FX Movie News: 11-13-06


Today’s Headlines: Weta Digital Evolves Into Global Giant; A Soundstage Named KONG; Schwarzenegger to Battle Angel?; Wrath of Khan to Screen at The Chinese in Honor of Star Trek 40th; Aronofsky Eyes Sci-fi Biblical Epic Next; RotoFactory Wants To be Your VFX Partner; Bill Shatner Still Talking Trek XI; Dell Implements Intel Quad-Core Processors; Joel Silver Builds an Futuristic Empire; Why Is Pixar So Successful? Behold – The Ultimate Secret; $400M Computer Chip Wows Wellington Animation Conference; Impossibly Sophisticated And Urbane Couple Tour Presidio Film Studio; George Lucas Sells His Tucker; Wales Animation Studio Strikes Deal Worth Millions; Marie Antoinette Attends ILM Costume Party

Weta Digital Evolves Into Global Giant

(variety.com) Evolution takes strange turns on islands. Sheltered from competition from established mainland creatures, species can grow freakishly large.
New Zealand, for example, evolved the giant flightless moa and the world’s largest eagle.

Perhaps the same process accounts for the growth of New Zealand’s vfx giant, Weta Digital.

Less than a decade ago, Weta was a midsize vfx operation of some 120 people, mostly working for a local filmmaker. But that filmmaker was Peter Jackson, and when he went on to become the creative force behind four huge visual effects blockbusters, the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy and “King Kong,” Weta grew into one of the world’s most successful visual effects shops, with more than 400 staffers.

One hint of Weta’s stature is the launch of the AnimfxNZ symposium. It’s the only such event in the Asia-Pacific area with a partnership from the Visual Effects Society.

Now that Jackson seems to be taking a pause from tentpoles, can Weta survive competition with the rest of the world?

So far, it seems to be thriving. Weta was hired for Fox’s “X-Men: The Last Stand,” and is working on the studio’s dragon epic “Eragon” and Disney’s “Bridge to Terabithia.” It’s also in active pre-production on James Cameron’s “Avatar” and is working on the “Fantastic Four” sequel that will feature the long-awaited film bow of the Silver Surfer.

Weta’s Wellington location isn’t a problem, say its toppers, thanks to videoconferencing. Directors and producers now easily collaborate from distant locales.

The Peter Jackson experience has given the company a leg up in the marketplace, too.

“You had a chance to grow with each film, so everyone got to build on what was done in each film,” says visual effects supervisor Joe Letteri. “It really got everyone to focus and refine the process.”

Also, says Letteri, “we had a unique opportunity because everyone in the facility was doing just one film. And (each) project was so big that people got to do lots of different things, from a single character with Gollum to massed armies.”

Studios, producers and directors have not only seen Weta’s work, they know that the company can deliver a big show on deadline, something that’s not true of every shop. It has a proven staff of artists, and perhaps most important, it has done two of the most notable motion-capture digital characters on film, Gollum and Kong.

Visual effects producer Eileen Moran, who handles the business side of the operation, says that the shop’s specific strengths include creature design and animation, the “CG water and destruction pipeline,” fur and “sub-surface scattering.”

But, Moran adds, “mainly our strength is our crew, which have been with Weta throughout the delivery of ‘Lord of the Rings’ and ‘King Kong.’ They are dedicated to creating great work and always pushing to create new effects.”

Keeping that crew in New Zealand is no small task. As the vfx industry matures, shops are adjusting to an older workforce that is less enthusiastic about relocating regularly and more interested in quality of life. For Weta to keep its advantages, it needs to keep its artists happy living in Wellington.

Some have moved there and found that while there was plenty for them to do at Weta, there were few opportunities for their husbands or wives. Others ended up moving back to busier locales for the sake of their relationships.

But the low cost of living in New Zealand is irresistible for the rest.

