Monday, May 25, 2009

A Summer of Sequels

Two summers ago, I wrote about a Pixar film standing tall as the only major summer studio feature that was wholly original. In Wonder Takes Time, we marveled at Pixar's genuine intent on giving the marketplace of ideas fresh stories. Among sequels ("Pirates 3," "Spider-Man 3," "Shrek 3") and based-on-toy-films, television shows, and reboots ("Transformers," "The Simpsons Movie," "Halloween"), Brad Bird's "Ratatouille" stood alone as the unique entry of the summer.

Well, here we are again, in the summer of 2009, where Pixar has the lone wholly original film of the summer. Pete Docter's "Up," which opens May 29, and is a (gasp!) original screenplay, goes up against these summer films:
  • Fast and Furious (sequel)
  • X-Men Origins: Wolverine (sequel)
  • Star Trek (reboot/sequel)
  • Angels and Demons (sequel/based on novel)
  • Land of the Lost (based on television show)
  • Night at the Museum: Battle at the Smithsonian (sequel)
  • Terminator: Salvation (sequel)
  • The Taking of Pelham 1 2 3 (remake)
  • Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (sequel/based on toy)
  • Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs (sequel)
  • Bruno (based on television character)
  • Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (sequel/based on novel)
  • Julie and Julia (based on article)
  • G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra (based on television show)
  • The Final Destination (sequel)
  • H2 - Halloween 2 (sequel of a remake)

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Post Magazine: "Star Trek" Returns

Post Magazine's cover story is all about ILM's visual effects for J.J. Abrams' "Star Trek." The article, written by Ken McGorry, touches on some of the major challenges behind our visual effects.

The article includes mentions and quotes from visual effects supervisor Roger Guyett, co-supervisor Russell Earl, animation supervisor Paul Kavanagh, digital production supervisor Michael DiComo, CG supervisor Tom Fejes, compositing supervisor Eddie Pasquarello, paint supervisor Beth D'Amato, and sequence supervisors Greg Salter, Mark Nettleton, David Weitzberg, Raul Essig, Conny Fauser, Jay Cooper, Francois Lambert, and Todd Vaziri.

Here's an excerpt from the article:

J.J. Abrams and DP Daniel Mindel shot Star Trek with an anamorphic lens... and if there's the sun or a star in the corner of a synthetic ILM shot — or when the Enterprise passes in a beauty shot and its lights strike the virtual lens — the compositors have to replicate all the complexities of light dancing across such a lens. "There are all these different layers to the lens flare that we have to replicate digitally," DiComo says.

ILM's Todd Vaziri analyzed what anamorphic lenses do and all their different properties so they could be used in simulated shots and they call the resulting program "Sunspot." Vaziri was a sequence supervisor whose job was to overlook all the sequences and make sure that ILM's shots were "correct to the film" — that they matched. "He takes great, great pains and it shows," says [compositing supervisor Eddie] Pasquarello. "That was one of our compositing coups that I feel made a difference here — finishing touches that help our shots blend with the live action that J.J. gave us."

Click here to see the full credits for J.J. Abrams' "Star Trek."

Friday, May 08, 2009

"Star Trek" Fun

The banner image for Gizmodo's review of "Star Trek."

Here's an excerpt from a Gizmodo article titled, 'J.J. Abrams Admits Star Trek Lens Flares Are "Ridiculous"'

I'm curious to hear more about why you decided to use so many lens flares, and exactly when you decided to use them?

[Smiles] I don't know what you're talking about. [Laughs] I'm kidding. I know what you're saying with the lens flares. It was one of those things... I wanted a visual system that felt unique. I know there are certain shots where even I watch and think, "Oh that's ridiculous, that was too many." But I love the idea that the future was so bright it couldn't be contained in the frame.

The flares weren't just happening from on-camera light sources, they were happening off camera, and that was really the key to it. I want [to create] the sense that, just off camera, something spectacular is happening. There was always a sense of something, and also there is a really cool organic layer thats a quality of it... There are something about those flares, especially in a movie that can potentially be very sterile and CG and overly controlled. There is something incredibly unpredictable and gorgeous about them. It is a really fun thing. Our DP would be off camera with this incredibly powerful flashlight aiming it at the lens. It became an art because different lenses required angles, and different proximity to the lens. Sometimes, when we were outside we'd use mirrors. Certain sizes were too big... literally, it was ridiculous. It was like another actor in the scene.

We had two cameras, so sometimes we had two different spotlight operators. When there was atmosphere in the room, you had to be really careful because you could see the beams. So it was this ridiculous, added level of pain in the ass, but I love... [looking at] the final cut, [the flares] to me, were a fun additional touch that I think, while overdone, in some places, it feels like the future is that bright.

(To learn more about the lens flares from "Star Trek," click here and here.)

Here's a clever video that mixes the "Star Trek" and "Star Wars" worlds, from titled "Starship Enterprise Destroyed by the Death Star."

