Tuesday, December 28, 2010

True Grit

I love westerns! Be it sixties "spaghetti westerns" or more serious action westerns, I love 'em. I have always loved the semi campy style of John Wayne's, Rooster Cogburn. When I saw the teaser trailer for the remake of "True Grit" I was elated. I could see from the trailer, this was going to be a much more serious take on the 1968 novel.

First let me say what a cast! Jeff Bridges, Matt Daemon, Josh Brolin! They were all awesome. And then we come to Hailee Steinfeld. Her performance was simple stupendous. Her portrayal of Mattie Ross gave the character a clear sense of strength and determination which was at the same time a mask for her characters true fear about what lay ahead.

There was amazing dialog in this movie, some of it rather campy but played so straight faced that it lent to the feeling of authenticity of the film. Part of that authenticity was in the violence. I do not particularly enjoy violence on the big screen, especially when the filmmakers seem to be rubbing in my face in gregarious proportions. While this film definitely pushed the line of graphic violence in a PG-13 movie, it was not reveling or glorifying it. It was merely a way of life and portrayed as such. While I could have used less graphic depictions, I did not find it offensive.

In conclusion the film has great heart and whit. It lived up to my excitement and as a lover of the genre I would recommend it to any avid western lover.

Sunday, December 26, 2010


So I went with all my family to see this over Christmas. We opted not to see it in 3D as the cost for that many people would be astronomical and my parents were footing the bill. As for the movie... it was... cute. The kids seemed to like it, though the adult side of the story (the love interest of Ranger "what's his name") didn't quite cut it for the kids. While people seem to love or hate this cg Yogi, I think the film could have used more of the title character.

The internet is full of people crying over the fouling of there childhood memories. So, I went and watched some old Hanabarbara cartoons on youTube to prep myself for the film and trust me, your memory doesn't suit you if you feel this movie didn't have the sophisticated humor of what your memory espouses to the old cartoons. As I have found with all my childhood memories of cartoons and many movies, my tastes for humor and entertainment have refined and evolved over the years. The "awesomeness" is in the memory, not the cartoon. So maybe this yogi can be to our kids what the old traditional yogi is to us. You choose.

While we didn't see it in 3D, all the "jump out of the screen" gags were very apparent. Yogi was well rendered but some of the river action compositing was less than decent. Overall, the film was fun but I might have been fine waiting for dvd to show the kids. Because if the kids don't enjoy it enough to sit through it, you won't either. If you go into this movie with an open mind you will find it more or less entertaining.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Saying goodbye to Harry: Part 1

As a huge fan of the books let me say, you have to extricate yourself from them to enjoy these films.

I got the chance to go with some friends from work to see the latest installment of this behemoth of a film franchise. It was hilarious to take a step back and listen to the resulting "round table" discussion that took place immediately thereafter in the theater lobby. The scrutiny of the loyalty to the book, the quality of the visual fx, whether or not Shawn White (sitting behind us) enjoyed the movie. Let me say when you work in the art of film industry, especial as vfx artists you are the rock stars of the nerds, and we showed it. I digress.

The story of the film was, well, previously known (thanks obviously to the books). That said, I did enjoy it very much. I felt breathless at times as we ran through the story with reckless abandon, much of which is to expected when trying to take a book of 784 pages to celluloid. But overall, it was wonderful to see something akin to what I had imagined in my reader's mind played out before my eyes.

Now to nerd out a bit. The visual effects were ranging from good to incredible. I was particularly impressed with Kreacher. His flesh seemed so tangible and human like, a quality which is extremely difficult in cg. That said, on sequence ruined the movie for me. Early on in the film there is a sequence which consists or Ron and Harry talking outside the Weasley home. It was obviously filmed on a sound stage and the backgrounds were extended using the "magic of computers." But in a few shots the green screen work was so bad, akin to that of a first year cg student, that the rest of the film I couldn't help but watch for more cg offenses.

In conclusion, the film was adventurous and fun. If you want a celluloid version of the books, this is not it. As for an adaptation, it was very enjoyable.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Legend of the Guardians: The Owls of Ga'Hoole

I have to say, I wasn't expecting all that much from this movie. At first glance it felt like I was looking at "Happy Feet" with owls. However what I experienced was very different. First I must say, this movie is extremely well crafted as far as visuals are concerned. While not everyone cares stylistically for the soft subsurface-y look that you can get in cg, it was well executed. With breath taking vistas and well groomed hero characters, this is a must for fans of the art of computer graphics and computer nerds. Also note worthy are the awesome effects in the film from the rain to fire to "energy fields."

While it is an awesome film to look at, it has some visual flaws. Some of the "scruffy" owls looked more like muppets than owls and betrayed the suspension of disbelief. I also hated the "Happy Feet" eyes that all the characters had, there was a little to much character resemblance between the films. For the most part the lighting was great accept for a handful of shots which were a bit of an eyesore.