“Fantastic Four”/Silver Surfer vfx supervisor Eric Saindon, a Maine native who took a job with Weta in 1999, recently considered moving back to the U.S. to be closer to his family. With a wife and children, the trip back to the U.S. for visits can be arduous.

“But most of the salary offers from the States were in the same ballpark or lower than the Weta salaries. Weta pays competitive salaries and you have the ability to have a house on the water, or a house with an amazing view, where it’s somewhat harder to do that in L.A.”

His wife was a Weta artist at one time but now has her own small business in Wellington. That’s working well, but he concedes “it would be harder if my wife, who went to school for architecture, was trying to be an architect here.”

A Soundstage Named KONG

(variety.com) In 2003, Kong landed in New Zealand, boosting the country’s rep in the film world.

This Kong has almost nothing to do with giant apes but everything to do with a world-class $7 million soundstage backed by “King Kong” helmer Peter Jackson and partners at Camperdown Studio’s Stone Street complex in Wellington.

“We christened the studio Kong,” says Jamie Selkirk, a partner at the Stone Street complex with Jackson and Richard Taylor of f/x outfit Weta Workshop.

Most recently, Kong has been used for the Walden Media production “The Waterhorse,” produced by Barrie Osborne.

Meanwhile, 400 miles to the north, locations office Film Auckland has allocated government coin to open a 21,500-square-foot studio at the Henderson Valley Studios complex. This second soundstage is expected to be complete by June.

Around 70% of the film and television production in New Zealand is near the Henderson Valley complex on the outskirts of the city. Says Peter Rive, chairman of locations office Film Auckland: “Producers loved working New Zealand, but it became clear we were losing films because there was no soundstage.

It was why Spike Jonze’s “Where the Wild Things Are” opted out of New Zealand to film in Melbourne, Australia, Rive says.

Until now, Henderson Valley Studios has relied on converted warehouse space.

The new $4.2 million soundproofed studio is to start construction at the end of 2006 and is to be completed by June.

Meanwhile, the locations office in New Zealand’s sparsely populated South Island, Film South, says two groups of businesspeople are planning their own soundstages to cater to film and commercial crews working in the scenic Queenstown area.

The film and TV biz is also abuzz about plans to develop the Kelly Park site at Silverdale, north of Auckland. Its existing “big shed” facilities were used by Walden Media to film about a quarter of “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe.”

Schwarzenegger to Battle Angel?
(moviehole.net) With Arnold Schwarzenegger recently signing on for a second term as the Governator, cinema audiences assumed he�d never �be back�.

Not so, according to an insider for TheArnoldFan.com, who suggests that James Cameron is �waiting� for the Austrian Oak before he starts filming the long gestating film version of Manga�s �Battle Angel Alita�.

Schwarzenegger has long been rumoured � granted, the film has been on the drawing board for about a decade or so � for the role of the Cyborg �Ido� in the film, which tells of an amnesiac female cyborg.

According to the insider, that is still the plan � Schwarzenegger as Ido.

“James Cameron really wants Arnold for the cyborg role of Ido”, says the source, adding that if it means the film has to be put on hold for a couple of years, at which time Schwarzenegger would/could be available again, they�ll do that.

Originally, Cameron was going to shoot �Battle Angel Alita� as his next film, but recently changed his mind and started prepping �Avatar�.

With an estimated budget of $200 million, �Alita� shoot the film in stereoscopic digital 3-D with a cast almost entirely composed of animated CG, using an improved “performance capture” technique similar to what was first used by director Robert Zemeckis in �The Polar Express�.

Wrath of Khan to Screen at The Chinese in Honor of Star Trek 40th

(VFXnews.com) On Nov. 14 at 7:30 pm, The Story Makers Studio celebrates STAR TREK�S 40th Anniversary with a special screening of STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN at the Mann Chinese Theatre in Hollywood, followed by a live discussion with director Nicholas Meyer, Majel Barrett Roddenberry, Eugene �Rod� Roddenberry and surprise guests.

