« January 2011 | Main | March 2011 »

February 23, 2011

The Fantastic Digs of Tippett Studio

Yeah... I do work at a pretty fantastic place. There was a tour rumbling through the studio earlier this week as Tippett was a part of the AWN Oscar Tour Travelogue, and so this was Oscar Tour Day 2: The Fantastic Digs of Tippett Studio:

The main case of model figures from the Tippett foyer.

By Dan Sarto

Tippett Studio is a well-known cg studio that specializes in feature film visual effects and creature animation. Legendary founder Phil Tippett is the creative force behind some of the most iconic animated creatures and characters in cinematic history, including the miniature chess scene in the first Star Wars movie, the animated robots in RoboCop, the breakthrough animated dinosaurs of Jurassic Park, the deadly arachnids of Starship Troopers and the transforming werewolves of the Twilight movies. The studio is located in Berkeley, California, housed in a collection of small buildings nestled within walking distance of each other. Our second day ended with a screening and highly anticipated tour of their main production facilities. We were not disappointed.

Tippett's main lobby. The screening room is right off the far left corner.

A series of signed Ray Harryhausen film scene prints adorn an office wall.

When we arrived, our host, Lori Petrini, was busy setting up a table of refreshments right outside the screening room. Following our established routine, Ron began the screening with a few words, thanking the studio for its support of the Oscar Tour as well as the annual Animation Show of Shows tour he runs every November, introducing Max, Jakob and Geefwee and their films. The screening began, Lori gathered us up together and the studio tour commenced.

A Star Wars Imperial Walker model kept within a case in the foyer.

While most animation studios are filled with posters and toys of all shapes and sizes, the Tippett studio additionally is filled with models, props and other physical reminders of 25 years of movie making magic. While the company works primarily in cg, they still have considerable expertise in model making and stop-motion miniatures – computers rub elbows with fabrication equipment, giving the studio a palpable, visceral “feel” absent from digital-only facilities.

Hell Boy, they've got Hell Boy!

Lori walked us through the main building, outside and down the block to another building that houses a machine shop and stage downstairs, design and model-making stations upstairs. On our way back to the main building, we stopped by another building, an old firehouse, which houses primarily cg workstations and related gear. There are arachnid body parts and various models on almost every spare shelf and open wall – every building is filled with an array of prosthetic and mechanical models both familiar and foreign. The inner geek in all of us came alive as we walked, something cool to look at in every direction. Since we were allowed to take pictures of all but a handful of displays, we all came away with our cameras filled.

One of Tippett's model workshops.

This sign adorns a Tippett workshop wall. Or was it my daughter's 11th grade health class?

We finished our tour and arrived for Q&A. Jakob was asked about the origin of The Gruffalo. He explained that their producer, Michael Rose, had been discussing the project with him since 2003, eventually securing rights and bringing in Jakob’s Studio Soi in 2006. Tom Gibbons, Tippett’s animation supervisor and himself an animated short film director (The Hunger Artist, Still I Remain) remarked that he was familiar with and quite fond of the children’s book the film is based on.

The huge evil robot model ED-209 from RoboCop just sits alone up in the rafters. It has no one to play with.

A Dr. Jekyl model from The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.

Sara, Ron and Tippett's Director of Fan Outreach.

Geefwee talked about the origin of his film, how he worked solo until the last 6 months, when he got some help with different areas of post-production. He mentioned that he’s been trying to promote his film for the last year with some success, but the nomination has helped tremendously. Tom asked a number of questions about production time frames, budgets and design. Geefwee explained that he’d had a regular career, working at Disney for a number of years, then Pixar for 7 years, but that he never felt it was a great fit. So, in a sense, he left his career behind to try other things. Initially, he wanted to produce children’s books, but his publishing of “Arrowville” in 2004 never quite caught on despite good reviews and critical acclaim. He got a big laugh when he told the audience that he figured at that point, since he wasn’t making any money writing children’s books, he could make the same amount of money making short films. A question was asked about the look of The Gruffalo and Jakob explained how they’d tested and then decided on practical sets with cg characters based on the production schedule and budget. Jakob was asked about the outstanding voice cast that acted on the film and he explained how they just lucked out, that it was great fun to direct the actors, that they just tried to get everyone in the UK that had appeared in a Harry Potter movie.

