Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Exclusive: NSA's Pixar Image Computer is Lost to History

In the years before Pixar officially became an animation studio, it was Pixar, Inc., purveyor of high-end, computer graphics hardware, namely the Pixar Image Computer. One of the few takers for the machine was the U.S. National Security Agency.

An organ of the Department of Defense, the NSA is charged with the interception of (mostly) foreign communications and signals intelligence, as well as the protection of U.S. government communications systems.

Put another way, they're the nice folks who may be listening in on your conversations with grandma.

Last October, after ages of procrastination, I filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with the agency for "all relevant records relating to the procurement and use of the Pixar Image Computer by the National Security Agency from 1984 to 1990".

At the end of January, I received an invoice enumerating the transaction—two pages. In July 1989, the NSA paid a total $112,422 for a pair of the computers, and peripherals such as 12 MB additional memory ($21,663!) and a RGB color monitor.

But there was nothing about how, or on what, the machines were ever used after being installed, at a cost of $2000 each, at NSA facilities. Regarding this, the agency wrote, "a thorough search of our files was conducted, but no records responsive to your request were located."

I appealed, specifying that my request included "all records that reference the use, evaluation, disposal, or transfer to another government agency" of the computers, and any data obtained through their use.

On Monday, one year and two days after submitting my initial request, I received the agency's formal denial of my appeal. It states that the NSA's search was conducted 'reasonably' and there are no further  documents relating to the Pixar Image Computer.

So it appears that we will never know exactly what the agency did with the two systems it bought (the best guess is reconnaissance image rendering) and what the results of their use were.

But I still have the feeling that somewhere in Maryland sits a file with some very interesting stories.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

My Thoughts on the Disney/Lucasfilm Deal

Although, at face value, it's not related to feature animation, I wanted to comment on this evening's earth-shattering announcement that The Walt Disney Company is acquiring Lucasfilm from George Lucas for $4.05 billion in cash and stock.

Since the deal includes not only the Star Wars franchise, but also Lucasfilm's Industrial Light & Magic and Skywalker Sound divisions, Pixar and Disney Animation (to say nothing of Marvel) won't have to venture far for post-production services.

As it is right now, Pixar has stayed close to its former parent, using Skywalker sound designers on all its films. When I visited Skywalker back in 2010, I got the impression that the people working on Toy Story 3's sound were Pixar employees in all but name only.

With Lucasfilm now under the same Mouse-shaped umbrella, those relationships will be completely unconstrained. There's also the distinct possibility that Disney may see ILM as a potential future source of animated features. Remember Rango?

Yeah, Bob Iger looks a bit stiff in a suit, but he's proving to be a daring, long-term-thinking CEO. First acquiring Pixar (2006, $7.4 billion), then Marvel (2009, $4.24 billion), now Lucasfilm. I can't wait to find out what's coming in three years time.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Review: Wreck-It Ralph is Year's Best Animated Film

It's not often that a film surprises me (whether for good or bad) as much as Wreck-It Ralph did. Where do I start? Here seems good: Walt Disney Animation's 52nd feature, opening November 2nd, is the best animated movie of 2012.

Sorry Pixar, but your comely redheaded lass is no match for Disney's odiferous, dump-dwelling hobo with disproportionately enormous hands.

That would be Ralph himself, voiced by John C. Reilly, who leads the movie's eclectic animated cast, teaming up with Vanellope von Schweetz (Sarah Silverman) in a friendship leads them both to discover who they really are on the inside.

Speaking of Vanellope, she isn't the pestilential imp suggested by the trailers. Although she has her moments (as well as her secrets), by early in the third act you'll care about her as much as Ralph does.

The movie's main environments—arcade video games Hero's Duty and Sugar Rush—are some of the most jaw-dropping ever put on screen. Imagineering, how about a Sugar Rush ride at Disney World?

Those virtual worlds, as well as Ralph's own, the 30-year-old, 8-bit, Fix-It Felix Jr., are the setting for one of Disney's biggest adventures in years. Also the most awkward osculations—you'll see.

After last year's Winnie the Pooh, where the studio showed it could still excel at making great traditional animation, Wreck-It Ralph is proof that Disney can devote as much effort to telling a great story using CG.

As for the attached short film, Paperman, you have to admire director John Kahrs' monochrome vision. The character design is unique, unlike anything Disney's done before; and the story brings to life the hope of many a hopeless romantic.

However it wasn't inventive, either in story or technique, to live up to the hype. Could anything? There's something to be said about the value of low expectations.

Perhaps my glowing review of Ralph wasn't such a good idea.

Wreck-It Ralph Clip: Ralph's Gone "Turbo"

Watch this clip from Disney's Wreck-It Ralph, in theatres next Friday. It's an extended play of the "My Qbertese is a little rusty" scene from the trailers. Having seen the film last night, I can tell you that "Going Turbo" is not a good thing in Ralph's arcade world.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Madagascar 3 Week's Best-Selling Blu-ray/DVD

DreamWorks Animation's Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted reached the top of the Blu-ray/DVD sales charts since hitting shelves one week ago, reports Home Media Magazine.

