Today’s Headlines: Maguire Not Keen On “Spider-Man 4”; The Rise of the Small Production Team; Ghost Rider Footage Previewed In Cemetery; A Desktop 3D Scanner, Really Cheap?; ILM Alumnus Kevin Townsend Talks Evolving Digital Media; Ray Harryhausen’s Greatest Hits On YouTube; “Cleopatra” Epic Planned; They’re Still Lining Up For `Pirates’; Stan Winston Thrilled With His New Book; Rendering Happy Feet; Iron Man Director On Budgeting Special Effects

Maguire Not Keen On “Spider-Man 4”

( If Sony had their way, the “Spider-Man” sequels won’t stop til sometime in the 22nd century. In life though there are other factors to consider, one of them being your cast members.

Now, Tobey Maguire has said in recent comments to Starpulse News that he may have had enough of Peter Parker, though isn’t entirely ruling out a fourth go at it.

Maguire says “This might be a good place to stop – I am not tied contractually to any more Spider-Man movies. I am not completely closed to the idea of another one if it made sense but I would say the odds were in favor of this being the last one”.

Both Maguire and Dunst, who have three film contracts, have expressed mixed desire to return to the franchise now that they’ve finished working on the three films.

Of course, a huge paycheck always helps quell doubt.

The Rise of the Small Production Team

( Say we�re a film production company and we want to make a big comic book movie from an IP that we�ve optioned. So simulatenously now, we�re gonna start making the rounds of the different studios and see about finding one who�s willing to give us the money, we�re hiring a screenwriter to write the script, and we�re bringing on board a director and possibly casting the lead roles, simultaneously negotiating all of the contracts with all of those people. That�s the early stages, the make or break stuff. Boom, we�ve got one studio that�s willing to give us the money, and we found a director and big name to star. Let�s say the director also has a character artist he wants to help shape the look and feel of the film, plus an editor and cinematographer he likes to work with, so in this case we don�t need to find those people. So now we can really get into pre-production, scouting locations as we get our casting director on board (we probably use the same one or two over and over again), and hire the special effects company that we want to use, arrange the rental of all our equipment (possibly from the studio that has given us the money, possibly from one of the many other places in town that do such things, perhaps from several such companies), hire all of our production assistants, assistant directors, set dressers, grips, lighting board ops, sound guys, makeup artists, art assistants and all the rest, arrange transportation and housing and food for everyone, and THEN we can start production.

That�s a lot of fuss, a whole lot of negotiations, and a whole lot of places things can go wrong. Film production is a massive undertaking, even for a modest budget. It�s super expensive, because all those people are contractors. It requires knowing just about everybody in town, and the town�s pretty much gotta be LA or New York. So why is that a good idea?

It all comes down to due diligence. For every step of the way, you want to have the very best people you can possibly hire in each role, and you need to be able to fire them instantaneously if they drop the ball in any way. With a good reputation, you�re golden and you can get work into old age if you can keep up, and make LOTS of money in the process. That�s why LA is so notoriously networked. It�s all about who you know and what you�ve worked on, because as your reputation as a producer improves, so does the quality of people who want to work with you, and the more likely it�ll be for the studios to give you big piles of money. The film industry is one with vastly more people looking for work than actual work, and the production house system lets the cream rise to the top, in theory at least. While it seems like it would be cheaper to have everything under one house, it�s important to note that the film industry adopted the production house model to reduce overhead as well as risk while improving the quality of the films produced. Despite my significant dissatisfaction with most of the pablum produced by the film industry, after looking at the stuff made in the 60s and 70s, I�d have to say it�s been largely a good choice. The competitive pressures of the production house model help to ensure that the best managers are in control of most of the money in the industry.

Is the film industry the same as the game industry? No. The process of building a game is a different thing, with its own unique goals and challenges. But can the game industry use the business model utilized by the film industry? Absolutely. The increasing use of outsourcing makes it increasingly possible. As specialized companies rise up to provide the very best quality available in their specialty at a price comparable to doing it yourselves in-house with no worries of overhead, then we will of course see the small production company rise in popularity within the game industry. I don�t think that the studio model will be supplanted, but I do believe that once a major hit of the Half-Life or World of Warcraft variety is produced via this method, we will rapidly see a vast shift, specifically with regards to expansion of the industry. Starting a development house these days is a daunting task. Smaller companies committed to doing one thing perfectly just makes good business sense. The small production team is the natural outgrowth of that market trend. It�s sure not going to happen overnight, but we will see it happen.

