Thursday, December 29, 2011

Tradition Studios Set to Open New Campus

Photo by Hobie Hiler/TCPalm
The newest major animation studio on the block, Tradition Studios, will be officially opening its production facilities in Port St. Lucie, Florida on January 3.

A division of visual effects house Digital Domain Media Group, Tradition will employ over 550 artists and CG animators at the new campus in an effort to rival Disney/Pixar and DreamWorks Animation. Artists have already begun moving in.

In an in-depth article on the opening, local news outlet reports that unlike most studios, Tradition designed its space to be as accessible as possible for the general public.

Tours will be offered beginning in February; two soccer fields and an outdoor movie amphitheater are also meant to bring in members of the community.

"We make movies for children and like the idea of children visiting and playing at the facility," Digital Domain CEO John Textor told the site. "It's not only exciting for kids in the community, but it brings artists closer to their audience."

Be sure to take a look at the article's gallery of a dozen pictures of the 115,000 sq. ft. campus, including the one shown above of the building lobby.

The first Tradition feature will be The Legend of Tembo, about a young African elephant taken from his family to be used in battle. It's scheduled to be released in the fall of 2014.

(via @Bauerpower)

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Two Animated Films Added to National Film Registry

Two animated works are among the twenty-five motion pictures being added this year to the National Film Registry of the United States. The National Film Preservation Board of the Library of Congress will formally induct the films later today.

Walt Disney's 1942 classic Bambi takes its place as "one of film’s most heart-rending stories of parental love", one that has "enchanted generations since its debut". The NFPB also noted its well-known "eloquent message of nature conservation".

A Computer Animated Hand, created thirty years after Bambi by future Pixar co-founder Ed Catmull, is being recognized for its "foundational" role in computer graphics and animation.

The unprepossessing 1-minute movie of a hand in motion was made by Catmull as part of a graduate student project at the University of Utah. You can watch it (along with some 'making of' footage) here.

Including this year's additions, the National Film Registry holds 575 films of 'cultural, historical or aesthetic' importance. Nominations are now being accepted for the 2012 selections.

(via The Hollywood Reporter)

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Patents Suggest Pixar Developing Next-Gen Motion Capture

After touching on Pixar's rejection of motion capture in my previous post, I decided to look into the studio's patents to see whether there's anything that would suggest they are taking another look at the idea.

Lo and behold, Pixar's latest filing, published on November 10, is for "light field [plenoptic] lenses" that can be used with "conventional cameras (e.g., digital or photographic/film, image and video/movie cameras) to create light field imaging systems".

Similar applications dating from 2010 were published* by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) earlier in the year and somehow managed to stay under the radar.

The applications state that "data collected by these light field imaging systems can then be used to produce 2D images [or] right eye/left eye 3D images... as well as to render and manipulate images using a computer graphics rendering engine and compositing tools."

Cameras that capture the entire light field—instead of a single plane of light like conventional cameras—have been around for years in research settings, but only now are beginning to find real-world uses. (The Lytro is the first consumer product to hit the market.)

It's long been known that data from an advanced light field surveillance camera, for example, could be used to create a photorealistic CG model of a suspect. It seems that Pixar is looking into applying a similar technique with moving images.

Such a system could conceivably capture all of a performer's complex facial expressions in stereoscopic 3-D. The greatest limitation of current mocap systems, which track select muscle groups, is, of course, that they can only capture some movements.

The Disney Research website confirms that David DiFrancesco, one the inventors named in the applications, is currently "researching instrumentation to capture lightfields for use in 3D cinematography and videography" at the Pixar Research Group in Emeryville.

The stated purpose of the Pixar Research Group is to develop new technologies that can be applied specifically to Pixar's films.

*United States Patent Applications 20110169994, 20110249341, 20110273609.

Friday, December 23, 2011

The Art of The Adventures of Tintin (and a Defense of Mocap)

So it's been a couple of days since I purchased The Art of The Adventures of Tintin...

As you can see, except for the film's awesome logo, the cover isn't very appealing. But the concepts, rendered designs, and especially the character close-ups inside make up for it.

It's slightly different than other 'Art of' volumes in that there's greater discussion of the film's main animation process—motion/performance capture or mocap. It should have been titled The Making of...

