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May 25, 2011

Breaking Dawn

Harry Potter Ended, Immortals Lives On, & I'm Breaking Dawn.

Here's the official synopsis for The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn:

In the highly anticipated next chapter of the blockbuster The Twilight Saga, the newfound married bliss of Bella Swan (Kristen Stewart) and vampire Edward Cullen (Robert Pattinson) is cut short when a series of betrayals and misfortunes threatens to destroy their world.

After their wedding, Bella and Edward travel to Rio de Janeiro for their honeymoon, where they finally give in to their passions. Bella soon discovers she is pregnant, and during a nearly fatal childbirth, Edward finally fulfills her wish to become immortal.

But the arrival of their remarkable daughter, Renesmee, sets in motion a perilous chain of events that pits the Cullens and their allies against the Volturi, the fearsome council of vampire leaders, setting the stage for an all-out battle.

The suspenseful and deeply romantic Breaking Dawn continues the epic tale of supernatural fantasy and passionate love that has made The Twilight Saga a worldwide phenomenon.

Currently in Production. U.S. release via Summit Entertainment, November 18, 2011(part 1), and November 16, 2012(part 2).

I still prefer Chud.com's take, Why Breaking Dawn must be made into a movie!


Posted by dschnee at 10:45 PM

May 24, 2011

Visual Effects Society: 2.0

A snippet from a Variety article by David S. Cohen...

The Visual Effects Society is morphing from milquetoast to militant.

The VES, founded as an honorary society, announced in an open letter Tuesday afternoon that it is changing its mission to focus on problem solving and advocacy for the visual effects industry. Key issues the org aims to tackle include hours and working conditions, consistent onscreen credits and employee benefits commensurate with other workers on films.

While the announcement was abrupt, the VES' transformation is actually the result of years of frustration shared within the org and its leadership, and it was accomplished despite deep divisions in the org and the industry.

The letter, titled "Visual Effects Society 2.0," declares: "In the coming weeks and months, VES will shine a spotlight on the issues facing the artists, facilities and studios by way of editorial pieces in the trades and vfx blogs, virtual town hall meetings, a vfx Artists' Bill of Rights and a vfx CEO's Forum."

Check out the full Variety article here!

An Open Letter To VFX Artists And The Entertainment Industry At Large (.pdf)

It's a very different mission from that envisioned originally by the VES and its founders. VES leadership years ago looked across the biz and saw that crafts needed three kinds of org for full recognition in the movie biz: a union or guild, a trade organization and an honorary society. The VES formed to fulfill the third function, and its leaders waited for the other two to come together and handle the rest.

And waited. And waited.

Repeated efforts to launch a trade association came to naught. For more than 20 years, unions and guilds rebuffed efforts to organize vfx artists, and by the time IATSE and the IBEW announced organizing efforts last year, much of the work had moved abroad.

"No one has stood up to lead the way on the business side of our business," the letter said. "No one has been able to speak out for unrepresented artists and facilities -- or the craft as a whole -- in any meaningful way."

VES chairman Jeffrey Okun, himself a visual effects supervisor, told Variety, "We had more and more requests (from VES members), some of them quite belligerent, asking, 'Why don't you do this?' ?"

Some had asked the VES to become a union. Okun and the org's executive director, Eric Roth, said VES will not assume that role, but "we need to step up and be the voice for the visual effects side of the industry. As we move on, we will be speaking up in a much more proactive way."

Okun emphasized that the org would remain "nonpartisan."

"The purpose of all this is to bring the parties to the table for discussions that will yield a result," Okun said. "While we represent the artists as an honorary society, we also represent facilities, because without them artists have nowhere to work, and studios, because without them facilities have nowhere to work."

Okun said while it's clear the VES' new stance would lead to it stepping on toes, "that's not the intention. The intention is to bring the industry together."

Reaction from the vfx industry was mixed.

Jeff Barnes, head of now-defunct CafeFX, said he fully supports the move, and Jules Roman, prexy of Tippett Studio in Berkeley, welcomed the shift.

"I thought it was tremendous," said Roman of Tuesday's move, "because it put in one place all the issues we all talk about when visual effects people get together. We're subject to so many pressures, but we know what we do contributes so greatly to movies, especially to tentpoles. It's just confusing. So if the VES can articulate the issues for us in a concise form, it's a great thing for the group to do."

Vfx artist Dave Rand, who has become a prominent voice for vfx unionization, recalled trying to get the VES to act when Meteor Studios in Montreal went bust, leaving artists unpaid. "Later we did hear from them, and it was explained to us that according to their charter they could not get involved with our problems. Seems like times are changing and having VES more active in these areas, even as just a conduit or platform, can really benefit the vfx artists."