As for story, the film was okay. My son, who is almost eight, loved the armor clad owls and was captivated by the story. My youngest son, just turned two, couldn't have cared less. He spent the show running around the theater. Thankfully, the theater was virtually empty and the other families there had small children. You might say, "But he is only two!" And yet, might I point out my son will sit through any Pixar film over and over, and was quiet as a mouse all through "Toy Story 3," riveted! While the story is aimed at older kids compared to most Pixar films, it still lacked the sophistication to hold a broad audiences attention. Fighting Owls may be cool to eight year olds, but the rest of us would like a little more character and a little more substance.

As for the action, it was comically, "300" for kids. Just before every blow of an opponent we would be ramped into super slow-mo! Instead of the cg blood splatter, flying feathers and armor cladding. It was very text book "300" style action. This isn't all that surprising as both films share the same director, Zach Snyder. On that note it was fairly violent considering the typical audience and at times made me wince a bit at having all my kids there. But that should be placed on my lapse of judgment I suppose.

I did not opt to see this film in 3D, however I heard it was well executed and brought greater depth to the imagery. So if you have some extra cash burning in your pocket, you may consider seeing this one in 3D.

All in all, it was enjoyable. Where the story lacked I could fill my time looking at the "pretty pictures" and admire all the craftsmanship and hard work that went into making this film. While not the pinnacle of film making it was entertaining, especially if you are eight.

Friday, September 24, 2010

The all powerful GPU

GPU computing is revolutionizing computing, especially for the world of visual effects. It is putting more power in the hands of the artist and allowing for breath taking simulations that previously would have been financially inconceivable. Check out how the power of the GPU was harnessed at ILM for "Harry Potter" and "The Last Airbender."

Bollywood BlockBuster?

Is this the dawn of the summer blockbuster for Bollywood?

As more and more Hollywood companies out source to India and other Pacific region countries, it was only a matter of time before the "Blockbuster" found its home in the rapidly expanding "Bollywood" film industry.

The film "Enthiran" or "Robot" is the biggest budget film in Indian film making history. While the actors and production crews are predominately from the Indian film industry, many big name Hollywood players have been enlisted to help bring this project to the silver screen. Stan Winston Studios, known for their work on "The Terminator," "Aliens," "Jurassic Park," "Iron Man," and "Avatar" to name a few, brought their craft to this film designing the awesome animatronics and visual effects for the film. Additional big Hollywood companies lend a hand to the visuals including, ILM, Tippet Studios, and Cafe EFX.

Big names like Mary E Vogt for costume design and Yuen Woo Ping for laying out the complex stunt work add to the list of elite Hollywood talent.

It is very exciting to see the expansion of mega budget movies to other film making industries. Hopefully it will inject new life into the decline American visual effects industry. Only time will tell.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

New images from "Sheriff"

We are finish up the final artistic touches and technical fixes on the rooster. I am so excited to see things coming together.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

"Cats and Dogs" in 3D

While vacationing with my parents and my wife and kids we decided to go see a movie. Since we had the kiddies in tow, we figured we would go see something "family friendly." The options were, "Despicable Me," they had all seen it, "Flipped," kids would never sit through that, and, "Cats & Dogs." We had a bunch of free movie tickets so thought, "Hey, why not. The first one had some funny moments with the evil Mr. Tinkles."

The first let down came at the ticket window. The film was only showing in 3D. This meant almost a hundred dollars for the group to see the film. Ouch. Seeing there was nothing else and not much else to do, and the children had been promised a movie, we coughed over the dough (paying the difference after using the free tickets that didn't cover the cost of a "3D" ticket).

All I can say is this film was terrible. The 3D was awful. The cg visual effects were terrible, except for some of Kitty Galore, the rest was terrible. The story line was lame. The jokes lacked any punch. Even my kids were getting bored in the film. I was excited to see a cameo from the hilariously funny evil Mr. Tinkles from the first film, but the writing was so awful that I couldn't stand anything that came out of his mouth. Maybe I am crazy for thinking the first one was quirkish and funny. All the characters in this sequel were weak. There was almost no motivation to move any of the story along, at many times the writers didn't even try to string it together and just hoped the audience wouldn't notice the incoherent story. You don't care about any of the characters at all ever during the film.

In conclusion, I wouldn't spend a cent on this movie, not one. Given the chance to go back in time and get our money back I wouldn't hesitate. If you find this movie at all interesting, watch the trailer on iTunes and save yourself the money. It's a complete waste of time.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Sheriff may actual finish in 2010!

The "Sheriff" production is heading into it's sixth year of production/post production. It seems like only yesterday we were shooting on the back lot of the MPS. The main character has gone through some major revisions, always in an effort to increase the quality of the project.

The project has been through many technology changes. For my fellow cg nerds... the project started in Maya 6.5 and has found it's final home in Maya 2010. It began in Renderman 12 and rat tools 6.1 and is now in Mental Ray. It started on Windows Xp and now finds itself living between Mac OS 10.5 and Linux. It has been a real adventure maintaining a pipeline for this endeavor.

There have been many production children from the various artists helping on the movie. The "Sheriff" family continues to grow. I thank everyone for their support. Especially all the wives and children of the crew. Kelly and myself look forward to finishing the project very soon.

