May 2005


Media22 May 2005 09:51 pm

Peter Jackson, from King Kong Production Diary

KING KONG, currently in production in New Zealand under the direction of Peter Jackson should provide many interesting and unavoidable parallels with the original 1933 movie. The 1976 King Kong remake missed the popular opinion mark dramatically and technically (I suppose, since I haven’t seen it), so the stakes are even higher for Jackson to make a new and improved KING KONG.

Peter Jackson has embraced the Internet community, and is steadily recording a video production diary and publishing it to the web. See Peter Jackson’s KING KONG Production Diaries. Jackson understands these real events will never occur again and the video diary rolls even during the last week of filming when Jackson is nearly exhausted. This is a wonderful gift to movie fans that Jackson copes with the logistics of dealing with the pressures of high stakes film making, and takes time for this video chronicle. Perhaps techniques and processes that Jackson and his crew developed on the Lord of the Rings trilogy have enabled them to confidently produce great movie footage at an incredible pace.

Peter Jackson, from King Kong Production Diary, Last Week of Filming

Jackson has faithfully recorded these clips since day one of the shooting of KING KONG starting on September 7, 2004 in New Zealand. At the start of the production diaries Peter looks slimmed down since appearing at the 2004 Oscar Awards, and in the shots from April 2005 almost looks a bit hagggard. These are must see videos for those who a) cannot wait to see King Kong, b) desire to witness behind the scenes state of the art movie making, in some ways unscripted. Over the course of shooting and now post production many minutes of video have accumulated and most likely it will not be seen elsewhere until a Special Extended DVD Edition is released.

Jackson’s been quoted that KING KONG has been just as difficult or more so than the making of The Lord of the Rings trilogy, and he recently announced plans with Universal to work on two sequels, Kongs 2 and 3, “Son Of Kong” and “King Kong: Into The Wolf’s Lair”. Pre viz and production work has already begun on Kong 2 which climaxes with the big gorilla in Germany fighting the Nazis and an army of their mutated experimental beasts. Perhaps Jackson has no time for dining, since this aggressive schedule is for King Kong: Dec. 2005, Kong 2: June 2006 and Kong 3: Dec. 2006!

Peter Jackson, from King Kong Production Diary

QuickTime clip, Post Production Diary 33 Weeks to Go. The start of post production, covers tools and techniques used in the post production departments: Editorial, Weta Digital, Weta Workshop, Miniature Unit, Motion Capture, Sound and Color Timing.

QuickTime clip 32 Weeks To Go features Alex Funke, Director of VFX Photography discussing the 3 versions of the ship “Venture”: full size, 1/12 scale miniature, and a “tiny little one” for extreme long shots, plus the full upper deck built at Stone Street Studios. The craftsmanship and detailing on the 12th scale model is discussed, regarding the practicality of its use in shots involving storms, huge waves and extreme danger. So, in many ways the art of miniature building and cinematography is a craft that has enjoyed a slow and steady evolution over the past 100 years, and not been replaced the in way stop motion animated characters have been replaced o a great degree since Jurassic Park’s dinosaurs. Funke and Richard Taylor go over the detailed painting and functional lights on board the miniature ship, which allow them to get away with shooting separate takes with a a motion controlled camera against blue screen, so that they can adjust the level of the lights as a separate layer in post production.

QuickTime clip 31 Weeks To Go. An excellent behind the scenes clip of Andy Serkis, (previously performed as Gollum) performing with the motion capture process on the studio set of KING KONG. The mo-cop system is setup to provide Andy with feedback of how his acting will be translated into an ape proportioned body. Reviewing his takes on the set, Andy is able to go for another take in the motion capture suit. Lisa Wilermoth, 1st AD Motion Capture states that the motion capture in KONG is 10 times harder than Gollum, with full facial and body mocap. Motion capture shots will progress into Auguest, perhaps last minute shots shot in October.

