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June 29, 2007

Industry Legend Phil Tippett Joins // Adapt 2007

Opening the //ADAPT 2007 Conference line up at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Montreal (Sept. 24-28) will be award-winning visual effects supervisor and animation pioneer, Phil Tippett as the Keynote speaker. The conference will also feature sequence supervisor Todd Vaziri from Industrial Light & Magic, who will present segments from TRANSFORMERS, and supervising td Michael Fong from Pixar Animation Studios, who will present segments from RATATOUILLE.

Tippett is the founder of Berkeley-based Tippett Studio. His sophisticated knowledge of filmmaking and powerful ability to design and breathe life into complex animated characters has earned him two Academy Awards, two Emmys and a Special Achievement Award during the course of a career that has spanned over 30 years.

"I am honored to have been invited to this conference to share some of my experience as a filmmaker," Tippett said. "Having participated in the dramatic changeover from creating visual effects for motion pictures photo-chemically (and with models) to now, where nearly everything is being created digitally, I've been allowed a somewhat unique perspective. I intend to bring along fond memories from where we've been, advantages of the current digital age and some trepidation toward the future."

An estimated 2500 digital artists from around the world are expected to attend the industry's second annual creative event focused on inspiring and teaching advanced digital art production techniques for film, visual effects and videogame development. The program includes more than 40 digital art masters, an Art Expo, a Theatre, a Job Fair and much more, soon to be announced.

//ADAPT's Special Feature Presentations program will be open to all attendees. The Special Feature Presentations are geared toward the reveal or making-of a major blockbuster film or high-end videogames released this year. Industry experts will showcase their work and share their creative and artistic expertise.

//ADAPT 2007 tickets are currently available with limited seating. Receive a $100 rebate before Aug. 24. For more information and complete summary of events and tickets, please visit www.adaptmontreal.com.

-source VFXWorld.com

Posted by dschnee at 10:06 AM

June 27, 2007

"Enchanted" Opens the Portal to Video Game Adventure

Live the Modern Day Fairy Tale - Disney's "Enchanted" Opens the Portal to Video Game Adventure
Disney Interactive Studios

This fall moviegoers will discover Giselle, Prince Edward and Pip as they are magically transported from the animated land of Andalasia to modern New York City in the major motion picture release of "Walt Disney Pictures Presents Enchanted" starring Amy Adams, Patrick Dempsey and Susan Sarandon. Disney Interactive Studios is introducing Enchanted, a video game inspired by the film for the Nintendo DS.

UPDATED: I just found some screenshots and a trailer for the game... fancy.

"With its playful cast of characters caught between an animated world and today's New York City, 'Enchanted' is a perfect setting for a great adventure game," said Craig Relyea, vice president, marketing for Disney Interactive Studios. "Players who always wished they could live in a fairytale princess world will experience adventures that go beyond the 'Enchanted' film."

Enchanted for Nintendo DS follows the story of Giselle, a princess banished from a fairy tale animated land to modern-day Manhattan. Players take on the roles of Giselle, Prince Edward and Giselle's trusted chipmunk friend Pip in adventures that span both mythical Andalasia and real-world New York City with film-inspired and original gameplay elements. Each character has their own magical skills and talents to get out of trouble as they try to defeat the evil Queen Narissa. As Giselle, players summon animals and gain powers by "singing" different songs. While playing as Edward, players can ride a horse and use their swords to battle enemies. As Pip, players experience the world from his unique chipmunk perspective and race against the clock in challenging mini-games. Players also have the option to play in English or Spanish and will receive a bonus strategy poster with their game.

Published by Disney Interactive Studios and developed by Altron Corporation, Enchanted for Nintendo DS is scheduled for release in conjunction with the film this fall.

-source mickeynews.com

Posted by dschnee at 7:05 AM

June 20, 2007

VES Festival 2007 coverage from VFXWorld

VFXWorld provides a glimpse of some of the highlights, including the VES 50 panel.

By Staff of VFXWorld

VES Festival: The 50 Greatest Visual Entertainments & More

Posted by dschnee at 8:18 PM

June 11, 2007

Just Visiting...

After Sunday's VEStivities, Monday morning, I walked down Santa Monica Blvd to my old pal Zach Lo's sleek place of employment @ Method Studios. Method is well known for super cool commercials (Sears Tools spots are great!), we both had an instructor while at the Academy of Art who used some of Method's material for comp instruction using Combustion, the cheetah Mountain Dew spot. It was cool see where they have been generating great work for so many years in person. Zach's been there for a number of years now and recently wrapped some cool work on At World's End. It was fun to meet, greet, and tour Method's very cool modern digs.