Here is a sneak peak at a work in progress shot!


This film from students at Gobelins Animation School in France is amazing. Every time I see it I want to go make a short film. It's a great story and technologically brilliant for student work, it holds its ground against many professional shorts with ease. Down right incredible. It was made bake in 2007 and it still impresses. It has garnered many awards and many honorable mentions, including a 2009 nomination for "Best Animated Short" academy award.

Official Website

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Maya scripting

For any Maya artist and students wanting to expand their skills and the toolsets at their finger tips to create breath taking art. I would suggest this book, Complete Maya Programming. It is a great book to have in your reference library. The only reference I use more for maya mel scripting is the maya docs themselves.

This book gives simple and complex examples of how to code different types of syntax structure. It's not always the most entertaining read but it is jam packed with great information. A must have.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

From YouTube to Hollywood!

Fede Alvarez of Uruguay uploaded his short film to YouTube in November of last year (just sounds so fun to say that even though it was barely two months ago) has been offered a $30m contract to make a Hollywood film.

His project caught the eye of Hollywood blockbuster director Sam Raimi, who will sponsor Alvarez's upcoming foray into Hollywood film making. (If you don't know who he is and you consider yourself a movie buff you should)

"Ataque de Panico!" (Panic Attack!) is a virtually story-less action sequence with nothing more for a plot than gaint robots emerge from the fog and destroy Montevideo. There are no real characters to speak of, no protagonist. Short of the robots and the masses of screaming citizenry it is rather void.

With a running time just under 5 minutes and a budget of a mere $300 it is an impressive feat. The visuals are interesting to watch and don't detract from the viewing experience. The core idea of the project holds virtually no originality however. The robot designs also lack originality but are executed well enough for the scope of the endeavor. While his contract is apparently to direct a feature, this film is more of an exercise in the skills of a cinematographer or visual fx artist/supervisor than those of a director.

So far it has generated more than 1.5 million views on YouTube.

"I uploaded (Panic Attack!) on a Thursday and on Monday my inbox was totally full of e-mails from Hollywood studios," he told the BBC's Latin American service BBC Mundo.

"It was amazing, we were all shocked."

Alvarez is to create a science fiction film to be shot in Uruguay or Argentina. He intends to start from scratch to create said project.

"If some director from some country can achieve this just uploading a video to YouTube, it obviously means that anyone could do it," he added.

After hearing about this all I can say is... I need to get creating... something... big... but cheap. (sounding harder all the time) But apparently Hollywood is just handing out money and "anyone can do it."

If only us film guess could get our hands on their software!

So... Back when I worked at the MPS the police department would come by every so often with some tape or image of a suspect and ask if we could "Enhance" it for them. It was always some really bad over recorded vhs tape or something of the sort. I thought they had departments with tech nerds writing real time algorithms for that kind of stuff... Because I mean, come on, if we movie guys had that kind of stuff... lets just say movies would be so much cooler. Seriously, if a pixel in an image could miraculously contain another mega pixel of information that some nerd just needs to type a bit on the key board to unlock then my job just got so much easier... I just need to get a little bit nerdier (vfx guess are the rock stars of the nerd world, I need to go a little deeper).

That all said, it has to be my all time favorite thing to laugh at in tv and movie plots. I wait for it to come and you can always see it coming and it just destroys any suspension of disbelief I may have had. Sadly this is one plot device that will forever be with us.

The "New" Pocahontas

Let me just say I went and saw avatar and I loved it. It was action packed, the story was interesting, and the fx were very good. It was great.

While I can't say I made the direct connection to Pocahontas, it was very apparent that the film contained tones of "the evil white settlers versus the earth/nature loving natives." I saw this on my friends facebook page and had a wonderful laugh upon reading it. Just goes to show there are no new stories ;)

Enjoy. (sorry it doesn't all fit you will have to right click... something... something)

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Oscar Count Down!

Yet again the Oscars are upon us.

The Academy has just slimmed down its short list of films vying for the title of "Best Visual Effects" from 15 to 7. Saidly neither of the films I worked on this year are in the running but that is of no surprise. Not that they weren't note worthy, but they didn't fit the academy "mold."

The list is as follows:

"Avatar" "District 9," "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince," "Star Trek," "Terminator Salvation," "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" and "2012."

image from "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen"

Those films now on the cutting room floor are "Angels & Demons," "Coraline," "Disney's A Christmas Carol," "G-Force," "G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra," "Sherlock Holmes," "Watchmen" and "Where the Wild Things Are."

Maybe it's just me but I am a bit surprised films like "Coraline" and "Disney's A Christmas Carol" were ever in consideration?! Has the concept of "visual effects" become so skewed and misunderstood that animated films now fall into the category? Last I looked, there was a wonderful category called "Best Animated Feature."

"It's all just the same." No it's not all just the same. Just as in visual effects are not special effects. I mean why not?! Maybe we just make one category, "Coolest Movie." That should cover it right?

Why so cranky you ask? I'm not, but a bit of ruffled feathers certainly makes for better reading.

The 82nd Academy Awards nominations will be announced on Feb. 2.