Yoda insisted on helping setup refreshments for the screening. I slipped him $5.

The audience at the Tippett screening. Image courtesy of Sara Diamond.

The questioning ended and after some final one on one conversation and last minute snacking, we said our goodbyes and headed out. We needed at least a few hours sleep before we took to the road again for our Friday stops at Pixar and Dolby Labs for the ASIFA San Francisco screening. (awn.com/blogs/)

Posted by dschnee at 10:44 AM

February 10, 2011

First Look at Tarsem's 'Immortals'

The Gods bless us... we have just 3 weeks left to finish up our work on this brutal kick ass of a project, it's fast and furious, but the work is awesome and we are having a blast...

Probably my most anticipated film of 2011 -Brad Vrevet (ropesofsilicon.com)

Entertainment Weekly has just debuted the following four first look images at Tarsem Singh's Immortals starring Henry Cavill who was recently cast in the title role of Zack Snyder's Superman: Man of Steel.

Immortals is very similar to the Clash of the Titans story and finds Cavill playing Theseus, a warrior from Greek mythology, who leads a fight against the imprisoned titans in a story where gods fight alongside mortals. Phaedra (Freida Pinto), an oracle priestess joins Theseus on his quest to prevent the cataclysmic war from erupting.

The EW first look gives us looks at both Henry Cavill (top left) and Freida Pinto (bottom left) as well as Twilight actor Kellan Lutz (bottom right) as Poseidon and Mickey Rourke (top right) as the mad king Hyperion. The film co-stars Stephen Dorff, Luke Evans, John Hurt and Isabel Lucas.

Universal has set a November 11 release for the film, and in other Tarsem news Relativity has set a July 29, 2012 release for his follow-up film, The Brothers Grimm: Snow White starring Julia Roberts as the title character. For those not familiar with the name, Tarsem Singh directed The Cell starring Jennifer Lopez and Vince Vaughn as well as the excellent visual feast, The Fall.

Posted by dschnee at 9:41 PM

February 2, 2011

VES Awards celebrate craft with a nod to tough times in California

The occasion was celebratory, but no one was under the illusion that all is well in California's visual effects industry.

During the 9th Annual VES Awards at the Beverly Hilton on Tuesday night, Visual Effects Society Executive Director Eric Roth touted the industry's accomplishments but also highlighted some of the steep challenges facing California's visual effects industry. Ericroth

"Our industry is in transition," Roth said in opening remarks. "While visual effects is a growing business worldwide, here in California visual effects facilities have had to pay even more attention to their shrinking profit margins or risk finding themselves on the endangered species list, as was mentioned in today's L.A. Times."

Roth was referring to a story in The Times about the bleak landscape facing California visual effects companies, several of which have shut down in recent years in the face of rising competition from foreign rivals armed with steep tax incentives and low-cost labor.

"At the artist level there's a lot of talk about whether or not to form a union,'' Roth added, referring to an effort by the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees to extend its reach into one of the only remaining crafts in Hollywood that remains nonunion. "Whether you think one should be formed or not, most people agree it's time working conditions no longer forced artists to work crazy hours, that everyone should have access to group healthcare and that visual effects and credits should be located in a more respectful place in the crawl -- and not beneath the caterer."

Drawing some applause from the 1,000-plus people in the audience, Roth then switched to a more upbeat message about honoring the industry's best visual effects work. Top of the list was Christopher Nolan's thriller "Inception," which won four awards at the event, hosted by comic Patton Oswalt, the voice of the rat in Pixar's "Ratatouille."

- Richard Verrier (latimes.com)

Posted by dschnee at 10:43 PM