1973 | 45 Years Ago

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Charles Ni­chols and Iwao Takamoto di­rect Hanna-Bar­bera’s E.B. White adap­ta­tion Char­lotte’s Web. Wolf­gang Rei­ther­man helms Dis­ney’s Robin Hood, and Ralph Bak­shi re­leases his sec­ond not-for-kids fea­ture, Heavy Traf­fic. TV high­lights in­clude Hanna-Bar­bera’s Jeannie, Speed Buggy, Su­per Friends and Yogi’s Gang; Fil­ma­tion’s Lassie’s Res­cue Rangers, Mis­sion: Magic!, My Fa­vorite Mar­tians and Star Trek. Ivor Wood helps FilmFair bring The Wombles to U.K. TV. Born: Hit-maker/voice ac­tor Seth MacFar­lane (Oct. 26); anime di­rec­tors Ei Aoki (Jan. 20), Makoto Shinkai; voice ac­tresses Tara Strong (Feb. 12) and Grey DeLisle (Aug. 24); head of LAIKA Travis Knight (Sept. 13). Founded: Asahi Pro­duc­tion

in an­i­ma­tion is also in­tro­duced. Dis­ney-Pixar’s Os­car win­ner WALL · E (An­drew Stan­ton), DreamWorks’ Kung Fu Panda (John Wayne Steven­son & Mark Os­borne), Dis­ney’s Bolt (Chris Wil­liams & By­ron Howard), Blue Sky’s Hor­ton Hears a Who! (Jimmy Hayward & Steve Martino), The Tale of Des­pereaux, Mada­gas­car: Es­cape 2 Africa, Open Sea­son 2, Igor and Space Chimps are some of the big do­mes­tic re­leases. There’s buzz about in­ter­na­tional ti­tles Ponyo from Hayao Miyazaki (Ja­pan), Fly Me to the Moon (Bel­gium), Euro co-pro The Flight Be­fore Christmas, Goat Story (Czech Rep.), Ga­bor Csupo’s Im­mi­grants (Hun­gary), Mia and the Mi­goo (France) and The Miss­ing Lynx (Spain). In­die fea­ture gems in­clude Ta­tia Rosen­thal’s $9.99, Bill Plymp­ton’s Id­iots and An­gels, Nina Pa­ley’s Sita Sings the Blues and Ari Fol­man’s Waltz with Bashir. New to TV: Star Wars: The Clone Wars, Bat­man: The Brave and the Bold, The Mighty B!, The Mar­velous Misad­ven­tures of Flap­jack, Ran­dom! Car­toons, The Pen­guins of Mada­gas­car, Ben 10: Alien Force, Sid the Sci­ence Kid (U.S.); Chug­ging­ton (U.K.), Ch­hota Bheem (In­dia), Wakfu (France), Martha Speaks, Kid vs. Kat (Canada). On disc, Fu­tu­rama: Ben­der’s Game and The Beast with a Bil­lion Backs help get the show back on TV; Lau­ren Mont­gomery di­rects WB’s Won­der Woman; Dis­neyToons of­fers Tin­ker Bell; Toshi Hiruma and Bruce Timm team up for the Bat­man: Gotham Knight an­thol­ogy; WB is­sues Jus­tice League: The New Fron­tier; and Film Roman de­liv­ers video-game pre­quel Dead Space: Down­fall for EA. Ku­nio Ka­tou’s La Mai­son en Petits Cubes is the year’s Os­car-win­ning short. The vfx Os­car goes to The Cu­ri­ous Case of Ben­jamin But­ton. Founded: 8-Bit (Ja­pan), An­i­mac­cord (Rus­sia), GoHands (Ja­pan), Kharabeesh (Jor­dan), Kinema cit­rus (Ja­pan), Lu­mi­cel (In­dia), Mar­vel An­i­ma­tion (U.S.), ToonBox En­ter­tain­ment (Canada); An­i­masy­ros fes­ti­val (Greece), An­i­ma­tor Fes­ti­val (Poland), Fest An a (Slo­vakia)

the Sea and

TBold ideas shine at the 2017 Stu­dent Academy Awards. By Ellen Wolff

he Academy of Mo­tion Pic­ture Arts and Sci­ences has a no­table his­tory of hon­or­ing stu­dent film­mak­ers with medals for their the­sis films. That honor roll in­cludes di­rec­tors John Las­seter, Pete Doc­ter, Robert Ze­meckis and Spike Lee, so Academy mem­bers un­der­stand­ably see glimpses of promis­ing futures for stu­dent win­ners.