From http://www.killermovies.com/k/kingkong/articles/4980.html:
On March 7, 2005, Peter Jackson invited 200 people to give them a sneak peek at footage of King Kong, according to Variety. Jackson is “paranoid about anyone taking photos,” says one attendee, whose gag slipped momentarily. Jackson screened 18 minutes of footage of the $160 million remake, showing off his Weta digital workshop and lavish sound mixing facility. Displaying some of the miniatures, he explained how he told his tech crew the miniature forest had to show the effect of wind rippling the branches and leaves as the big ape lumbers through it — apparently a feat never pulled off before. The director admitted to nerves as he introduced the footage, noting it hadn’t been seen by anyone outside his team. But reactions were uniformly bullish, from what Variety could glean. “Fantastic. I haven’t felt like that since I saw Jurassic Park, ” one attendee said.

Peter Jackson, from King Kong Production Diary

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Media19 May 2005 12:56 pm

Spaceblooms

We’ve all had this happen: you’re browsing the WWW, searching for a specific item, and you stumble across something wonderfully distracting… such as spaceblooms.

A spacebloom is defined as “an autonomous, self-propelling and self-propagating cosmic plant.” The online catalog provides numerous examples of these cosmic xflora.

The history of spaceblooms begins in the future, which is good to see that some life forms have survived.

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Media&Politics17 May 2005 09:26 pm

British MP George Galloway’s Senate testimony is truly inspired. You must see this full video of Galloway dressing down Senator Norm Coleman and US Senators today (05/17/05) who have accused him of corruption.

The US Senate committee, US and British administrations will wish that this story was confined to Newsweek, since they were not looking for a sharp perspective of their recent Iraq involvement. Partial transcript from Galloway’s testimony:

“Senator, in everything I said about Iraq, I turned out to be right and you turned out to be wrong and 100,000 people paid with their lives; 1600 of them American soldiers sent to their deaths on a pack of lies; 15,000 of them wounded, many of them disabled forever on a pack of lies.

If the world had listened to Kofi Annan, whose dismissal you demanded, if the world had listened to President Chirac who you want to paint as some kind of corrupt traitor, if the world had listened to me and the anti-war movement in Britain, we would not be in the disaster that we are in today. Senator, this is the mother of all smokescreens. You are trying to divert attention from the crimes that you supported, from the theft of billions of dollars of Iraq’s wealth.

“Have a look at the real Oil-for-Food scandal. Have a look at the 14 months you were in charge of Baghdad, the first 14 months when $8.8 billion of Iraq’s wealth went missing on your watch. Have a look at Haliburton and other American corporations that stole not only Iraq’s money, but the money of the American taxpayer.

“Have a look at the oil that you didn’t even meter, that you were shipping out of the country and selling, the proceeds of which went who knows where? Have a look at the $800 million you gave to American military commanders to hand out around the country without even counting it or weighing it.

“Have a look at the real scandal breaking in the newspapers today, revealed in the earlier testimony in this committee. That the biggest sanctions busters were not me or Russian politicians or French politicians. The real sanctions busters were your own companies with the connivance of your own Government.”

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Media14 May 2005 09:21 pm

Three Generations of Clokeys

Good to see Art Clokey, the Gumby creator, today at the Lynn Gallery, in Antioch, CA. He was there with family and friends for a reception and retrospective movie show, Gumby and Friends 50 Great Years.

Had not seen Art since meeting for dinner at the Inn of Seventh Ray near his home in Topanga Canyon ten years ago while attending SIGGRAPH in L.A.

Art’s son Joseph is a great help in carrying on the Gumby animation tradition at Clokey Productions, and is working on new Gumby animated shorts and video games. Joe has a lot of energy and it appears that Gumby’s star is again on the rise. He mentioned that the clay Gumby characters will be animated in the traditional stop motion method and very likely some backgrounds, sets, props and effects would be added using digital computer animation in new episodes scheduled for production.

See the Official Gumby Web Site Premavision for lots more photos and fun.