There will also be an exclusive sneak peek of Rod Roddenberry’s new film TREK NATION, which explores both Rod’s quest to learn more about his father’s legacy and the influence STAR TREK has had over the years.

Aronofsky Eyes Sci-fi Biblical Epic Next

(scifi.com) Darren Aronofsky, director of Pi and the upcoming SF epic The Fountain, told SCI FI Wire that his next film will be either a large-scale biblical epic with fantasy elements or a small, intimate film based in reality. “The next project we haven’t announced yet, but … we’re working on … something that’s very, very big and something that’s very, very small,” Aronofsky said in an interview in Beverly Hills, Calif., on Nov. 11. “I just want to start shooting something in ’07, because [The Fountain] took a long time, and I want to do something that’s going to get me to set a lot quicker. I mean, [in] the last six years I’ve worked with actors for [only] 60 days, and I want to get back to set.”

Aronofsky declined to discuss details of the big movie, which he said is an original idea. “We are working on something that’s biblical in nature, and, luckily, that can mean a lot of different things.” He added: “The big project is very, very fantasy-based. … [And] all my fantasy stuff leans towards science fiction.”

Earlier, Aronofsky told the C.H.U.D. Web site that he has been carrying the premise around in his head since childhood. Beyond that, the director won’t say much. “They’re in embryonic phases, and so if you start talking about it you kind of dispel the magic. For me.” The Fountain opens Nov. 22.

RotoFactory Wants To be Your VFX Partner

Eric Christiansen earned his digital artist chops at George Lucas� Industrial Light & Magic. It was there that Eric worked on more than twenty feature films. He is a highly regarded artist with a proven track record when it comes to quick turnaround and high volume shot requirements. Eric is well known for his amazing efficiency and speed using a method he coined �hard-surface roto.� This method allows Eric to nail nearly every form of hard-surface roto quickly while making sure it is spot-on. In 2006, seeing a major need in the industry for a standalone rotoscoping and digital paint shop, Eric created RotoFactory.

Eric is currently partnering RotoFactory with numerous clients serving as the roto department for multiple VFX houses. It is RotoFactory�s mission to become your partner in visual effects, not your competitor. Unlike other visual effects shops in the world, RotoFactory specializes in what most industry professionals consider the �tedious work� of computer graphics. As rotoscoping and digital paint is our primary focus, we are able to produce quick turnarounds with excellent results. RotoFactory can take on all the responsibilities of rotoscoping and digital paint for your project, or whatever your needs require. This in turn allows your artists to focus on the more creative elements of compositing.

Consisting of seasoned digital artists with many years of experience, we understand the needs of the producer, visual effects supervisor, and digital artist in a production environment. With a proven track record, let us be an alternative to your current rotoscoping and paint workflow.

Visit RotoFactory: http://www.rotofactory.com/?gclid=CNLDjfKvxIgCFSs5GAod8XqgDA

Bill Shatner Still Talking Trek XI

(sliceofscifi.com) Trek Web has indicated that William Shatner revealed more about his recent meeting with Star Trek XI producer J.J. Abrams at a fan convention in Springfield, Massachusetts this past Saturday night (Nov. 11). Bill referred to his last appearance in a Trek film, which was Star Trek VII: Generations when he made the following comment.

stcshatnernimoysm.jpg I had a talk with J.J. Abrams a while ago and they were writing a new script and we are all hoping it will be wonderful, Shatner told his audience. And he said, they were going to get the Kirk and Spock characters in there. And I said, How will you do that, I’m dead. (laughter). I said, That’s a problem. So, they are wrestling with that death, OK.

So, once again our good friend Bill is stirring up the pot a bit and his comments beg the question: Is Bill saying Abrams might be considering bringing back the older Kirk and Spock characters, or is he considering the rumor that Abrams wants to do a movie with a younger version of the two iconic characters? Stay tuned.