See Also: Method's Recent Work

Zach and I then took a short ride down the street to Digital Domain and meet up with Aruna for a tour d2...

We pretty much walked through the entire site side from the stage which was closed at the time. :( Lot's of miniatures, especially from The 5th Element dress up corners and walkways all over the place, another sweet section is the whale, there in lies a huge conference table that lives inside what looks like in the belly of an open ended whale, not literally but stylistically, great architecture left there before d2 moved in.

DD is pretty big, we toured through a few buildings, most of which were a bit of a ghost town, because it was lunch time, some on vacation, and others that filled up the desks just over a month ago on Pirates 3 and Transformers off somewhere else as contracts ended...

I saw a few of folks I knew there, always fun to see old colleagues. Later Aruna showed us a quick Nuke trick after we left for some good eats at a local alehouse. We saw where the artists go for shot reviews in smaller screening huts, Aruna showed a couple breakdowns being generated for siggraph from At World's End, and off to the main screening room which was cool. Other sections are in transition, the Nuke folks now with The Foundry are moving to another building down the street, some areas that were loaded with roto artists are going to be reworked to nicer digs, even though to Zach and I all the areas had a decent cool vibe and ambiance.

I've sent a few reels to 300 Rose Ave over the years, so it was good to finally see in and around d2, like 2 blocks from Venice Beach! All and all a fun laid back day hanging with Zach and Aruna.

See Also: www.d2.com Digital Domain has just revamped their site, and it's pretty tight. ~enjoy

Posted by dschnee at 7:55 AM

June 10, 2007

VES Festival Of Visual Effects 2007

So I flew down to LA for the final day of VES events this past Sunday. It was a short stint, but well worth it being able to catch up with a couple good friends, and geek out on some good panel action during the VES festival. I hadn't seen Aruna in what almost a year? since my wedding last July, he was kind enough to let me crash at his place and we hung out for the past couple of days down there. Aruna attended the entire festival of events so check out some of his summaries below:

Festival of Visual Effects: Day 1
Festival of Visual Effects: Day 2 - Part 1
Festival of Visual Effects: Day 2 - Part 2
Festival of Visual Effects: Day 3

So please go on into a few of my 'quick' thoughts on Sunday's lineup:

Shrek Through The Ages
I'll be honest, I could have saved my $20 bux and skipped this one. I have been to Shrek panels in the past, and they went over most of the same but with out going into great detail. The broad stroke was showing Shrek's progression over the 3 films and PDI's pipeline covering design (Guillaume Aretos), character td(Lucia Modesto), animation(Tim Cheung), and vfx supervision(Philippe Gluckman) on the 3 shows.

What most interested me was some of the first design and images of shrek and his evolution process. Otherwise the main bulk of the progression was in complexity. More characters, more environments and locations, more and diverse background characters, more clothing, more detail, etc.

Pirates Of The Caribbean: A VFX Voyage

John Knoll headed up this 2 hour voyage, and without going into great detail on any one topic, we were able to watch in awe the work on the 3 pirates films, especially on At World's End which was nothing short of fantastic.

Of most interest was the miniature work done, 1/4, 1/8 scale models of pirate ships used through out the films, these were used in account with full scale shop pieces, some floating on barges used to shoot on the deck and for a few long/wide shots. The shots where you would see the barge they would shoot the mini to get the rest of the bottom of the ship bits to composite in.

Knoll covered environments and matte painting work which was in all 3 films, used and executed masterfully. Also covered was the cursed crew of the black pearl in Pirates 1 shooting the performance plate with the actors, then shooting the clean plate without the pirates but with the other actors fighting nothing so they can toss in the cursed crew, still neat to see how they pulled that off.

So the cool work was with Davy Jones and his crew, and Knoll didn't go into any detail on the CG side of their creation,(only that they were a few guys short so they created 8 more characters for 3) but what was covered was the technique for shooting the crew and Davy Jones in camera wearing the track suit tracker duds for match move purposes, and this was using the same technique used in Pirates 2, the Imocap stuph, still damn nifty.

Ok so Davy Jones was cool, but the really cool work shown was the Malestrom, and I've talked about this briefly in my post At World's End. Complete CG ocean, and the trick getting the amount of detail in that whirlpool was to run the simulation flat adjusting all the forces on the fluid sim accordingly, then displacing the ocean south getting the pending doom of whirl back.