But Greg Strause, CEO of Santa Monica-based Hydraulx, was skeptical, citing in inherent conflict of interest for the VES.

"I fail to see how they can purport to represent the best interest of artists, and represent the best interests of facilities, and to represent the industry on the global level," Strause said. "Frankly speaking, as a facility owner, our best interest in California is not the best interest of facilities in Vancouver or London."

Strause said he is against anything, such as a union, that would raise prices for vfx for the studios.

"The two things that are highest on our priority list would be an aggressive California tax credit that would keep jobs in SoCal, and all unions should be thinking about this. We also need an aggressive federal tax credit to keep the jobs in the United States. Those are the only two issues everybody should be talking about."

The open letter did not address tax credits, but did cite three problem areas for the vfx industry that the VES will address:

ncredits, where vfx artists are "often listed incompletely" and too low in the crawl;

nbenefits, observing "on a union show we are the only department that is not union and therefore not receiving the same benefits as everyone else on the set"; and

nworking conditions, noting that freelancers often work in vfx shops for 70- to 100-hour weeks for weeks or months on end, while being paid as independent contractors.

Among the first things on the new VES agenda is an Artists' Bill of Rights.

"This should spell out what is basic to each worker and what is not just fair but what is right," Okun wrote in a text chat conducted Tuesday afternoon on Variety.com.

The VES letter said while the org may not have collective bargaining power, it has the power of 2,400 artists in 23 countries, "and the VES board of directors has decided that now is the time to use it. We are the only viable organization that can speak to the needs and concerns of everyone involved in vfx to meet the challenges of a changing global industry and our place within it."

Posted by dschnee at 11:51 PM

May 23, 2011

It All Ends 7.15 Posters

Updated: 18 more from my It All Ends 7.15 Posters Galore! post.

Posted by dschnee at 10:33 PM

May 17, 2011

A New Paradigm for Priest

Read how Priest plays in the best possible digital sandbox.

By all accounts, Priest, the new vampire/western from director Scott Stewart, proved to be a great test case for handling the under $100 million vfx-intensive film. With the help of Jenny Fulle's new Creative Cartel serving as the vfx hub, they were able to effectively manage 750 shots, split between a dozen facilities, including Tippett, Svengali, The Senate, Spin, Zoic, Spy Post, Gradient and Iloura.

We hired Tippett [under the supervision of Blair Clark] to do the creature work. We wanted to make sure they had a unique motion. I'm a reference hound (YouTube's my friend), so I went back and looked at monkeys and gorillas, which was great for the grabbing and pouncing. But, really, what I fell in love with were big game cats: tigers and lions and leopards. There's such elegance in the way they move and they have so much speed and weight."

Tippett animated the vampires like a big-game cat with emphasis on speed, motion and elegance.

Check out the full article here!

In subcontracting a visual effects department, Fulle says it made her role as vfx producer a lot more efficient. "What we're doing now is keeping an infrastructure in place and bringing it within reach of the smaller budgeted shows," she explains. "It's a powerful and smart way of spending your money, and you can get a lot more value.

"Logistically it was a challenge to manage, but at the end of the day, it worked out really well. For me as a producer, I was able to create as big of a sandbox for Jonathan [Rothbart, the overall visual effects supervisor] as I could and he was able to get the most out of what was in that sandbox for him. And Scott knew what he wanted and that's always a help. We were able to push people in different areas. We split the work into digital environments and hard surface models and characters and even primary characters vs. tertiary characters. And we went to the houses and worked with them."

Tippett animated the vampires like a big-game cat with emphasis on speed, motion and elegance.

"Our biggest challenge overall was that we were on a micro budget for visual effects compared to the amount of work we were putting out," Rothbart suggests. "That was a big part of what Jenny was doing. Scott and I talked about grounding it in reality and not appearing too fantastical, everything from the design of the vampires to the concepts behind the vehicles and in the way that we had the creatures and the people interact in the world. We wanted to make sure they all had a level of familiarity so that we stayed grounded in that real state. Scott and I always talk about the fact that visual effects should never be at the forefront of a movie; it should be in support of the action.

One of the most difficult characters was the hive guardian, the bruiser of the vampire world. The original design had him thinner and longer, but Tippett convinced them to give them a chance to design a more powerful creature."The way we thought of it was a rhino or bear with a hard skull structure to be used as a battering ram," Rothbart continues. "For vulnerability, we gave him a soft underbelly as well. We started with some motion tests and it didn't take long for them to get a great sense of what the drone and hive guardian motion should be. Animation supervisor Jim Brown gave him a snarl."

