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Movies: Past, present and future

Category: Visual effects

VES Awards: 'Rango' leads with four wins for visual effects

February 7, 2012 | 11:15 pm


The animated tale "Rango" took home four trophies at the 10th annual Visual Effects Society Awards on Monday night, leading all films. The live-action movies "Hugo," "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" and "Transformers: Dark of the Moon" each won two awards.

Directed by Gore Verbinski and featuring the voice of Johnny Depp, "Rango" was honored for outstanding visual effects in an animated film, outstanding animated character in an animated film, outstanding created environment in an animated film and outstanding virtual cinematography in an animated film.

In the last two weeks, "Rango" also has earned an Oscar nomination for best animated picture and won four Annie Awards from the International Animated Film Society. It is the first full-length animated feature from the visual-effects house Industrial Light & Magic; the film was released by Paramount.

Other highlights from the VES Awards, which were held at the Beverly Hilton Hotel in Beverly Hills, included a surprise appearance by "Hugo" director Martin Scorsese, the presentation of a lifetime achievement award to comics icon Stan Lee and the presentation of the Georges Melies Award to visual-effects innovator Douglas Trumbull. The awards also recognized television programs, commercials, special venues and video games.

Actor and comedian Patton Oswalt ("Young Adult") hosted this year's show, which will be broadcast on the Reelz Channel on Feb. 19 at 10 p.m. EST, 7 p.m. PST.

Following is a full list of winners.

Continue reading »

Oscars 2012: VFX artist says ‘Potter’ best pic snub ‘a shame’

January 24, 2012 |  1:23 pm


Warner Bros. campaigned heavily for “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2” with hopes that the final installment in the eight-movie series could get some awards attention in best picture and best adapted screenplay categories. But the Oscar nominations announcement revealed Tuesday morning that the fantasy film would only get attention in technical and craft categories.

The movie, based on the second half of J.K. Rowling’s seventh book in her beloved series, received Oscar nominations for visual effects, makeup and art direction.

“It’s a shame it didn’t get more nominations in categories like best picture,” said Tim Burke, one of the filmmakers sharing the visual effects nomination. “It’s difficult to know quite why ['Harry Potter' films] are often shunned by the academy and especially in the U.K. -– where it’s homegrown –- with the BAFTAs. Maybe it’s negative response to the commercialism, that these are very successful films at the box office that puts people off.”

PHOTOS: Oscar nominees react

Burke said he was still “absolutely thrilled” to learn about his nomination when he saw several texts from friends and family from London upon waking up in his Los Angeles hotel room. The visual effects artist is currently in L.A. working with Disney on a project in development.

Burke, who supervised visual effects on all eight “Harry Potter” movies, earned Oscar visual effects nominations for two other films in the franchise. He won the award in 2001 for “Gladiator.”

Despite any lingering disappointment at “Harry Potter’s” snubs in other categories, Burke noted there’s still cause for plenty of butterbeers and fire whiskeys -– or at least the Muggle alternatives.

“There will be a few drinks when I get back to London with my crew,” Burke said. “We’ll have a little toast to the success of ‘Harry Potter.’”


And the nominees are ...

PHOTOS: 84th Academy Awards nominees

Power Players: Warner Bros. hoping 'Harry Potter' conjures Oscar nods

-– Emily Rome

Photo: Ralph Fiennes as Voldemort in "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2." Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures.

Cinema pioneer Douglas Trumbull to receive special Academy Award

January 11, 2012 |  1:15 pm


The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced Wednesday that it will give this year's  Gordon E. Sawyer Award to Douglas Trumbull, the veteran visual effects artist and director who worked on such films as "2001: A Space Odyssey;" "The Andromeda Strain"; "Silent Running," which he also directed"; and the 2011 film "The Tree of Life."

Trumbull has earned three Oscar nominations for visual effects and in 1992 earned a Scientific and Engineering Award.

The Gordon E. Sawyer Award is given to an "individual in the motion picture industry whose technological contributions have brought credit to the industry."

Trumbull will receive the award Feb. 11 at the scientific and technical presentation at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel.


Fade out for visual effects

--Susan King


Photo: Douglas Trumbull was involved in the visual effects for 1968's "2001: A Space Odyssey." Credit: American Cinematheque

'Tree of Life,' Marvel movies on shortlist for visual effects Oscar

December 9, 2011 |  4:55 pm

Terrence Malick's "Tree of Life" and Martin Scorsese's "Hugo" are among 15 films that have made the initial cut in the competition for a visual effects Oscar, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences announced Friday. The 15 films were chosen by the academy's visual effects branch executive committee.

In early January, the members of the visual effects branch executive committee will further narrow the list to 10. All members of the visual effects branch will then be invited to view 10-minute excerpts from the 10 shortlisted films on Thursday, Jan. 19. Following the screenings, the members will vote to nominate five films for final Oscar consideration. 