This year’s hon­ors, which were pre­sented by the Academy in Oc­to­ber in Bev­erly Hills, were cho­sen out of 1,587 sub­mis­sions by 356 film schools. What made the an­i­ma­tion hon­orees par­tic­u­larly intriguing were the thor­oughly mod­ern movies these stu­dents cre­ated, ex­plor­ing themes of same-sex ado­les­cent at­trac­tion, the strug­gles of a gravely wounded war vet, and the im­pacts of mod­ern tech­nol­ogy on our lives.

Life Smart­phone, a wry look at the mishaps that be­fall peo­ple glued to their de­vices, was com­pletely hand-an­i­mated by Chenglin Xie, for­merly from China Cen­tral Academy of Fine Arts. He earned the sole Gold Medal for an­i­ma­tion from an in­ter­na­tional film school, and he is now a stu­dent at the USC School of Cin­e­matic Arts. Life Smart­phone was also of­fi­cially se­lected by over 50 in­ter­na­tional fes­ti­vals and was nom­i­nated for Sun­dance’s Grand Jury Prize.

Chenglin ac­tu­ally cred­its his fa­ther for the film’s in­spi­ra­tion. “My fa­ther told me many times that a per­son who stud­ies art should pay more at­ten­tion to their sur­round­ings rather than their smart­phone screen. Af­ter I shut down my phone I found peo­ple around me were al­ways play­ing with theirs, in­clud­ing my fa­ther! So I did some re­search and found many peo­ple get hurt do­ing that, so I de­cided to make a film to try and talk about this phe­nom­e­non.”

His darkly funny film un­folds in a side-scrolling man­ner, which mir­rors the side-swip­ing mo­tion peo­ple use with many smart­phone apps. How­ever, Chenglin cred­its more tra­di­tional film­mak­ers with fu­el­ing his de­sire to di­rect films, in­clud­ing Steven Spiel­berg and Ge­orge Lu­cas (whose im­ages grace his Face­book page). “They’ve in­flu­enced me to use a vis­ual lan­guage to tell sto­ries. When I face prob­lems I do not know how to solve, I watch their movies to get in­spired.” But don’t ex­pect him to give up mod­ern tech­nol­ogy, de­spite the cau­tion­ary tale of Life Smart­phone. Asked if he ex­pected to take self­ies dur­ing the Stu­dent Academy Awards events, he ad­mit­ted, “I think I will!”

bomb wan­der­ing around on two legs. What you can do with the story is al­most un­lim­ited.”

One of the most daunt­ing as­pects of the project was the Hulk hav­ing to de­liver comedic lines. “He is not de­liv­er­ing Shake­speare,” notes Mor­ri­son. “It’s rel­a­tively mono­syl­labic stuff, but highly ex­pres­sive and charm­ing. We went back to first

was a new char­ac­ter called Korg,” ex­plains Mor­ri­son. “He be­came more like­able and in­ter­est­ing as the sto­ry­board pan­els came in. Taika, who usu­ally has a cameo in all of his films, said, ‘I want to put on the mo­cap suit and be Korg.’ Now you’ve got the di­rec­tor di­rect­ing him­self act­ing as a fully mo­tion-cap­ture char­ac­ter on set, lit­er­ally adlib­bing with Chris Hemsworth!” (Waititi played three char­ac­ters in the film, at least par­tially.) Keep ’em Laugh­ing Just like the Hulk, Korg had to be able to de­liver funny lines. “Rocks can’t de­form or squash or stretch be­cause oth­er­wise it is go­ing to look like la­tex,” notes Mor­ri­son. “The chal­lenge was to cre­ate a new tech­ni­cal rig­ging sys­tem able to do a 1:1 map­ping of Taika’s per­for­mance of Korg and that al­lowed for the small­est amount of squash and stretch. If Korg flexes his arm, you have to make sure that the rocks can’t get big­ger. What you have to do is re­ar­range the layer of ex­ist­ing rocks to cre­ate vol­ume inside and give the il­lu­sion that the thing has ac­tu­ally flexed.”