The Senate gave the wasteland an iconic western look.

For the main city, Svengali (under the supervision of Robert Nederhorst) helped create a combination of Blade Runner and Orwell. "We came to the conclusion that they needed to build a city kit," Rothbart adds. "So we worked on a building level first and then expanded that out to the whole city. It's walled and confined, so there's always an upward expansion. We had newer buildings on top of older ones and it went up and up and up. And intertwined with that were these smoke stacks. At the center is the cathedral, which is the hub of the city and the shining light above everything. It was a really good process and solved a lot of the scope problems for us on a micro level."

By contrast, the wasteland by The Senate (under the supervision of Richard Higham) is an infinite horizon of ground and sky. "We did a lot of horizon replacements," Rothbart suggests. "We shot at the salt flats in the Mohave Desert but even that wasn't barren enough. In the DI, they just blasted it to create a great contrast to the city."

Plus there was a thrilling train sequence that was a combination of live action and CG split up between Gradient, Iloura and Spy Post with a 12-scale miniature by Kerner Optical. They built exterior facades of two trains that were pulled by trucks in the desert and then extended out. Then the fight on top of the train was filmed outdoors in front of a bluescreen.

Spy added a future retro look to the train.

The toolset consisted of mostly of Maya, Nuke, RenderMan and mental ray.

A virtual production flow was created with Rothbart in San Francisco and Fulle and her group in LA. They also sent out a color pipeline package to every vendor with LUTs, which took a lot of the guess work out in viewing the movie and mixing live action with digital sequences.

As for the stereo conversion, both Rothbart and Fulle were impressed with the results. "We shot the movie Scope and there's not a straight line with those [rare C-series] lenses, so we wanted to take advantage of that," Rothbart says. "Conversion enhances the experience of looking deep into the channels of the city or into the vastness of the desert."

"When the release date was pushed back several months, we were able to finish the shots, which was a luxury in looking back at it," Fulle adds. "Then we re-engaged some of our vendors where we wanted to re-render in stereo. It was kind of like doing two projects, one after the other. We did the visual effects, we regrouped and then we came back to do the conversion."

Posted by dschnee at 10:01 PM

May 13, 2011

Priest is Released!

in the USA 7 January 2011

visit Season of the Witch @ imdb.com

Box Office Results May 13-15, 2011
Number: 4
Opening Weekend Gross: $14,953,664
Theatres: 2,864
Theatre Average: $1,659
Weeks in Release: 2
Total Gross: $24,408,261
Budget: $60 Million
Running Time: 1 hrs. 27 min.
Distributor: Sony/Screen Gems
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Genre: Action Horror

Priest suffered from a muddled marketing campaign that emphasized its cult graphic novel source material while failing to illuminate any sort of compelling story. Looking to piggyback on the slowly fading vampire craze, Priest's characters often talked about the undead creatures in the previews, though it was hard to tell what made these vampires interesting or unique. Distributor Sony Pictures reported that Priest's audience was 57 percent male and 57 percent over the age of 25. With Thor and Fast Five currently monopolizing young male audiences and Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides on the horizon, Priest only had a minute chance to break-out.

Posted by dschnee at 9:34 PM

May 12, 2011

Scott Stewart Talks Priest

VFX artist-turned director Scott Stewart discusses his latest sci-fi mash-up starring Paul Bettany and Maggie Q.

Scott Stewart has made great use of his VFX expertise, first as a designer with ILM and then as co-founder of The Orphanage, in helming Priest, the dystopian vampire/western opening tomorrow through Screen Gems. He enjoys riffing on Blade Runner, Brazil and Bad Day at Black Rock, and he likes what 3-D can do (he'd much rather rave about how hard it was to get a close-up of his two stars than some badass fight).

Check out the full interview here!

Bill Desowitz: Coming off Legion, what drew you to Priest?

Scott Stewart: The fact that it takes place in an alternate world, and although religion plays a part in it, it's way more Orwellian science-fiction. The vampire is also a different metaphor in Priest. They're albino, they're more feral, they're nocturnal, they're cave dwellers and they have a primitive culture. And so what I realized what was at the heart of the movie was that it has its roots in western iconography and it's an after the war movie.

BD: What was the design process like?

SS: TyRuben Ellingson, an old friend from the ILM days, designed the vehicles; Chet Zar was the creature designer and his characters have a lot of soulfulness. And I'm a big form follows function guy and so are Chet and Ty: his designs are based on relatable, realistic, engineering principles. We just gave ourselves some rules: we called the design aspects of the movie "Retro Futurism." It's hard to do a dark dystopia without living in the shadow of Blade Runner; it's like the Frank Sinatra of science-fiction movies. So you realize that and you just try to make the design tell the story of the world, and we have a walled city, which at the center has a large industrial cathedral, which looms over all the other buildings, and looks like a pin cushion with smoke stacks. And it's always night and it snows ash 24 hours a day.