Ghost Rider Footage Previewed In Cemetery

Sony previewed never-before-seen footage from its upcoming comic-book adaptation Ghost Rider, starring Nicolas Cage and Eva Mendes, at a special screening in Hollywood, Calif., on Nov. 30. Writer/director Mark Steven Johnson appeared at the event, held at the famous Hollywood Forever Cemetery, to introduce several scenes from the film, including the first time Cage’s character, Johnny Blaze, transforms into Ghost Rider, a motorcycle-riding demon with a flaming-skull for a head.

Ghost Rider centers on a stunt rider who sells his soul to the devil (played by Peter Fonda) to save his dying father from cancer. During the day, he lives a normal life, but at night, in the presence of evil, he is forced to do the devil’s bidding as Ghost Rider.

The sneak peek from the film also included scenes in which Johnny reveals his secret to his high-school sweetheart (Mendes), evades the police by jumping off of a bridge into a river on his Hell Cycle, fights an elemental demon on a rooftop and meets the Caretaker (Sam Elliot). It concluded with an image of Ghost Rider speeding down a deserted road at night alongside another demonic figure�possibly the character known as the Phantom Rider�riding a skeletal horse. Ghost Rider is scheduled for release on Feb. 16, 2007.

A Desktop 3D Scanner, Really Cheap?

( Any aspiring animators out there may want to add the NextEngine Desktop 3D scanner to their Christmas lists. The cereal box-size gadget will quickly scan an object (most scans take about 2 minutes) and render it onscreen for you to stretch, rotate, or break apart in any number of applications, many of which are provided. Since there’s no “scanning box” for your object, size matters not; really big targets may take a couple of scans, though. The NextEngine will capture all your object’s pretty colors and is said to be accurate to 0.005 inch, so anything bigger than a nanofiber can’t hide from this baby.

You also get an object gripper for hanging onto your thingie and a rotating “positioner” for scanning its backside. Since the NextEngine is a regular USB 2.0 peripheral, setup is super-simple, though you’ll need a minimum 2-GHz Windows PC (sorry, Mac users). Yeah, at $2,495, it’s definitely a bit pricey for students, so you may want to weigh getting one vs. an internship at Activision.

Order yours today:

ILM Alumnus Kevin Townsend Talks Evolving Digital Media

( “Every brand is a distribution channel,” says Kevin Townsend. It’s been a long time since digital media meant special effects. Townsend was at Industrial Light and Magic when it produced Jurassic Park. Now, his company, Science + Fiction, is helping to translate the impact of digital media on new distribution platforms for advertisers looking to reach further into the online world. It means allowing consumers more choice, and reaching them in many places at once.


“When you talk about digital media, it was all about how you created image for the longest time, from the photo-chemical visual effects days, to the digital and computer based CGI stuff, we did a movie called Jurassic Park when I was at Industrial Light + Magic and that was one of the watershed events for digital filmmaking. But where the digital technology has really taken off is in distribution platforms now.”

So, not only is it just about seeing a television show or a movie, it’s about seeing something online, it’s about seeing something in a game, it’s about hearing something in a podcast, it’s about being able to talk to people across multiple platforms, sometimes simultaneously. And each of those platforms has its own pluses and minuses, and the content needs to be able to reflect that, so the consumer gets the best possible experience. The reason why that’s important is because the advertisers are starting to use those individual platforms, to create content as a means of reaching their consumer.

What’s happened is, technology really has given the power back to the consumer. So consumers now choose where they get their content. If you look at a typical 25-year old North American resident, they can get content on their television, on their computer – four different ways, on their computer, via their cell phone, their PDA, any number of other ways out of home, in home. So, what’s happening is, advertisers need to be able to choose the best way to find a consumer and sometimes that’s multiple places simultaneously. So, when we talk about multi-platforming, we’re talking about giving the consumer the opportunity to choose where they get their message, rather than the advertiser forcing them where to get their message. So the old broadcast model, if you look at television for example; the old broadcast model was, you’d have an act of a show, and you would go to the ad-break, where there would be six commercials that you are forced to watch before you watch the next act of the show. Well now, any of the interactive platforms, and that’s everything from anything online, anything DVD based, anything CD based and especially in the television world through the disruptive technologies, ‘On Demand’ and ‘TiVo’, that gives that consumer the ability to fast-forward, pause and rewind; and as soon as you can fast-forward television, the ad-break model becomes obsolete.


Ray Harryhausen’s Greatest Hits On YouTube

( I constantly complain about modern special effects, how CGI creatures don’t look realistic enough, but I have to admit this is pretty hypocritical of me. I love the work of effects legend Ray Harryhausen, and his models were never believable. There was a lot more inventiveness and craftsmanship in his effects, though, and there’s no denying that the films he worked on have a creative spark that many modern fantasy films lack. Sometimes I think that my preference for model work over CGI has to do with their tangible appearance, but then that doesn’t explain my forgiveness for the composite shots in Harryhausen films, which typically appeared as flat as today’s worst CGI.

