed Catmull.

Pixar executive vp John Lasseter, considered the creative force behind Pixar and its unbroken string of hit computer-graphics animated films, becomes -- appropriately enough -- chief creative officer of the new studio and principal creative adviser at Walt Disney Imagineering.

At Imagineering, Lasseter is expected to help create more attractions based on Pixar characters for Disney's many theme parks, along the lines of the Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters ride that opened last year at Disneyland in Anaheim.

Catmull will report to Walt Disney Studios chairman Dick Cook, while Lasseter reports to Disney CEO Robert Iger. It wasn't clear Tuesday what role Walt Disney Feature Animation president David Stainton will play.

Also unclear is the fate of the Disney animated feature slate, though Iger and Jobs said that so far nothing has changed in that regard: Disney is on track to release one animated film per year and so is Pixar.

Disney is expected to maintain the two units -- the Disney group based in Burbank and the Pixar group based in Emeryville, Calif. -- as separate production facilities.

Analyst Richard Greenfield of Pali Research suspected that a primary reason for Disney being anxious to acquire Pixar was because its own slate is weak, suggesting that Disney ultimately will shuttle such productions as "American Dog," "Meet the Robinsons" and "Rapunzel Unbraided."

Disney has distributed all six of Pixar's films -- beginning with "Toy Story" in 1995 -- and they have earned a whopping $3.2 billion in worldwide boxoffice.

Meanwhile, Disney, which pioneered the feature-length animated movie with the 1937 release of "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs" and dominated the category for six decades, lately has struggled when it strayed from Pixar co-productions. Pixar racked up $1.46 billion domestically with its six movies, about four times more than Disney's past half-dozen, which includes the CG-animated "Chicken Little" and five 2-D productions, including "Home on the Range" and "Brother Bear."

Disney's lucrative relationship with Pixar, though, might have come to an end had Iger not made it a priority to hammer out a new agreement, something previous Disney CEO Michael Eisner had been unable to achieve because his relationship with Jobs had become contentious.

Rather than strike a new distribution deal that would have been far more advantageous to Pixar than Disney's previous arrangement had been, Iger and company instead chose to buy the firm.

Wall Street, though, had been anticipating such a move for several weeks, and investors had bid shares of Pixar higher, so that in the end Disney is paying just a small premium -- about 4% -- to Pixar shareholders.

The agreement has Disney issuing 2.3 of its shares for each Pixar share, putting about a $7.4 billion price tag on Pixar, though the company has a little more than $1 billion in cash on its books that will go to Disney. Disney shares closed Tuesday at $25.99, making the value of each Pixar share $59.78. They closed trading Tuesday at $57.57.

In a twist, Eisner, who relinquished his CEO spot to Iger in September and surrendered his board seat shortly thereafter, now must watch as Jobs, his onetime nemesis, not only joins the Disney board but also becomes the company's largest individual shareholder.

Jobs first proclaimed two years ago that Pixar would entertain a partnership proposal from other studios in lieu of re-upping with Disney, presumably to strike the kind of deal Lucasfilm has with 20th Century Fox, whereby the vast bulk of profits related to the "Star Wars" franchise stay at Lucasfilm.

Ultimately, Jobs said during a conference call Tuesday, he decided it best not only to stay with Disney but also to become part of it in order to, among other things, relieve Pixar of burdens associated with being a publicly traded company -- burdens that now will fall on its parent, Disney, even as Pixar continues operating from its current production facilities in Northern California.

"Disney is the only company with animation in its DNA," Jobs said.

"Counting 'Cars,' we have seven children together," said Jobs, adding that Iger is an executive that he and others at Pixar "have grown to like a lot and trust."

Jobs and Iger both stressed that the combined Disney-Pixar will facilitate the making of sequels to selected films, though they said they have not decided on which titles. Disney had been working on "Toy Story 3" without Pixar, though Jobs said Tuesday that it is important that the same talent responsible for the original movies be involved in the sequels, suggesting perhaps that there are changes afoot with that production, which is set for a summer 2008 release.