Dell Implements Intel Quad-Core Processors

(postmagazine.com) Dell has enhanced its PowerEdge servers and Precision workstations with one of the industry’s first standards-based quad-core processors.

The addition of Quad-Core Intel Xeon processors to the two-socket Dell PowerEdge 1900, 1950, 2950, 2900, SC1430 and 1955 blade models supports the company’s strategy to drive more complete and cost-effective enterprise technologies across a variety of customer environments. Equipped with the new Quad-Core processors, these servers can rival the performance of Intel dual-core, four-socket systems and deliver up to 63 percent greater performance with up to 40 percent enhanced performance per watt while continuing to reduce complexity in the enterprise.

In the Dell Precision line (http://www.dell.com/precision), the Quad-core processors – combined with Dell’s faster and more scalable memory architecture and latest OpenGL graphics – allow the systems to handle demanding multi-threaded applications faster and more easily.

Joel Silver Builds an Futuristic Empire

(comingsoon.net) Joel Silver’s Silver Pictures has optioned Empire, an upcoming book and video game series from Provo, Utah-based intellectual property developer Chair Entertainment Group and best-selling sci-fi author Orson Scott Card.

The Hollywood Reporter says Silver Pictures and Warner Bros. Pictures are eyeing the project as an action film revolving around a scenario in the near future where the country has plunged into civil war after the White House is bombed and the president is assassinated. As fighting spreads through major cities, a lone operative being framed for the attacks is driven to find the truth the clear his name.

Empire is a video game prototype created by brothers Donald and Geremy Mustard of Chair and Card. Empire will first appear as a novel, Card’s latest, scheduled for release November 28.

Card and Donald Mustard will serve as executive producer on the film.

The plan is to follow up the first book with a comic book series, which will tell a different story than the novel and start earlier in the time line of events than the book. The movie will follow and then the video game, which will be based in the same universe as the book. The goal is to try to launch the game and movie in the same window.

Card will write the story for the next-generation video game, which Chair Entertainment will develop, and he will be involved with the creation of the comic book series, which is in the works.

Silver Pictures is shopping for a screenwriter for the film.

Why Is Pixar So Successful? Behold – The Ultimate Secret

(news.toonzone.net) I liken Pixar Animation Studios to the Roadrunner. No matter how many traps the coyotes of the desert try to lay down for the purpose of capturing and devouring the essence of this miraculous being, it speeds on through, turning almost any effort to siphon the powers on show into a painful instance of backlash. Truly, there seems to be no effective mimickry of Pixar’s success. One would hope that this recognition would be enough for most animation houses and they could just do something unique, but noooooo. And even amongst us audience members, even though it’s not like we’d do anything with that information, there’s an inexorable temptation to know the answer to the big question: How does Pixar do it?!

More: http://news.toonzone.net/article.php?ID=13380

$400M Computer Chip Wows Wellington Animation Conference

(m-net.net.nz) Groundbreaking chip technology developed for the movie and gaming industries will likely provide major spin-off benefits to the medical, security and storage industries says a top IBM researcher.
Bruce D’Amora, a New York-based member of IBM’s TJ Watson Research centre was in Wellington this week attending the special effects and animation conference, AnimfxNZ, organised by Weta Digital.

D’Amora was here to discuss Cell Broadband Engine technology, a new chip specifically designed for graphics, video and imaging applications. The chip is the product of a three-way partnership of IBM, Sony and Toshiba, and is said to have cost up to US$400 million to develop. Sony is already using the Cell in the upcoming PlayStation 3 game console, while Toshiba is likely to use it in the next generation of High Definition televisions and projectors.

D’Amora says the chief advantage of the new technology is the speed at which it processes information. “The chip is huge advance. Typically animators will render four-seconds of film over night. That’s how long it takes to process the information. This often means they will leave information out in order to complete the rendering process.