The Elder Gumby
Here is a photo at the Lynn Gallery of Gumby, Art Clokey and Art’s father who’s hair style became Gumby’s head style.

Gumby Family of Characters
Gumby Family of Characters.

Gumby and me
Good times with Gumby.

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Politics11 May 2005 09:23 pm

Charles Graner Jr., American Idiot

Now here’s an American Idol wannabe if ever I saw one, Charles Graner Jr., leader of the Jackass League of American whoop assers in Abu Ghraib prison, and quite the camera hog. Word is he proudly sent these photos home to his children! Pass along the love!

A career as prankster corrections officer, Charles A. Graner Jr., got busy spreadin’ freedom in Abu Ghraib, where his photo escapades contain the morbid glee of a happy lyncher.

From a country that elects brash smack down political leaders such as Jesse Ventura and Arnold Schwarzenegger, who can really be surprised?

Follow-up:  Charles Graner was sentenced to 10 years in prison.

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Media&Movie TV DVD Review&Technology07 May 2005 07:55 pm

Rex Grignon Demoing Animation System

I have an unusual perspective on DreamWorks Animation’s new animated feature, Madagascar, since I was working at PDI/DreamWorks on Shrek 2 while Madagascar was in story and visual development stages.

As Shrek 2 was nearing completion in early 2003, word was circulating around the PDI/DreamWorks production cubicles that Jeffrey Katzenberg, the CEO of DreamWorks Animation, had plans for Shrek 3. Many at PDI/DW, located near San Francisco, were grateful for the surprise success of the first Shrek animated 3D feature. Deep into heavy production of Shrek 2, a number of artists were less than enthusiastic over the prospect of spending another 2 or 3 years with the big, lunking green guy and his perky donkey friend. It was just too much of the same old, same old. Outside one cubicle hung a poster from Mutiny On The Bounty, referring to Shrek 3. The animators were looking forward to trying pushing themselves with something new, something more cartoony in the house that Shrek built.

Rex Grignon (in photo above), Head of Character Animation at PDI/DreamWorks, has been working with computer animation systems since their infancy. Over the years at PDI, Rex provided input to their software developers, and the in-house animation and rigging tools became more powerful. In doing proof of concept animation tests of the Madagascar characters, Rex and many others in the animation department hoped this would be their chance to go wild, and really do the whacky, crazy, fast-paced, extreme moves and poses they grew up seeing in Chuck Jones and Tex Avery 2D cartoons. Fortunately, in early 2004 they got the green light.

With Chris Rock as one of the lead characters, I imagined that Madagascar would get very edgy or raunchy. Then receiving a call out of the blue from a Newsweek writer doing a story (see story online) about Madagascar and DreamWorks Animation projects, I told him that I felt that Pixar goes more for the cute stuff, and DreamWorks in the style of Shrek, more for the gross stuff, perhaps appealing to different age groups. Having now seen Madagascar, I no longer hold that opinion.

Madagascar main characters

The story opens in a New York city zoo with four main characters: Alex the lion (Ben Stiller), Marty the zebra (Chris Rock), Gloria the hippo (Jada Pinkett Smith) and Melman the giraffe (David Schwimmer). Marty the zebra has an attack of wanderlust which eventually lands a number of the zoo animals in the wilds of the tropical island of Madagascar.

Along the way there is a wonderful chase through Times Square and Grand Central Station. The Times Square background is a dazzling composited matte painting job. The 59th Street subway looks about as clean as it will ever be, and cartoon subways are nice, not stinky and full of smelly bums.

From the zoo there are hilarious supporting characters, such as four commando penguins (the leader’s voice provided by co-director Tom McGrath), and two well cultivated chimps who unfortunately don’t make the cut for later Madagascar jungle scenes. In the jungle of Madagascar is a great party scene of the happy lemur tribe, led by King Julien (Ali G.), his advisor Maurice (Cedric the Entertainer), and the cute and cuddly Mort (Andy Richter). So, with this cast of furry creatures, the animators are turned loose to go wild with terrific dancing, leaping, slapping, joking and posing. As with Pixar’s Finding Nemo, perhaps for contrast, the humans are designed to be bland and less detailed than the animal characters.