Anyway, despite our now having films with great computer effects like Jurassic Park and Peter Jackson’s King Kong, Harryhausen will never be forgotten. Earlier this year, the 86-year-old received a well-deserved George Pal Memorial Award at the Saturn Awards and he was celebrated in the documentary The Sci-Fi Boys, which screened at Tribeca. Now, thanks to YouTube, someone is presenting all of Harryhausen’s creatures and spaceships in a chronologically edited montage.

From the site: The four and a half minute compliation of every Ray Harryhausen animated creature in feature films, presented in chronological order.

Check it out:

“Cleopatra” Epic Planned

(Variety) Whilst the interest in ancient historical epics has never been so little States-side, overseas it remains ever bountiful with films like “Troy”, “Last Samurai”, “Master & Commander” and even “Alexander” overcoming woeful domestic earnings with massive international grosses.

That seems to explain today’s announcement that Columbia Pictures has acquired screen rights to a 10-page proposal which plans a new take on the life of Egyptian queen “Cleopatra”.

Variety reports that Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer Stacy Schiff will pen the novel for release in 2009 with the film to follow soon after. Scott Rudin will produce.

The last time a biopic of “Cleopatra” was attempted, it resulted in a 1963 flop starring Elizabeth Taylor which remains one of the most expensive films ever adjusted for inflation.

Schiff’s proposal plans to destroy movie myths that focused on pageantry and Cleopatra’s skills as a seductress, rather focusing on her skills as a firm ruler and military tactician who embarked on a ruthless rise to power both on the battlefield and in marriage.

They’re Still Lining Up For `Pirates’

( The after life: “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest,” which arrives Tuesday on DVD, received the kind of disastrous reviews that would sink most movies. But not only did the ballyhooed sequel to the 2003 adventure hit weather the critical storm, the Johnny Depp flick ranks as the box office champ of 2006.

Since its theatrical release in July, when it took in a record-breaking $135.6 million domestically, the film has grossed more than $1 billion worldwide. The DVD has conquered the pre-sales list: the two-disc special edition ranks at No. 1 and the single disc at No. 5.

And undoubtedly, the final installment in the trilogy, which sails into theaters May 25, will bring in even more doubloons at the box office.

Stan Winston Thrilled With His New Book

( After 300 pages of hideous monsters and prehistoric creatures (which he created), Stan Winston closes his book, �Winston Effect — The Art and History of Stan Winston Studio, � with a picture of himself and son Matt seated in directors� chairs on an empty sound stage. �I came out to Hollywood to be an actor,� Stan admitted to me. �My son is the actor I came out to be.� Matt, who is currently seen in �Little Miss Sunshine,� will be a regular in David Milch�s next HBO series, �John from Cincinnati.�

�I had to fight my parents. I didn�t want to be a doctor or lawyer,” Stan admits. And has since won countless awards, including Oscars (for �Aliens�, �Jurassic Park� and two for �Terminator 2�) and Emmys among the others for effects, visual effects, and makeup. His Stan Winston Studio employs 150 and they are preparing for production on �low-budget horror-psychological drama films for its banner. �It�s the genre of movie that I grew up with — classics from Universal. Like Spencer Tracy in �Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde, Lon Chaney Aa_wolfman_1 Jr. in The Wolf Manand Boris Karloff in
�Frankenstein�. Low-budget horror movies are the keystone of our movies.

People want a little scare and then come out of the theaters they see everything is all right. Horror movies are just to scare you a little and comedies are to make you laugh.� He has finished filming �Skinwalkers� and �The Deaths of Ian Sone,� which he calls �a true psychological horror story.� He promises a new technology. You see the characters despite the makeup and digital effects. They are �tweaked a little more but still maintain the character of the actor. It�s not gratuitous fantasy.�

The finale of the book lists (15 rows) of �The brilliant talent that made it (the Winston Studio) happen.� And he talks generously of the directors . “Steven Spielberg is the best director of all time because of his body of work. From ‘Jaws� to E.T. to �Indian Jones� to �Close Encounters���Jurassic Park� and �Schindler�s List� in the same year!� He also praises Jim Cameron as the man �cursed with a vision. �Aliens,� ��Terminator 2,� �Titanic.�” And Tim Burton for �Edward Scissorhands,� — “You have to be in that director’s mind so that when I see Johnny Depp, I see what Burton has in his mind. It has been a blessing for me to stretch Aa_terminator_1 with them (the directors), my work is the result of a relentless push by the directors with no compromise. They are the brilliant talent that a made it happen. I was just the common denominator. �
He is thrilled with this book, by writer Jody Duncan, who takes Winston back to his makeup beginnings, like his first film, �W.C. Fields And Me� in 1976 when I first met him on the set. He remained friends with Rod Steiger up to his death. He remains friends with all of those with whom he�s worked. He still goes Harley riding on weekend with Arnold Schwarzenegger, with whom he first worked on �The Terminator� and also rides weekly with James Cameron, who writes a glowing foreword.