It was just a shit storm of elements during the sequence, the deck and crew of the ships were shot in a huge hanger with what Knoll said was just about the largest amount of blue screen fabric he'd ever seen surrounding the sets. Most of the elements you see in camera were shot in camera, smoke, rain, dust, debris,, this all looks fantastic in camera, but pulling a key? on uneven screens compositing back in Jones crew? and matching in camera elements with ones you might find in an element library, then the background with the CG environments? forget about it. They pulled it off though, sometimes using a drop of rain to hit the lens and covering up a screen pull that just wasn't going to happen, ;) I know a few folks who worked on t his sequence and it still amazes me, I feel their pain, but god damn!

Knoll showed us original plate to final comp wipes, impressive to say the least.

What must be mentioned during Knoll's presentation was his disgust for the trend of short schedules, back to that cheaper, faster, better trend... They had 4 months to do 2000 shots for At World's End, almost double that on Pirates 2, they moved up the release date up by 2 months, and Knoll expressed that they most definitely needed those extra 2 months on this one. I've already heard that they are re-working a number of shots for the DVD... it's just crazy, everyone suffers, all the artists working crazy overtime, it pushes the color timers, editors, everybody further down the chain, they hemorage money on OT, how is this cheaper? Yeah the initial number is lower, but by the end of the show? just pissing out money to get completed hopefully first time around works, because they don't schedule any time for adjustment, test audiences, and any betterment of the project, just rolling the dice while artists slave endless hours compromising family life and health. It's a truly F'd up situation. But what about the great money? yeah F' that too.

Knoll says he's going to fight for longer post-production schedules, telling the studios he's knows how to save you all money, give us more time in post!!!

The VES 50: The Most Influential Visual Effects Films Of All Time

A rare and completely satisfying treat, Knoll is back on stage moderating the panel made up of John Dykstra, Richard Edlund, Dennis Muren, Ken Ralston, and Doug Trumball... The topic is of course the 50 most influential VFX films, but you are soon looking in on a roundtable of VFX legends, friends sharing stories, stories of the craft, the lifestyle, the people, the how they did this and that's.

After a really well done montage of the top 50 films, I mean very well constructed piece using similar themes and emotions that re-charged my love and passion for this industry and why it is I do what I do and love what I do, we were some what briefly introduced to the panel, off into stories, then as the time melted away into specific films that the legends themselves worked on.

Aruna and I looked at each other after all was said and done, and were both like damn it's over? We could listen to these guys all damn weekend. Hopefully someday they will just have a weekend of panel discussions made up of VFX legends and top supervisors. Fantastic event.

2001 - A Space Odyssey

Douglas Trumbull treated us to a rare treat once again showing us a ton of production stills and polaroids of Kubrick, the sets, the crew, the cameras, models, etc.

This one was a bit rushed, I think either Doug needed to get out of there, or they needed to start the screening of 2001, it's a long one. But what Trumbull was able to go over was amazing, you definitely take for granted what goes into those amazing shots... well most just don't know, I've read about some, but not nearly enough as Trumbull shared some of the fantastic ways to achieve what looked like impossible shots, especially for being almost 40 years ago! I'd go into more detail, but I'm not sure I'd to much justice at the moment... stay tooned though I'd like to do a 2001 post, I'll dig up some material for it and go into some detail about it, because it's simply amazing work.

Posted by dschnee at 9:05 PM

June 2, 2007


is now live! - not much there at the moment, still though, right?


This Thanksgiving... The Motion Picture Event Of The Year Arrives

so far all that's up are the links for the Trailer & Story summary...

Posted by dschnee at 8:53 AM

June 1, 2007

Blockbusters take toll on f/x shops

We have seen this trend of more shots, less time, cheaper, harder, better, faster, stronger! We all hope and need this trend to go away, or that a good project comes along more about the entire film itself, leaving room for concept, pre-production, through creation and not shoving some sort of cheap tight-budgeted "moneymaker" down our throats... this very interesting article came out earlier this week.
Hollywood puts pressure on techies

If the visual effects industry had its way, the Disney tentpole that sailed into theaters May 25 might have been named "Pirates of the Caribbean: At Wits' End."

Industrial Light & Magic topper Chrissie England, who's seen many blockbusters come through her shop, calls the editing/post-production race to the pic's delivery deadline "about the scariest thing I've ever seen." The film's vfx supervisor, John Knoll, calls it "a freakin' miracle" that the film was done on time.