Jobs' other job as head of Apple wasn't discussed Tuesday, though new-media analysts have been salivating at the thought that Jobs, whose iTunes and iPod revolutionized the music industry, has been catapulted into such a powerful spot in the entertainment world.

"It is critical that media companies gain a greater understanding of technology and the impact it may have on their businesses," Prudential Equity Group analyst Katherine Styponias said. "In our view, no company understands both technology and the consumer better than Apple."

Jobs started Pixar when he purchased the computer-graphics division of Lucasfilm for $10 million in 1986 and renamed the company. The company concentrated on short films and commercials until making "Toy Story" in 1995, the same year Pixar went public at a valuation of about $1 billion.

On Tuesday, Jobs credited Catmull with the idea of a fully CG feature film. "It took us 10 years, but we actually did it," he recalled.

Posted by dschnee at 12:47 PM

January 11, 2006

noitulovE + Pebl

A couple of recent TV Spots have sparked my interest, one is the Motorola "pebl" ad directed by one of my favorite directors, David Fincher, the second uses Houdini's nifty procedural systems much like what we saw in 2002's The Time Machine. In the Guinness commercial titled "noitulovE", where you get to follow a few loyal Guiness drinkers back in time, both solid cool stuff.

Motorola "pebl"
:// making of motorola's "pebl" breakdown by digital domain.

Guinness "noitulovE"
>>> a bit about how Framestore CFC created 'noitulovE' spot below:
:// using Houdini 'Running Back In Time'
:// fxguide 'Doing Effects Backwards'

Posted by dschnee at 9:06 PM

January 9, 2006

Outstanding Compositing in a Motion Picture - 2005

4th Annual VES Awards Nominees...

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire - Voldemort’s Nose
Ben Shepherd, Uel Horman, Charley Henley, Nicolas Aithadi

King Kong - T-Rex Fight
Erik Winquist, Michaell Pangrazio, Steve Cronin, Suzanne Jandu

War of the Worlds -
Marshall Krasser, Michael Jamieson, Jeff Saltzman, Regan McGee

Outstanding Compositing in a Broadcast Program

Empire -
Stefano Trivelli, Michele Moen, Kelly Bumbarger, Sean Wilson

Into The West Mini-Series Movie I, Wheel to the Stars
Jared Jones, Jason Korber, Geeta Basantani, Ryan Dutour

Mezzo Djarum - Race

Mark Rienzo, Feliciano di Giorgio, Maciek Sokalski, Jay Frankenberger

Congratulations to all the 2005 nominees, (great job, Suzanne Jandu, Erik Winquist, Michaell Pangrazio, Steve Cronin on Kong)

For the complete list you can visit Visual Effects Society - nominees or download the 4th Annual VES Awards Nominees pdf.


Posted by dschnee at 7:33 AM

January 6, 2006

Komp Kong

One of the 'Team UK' or 'The UK Four' @ Weta, Matt Welford speaks to apple about some of the compositing on Kong!

in Apple's Hot News Article... from last month.

POST Magazine has also done a spread covering a decent amount of compositing on kong, check that out in King Kong's Tale Of Two Islands...

Apple's Shake Rocks Ape "Compositing Kong"
If all you wanted for Christmas was a giant ape holding a beautiful woman atop a landmark building on a superwide screen, this holiday has certainly turned out for you. “King Kong” roared into theaters just in time for the holiday, carrying big name talent, Oscar buzz and eye-bending special effects.

The visual effects were created by Weta Digital, the same company that did the effects for Kong director Peter Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy. And as it did for “Rings,” Weta used Shake as its primary compositing tool on “King Kong.”

Even More Effects
Matt Welford, the film’s 2D sequence lead who worked on most of the film’s New York sequences, quantifies the task. “Kong has a little shy of two and a half thousand visual effects shots.”