The 200-page book is authored by Chris Guise, who was the lead conceptual designer for the movie at Weta Workshop. But much of the written material comes from quotes by others who were as instrumental in making the film.

While presenting the details in a fairly uncomplicated manner, the text holds some great facts on the filmmaking techniques used. Case in point: Weta's method for creating realistic skin textures (p. 56).

The artists at Weta are clearly proud of what they do and thus defensive about mocap.

"Do people say Michelangelo was just a technician because he copied a life model?" Guise asks in his introduction. "No. He's considered a great artist. The same should be said for digital artists, whether they build digital models, performance-capture movement, or create artificial hair for a dog."

He makes a good point. Performance capture is just another way to animate characters.

In a recent post on Cartoon Brew, animation historian and current vice president of ASIFA-Hollywood, Jerry Beck writes that mocap "is not "the future of animation" ... It will not replace human beings in narrative stories for motion pictures."

Mocap will never completely supplant frame by frame ("keyframe") animation, but to shrug off the potential for future progress is incredibly shortsighted and smacks of insecurity.

Of course I'm still with the studios (notably Pixar) that have rejected the technology because of its present limitations and hope they continue doing so as long as they feel that is in the best interests of the films.

Tintin would have been better off without motion capture. Then again, its doubtful that Spielberg would have directed it otherwise.

The Art of The Adventures of Tintin is published by Harper Design, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers. An iPad app based on the book is available from the iTunes App Store.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Pixar Dinosaur Movie Loses Release Date

It looks like we won't be seeing Pixar's untitled dinosaur movie on November 27, 2013. That date now belongs to Frozen, Walt Disney Animation's adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen's fairy tale The Snow Queen.

Very little intel is available at this point about Frozen, such as whether it will be traditionally animated or CG. It's been stuck in development at Disney for about a decade.

The rescheduling, to date unknown, caused some momentary confusion, with many outlets assuming that Frozen was the title for the Bob Peterson-directed dinosaur story.

(via /Film)

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

The Adventures of Tintin is Surprisingly Fantastic

I absconded from work this afternoon to catch Steven Spielberg's The Adventures of Tintin, which finally arrived in North America today after a $239.1 million international box office run.

Since I wasn't able to attend an advance screening (no rapport with Paramount yet, this was The Pixar Blog, you know) I'll just share some quick thoughts on the film.

I walked into the theatre expecting to be disgusted by the monstrosities of the motion capture animation. This is a technique that has heretofore failed miserably at producing realistic human characters.

Instead, it was a pleasure to find that Tintin overcomes some significant hurdles.

Most of the Uncanny Valley creepiness is limited to minor characters (the Sultan was the worst) and a few of the extras. If you can get past the moments where your brain screams "You're not HUMAN!" at the main characters, the movie is fantastic.

Tintin is action-packed, grown-up, and genuinely funny. At times you really forget that it's animated. With all the gunplay, sword slashes, and Captain Haddock's comic alcoholism, that it got away with a PG rating is almost surprising.

After the movie, I had to run to the bookstore to pick up The Art of The Adventures of Tintin. Stay tuned for more on that in the next day or two.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Will Brad Bird Ever Return to Animation?

Bird directing Tom Cruise on location in Dubai
That's the question I asked myself while riding the cinematic roller coaster that is Mission: Impossible–Ghost Protocol, which opened Friday on IMAX screens.

After helming The Incredibles and Ratatouille for Pixar, Brad Bird has brought his filmmaking skill to live action in a big way—one of the most successful animation-to-live action transitions for a director in film history.

The action in M:I–GP is spectacularly well executed, on the same plane as that of the Bourne trilogy. A few more like this and Bird could become Hollywood's go-to director for adrenaline.

It's a sure bet that Paramount will be pushing for a sequel as soon as the box office figures from the wide release come in next week. Should he 'choose to accept it', Bird won't be coming back full-time to Pixar anytime soon. That means no Incredibles 2.

Still it's easy to see that Bird still retains a strong connection with his first love. Ghost Protocol is sprinkled with in-jokes (A113 becomes "Alpha 113") and talent (music by Michael Giacchino and voiceover by Teddy Newton) familiar to Pixar buffs.