“We do have im­prov scenes where Chris Hemsworth is adlib­bing with Mark Ruf­falo as Hulk de­liv­er­ing dia­logue in real time in the cam­era,” re­marks Mor­ri­son. “We had it mapped so we would make ad hoc mo­tion-cap­ture vol­ume on set so the cam­era operator would get a feed piped back into the eye­piece of the Alexa 65 cam­era that they’re shooting with. The operator could look at Hemsworth and tilt the cam­era up to frame the su­per­im­posed Hulk over where Ruf­falo was. Once we got to do­ing Korg it was re­ally crazy. Then as we got into post, Taika dis­cov­ered the power of mo­cap ADR where he can now go, ‘In se­ries two my dia­logue was a lit­tle bit fun­nier than in se­ries three, but Chris’ re­ac­tion is bet­ter in three.’ I told him you can stitch them to­gether and all of a sud­den he had this free­dom to craft with the char­ac­ters the fun­ni­est ver­sion of the scene.”

One of the film’s high­lights is an epic glad­i­a­tor bat­tle be­tween Thor and the Hulk. “I was rack­ing my brains to come up with how you would chore­o­graph a fight with a real 8’6” and 6’4” per­son,” re­veals Mor­ri­son. “I hit upon an idea about do­ing it in re­verse. What if that 6’4” per­son is the Hulk? How big does that make Thor? The an­swer is 4’8”. I said to stunt co­or­di­na­tor Ben Cooke, ‘Do you know some­one who is a good stunt player who is a bit shorter?’ That’s when we got the amaz­ing Paul Lowe, who is like a scaled ver­sion of Chris. We had done sto­ry­boards so were able to chore­o­graph the en­tire fight us­ing a 4’8” Thor and 6’4” Hulk … When you take the Hulk ver­sion of the mo-cap and take the blue-screen ver­sion of Chris’ stuff and put the whole thing to­gether, it fit to­gether like a jig­saw puz­zle. The moves are ab­so­lutely 1:1.” Don’t Mess with Hela Sib­ling ri­valry goes beyond Thor and Loki (Tom Hid­dle­ston) as their ruth­less sis­ter Hela (Cate Blanchett) es­capes im­pris­on­ment and plans to ex­pand the em­pire by com­mand­ing an army of the dead. “Her pow­ers are in­sane,” ob­serves Mor­ri­son. “She’s able to con­jure weapons from thin air. Hela is a su­pervil­lain who has flare and panache, and has a multi-Os­car-win­ning ac­tress play­ing her. The main thing we wanted with that was to be ab­so­lutely true to Cate. If she walks, tips her head and ges­tures with her hand a cer­tain way, all of that had to be hon­ored when it went through the tech­ni­cal process. What you get on the screen with Hela is Cate’s per­for­mance mag­ni­fied through the lens of the out­fit that she’s wear­ing.”

To achieve the high level of au­then­tic­ity, cus­tom-made ac­tive mark­ers were em­bed­ded in the mo­tion-cap­ture suit worn by Blanchett. As Mor­ri­son ex­plains, “One of the weird­est things is that you have a CG char­ac­ter wear­ing this mas­sive head­piece the en­tire time, and yet she has to be able to move around freely, ex­e­cute hun­dreds of peo­ple, and do all of this with­out you ques­tion­ing the fact. You have Cate stand­ing there pleased as punch with six-foot-wide antlers on her head in full su­pervil­lain mode. In dailies, the stu­dio would be fi­nal­iz­ing shots with Taika, and we would lit­er­ally park on a shot and go, ‘This movie is in­sane!’” Dis­ney re­leased Mar­vel’s Thor: Rag­narok last month in the U.S. and other key ter­ri­to­ries. The movie grossed over $502 mil­lion at the global box of­fice world­wide in its first week.

the crea­ture suit to a dig­i­tally ren­dered ver­sion of Char­lie would be beyond most of what he’d done in his ca­reer.