"Pirates 3," warn England and Knoll, is just one tip of an iceberg that's sending a chill through the visual effects industry. Visual effects houses are worried about the increasing demand for more product, at higher quality, in less time. Some effects houses have been losing key workers, and a few are threatening to shutter, because of the shifting economics.

Studios are worried about the outcome. With increasingly frantic post-production schedules, there is less time to edit, test and recut a film, and a megamillion-dollar investment is in jeopardy if the tentpole is overlong or confusing.

Sony Pictures Imageworks' prexy Tim Sarnoff says, "This whole business -- not just visual effects, the whole film business -- is about managing risk. It's an area where you don't recognize the importance of good planning until you have a problem."

But, adds Sarnoff, "The looming issue isn't whether a facility is in trouble or not. The looming issue is whether a film is in trouble. We're all about creating an experience for the audience. If we don't present a compelling image, they won't have a compelling experience.

"The disaster (would be if) we didn't plan well enough to make an effect or a character sell a movie, and that's a disaster because you've spent a lot of money everywhere else to make that movie successful."

Call this increased pressure on effects houses the "War of the Worlds" effect.

Two years ago, ILM delivered eye-popping visual effects for Paramount's "War of the Worlds" only three months after the end of principal photography. That set the bar impossibly high, so that producers now routinely demand "the 'War of the Worlds' schedule."

In fact, that schedule was only possible because of unique circumstances, including the involvement of two men who are extraordinarily technically proficient: helmer Steven Spielberg and vfx mastermind Dennis Muren.

That movie, and the carefully planned, $60 million "300," which was almost all effects, have created increasingly high demands from studios.

The beleaguered f/x houses also find their pay eroding as rival shops open up around the world. Effects budgets may be soaring, but they're being spread over many more houses and many more shots. Effects houses are still paid by the shot, and per-shot fees have fallen 30%-40%.

The studios complain that the visual f/x shops always go over budget. Shops complain that they're asked to absorb costs of poor studio and producer planning.

One producer, according to a story making the rounds of vfx shops, is reported to have said, "If I don't put a visual effects shop out of business (on my movie), I'm not doing my job."

The shops also complain that short schedules and last-second changes drive costs up unnecessarily, and that studios end up paying more for less.

Chris de Faria, Warner Bros.' exec VP of digital production, animation and visual effects, says his studio deliberately avoids awarding whole shows to one f/x company, preferring a network of vendors across the globe.

"Any company would be taxed to do (1,200 shots)," he says. "We don't think it's good business to put that much work through a narrow pipeline."

Piecemealing a big f/x job is possible because the barrier of entry for small players in the field has fallen, and there is good work coming from houses around the world. Such basic work as wire removal and simple compositing can now be done cheaply by a two-man shop in a Van Nuys garage -- or a facility in India or the Philippines.The big shops are also looking overseas to cut costs. Rhythm & Hues has sent some of its work on "Evan Almighty" out to its India branch, which also includes among its credits "Superman Returns" and Disney's first "Narnia" film.

The facility that is now Imageworks India, in Chennai, contributed to "Spider-Man 3" and has long partnered with Sony's Imageworks.

But only a few shops in the world -- ILM, Sony's Imageworks and Weta Digital among them -- have the technology and experience to develop the never-before-seen jaw-droppers studios have come to rely on.

Visual effects supervisor Jeff Okun, who worked on last year's "Blood Diamond," explains: "If you go back to 1997, a big show had 300-400 shots. The standard today for a show that has no visible visual effects shots is 400 shots. For a show with visible visual effects shots, it's 800-1,200. A visual effects extravaganza is 1,800-2,000."

"Pirates 3," for example, has around 2,000 vfx shots, according to Knoll (many done by shops other than ILM). There are 3,000 cuts in the entire film.

And the shots are getting longer. Sony's "Spider-Man 3" had only 930 vfx shots, but the birth-of-the-Sandman sequence alone is about three minutes long. On "Pirates," there are significant sections of the film, notably the "edge of the world" sequence and the climactic ship battle in the maelstrom, where everything on the screen is computer-generated.

"The final instructions are arriving later and the work is being delivered sooner," says Sarnoff, "not just for the movie itself but for trailers, for teasers, for marketing, for campaigns, for overseas, for international vs. domestic, for different versions. Literally, the pressure is on all sides of this cooker."

One common complaint is that while studios ask for the "War of the Worlds" schedule, they also reserve the right to demand last-minute changes (something they wouldn't dare do on a Spielberg film without the director's say-so). That can turn a tight-but-attainable schedule into a crisis -- or, in the parlance of the vfx industry, a "911," where additional shops have to be hired for last-minute work.