“The Cell renders much more quickly, which means a lot more information can be included in that over night rendering process. To give an approximate idea of the gains; current technology renders at about four frames per second. The Cell can render at about 30.”

For the gamer or the movie goer, the result will be far more realistic animation, especially of traditionally difficult items, such as hair, clothing and water. Gamers especially will notice much better collision detection algorithms, meaning characters will no longer exhibit glitches such as putting hands through walls and so on.

IBM is using the chip in its QS20 blade servers, which are especially suitable for high performance industries, including digital media, medical imaging, aerospace, defence, data storage and communications.

Impossibly Sophisticated And Urbane Couple Tour Presidio Film Studio

(sfgate.com) The Dining Room at the Ritz-Carlton is closed on Monday nights. Period.

“When Denise Hale called and wanted to reserve it for a dinner party, I told her we weren’t open,” said Ritz manager Ed Mady. “She told me we couldn’t be closed. So the only answer was, ‘OK.’ “

So the Ritz’s dining room became a cozy private club for Hale and her local pooh-bah pals for a dinner in honor of Vanity Fair Editor Graydon Carter and his wife, Anna Scott Carter.

The impossibly sophisticated and urbane couple arrived on the West Coast for a quick tour (a scenic drive up Highway 1 with some pals, producer Mitch Glazer and his wife, actress Kelly Lynch, for a brief roost at the rustigant Post Ranch Inn), followed by our own sparkling Oz, where the Carters picnicked in Muir Woods and toured George Lucas’ Presidio film studio.

George Lucas Sells His Tucker

The 1988 Francis Ford Coppola film “Tucker, The Man and His Dream” provided a lift for prices of Tuckers as well as a renewed appreciation for the company’s founder and his automobiles. Many of the original Tuckers were used in the making of the movie, and many current owners are quick to point to a scene or scenes where their Tucker was filmed.

Recent Tucker sales include Tucker No. 1,038, a dark green car sold last August in Monterey, for $577,500. In April of 2005, Tucker No. 1,029 sold for $461,500 and No. 1,003, formerly owned by the filmmaker George Lucas, sold at auction in September 2005 for $385,000.
Source: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2006/11/10/MTGROM8T7G1.DTL&hw=George+Lucas&sn=002&sc=912

Wales Animation Studio Strikes Deal Worth Millions

(newswales.co.uk) One of Wales’s fastest-growing animation studios has struck a deal with a potential value of several million pounds at the Toronto Film Festival.

Cardiff-based Dinamo Productions has reached agreement with leading Canadian company Breakthrough Entertainment to develop and finance a new animated series for young teenagers called The Moose.

Toronto is now ranked by most Hollywood producers as the equal of Los Angeles and New York City – the city’s pool of creative talent, excellent production facilities and lower costs coupled with the favourable exchange rate on the Canadian dollar means buyers can buy more and do more in Toronto.

About 35% of Canada’s total film production takes place in Toronto, generating 55% of the industry’s total revenue. The industry in Toronto is worth an estimated $1.2 billion and employs more than 35,000 people.

Marie Antoinette Attends ILM Costume Party

(craftzine.com) Sure Halloween has come and gone, but you can’t beat this elaborate Marie Antoinette costume created by Elyse Regan for the ILM-Lucasfilm-LucasArts 2006 Halloween Costume party. It’s an amazing feat and detail in crafting. CRAFT friend Bonnie Burton got a chance to talk more with Elyse to find out how she created her elaborate look.

When LucasArts employee Elyse Regan stepped into the spotlight at the ILM-Lucasfilm-LucasArts 2006 Halloween Costume party, little did she know she’d be the Belle of the Ball. Her impressive custom-made dress was breathtaking, but it was her sky-high wig topped with a French sailboat that made everyone gasp in complete awe. Elyse Regan talks about how she was inspired by the misunderstood, but stylish queen.

More: http://www.craftzine.com/blog/archive/2006/11/the_making_of_a_marie_antoinet.html