“[Doug Jones] is a mas­ter per­former at this stuff,” says Ber­ardi. “As soon as he put on the suit he be­came this cross be­tween a Mata­dor and the Sil­ver Surfer, which is just what Guillermo wanted.”

The phe­nom­e­nal suit made by cel­e­brated crea­ture de­signer Mike Hill gave Jones an in­cred­i­ble tool, but Jones and del Toro wanted more sub­tle fa­cial ex­pres­sions in or­der to draw the au­di­ence into the ac­tor’s per­for­mance. Luck­ily, Ber­ardi had his own pro­pri­etary tool for just this kind of work.

Us­ing the X Scan rig, Ber­ardi cap­tured all of the ac­tor’s poses in the crea­ture suit and then again with­out the suit. Over the course of eight full scan­ning ses­sions, they fo­cused closely on not just his body but also his face.

“Af­ter the scans, we mapped Doug’s per­for­mances as a real hu­man onto the dig­i­tal crea­ture,” says Ber­ardi. “Guillermo was very in­ter­ested in that process. It was some­thing we called fa­cial rig­ging. And Guillermo would make notes on the tech­nol­ogy and it paid huge div­i­dends. He would say, ‘I like the brow fur­row at level two.’ He would work with the an­i­ma­tors per­son­ally. He was here so of­ten that we got him a park­ing space.”

All the tech­nolo­gies came to­gether to make del­i­cate per­for­mances pos­si­ble. In one scene, Char­lie en­coun­ters a cat, hisses at it and flares his gills. (The cat, of course, hisses back.) In the close-up, they kept the crea­ture’s body but re­placed his en­tire head with a ren­dered and com­pos­ited ver­sion of the face that in­cluded the ac­tor’s per­for­mance mapped onto the dig-

As we look back at all the amaz­ing en­ve­lope- push­ing vfx work of the past year, it’s im­por­tant to re­mem­ber the work of Erik de Boer and his team at Method Stu­dios on di­rec­tor Bong Joon-Ho’s genre-de­fy­ing fea­ture Okja — Es­pe­cially on the gi­gan­tic, ge­net­i­cally en­gi­neered su­per-pig of the movie who stole hearts and daz­zled view­ers. De Boer, who won an Os­car for his work on Life of Pi in 2013, dis­cussed the film’s im­pres­sive vi­su­als in a re­cent in­ter­view.

“One of the film’s most chal­leng­ing parts was that we had to con­vince the viewer that this huge, weird look­ing hy­brid su­per-pig Okja and this young girl Mija re­ally lived to­gether in the Korean coun­try­side and that they had a close, af­fec­tion­ate re­la­tion­ship,” says de Boer. “De­spite this be­ing a fan­tasy crea­ture, we were aim­ing for a com­pletely pho­to­re­al­is­tic pres­ence.”

The vfx work, which in­cluded 300 Okja crea­ture shots ( 55O over­all), re­quired 16 months of prep work and seven months of post-pro­duc­tion. Method Stu­dios was the film’s lead pri­mary ef­fects stu­dio, with 4th Cre­ative Party in Korea also pitch­ing in to help.

For de Boer and his team, mak­ing Okja proved to be a fan­tas­tic ad­ven­ture. “We trav­elled to the most beau­ti­ful lo­ca­tions in South-Korea, New York (Wall Street) and Van­cou­ver,” he tells us. “Each se­quence had its own unique vis­ual chal­lenge, but shooting and cre­at­ing the vfx for the un­der­ground shop­ping mall/traf­fic tun­nel was prob­a­bly some of the most fun we had. It involved lo­ca­tion and stage days, some digi-dou­ble and green­screen, and great stunt and sfx work. The CG team at Method Van­cou­ver did a fan­tas­tic job bring­ing all this to­gether in an ac­tion-packed ‘crash and run’ se­quence through Seoul!”