The initial 15 films include big-spectacle features including Marvel Studios' "Captain America: The First Avenger," "X-Men: First Class" and "Thor." Michael Bay's "Transformers: Dark of the Moon," Jon Favreau's "Cowboys & Aliens" and the latest "Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides" are also included.

In addition to the more artful fare, Oscar hopeful "Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2" was also selected.

The yet-to-be-released "Mission: Impossible -- Ghost Protocol" and "Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows" made the cut too. And, rounding out the 15 films are "Real Steel," "Rise of the Planet of the Apes," "Sucker Punch" and "Super 8."

The Academy Award nominations will be announced on Jan. 24.


Oscar documentary shortlist includes 'Paradise Lost 3,' 'Project Nim' 

Snubs and surpises on the Oscar foreign-language film short list

--Nicole Sperling 

Photo: Asa Butterfield plays Hugo Cabret in "Hugo."  Credit: GK Films

'Rise of the Planet of the Apes': An Oscar push for Andy Serkis

November 4, 2011 |  4:19 pm


Andy Serkis' performance as the sentient chimpanzee Caesar in this summer's "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" is getting a supporting actor push from 20th Century Fox. If he is nominated, Serkis will be something of a digital barrier-breaker in the Oscar race — he delivered the role with the help of visual-effects artists at Weta Digital, using the same performance-capture technique that helped create the tall blue aliens of "Avatar."

Serkis spoke with the Los Angeles Times from the New Zealand set of "The Hobbit," where he's reprising his role of Gollum from the "Lord of the Rings" movies and serving as a second unit director.

"Every single actor’s performance on screen is enhanced by a team of other people’s work," Serkis said.  "Editing choices, the take that’s chosen, the music that plays underneath a particular scene, the makeup that you’re wearing, it’s all collaborative. There isn’t a single shot in any movie which isn’t a team effort. If you want a pure actor’s performance, then you have to go to the stage."

For a glimpse of what Serkis' performance looked like before it was digitally enhanced, see the video below. For more on his work and Fox's campaign, see our story in Saturday's newspaper.



'Rise of the Planet of the Apes': Andy Serkis hails Caesar

'Rise of the Planet of the Apes': Weta's proof of concept scene


— Rebecca Keegan


Photo: Andy Serkis as Caesar and costar John Lithgow in "Rise of the Planet of the Apes." Credit: Weta Digital/20th Century Fox.

Around Town: Rock docs, disco tributes, sci-fi favorites and more

July 14, 2011 |  6:00 am


The American Cinematheque screens "Barry Lyndon," Stanley Kubrick's lavish 1975 epic, at the Egyptian Theatre on Thursday evening in Hollywood. The drama, based on William Makepeace Thackeray's novel, stars Ryan O'Neal in the title role and won four Academy Awards, including one for John Alcott's cinematography. On Friday, the Egyptian celebrates the 25th anniversary of David Cronenberg's revisionist take on the sci-fi classic "The Fly," starring Jeff Goldblum in the title role, with a screening that's part of a double bill with John Carpenter's 1982 film "The Thing." On Saturday, the Egyptian presents its yearly tiki celebration with a screening of the 1951 South Sea melodrama "Bird of Paradise," starring Debra Paget, Louis Jourdan and Jeff Chandler, in addition to live music and a fashion show.

The Cinematheque's Aero Theatre in Santa Monica celebrates the 1991 film "Hudson Hawk" on Thursday evening with special guests, including director Michael Lehman and writer Daniel Waters, schedules permitting. On Friday, the Aero kicks off its three-day centenary celebration of Ginger Rogers -- "Backwards and in High Heels" -- with two of her best musicals with Fred Astaire from 1936: "Swing Time" and "Follow the Fleet." On tap for Saturday are 1935's "Top Hat" and 1937's "Shall We Dance"; Sunday's offerings are 1934's "The Gay Divorcee" and 1938's "Carefree." http://www.americancinematheque.com

"The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye," a film about Throbbing Gristle and Psychic TV founder Genesis P-Orridge and his unique relationship with his late wife, opens this year's "Don't Knock the Rock" music festival Thursday at the Cinefamily at the Silent Movie Theatre. The festival, founded by filmmaker Allison Anders and her daughter Tiffany Anders, runs through late August. Highlights include the world premiere of "Rhino Resurrected: The Incredibly Strange Story of the World's Most Famous Record Store."