To be sure, pressure is nothing new for effects pros. As the last link in the production chain, vfx shops traditionally have worked punishing hours in the run-up to release dates.

Now, though, there's evidence that things are reaching a breaking point. Experienced vfx artists are changing careers, and at least one highly regarded shop is getting out of the vfx biz. Even industry leaders like ILM and Sony's Imageworks are feeling the pain, worrying not only about their artists' quality of life, but about the quality of the films they are working on.

Says "Pirates" effects maven Knoll, "Often if a picture is in trouble one way or another, there are ways to salvage it, through reshoots or whatever." But he notes that it takes some time to edit, test and recut the film, even rewrite and reshoot if necessary, whether the problem is with the effects or with something else.

"When you go through these very, very short schedules you eliminate all those options," he says. "The chances are higher you will have a big flop."

"Pirates" helmer Gore Verbinski was working nearly around the clock to cut the film and had to lock some reels before other reels were even edited. This has become common practice on action-adventure films.

"He never had the chance to run the movie for a test audience, reflect on it and make adjustments," Knoll says.

That's aside from the more immediate danger that a film will simply miss a release date. It has happened before, but with soaring costs, greater competition for dates and ever more tie-ins, that would be a disaster for everyone involved, especially with some budgets now running above a quarter-billion dollars.

Sarnoff is careful to say that this is not yet an "on-fire" problem. "This is more like a grill getting hotter," he says.

Stu Maschwitz, co-founder of the Orphanage, recalls a movie where the bond company insisted on auditing his shop's books, having been burned by another vfx shop that went bankrupt in midproduction.

"They were going over our financials with a fine-tooth comb while at the same time the production was beating us up on price and delaying payments. It never occurred to them that there was a connection between the two."

Worse, says de Faria, producers aren't just asking for the "War of the Worlds" sked.

"What I'm hearing now is 'Can you do the '300' budget?" he says, referring to the modestly budgeted all-greenscreen sword-and-sandals pic.

Giant Killer Robots, a decade-old San Francisco-based vfx shop that employed around 50 people, worked on the first "Fantastic Four" and several other tentpole releases, and earned a good reputation, even among its competitors.

Co-founder John Vegher says that in recent years, post schedules shrank from 8-12 months to 3-5 months. "Every now and then, very infrequently, we get what we call a 'real schedule,' " he says. "At the same time, the studios have slashed the rate they're willing to pay for vfx work." Vegher doesn't blame the studios for taking advantage of the hyper competitive marketplace that's evolved as vfx shops have sprung up in Canada, in Asia and in California garages.

"It's such a sexy industry," he says. "Everybody knows there's a hundred people behind you just dying to get your job."

But the vfx industry is maturing. Digital artists have followed their work from London to New Zealand to California, but as the more experienced artists move into their 30s and 40s, get married and start families, they are less able to relocate and less willing to work 70-hour-plus weeks for months at a time.

"We haven't worked our staff harder," Vegher says. "If anything, we may have worked them less, because we've become more efficient."

But the handwriting was on the wall. "We saw we weren't going to be able to regulate that time anymore. It's not good for the company, and it's not good for our staff."

So six months ago, GKR closed its doors while its founders pondered their future. They have decided to reopen, but to get out of the visual effects business, turning instead to CG animation and developing their own projects.

In the meantime, many GKR artists wound up at ILM, where they were caught in the same kind of crunch.

After four or five months of punishing hours on "Pirates," there was still "Transformers" to finish. "The best artists," says Knoll, "the ones who are most in demand, who can do the most to help a show make its final push, go from one show to another."

Since they are also less likely to be recent college grads happy to subsist on ramen noodles, they are also more prone to family strains, divorces and even career changes.

Ironically, the man who may have done more than anyone else to put the industry under this pressure is something of a contrarian about it.

Muren may lament the "Monday-morning quarterbacking" from suits who aren't happy with some of the visual effects, and he acknowledges that Spielberg's decisive style was essential for getting "War of the Worlds" done so fast, but Muren generally likes working on a short schedule.

"Everybody is still in the emotional and mental zone of making the movie if you can do it in a shorter period of time. I think there are big creative wins with that," he says.

On the other hand, he's been writing a book and hasn't been on a film for the last couple of years.

The only time he's had to work on the "War of the Worlds" schedule -- was on "War of the Worlds."


Posted by dschnee at 8:27 AM