This was a more intensive effects package than “Lord of the Rings,” says Welford, “because ‘Kong’ is more action-packed from start to finish. In the ‘Rings’ trilogy there were frequent breaks in the action. Not so in this film. And then of course, there were all the creatures that Peter Jackson loves to put into these films — the bugs and worms and flies. So the shot count went up just because of those sequences.”

Synthetic City
It is difficult for people who have seen “King Kong” to believe that the sequences, which prominently feature 1930’s Manhattan, were shot on a one-story high New York street back lot in New Zealand and then “digitally extended” by a crew of 500 artists and technicians using thousands of carefully researched and prepared elements.

“We had a huge library of reference photos, and a department of researchers who were able even to find out what color the street signs were in 1930’s New York,” says Welford.

He points out that that the jungle scenes were similarly shot and altered. “Animation would animate the creatures, the modeling guys would build the models, the TDs would light whatever was needed, and then pass them over to the comp department. We would take those elements and integrate them into the plates that were provided by Peter Jackson and the shooting crew. Then it would be our job to basically layer it together with any extra 2D elements that we need. Using Shake, we could integrate those in with the CG and the plate and come out with the final shot.”

Welford says that Shake was also used for some 3D work in the roto and paint departments. “Our TD’s could actually do rough comps of their work before they pass elements off to the comp department, so they could check that their elements were working before we actually start.”

Composite Solution
Welford, who has used Shake since it came out, says the product was perfect for their task. “Personally, I’m a big fan of the node-based compositing. It’s a lot more logical and it allows for you to change things quickly, so you can experiment and jump around to different parts of the tree. You’re not locked into pre-rendering elements and then working on those pre-renders.”

Another advantage of Shake was its ability to work with independent bit depth images.”You can have an 8-bit file, a 16-bit file and a float file and Shake will resolve and comp them all together,” he says.

And at a fundamental level, the large available Shake talent pool allowed Weta to scale up quickly and dramatically from a small core compositing crew — essential, it turned out, to meet a challenge as big as Kong.


Ken McGorry

WELLINGTON, NEW ZEALAND — The Balrog, the Ents, the Orc armies, the Oscars. All the hard lessons learned in Weta Digital’s effects work for Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy helped Weta deal with an 8,000-pound gorilla and other fantastic creatures that interact with (and kill) human characters in Jackson’s new King Kong remake. And there were new lessons, too.

Academy eyes will surely be trained this season on the seamless visual effects for Kong — especially given its dramatic portrayal of two craggy islands teeming with primitive life forms: Skull Island and Manhattan.

Much of Kong’s compositing work involves innovations Weta developed in-house after LOTR wrapped. “Our biggest compositing innovation on Kong was probably incorporating 3D tools directly into the mainstream of our compositing pipeline,” says Weta Digital FX supervisor Dan Lemmon. He says Weta uses a variety of off-the-shelf software, both third-party and proprietary plug-ins, and a few stand-alone programs written at Weta Digital. “We use Nuke from D2 Software as well as an Apple Shake plug-in called Cyco, developed at Weta by 3D sequence lead Nick McKenzie,” Lemmon says.

Weta Digital’s compositing supervisor Erik Winquist adds, “Just like on LOTR, our primary compositing pipeline revolved around Shake.” To help speed shots through the King Kong pipeline, Winquist says, “in-house genius” McKenzie wrote several custom plug-ins, “from a sequencer-like tool for animating the illuminated signage in Times Square, all the way up to a full-blown 3D interface and accompanying suite of tools inside of Shake to simplify the placement of elements on cards in the comp.”

