Monday, December 21, 2009

"Transformers 2" and the Tomatometer

photo credit:
read about what these two are discussing here

Update, January 11, 2009 - "Avatar" has surpassed "Transformers 2." Read more here.

Happy end-of-2009! 2009 will be remembered as the year we saw "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen" earn $402 million at the North American box office (and $834 million globally)!

Putting those $402 million into context: "Transformers 2" was the highest grossing film of the year! And it wasn't even close! The #2 grosser was "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince," with over $100 million less in earnings!

I thought it would be fun to chart the box office champions of the last 29 years against their Tomatometer rating, an aggregate of the critical consensus of the film! So I did it! And, boy, it was fun!

Wow! That's enlightening! An updated chart is here.

(Why all the exclamation points, you ask? Obviously, this post was meant to be a reflection of the spirit of "Transformers 2," which is the cinematic equivalent of an exclamation point!)

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

The Cinematography of "Let The Right One In," Part 2

In Part 1, we looked at cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema's geometric motifs in "Let The Right One In." In this post, we look at some simply cool images from the film.

Images may contain minor spoilers.

The List of 15, 82nd Academy Awards

The visual effects branch of the Academy have announced their 'list of 15' films, considered semifinalists in the race for the Oscar nominations for the 82nd Academy Awards, as determined by the branch's Executive Committee:
  • Angels & Demons
  • Avatar
  • Coraline
  • Disney’s A Christmas Carol
  • District 9
  • G-Force
  • G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra
  • Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince
  • Sherlock Holmes
  • Star Trek
  • Terminator Salvation
  • Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen
  • 2012
  • Watchmen
  • Where the Wild Things Are
The visual effects branch's Executive Committee will then whittle this list down to seven films in the next few weeks, which will be featured at the bake-off (to take place on January 21, 2010) where each of the seven films presents a 15 minute reel of their finished work, and takes questions from the entire visual effects branch. The entire branch then votes for their top three choices, which ultimately determine the three Academy Award nominees for Best Visual Effects. The nominees for all categories will be announced on February 2, 2010. The entire Academy membership then votes on the winner.

I'm very proud to have contributed to the visual effects for three films on this list: "Star Trek," "Avatar" and "Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen," while at Industrial Light & Magic.

My prediction for the final seven films: "Avatar," "District 9," "G.I. Joe," "Harry Potter," "Star Trek," "Transformers 2" and "2012." Stay tuned!

Friday, November 20, 2009

James Cameron's "Avatar" Trailer

Yeah, it's a few weeks late, but I've been a bit busy finishing a film. On an unrelated note, the final trailer for James Cameron's "Avatar" is out in the world, and the Randomizer 2009™ software was cranked into overdrive and selected two images from the trailer.

Hey, didn't this shot look a little different in the teaser?

View the trailer here.

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Cinematography of "Let The Right One In," Part 1

Illustrating a visual motif without being overt and obvious is not a simple task. Director Tomas Alfredson and his cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema achieve this delicate balance in "Let The Right One In," the excellent Swedish thriller from 2008.

We'll present two posts on the cinematography of "Let The Right One In." In this post, we'll examine the geometric shapes formed within the images, and illustrating how the camerawork and production design work together to give the film a distinctive look. In the second post, we'll feature a few, simply cool images.

Hoytema frequently frames his shots with long lenses, allowing vertical and horizontal lines to remain parallel to the edges of the frame, giving the feeling of the shapes within the frame existing as subsets of the theater screen. Contrast this with, say, the wide-angle photography of Christopher Nolan's "The Dark Knight" (which we examined here: "Converging Lines and 'The Dark Knight'"). The production design and cinematography of "The Dark Knight" worked together to impart a sense of dread, a feeling of the decaying world collapsing around the characters. In addition, "The Dark Knight" was filmed with anamorphic lenses, which bow and bend straight lines giving even long lens shots a fish eye, distorted and abstract feel, while Hoytema chose to film "Let The Right One In" with spherical lenses (in Super35 for a 2.35 to 1 composition), minimizing distortion. Hoytema's images have straight lines that are parallel to the edges of the frame, emphasizing, coldness and geometric precision.