Madagascar lemur characters

The lemur party sequences presented some of the largest computing power challenges, since the crowd shots were of hundreds of furry characters. Imagine counting every hair and every leaf, that’s less than what the computer is doing. Real animals are designed to blend into the forest, and in Madagascar the lighting challenge was to offset the characters from the richly detailed jungle plant forms. There were 5 basic lemur character models and 12 different surface designs, providing a variety of 60 lemur types.

The main characters and a number of extras have fantastic tongue animation rigging. Animals can do a lot with their tails and tongues, and these cartoon phenoms do even more, thanks to expert character rigging efforts by the PDI/DW team. Rigs were designed to permit extreme stretching and squashing of the models’ geometry without breaking them, and giving the animators the greatest range of motion and creative latitude.

So, having accomplished all that, the cartoon zoo animals are all set to go wild in the Madagascar jungle. One of the highlight sequences is when Alex the lion’s beast within is awakened. He becomes exhilarated, running and dancing around in a hyper-animated frenzy. His straight mane becomes wild and frazzled, and he lets out a booming roar surprising everyone. Being a carnivorous lion, bloodlust changes his behavior, and Alex is tormented by The Wolfman’s dilemma, “Why must I eat my friends?”

As with classic Universal Dracula and Wolfmantasteful” horror movies which were not bloody or gory, Madagascar stays clear of tragedy, gratuitous violence or any alarming nastiness causing little kids to run crying to mommie. Even though co-director Tom McGrath worked as a director on “The Ren & Stimpy Show,” Madagascar does not take freakish risks of bad taste. Bizarre stuff that makes weirdos like me laugh til it hurts can wear thin over 80 minutes, and is often too sick for family consumption, so DreamWorks cannot be blamed for playing it safe. At the press conference with the voice talent, they all spoke of showing their new cartoon work to their young children. And so it goes with Alex the lion, he stays mild not wild.

I would like to see Madagascar again, animators and fans of animation will want to study it again and again. The story itself may be mild, but there are animated moments that are extremely wild.

Rex Grignon Demoing Animation System

P.S. For more Madagascar stills click here.
For more Lemur images, see recent entry.

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Media05 May 2005 09:06 pm

Madagascar cast

PDI/Dreamworks has really come up with something special in Madagascar. Saw the film last night. Went to the Madagascar press conference today. Need time to think and write about it. Also need a new camera.

See my additional coverage of this over at ParMedia.org, as well as a comments over at CGTalk.com. More to come…

Voices of Madagascar

Madagascar penguins

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Media&Technology03 May 2005 02:48 pm

Creep Show Theater
Brad Bird recently spoke at the San Francisco International Film Festival on a topic that was entitled, “State of the Cinema Address.” The Oscar winning writer and director of Pixar’s “The Incredibles” warned that cinema is in trouble due to the deterioration of the movie-going experience.

Coincidentally, Ishared that experience last November on a Friday night trying to see The Incredibles – it was sold out at two theaters that had overflowing parking lots. I vowed to stay clear of going out to the movies for awhile. Instead I settled for Polar Express, after 15 minutes of commercials and warnings, through cell phones and kids theater hopping.

No surprise that Bird spoke of movie productions now factoring DVD material into their schedules as an important component of the overall revenue stream. A nod to the well managed art cinemas still doing business, and yet for many, cinema resides with a home DVD collection, where great movies such as those by The Criterion Collection can be enjoyed in comfort. For less than the price of two going to a movie and buying refreshments, you can own the movie.

P.S. In a timely interview, vanguard of French new wave cinema, Jean Luc Godard, is quoted on cinema, “It’s over,” he sighs. “There was a time maybe when cinema could have improved society, but that time was missed.”

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