Skull Island in ‘2.5D’

“One of the biggest challenges on this show was the amount of virtual locations that had to be brought to life in the composites,” says Winquist. “An enormous number of miniature elements were built and shot for the various Skull Island locations, but those were often the broad strokes: key pieces of architecture or terrain foreground elements would then be expanded via virtual jungles and matte paintings. Peter said from the beginning that he wanted Skull Island to have the look of glass matte paintings from the original 1933 film,” Winquist says, “dark silhouetted foregrounds with increasingly bright, layered atmospheric backgrounds. The main challenge became staying true to the spirit of those static compositions with the broad, sweeping, signature Peter Jackson camera moves that are everywhere in this film.”

Winquist adds, “For the dynamic action sequences where the camera traveled sizeable distances over the course of a shot, the Miniatures Units typically shot motion-control camera moves with multiple lighting and matte passes, which were integrated in the comp with matte paintings, CG elements and plate photography. This is pretty standard for us and was used all throughout the LOTR trilogy.”

Due to King Kong’s enormous workload it became clear that Weta’s Miniatures Units, and Oscar-winning miniatures DP Alex Funke, couldn't wait for animation to dictate the motion-control moves on every shot, Winquist says. “So wherever possible, the Miniatures Units would instead shoot a set of tiled passes of the miniature with a standardized nodal motion-control move in set intervals. These tile sets were then assembled in 2.5D at Weta Digital and used as virtual environments, freeing the animators to let the action dictate the camera moves instead of being locked into a plate.”

To accomplish this, Winquist says, “We adopted D2 Software's Nuke compositing software which is really fast and has a great set of scriptable tools for pan-and-tile 2.5D and 3D projection setups.”

To render such intricate virtual jungles in full 3D with all of the organic detail found in reality would be too time consuming for King Kong’s tight schedule, Winquist says. “So for the most part, the jungle extensions were created in the composite with a library of hundreds of separate miniature bluescreen trees created by Weta Workshop and shot high speed with wind to make sure every time we see jungle, it feels like a living place.”

With a suite of custom plug-ins for Shake, compositors were able to load the virtual camera for their shot and one by one, dress in photographed miniature trees on virtual cards in 3D space.

Little old New York

VFX supervisor Lemmon says one of the biggest compositing challenges in creating New York ca.1933 was developing a look for the city that would work for the whole end sequence — the final showdown which takes place at the top of the Empire State Building and involves a squadron of Navy biplanes attacking Kong from every direction. “The sequence opens during the twilight of early morning and ends not long after sunrise” Lemmon says, “so we had to account for dramatic changes in the lighting of the city and the sky as the sequence progressed.”

To re-create the look of vintage, antennae-free Manhattan, digital compositing supervisor Charlie Tait and 3D sequence lead Craig Wentworth created an elaborate city "pre-comp" that used nearly 50 CG layers to build about 10 primary city elements, says Lemmon.

Posted by dschnee at 12:04 AM

January 3, 2006

Caught in Charlotte's Web

Happy New Year!?!

So it's a new year and it's a new project, as of today I'm back with some great family type folks, back with Tippett folk working on Charlotte's Web!

It's good to be back working again, after having a month and a half off, I was getting a bit ancy, Charlotte's Web delivers the first week of March, and is now due to release in the cinema Christmas 2006, pushed back from it's Summer release date...

for more info try these:

Charlotte's Web Movie
Charlotte's Web on IMDB.com

Cast Overview, definatley some talent here:

Dakota Fanning .... Fern
Julia Roberts .... Charlotte (voice)
Oprah Winfrey .... Gussy (voice)
Steve Buscemi .... Templeton (voice)
Kathy Bates .... Bitsy (voice)
John Cleese .... Samuel (voice)
Thomas Haden Church .... Brooks (voice)
Robert Redford .... Ike (voice)
Cedric the Entertainer .... Golly (voice)
Jane Sibbett .... Joy (voice)
Jennifer Garner .... Susy (voice)
Reba McEntire .... Betsy (voice)
André Benjamin .... Elwyn (voice) (as André 3000)

Posted by dschnee at 9:25 PM