Continue reading »

Scene Stealer: Stormy doings on 'Shutter Island'

February 25, 2010 | 11:39 am

Scene Stealer is a recurring Calendar feature looking at the tricks and techniques used by Hollywood's behind-the-scenes armies of makeup people, visual-effects folks, costumers, cinematographers and stunt coordinators. This week's installment takes a look behind the very stormy scenes of Martin Scorsese's box-office hit "Shutter Island." The film's federal marshals, played by Leonardo DiCaprio and Mark Ruffalo, had to contend with a hurricane while conducting their investigation at the Ashecliffe Hospital for the Criminally Insane, but the crew had its own hurricane problems.

Inclement weather is nothing new in the movies, but the raging hurricane needed for "Shutter Island" proved to be a challenge for special effects coordinator R. Bruce Steinheimer. "Shutter" cinematographer Robert Richardson "is known for his wide crane shots," Steinheimer said. But the wide crane shots in and around the film's location in Medfield, Mass., meant that Steinheimer couldn't rely on the usual rain bars -- there weren't any big enough. He had to bring in a 140-foot-wide light truss, like the kind used in rock concerts, and rig it with water hoses to douse the actors with more than half a million gallons of water. Nine-foot-high wind machines had to be trucked in from California. "These were the biggest in the States," Steinheimer said. One set got so drenched that crew members sank up to their calves in mud and the place began to smell. As Steinheimer puts it: "I imagine this was what World War I trench warfare was like."

--Patrick Kevin Day

"Shutter Island'" photo from Paramount Pictures


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'Avatar' honored with first award from new 3D Society

February 23, 2010 |  7:01 pm


“Avatar” picked up another award Tuesday night, but Oscar prognosticators probably shouldn't read anything into it -- “The Hurt Locker,” "Up in the Air" and “Inglourious Basterds” weren’t eligible.

James Cameron’s blockbuster was named best live-action 3-D feature by the month-old International 3D Society, kicking off its inaugural Lumiere Awards at Grauman's Chinese Theater in Hollywood.

“Up,” also in the running for Academy Award best picture honors, was honored as best animated 3-D feature, and another Pixar work, “Partly Cloudy,” won in the category for best short 3-D motion picture/narrative.

The International 3D Society was formed Jan. 21 with a stated mission of advancing “the achievement of professionals working in the arts and technologies of Stereoscopic 3D.” Its board of governors includes a diverse group -- studio executives, the heads of 3-D and post-production houses and even a PhD at UC Berkeley's school of optometry. The awards were voted on by more than 100 film industry 3-D experts, a spokesman for the group said.

Among other winners Tuesday were the Imax film “Under the Sea 3D” as best 3-D documentary, “G-Force” as best 2-D-to-3-D converted feature, and “Avatar’s” Neytiri (played by Zoe Saldana) as best 3-D character of the year.

-- Lee Margulies

Photo of Neytiri from "Avatar": WETA / Associated Press

With bake-off, visual effects Oscar gets cooking

February 1, 2010 |  3:39 pm

In the wake of the blockbuster success of "Avatar," 3-D is all the rage in Hollywood -- and not just for big action movies either. A 3-D documentary called "Cane Toads" generated buzz in Sundance, and there's chatter that Ang Lee could make his next project, the adaptation of boy-on-boat bestseller “The Life of Pi,” in 3-D. (There are plenty of large-scale animals on the boat with the main character, including a 450-pound Bengal tiger).

Avat As one Oscar-winning effects guru said at the annual bake-off, the gathering of the Academy's visual effects branch narrowing down the contenders, "dramas are where [3-D is] heading."

The main purpose of the bake-off, held recently at Kate Mantilin's restaurant in Beverly Hills, is to whittle down a list of seven pictures (initially chosen from a list of 271 eligible films) to three titles that will be nominated for the Oscars. Presentations were made over the course of the dark, stormy night -- an appropriate tone for an evening featuring end-of-the-world epics, killer robots, wizards and general destruction.

"Avatar" is all but guaranteed one of the three Oscar slots, which left “Star Trek,” “2012,” “Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince,” “Terminator: Salvation,” “District 9,” and “Transformers: Revenge of The Fallen" battling it out for the other two positions.

It was almost as interesting to note the films that didn't make the cut. Fanboy favorite “Watchmen" never made it as far as the bake-off despite arriving at theaters as one of the most anticipated effects films in recent memory; several artists, including some who worked on the Zack Snyder film, agreed that the middling reception to the film undermined its chances. "District 9," however, impressed despite being a much more modestly budgeted film. “It was physically impossible to see the difference between the background, humans and synthetic creatures,” one member remarked.

Before the presentations started, visual effects branch chairman Richard Edlund -- who picked up Oscars for the original “Star Wars” trilogy -- reviewed the red light rule, which requires presenters to wrap up when the light goes on. Some are more willing than others to follow that regulation. When James Cameron last appeared at the bake-off 12 years ago for “Titanic," he had a novel solution: When the red light flashed by the podium indicating his time was up, he casually reached over and unscrewed the light bulb.

-- Liesl Bradner


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