The Madagascar threequel 'debuted at No. 1 on both Nielsen VideoScan’s First Alert chart, which tracks overall disc sales, and Nielsen’s dedicated Blu-ray Disc sales chart'.

Afro Circus!

'Partysaurus Rex Overflow' Single Coming Oct. 30

According to a new Amazon listing, Walt Disney Records will be releasing the music of Pixar's Toy Story Toon: Partysaurus Rex in a digital single, Partysaurus Overflow, on October 30. Recorded by electronic artist BT, the track will run 5:35.

The full short itself can already be watched online at (U.S. and Canada) and is available for download in HD from the iTunes Store and Amazon (U.S. only).

(via Stitch Kingdom)
Update (Oct. 27): The listing has been removed.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

"For Your Consideration" Campaign for Disney's Paperman

With the awards season fast approaching, Walt Disney Animation's acclaimed short film Paperman is being positioned to get some recognition. Disney has begun running "For Your Consideration" ads, like this series of banners just spotted on Cartoon Brew.

Paperman glides into theatres with Wreck-It Ralph on November 2.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Untitled Peanuts Feature Set for 2015

Yesterday, development was announced on a new theatrical feature from 20th Century Fox/Blue Sky Studios, starring Charlie Brown and the rest of Charles M. Schulz's Peanuts gang.

The film, set to project on November 25, 2015, is being directed by Ice Age: Continental Drift helmer Steve Martino. Schulz's son, Craig, and grandson, Bryan, are co-writing the script with unknown screenwriter Cornelius Uliano, and producing.

There's no word on story or title, but in all likelihood it will be computer animated, not traditional. It would also make sense for the filmmakers to treat this like a franchise reboot, with emphasis on (re)introducing the characters to new audiences.

The announcement has been met with anticipation, doubts, and derision. ("Hollywood to Ruin 'Peanuts' Next" ran the headline on The Atlantic Wire.) Not surprising, considering that Peanuts is the biggest comic strip of all time, with some of the most popular characters.

You could say I'm indifferent, because I'm not a fan of Peanuts. (Dilbert is another story.) Not in an averse sort of way, mind you; I've just been ignorant of the franchise since my teenage years. Come to think about it, I might be the audience they're trying to reach.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

First Extended Clip from Wreck-It Ralph

Disney just released a one-minute clip from Wreck-It Ralph. It's an extended play of the scene shown in the trailers where Ralph meets Vanellope in the world of sweet racing game (pun) Sugar Rush.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Incredible Viral Site for Monsters University

Disney/Pixar have launched a shiny new viral website for Monsters University—the fine educational academy appearing in the eponymous Monsters, Inc. prequel, opening in theatres June 21, 2013.

From this, it's easy to see why Mike and Sulley chose it as their alma mater. "Our methods are strenuous, but our tradition is truly great," says the incredibly detailed site, which is reminiscent of the one Pixar created for WALL-E's Buy N Large back in 2008.

Not to give away too much of the fun, but there are dozens of pages with info on campus life, academic specialties, even reassurances for monster parents. And, of course, a university store where you can buy genuine MU gear (order fulfilment via the Disney Store).

Once you get past the homepage, you'll see on the left sidebar a link to a password-protected login page, which methinks holds untold goodies. If you find your way in, please share your discoveries!

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Law & Order: Animated Victims Unit (Brave v. Croods)

Your Honor, the People present Exhibit A to the court. The People rest.

Watch: Wreck-It Ralph U.K. Trailer

The U.K. trailer for Wreck-It Ralph has hit the web, complete with a cool 8-bit Disney logo intro. Although much of the footage isn't new, it's the best so far for the movie.

The scene with Vanellope in the dessert car at the end is gorgeously animated and lit, isn't it? Plus, it leads me to believe her character (voiced by Sarah Silverman) might not be as 'freakishly annoying' as she's been in previous trailers.

(via Stitch Kingdom)

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

The Croods Trailer is as Bad as You Think

DreamWorks Animation released the first trailer for its forthcoming caveman picture The Croods, written and directed by Chris Sanders. And it's pretty much the last thing I needed to see after a long day. Share my pain—

It seems that The Croods will basically be Brave with Neanderthals instead of Scots, and one heck of a homely Merida. Just look at that shot of Ugly Merida climbing the cliff—DreamWorks, what are you doing?

The Croods clubs theatres on March 22.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Cinderella Diamond Edition Blu-ray on Sale Today

Walt Disney's Cinderella made its high definition debut on Blu-ray today. If you've already picked up one of the combo packs, please share your comments here. If you haven't, refresh your memory with these clips from the classic film.


First Look: Peter Pan Diamond Edition Blu-ray Box Art

Here's an exclusive first look at the hi-res box art for Disney's Peter Pan Diamond Edition Blu-ray, on sale February 5.

One of the best box designs in ages. Not only does it look great, but it's confident enough not to show any of the characters on the front, except for Peter in silhouette, of course.