And then, of course, there's this.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

'Behind the Magic' of Rango

Watch this new video from the visual effects masters at Industrial Light & Magic (ILM), discussing the filmmaking techniques behind the unique look and feel of Rango.

The film was the first to be animated entirely at ILM.

2011 Golden Globe Nominations

Nominations for the 69th annual Golden Globe Awards were announced this hour by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association (HFPA).

Included among the nominees for Best Animated Feature Film are The Adventures of Tintin, Cars 2, and Rango. See what other films got nominated here.

In live-action, it's a enormous shame that The Muppets wasn't recognized in the Best Motion Picture—Comedy or Musical category. Then again, who really cares? This is the Golden Globes were talking about.

The awards show happens on Sunday, January 15.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Variety Cover Goes Blu for Rio

Image via Blue Sky Studios on Facebook
Rio took over the front cover of Daily Variety today as part of its For Your Consideration campaign. The ad emphasizes the film's eight Annie Award nominations to Oscar and Golden Globe voters.

Layout's got a bit of a throwback vibe, doesn't it?

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Watch First Trailer for Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted

DreamWorks Animation has uncaged its first, longish teaser trailer for Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted at Yahoo! Movies.

I have to admit I've never seen the previous films and this, frankly, doesn't make me want to. Unlike the thoughtful trailer for The Lorax, it does little to make the film appealing. (The opening gag is pretty good, though.)

Madagascar 3 opens on June 8 and probably won't be on my radar for next year. You?

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Watch New Theatrical Trailer for The Lorax

Yahoo! Movies brings us a brand new trailer for Illumination Entertainment's The Lorax, in theatres March 2, 2012. Introduction is provided by Danny DeVito, who voices the film's titular character.

Adapted from the children's book by Dr. Seuss, The Lorax follows Ted (voice of Zac Efron) "as he searches for the one thing that will enable him to win the affection of the girl of his dreams," Audrey (Taylor Swift).

That "one thing" is trees—none remain is Ted and Audrey's town. To find them, Ted must cross paths with the Lorax, the grumpy orange creature who "speaks for the trees".

Monday, December 5, 2011

Pixar's 'Mind Movie' Set Inside Girl's Brain

John Lasseter was on the Charlie Rose show on Friday and made an illuminating comment regarding Pixar's currently untitled movie set inside the human mind:
"Pete Docter, from Monsters, Inc. and Up, is doing a new film that takes place inside of a girl’s mind and it is about her emotions as characters, and that is unlike anything you’ve ever seen."
No clues were provided when the film was announced in August, but it sounds like this will be the second Pixar feature to have a female main character, after next summer's Brave.

Docter has a teenage daughter himself (named Elle, like Mrs. Fredricksen in Up), so perhaps his parenting experiences were an inspiration for the story.

The Untitled Pixar Movie that Takes You Inside The Mind is set to open May 30, 2014.

(via The Pixar Times)

39th Annual Annie Award Nominees Announced

Nominations for the 39th Annual Annie Awards were announced this morning by the International Animated Film Society, ASIFA-Hollywood.

The Adventures of TintinCars 2, Kung Fu Panda 2Rango and Rio are among the ten films nominated for Best Animated Feature.

While snubbed in the top category, Winnie the Pooh received eight well-deserved nominations, including Directing in a Feature Production for Don Hall and Stephen Anderson.

The complete list of nominees can be found here. Winners will be announced at the Annie Awards ceremony on February 4, 2012 in Los Angeles.

As a side note, I'll be making my own 'Best of 2011 Animation' selections in a series of posts in January. Stay tuned for more on that later.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Ten Animated Shorts Make Oscar Shortlist

Ten animated short films have advanced in the voting process for the 84th Academy Awards, A.M.P.A.S. announced this afternoon.

These include Pixar's La Luna (directed by Enrico Casarosa) and Warner Bros. Animation's I Tawt I Taw A Puddy Tat (Matthew O'Callaghan).

The complete shortlist can be found here.

Academy members from the Short Films and Feature Animation Branches will now select three to five nominees for the category.

Nominations for all Oscar categories will be announced on January 24, 2012. The awards will be handed out on February 26.