He also praises the film’s di­rec­tor for giv­ing them an amaz­ing chal­lenge, which re­quired very sub­tle, ten­der con­tact but also a lot of shov­ing and push­ing with mul­ti­ple cast mem­bers touch­ing the CG crea­ture at the same time. “This re­quired care­ful plan­ning and the cre­ation of many unique props,” he points out. “Method an­i­ma­tion su­per­vi­sor Steve Clee re­hearsed each setup with ac­tress Ahn Seo-Hyun so that we would come to set fully pre­pared and ready to al­low for sur­prises and im­pro­vi­sa­tions. That re­la­tion­ship was very im­por­tant, as it al­lowed Mija to fully con­nect with the foam props. She re­ally de­liv­ered an amaz­ing per­for­mance. The artists at Method then took their art to the next level by cre­at­ing com­pletely be­liev­able phys­i­cal­ity, in­ter­ac­tion and pho­to­graphic in­te­gra­tion.”

Fall­ing into The Abyss Look­ing back at his early days in the busi­ness, de Boer says he was hugely in­spired by James Cameron’s The Abyss. “I was a gen­er­al­ist pump­ing out com­mer­cials in Lon­don,” he re­mem­bers. “I was do­ing dancing pieces of salami, jump­ing snow­men and mor­ph­ing cars. And here comes this fan­tas­tic movie with a fully in­te­grated CG crea­ture and not only does Lind­sey (Mary El­iz­a­beth Mas­tran­to­nio) talk to it, but she sticks her fin­ger in it and tastes it! Now that was some­thing I wanted to do, too!”

De Boer is quite frank when it comes to dis­cussing the state of vfx to­day. “It’s pretty sad that artists still have to fun­nel their tal­ent through a pa­thetic three-but­ton mouse or tablet pen to cre­ate their great work,” he notes. “I had hoped that by now we would have seen more ex­pres­sive ways for an­i­ma­tors to in­ter­act with their CG char­ac­ters and worlds. Hope­fully all the ad­vances in 3D sen­sors, VR, hap­tics and (GPU) pro­ces­sor speeds will al­low us to one day work in a more fun vir­tual en­vi­ron­ment where feet do not go through the ground and el­bows stay out of stom­achs! I guess the fact that com­put­ers are still slow and we are stuck with key­boards and mice just shows how com­plex and dif­fi­cult our work is. Even af­ter cre­at­ing CG for 30 years now I’m still blown away by the in­no­va­tion, com­plex­ity and qual­ity of the im­ages that are cre­ated to­day. And there is still so much fun to be had!” Bong Joon-Ho’s Okja stream­ing on Net­flix.

These days, eval­u­at­ing the state of the art of vis­ual ef­fects can be dif­fi­cult, con­sid­er­ing the dis­ci­pline, artists and tools are in­ex­orably wo­ven to­gether now more than ever. In a sense, as award-win­ning, vet­eran vis­ual ef­fects su­per­vi­sor Robert Legato sug­gests, to­day’s dig­i­tal mir­a­cles in pur­suit of emo­tional be­liev­abil­ity and pho­to­re­al­ism are not “new” in terms of their cre­ative and emo­tional im­pact on view­ers, but they are rad­i­cally new in terms of how artists get there.

“If you think about it, mo­tion cap­ture is a form of roto cap­ture that Dis­ney was do­ing back when they did [ Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in 1937],” Legato says. “Back then, they pho­tographed a woman in a dress, spin­ning around, and then an­i­ma­tors copied it. To­day, we copy it with sen­sor mark­ers [on a mo-cap stage], have the com­puter give us ex­act co­or­di­nates, and then [in­sert] move­ment into the dig­i­tal char­ac­ter, but we are re­ally just ro­to­scop­ing real life. Same thing with fa­cial cap­ture. In­stead of us­ing it as a record for an­i­ma­tors to study frame-by-frame, we ac­tu­ally get coordinate in­for­ma­tion to es­sen­tially ro­to­scope a real per­son’s face in or­der to an­i­mate a [dig­i­tal char­ac­ter]. The un­der­ly­ing idea is a newer, clev­erer in­ven­tion, but it doesn’t ex­actly re­place the orig­i­nal in­ven­tion. It just en­hances and im­proves it.”