Another clever video, bringing the original series visually up-to-date with J.J. Abrams' film, from YouTube user 'partmor':

Finally, a hilarious video (that requires multiple viewings) from The Onion, with the headline, "Trekkies Bash New Star Trek Film as 'Fun, Watchable.'"

Trekkies Bash New Star Trek Film As 'Fun, Watchable'

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Movie Marketing is Hard! "True Blood" and "Jennifer's Body"

Another in our Movie Marketing Is Hard! series.
Okay, so "True Blood" is not actually a feature film (it's the Alan Ball series on HBO), but the studio used this one-sheet as a prominent part of their publicity campaign. The series debuted in 2008, and the Megan Fox starrer "Jennifer's Body" comes to theaters later in 2009.

The posters are essentially dead ringers for one another, with the slight exception of one storytelling element: the "True Blood" poster features a subtle vampire fang, while "Jennifer's Body" has no such fang (since the film is about cannibalism, not vampires). But the similarities in overall composition, framing, color scheme, the heavy lipstick, tongue lick and blood drip are groanworthy.

Thanks to Alessandro for the tip!

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Millimeter Magzine: Back On Trek

Millimeter Magazine recently posted a really nice article about the making of "Star Trek," with an emphasis on the cinematography, visual effects design, and the digital intermediate color timing process. As part of a discussion about the photographic style of the film, director J.J. Abrams, cinematographer Dan Mindel and visual effects supervisor Roger Guyett talked about the use of lens flares in the film. As a sequence supervisor at Industrial Light & Magic, one of my duties on "Star Trek" was to create synthetic lens flare aberrations for our visual effects shots that matched stylistically and technically with the first unit photography.

We used flares in "Star Trek" as a storytelling device in a way that has never been done before. The great thing is that J.J., Roger and I were on the same visual wavelength in terms of how, when and why to create the flaring aberrations in the film. The flares give the film a unique flavor of spontaneity and intensity, paradoxically giving the film a documentary-style grittiness, as well as a fanciful, otherworldly, abstract quality. I'll let them explain:

[The] technique was the strategic plan to build camera lens flares into the photography. For a sci-fi space film—or any film these days—that aesthetic is extremely rare, since filmmakers usually battle to remove flares from their photography, rather than insert them. Abrams’ and Mindel’s obsession with lens flares, however, was part of a strategic vision for the photography. The technique is so prevalent that Abrams jokes he may have designed “a future in which you’ll have to wear shades.”

“I can’t explain it with intellectual reasoning—I can just say it was important to me,” Abrams says. “Even though some people may think we went over the top with flares, I just loved that they made it feel like there was always something spectacular going on off-camera, as well as what was happening on-camera. It reminded me of the feeling I would get watching NASA footage. It might be a distraction to some people, and I apologize to them, but I loved that feeling that this was a more natural future, rather than a [stereotypical sci-fi] shiny future.”

Mindel says the approach required an attitude adjustment on the part of the camera crew. “We have been spending the last 20 to 30 years trying to take flares out,” he says. “Here, we loved the way the anamorphic lenses flare naturally, and we were told to let them happen and we even put them in when they weren’t there. Other space movies have that non-believable aspect of being photographically sterile, and they rarely allow the idiosyncratic nature of light and movement into the arena, which gives you a kind of homogenized movie. We were eager to make sure that did not happen here. We felt a degree of believability comes with the idiosyncrasies that we allowed onto the film—those aberrations on the lenses, flaring, and even a little misframing or accidents. Often, it’s accidents that go on to make up the great pieces of movie art. We felt that by allowing flares in, we would get an organic infringement into the sterile frame—adding a bit of imperfection, a degree of reality.

“We developed an interesting, low-tech technique for it. We had two guys with flashlights flaring the lens constantly. There is a real expertise to it. The hardest thing about the technique was how to keep the lamp operators out of frame since they had to play very close to the lens. The trickery comes from knowing how to flare the lens and hide behind the flare."

But the flaring technique hardly stopped once the production left the set. Mindel’s camera work served as the inspiration for the creation of artificial lens flares for many bits of hundreds of visual-effects shots. These flares were created using a proprietary system developed at ILM to match the specific aberrations of Mindel’s anamorphic lenses.

ILM Sequence Supervisor Todd Vaziri was responsible for developing the artificial lens-flare software system, which the company dubbed SunSpot. The system essentially combines off-the-shelf software, certain proprietary ILM tools, photographed elements, and several custom paint elements to painstakingly match the flares captured on the negative.

“The technique gives compositors instant, highly realistic anamorphic lens flares for our all-CG shots that are indistinguishable from real, practical flares shots by the first unit,” Guyett says. “We used it to create flares for a variety of purposes such as spotlights on the exterior of the Enterprise, lights on synthetic set extensions, the Vulcan sun, and a dwarf star featured in the film’s prologue.”

The article is available online here (free registration may be required), and in its April 2009 print edition.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Full Credits for "Star Trek"

It looks like the full credits for "Star Trek" are available online at  Scroll down to the Industrial Light & Magic section to see the names of the 300 people who worked to create the film's visual effects.

Click here to see the full credits.