Svengali serves up an Orwellian nightmare and homage to Blade Runner.

BD: And the vfx journey?

SS: Jonathan Rothbart's my old partner from The Orphange and was the visual effects supervisor, and Jenny Fulle, the visual effects producer, I've known since she was at Imageworks. They really did a remarkable job of getting an extraordinary amount of work done and they stretched a buck pretty darn far. We worked with a lot of facilities around the world. Tippett was the main creature facility and the main matte painting facility was Svengali; we had Spin in Toronto doing secondary creatures and matte work; we had The Senate in the UK that came in and did some environments for us. Zoic contributed as well.

BD: Talk about Genndy Tartakovsky directing the three-minute animated prologue.

SS: It's really cool. I just thought if we were going to set up this alternate world, that it was a great opportunity here to see the mythology of the world. It goes from the Crusades to World War I to the future and so we did that and Robbie Consing reboarded it for me and I did a boardomatic and the studio absolutely loved it. And then we did our budget and it was going to cost several million dollars and it became really easy for them to want to cut it, but I held it in my back pocket for the longest time. And I had talked to Genndy about it -- this hand-drawn, R-rated animation for mainstream audiences in a theatrical picture, which is unusual these days. I've known Genndy a long time and have worked with him as a producer and developer, but this was an opportunity to work with him as a director and co-directors essentially on this.

BD: So what happened?

SS: So the end of that story is I went to the studio and said, "If I could do it for this number, can we do it?" And they said, "Well, we actually have no idea how'd you do it for that tiny fraction of the original multi-million dollar number it came out to be, but if you can, great." He started working on the designs of the characters and I liked the direction he was going in [Americanizing his love of anime]; we talked about a watercolor style background and we just wanted to be very tactile, almost like a storybook (I think most of it was com'd in After Effects). And it was all done in California. Yet it's quite violent. He started with my boardomatic and then he did his pass and reconceived it and we made further adjustments. I had Alan Dale, who's in the film, record the voice-over. And it was a terrific collaboration. All along, the studio wasn't sure if this was going to work or be appealing. Was the animation going to be too graphic and too simple? And when it was done, they thought it was awesome, and we showed it to audiences, and people were real excited about it and that didn't surprise me at all.

BD: It's interesting that you could get away with more blood and gore than in the actual movie.

SS: Yeah, interestingly enough, even though we're a PG-13 movie, the MPAA just went: "Oh, it's animated -- no worries!" Which was so funny because they actually had huge problems with stuff that's less graphic and violent in the live-action movie. They made us turn our blood black or brown, for the most part, in the movie itself.

No ordinary vampire, thanks to Tippett's vfx.

BD: What was the 3-D experience like?

SS: I wanted to shoot anamorphic -- Don Burgess was my camera man and is a real legend, shooting Spider-Man and Forrest Gump. We knew it was a landscape movie -- it was influenced by Bad Day at Black Rock and Ford and Leone and other things. And we wanted to make a widescreen movie, so we talked a lot about 3-D and we wanted to shoot film, we wanted to have that look and use those lenses primarily from the '70s, which have a lot of aberration that they've tried to engineer out of those lenses. We knew what we could get photographically in a 2-D version and, if given enough time, we could make a very compelling 3-D version of the movie [in post]. It's very important to Sony, so once they saw an early cut of the movie, we moved forward with stereoscopic conversion and they gave us about eight more months and an early summer release. Several months and a number of vendors and some very talented stereographers, like Rob Engle and Bruce Jones, and I think they did a remarkable job. We wanted the film like a window into a world, so the movie's quite deep, and it's about looking at the vastness of the desert, the dystopian city.

BD: How's The Mortal Instruments going?

SS: It's going well. It's quite different from what I've done in the past: it's based on a very popular young girls' book series [by Cassandra Clare]. It's a bit Harry Potter, a bit Twilight: a female protagonist [Lily Collins], a seemingly ordinary girl in New York, who discovers she has some extraordinary powers, and there's a city within the city filled with creatures (if you look at that dilapidated church, you can see that it's really a gleaming, gothic cathedral) There's a lot of music and this is a lot breezier than Priest, a lot more comedy and romance with still plenty of action. I think it's going to be a lot of fun.

Bill Desowitz is senior editor of AWN & VFXWorld.

Posted by dschnee at 9:52 PM