Alfredson, Hoytema and production designer Eva Noren use everyday objects to highlight this geometric precision. The window frames of Oskar's apartment building is used to great effect, along with the tiny jungle gym in the building's snowy yard (where we meet the mysterious Eli for the first time). Even props like the Rubik's Cube Oskar gives to Eli help drive home the visual theme.

For "Let The Right One In," the use of long lenses significantly reduces the impact of converging lines; wide lenses exaggerate perspective, while longer lenses compress perspective. When a zoom lens is framed on characters, it isolates and focuses the subject. Using longer lenses also exaggerates and enhances the feeling depth of field, so extreme foregrounds and backgrounds drift in and out of focus, further isolating our characters.

American Cinematographer Online has a short article about the film here, called "An Unusual Romance," from December 2008.

Images may contain minor spoilers.

In Part 2, we'll look at some simply cool images from the film. Go to Part 2.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Twins on TV!

Holy cow - my sister is on the television!

I wrote about her before, when her book debuted a few weeks ago. Well, were she is, promoting her book "Raising Twins: From Pregnancy to Preschool" on WGN News with Allison Payne.

Way to go, Shelly!

Thursday, October 01, 2009


Do you know someone with young twins? Or is expecting twins? Is that someone you? If the answer to any of these questions is yes, then you have to buy this book.

My sister, my amazing little sister, wrote a book called "Raising Twins: From Pregnancy to Preschool." She's a mother of four and a brilliant pediatrician, and offers a unique insight into raising twins.

The book is published by the American Academy of Pediatrics, which kinda indicates that she knows what she's talking about. She even has a blog called "A Pediatrician Mom of Twins," which features even more advice on having fun with your twins, and also features some of her mentions and interviews in, you know, obscure outlets like The New York Times.

I am so incredibly proud of my sister. You go, girl, indeed.

From the page:
About the Author: Shelly Vaziri Flais, MD, FAAP, is a board-certified pediatrician, a fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the mother of four children, including a set of twins. She has contributed to Chicago Parent, Healthy Children, and Twins magazines.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

James Cameron's "Avatar" Teaser

Please read the new FXRant post, "'Avatar' and ILM" to learn more about ILM's work on the film.

Looking back at the last few posts, it seems like I nearly leapfrogged over an entire production on which I worked. It's almost as if "Transformers 2" didn't even happen, as if it is being erased from our collective consciousness. Huh. Imagine that.

Anywhoo, the highly anticipated teaser for James Cameron's "Avatar" is now available online. And the image above was chosen by the Randomizer 2009™ software, featuring ArbitraryBoost 3.0.

View the teaser here.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Because Editing Is Fun

Harrison Ford keeps losing his family.

Monday, July 27, 2009

This is the Sports Report!

Here are some cleverly edited clips from "The Colbert Report," with Stephen air-guitaring the 'extreme' theme of the Sports Report. And I say 'cleverly,' because I did it.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Colbert Character Breaks

Here are two amazing fan-made videos of Stephen Colbert breaking character. Serious kudos go out to these obsessive fans who cut the videos together.

These videos are courtesy of the No Fact Zone, the amazing Stephen Colbert fan site.

Camera Confusion

From "The Colbert Report," June 2, 2009. During the opening segment, the camera does an inadvertent cut, briefly taking Stephen by surprise. Ostensibly remaining in character, Stephen gives an honest and hilarious reaction. I just love Stephen's complete mastery and control over his face, and how he can change his entire screen presence with relative ease. I also admire Stephen's ability to move the show forward with nary a pause, as well as the producers' choice to keep the minor glitch in the show (rather than edit around it, or reshoot the segment).

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Saudi Arabia Press Restrictions
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical HumorKeyboard Cat

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.