That said, the stun­ning de­gree of cre­ative suc­cess that vis­ual ef­fects artists are en­joy­ing these days, even in the face of a host of busi­ness and eco­nomic chal­lenges, is di­rectly linked to ground­break­ing tech­ni­cal break­throughs in re­cent years that are fun­da­men­tally in­flu­enc­ing the cre­ative process. Legato, for in­stance, refers to game en­gine ren­der­ing tech­nol­ogy as “a rev­o­lu­tion­ary process en­hance­ment that has opened up a huge door for creativ­ity, be­cause you can now do things in a way that is most ben­e­fi­cial to the cre­ative process [due to faster turn­arounds]. The game

plug into these evolv­ing pro­cesses and make them more ef­fi­cient.

Mead­ows says Dig­i­tal Do­main “has made an en­tire pipe­line that fa­cil­i­tates pre­viz and even postviz, where we do a lot of 2D temp work. So we are in Maya and Nuke and have a work­flow that we build upon, and ev­ery show builds on the pre­vi­ous one. We have a base­line [col­lec­tion of] char­ac­ter as­sets ready to go so that we don’t have to rein­vent ev­ery time. We also have a generic man and a generic woman that we can start off with and spawn char­ac­ters from that. And we have a mo-cap li­brary that we can then drop on that and make the most ef­fi­cient work­flow so that you can lit­er­ally just sit down and start build­ing scenes in min­utes. That’s im­por­tant, be­cause lots of times, di­rec­tors come in and will want to temp some­thing out. We have the tools that per­mit us to bring char­ac­ters and scenes in eas­ily, and ap­ply mo­cap and poses to them. We have tools to fa­cil­i­tate cam­eras and build a mas­ter scene, where you get mul­ti­ple an­gles, so that I can quickly sit down and cre­ate a cam­era with the di­rec­tor, move to the next an­gle, cre­ate an­other an­gle, and build mas­ter scenes quickly, flip­ping back-and-forth be­tween cam­eras in real time and in a scene with the di­rec­tor sit­ting right next to me.”

Mead­ows adds that since ma­jor fa­cil­i­ties like Dig­i­tal Do­main typ­i­cally fo­cus their ef­forts on the high­est-end, pri­mary re­lease for­mat and res­o­lu­tion of mov­ing im­ages, they still have to be nim­ble about be­ing able to scale pre­viz or temp ver­sions of work up or down, de­pend­ing on what is needed at the time. A range of off-shelf tools, he says, have made that task eas­ier in terms of keep­ing with the ef­fi­ciency theme.

“ZBrush [a 3D dig­i­tal sculpt­ing ap­pli­ca­tion from Pixo­logic Inc.] and Sub­stance Painter [Al­le­gorith­mic’s 3D paint­ing soft­ware], for ex-

fects and im­age gen­er­a­tion,” Cat­mull says. “That is what our re­search groups do. They are work­ing on some things in­ter­nally that I would never have guessed they would have tried. They aren’t all game-chang­ers, but there is def­i­nitely some­thing there worth in­vest­ing in, even if some of it is spec­u­la­tive. I be­lieve the in­dus­try should al­ways be work­ing on some things of a spec­u­la­tive na­ture, and deep learn­ing is def­i­nitely a space we should be op­er­at­ing in.”

At the end of the day, how­ever, Legato says what’s re­ally ground­break­ing is how fast and

By Chenglin Xie

By Young Gul Cho

The Blanchett Ef­fect: The vfx team built all the mo-cap tech­nol­ogy into the ac­tual sets where Cate Blanchett (Hela) was per­form­ing and sewed in­ter­ac­tive track­ing mark­ers into her cos­tume.

Am­phib­ian Artistry: A suit de­signed by Mike Hill and pro­pri­etary fa­cial rig­ging tools de­signed by Mr. X were used to cre­ate the crea­ture’s seam­less per­for­mance in the movie.

Erik de Boer

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