For the book (Titan, $49.95) is a joy to keep re-reading and reviewing. It is a reminder of what Winston told me, �Our business is an important art form. It is also an education. It teaches us where professors and teachers cannot.�

Weta Monster Designs At Korean Film Festival

( What do a mutant tadpole, a Korean superstar and Prime Minister Helen Clark have in common?

They’re all part of the 2006 Korean Film Festival, which starts tonight in Waitakere, where it will be opened by Helen Clark.

The second annual Korean Film Festival will feature nine critically acclaimed films, including The Host, which took six prizes at the Korea Film Awards in Seoul. The Host, which won best film and best director awards, tells the story of a family’s struggle to find their missing daughter after she is snatched by a mysterious creature.

Variety Magazine reviewer Derek Elley wrote: “On almost every level, there’s never quite been a monster movie like The Host … a bold gamble that looks headed to instant cult status”.

The film has a Kiwi connection because the initial design work was by Richard Taylor and a team at Weta Workshop.

Award nominees The King and the Clown and Family Ties will also screen during the week-long festival, which will be held at various Village SkyCity and Rialto cinemas in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch.

The King and the Clown was the highest-grossing Korean film last year, earning widespread acclaim for featuring a gay storyline in a traditional and conservative society.

Korean Ambassador H.E. Joon-gyu Lee said: “I am confident the selected films will enchant, thrill and excite and will contribute to a more enlightened exposure of Korea to New Zealanders.”

Rendering Happy Feet

( Animal Logic was once what Director George Miller calls a visual effects vendor, its most recognisable work being the streaming code for The Matrix, the ghostly twins in The Matrix Reloaded, the digital look of Paris for Moulin Rouge and the fight scenes for House of the Flying Daggers.

To make Happy Feet, Miller turned it into a computer-generated animation studio to rival Pixar, maker of Toy Story, Finding Nemo and The Incredibles, and DreamWorks, now producing a third Shrek. And in the process, a director who had never worked on a digital feature became a world expert.

During peak workload, there were 4000 computers rendering scenes in a “render farm” at Rosebery and 500 desktop computers for artists and crew at the Fox Studio headquarters. “We ended up installing power generators that could support a small hospital,” says Zareh Nalbandian, the managing director of Animal Logic and the movie’s executive producer.

Animators were recruited from around the world, supplementing home-grown talent in the booming digital industry. “We had people from over 20 countries working on the film,” says Nalbandian. “There were all these different accents in the corridors. The place was buzzing.”

Iron Man Director On Budgeting Special Effects

Brodesser-Akner is both a radio show and podcast dealing with the inner workings of the business of Hollywood.

Claude�s interviews with directors, screenwriters, advertising executives and actors/actresses are often fascinating, if not enlightening, especially if you share an interest in how films are created like I do.

In his interview with actor/director Jon Favreau entitled �No Special Effects, It�s Really Director Jon Favreau�, Jon reveals his love/hate relationship with CGI effects and why home brewed effects are still relevant and useful. His philosophy is that while computer generated imagery has its place (namely a toolbox of endless possibility) it can also cloud the visual aesthetic of a movie.

While CGI has improved over the years, providing the backbone for things like sci-fi vistas and mythological creatures as well upping the ante on disaster sequences it�s also � in most cases � immediately recognizable if it doesn�t blend in with live action.

Recently Favreau was chosen to direct the film adaptation of Iron Man, a task not to be taken lightly and even though the film itself has a much bigger budget than his other films, he�s also made the decision to budget the special effects. His reasoning is two-fold; that the film�s budget is targeted at a specific amount and to effectively blend CGI with live action without going overboard.

In all honesty, this is something that I wish more directors (including George Lucas) would come to terms with. Audiences are typically overwhelmed with joy when a superb CGI sequence is pulled off but to echo Favreau�s thoughts, in most cases it�s easily noticed and can take you out of the movie, detaching you from the film�s otherwise engrossing atmosphere and aesthetic.

By NMancer