I watched Avengers: Age of Ultron yesterday, and I wondered how the work was divided between various VFX houses. I knew multiple places worked on it beforehand, but I didn’t know the specifics. Everything felt pretty cohesive, there were a few things that seemed inconsistent with the other work, but it is mostly cohesive.
FXGuide has a breakdown of all the vendor work. Who did what, what assets were shared, and how things were handed off. The shared assets are always fascinating to me because that requires a level of effort that can’t be appreciated by the audience.
In this article, fxguide finds out from Townsend and many of the VFX vendors on the show - including ILM, Trixter, Double Negative, Animal Logic, Framestore, Lola VFX, Territory, Perception NYC, Method Studios, Luma Pictures and The Third Floor - how the studios were cast and how the biggest characters and biggest scenes were carried out.
Mike Seymour talks to Lola visual effects supervisor Trent Claus about the work that Lola did for The Vision’s face in fxpodcast #267. Lola usually does beauty work on films that you don’t usually perceive. Like “airbrushing” in magazine photos, but for film. They specifically focus on the subtlety of the eye work.
And the question on everyone’s mind
Mike Seymour: “What resolution were you working in?”
Trent Claus: “It’s basically 3K, It was, I believe, 3414x2196, it was shot on Alexa.”
Todd Spangler, writing for Variety, discusses a new arrangement between Roku and Nielsen. For those unfamiliar, Roku makes streaming-media devices, and software to stream content, and Nielsen is a firm that specializes in tracking what people are watching.
About half of the 250 most-watched Roku channels, including CBS All Access, already deliver ads, but in selling that inventory publishers have had to extrapolate audience demographics for ad impressions.
Now, Roku channel partners will be able to measure audience according to Nielsen’s standard demo breakdowns. Nielsen will collect usage data from Roku devices (stripped of personally identifying info) and then will use its National People Meter television panel to assign audiences.
TV advertising is faltering largely because agencies and clients expect the kinds of measurements that they can get through online advertising. Providing this data through Nielsen is going to be very attractive to television networks looking to satisfy their demanding advertisers.
Roku is often overlooked by tech press that covers Apple, but the devices are quite popular.
In 2014, Roku users streamed more than 3 billion hours of video. (For the sake of comparison, Netflix said subscribers worldwide consumed 10 billion hours in the first quarter of 2015 alone.)
Apple TV does have some ad tracking through Apple’s iAd platform, but how that’s working, and what their plans are for it in the future, are kind of a mystery. I’ve speculated that if Apple is getting the old-guard, American TV broadcasters to offer streaming on Apple TV and other iOS devices, then it’s a forgone conclusion that they’re going to provide advertising, and advertising tracking, because that’s the carrot that’s going to move this along. They don’t really have a stick (literally, heh).
It’s no secret that I like to listen to Analog(ue) on Relay FM and hear Myke and Casey struggle with how they integrate technology with their lives. This past week was about how Myke met his girlfriend online. Why he approached it, how he went about it, and the stigma of sharing how they met.
First off, the stigma is very real, but mostly generational. People around my age, like Casey, might not have gone on any dating sites, but might be accepting of it because they know people that have. People old enough to be the parents of grown-up adults tend to have mostly negative views. Even younger people are seemingly the most accepting. It is the kind of pattern you see with all internet services. It doesn’t help that most people think finding someone to date online means instantly hooking up with randos for flings.
I don’t generally share the story of how I met my boyfriend, but it was almost six years ago. We met on Match (not an endorsement) and I said we should get coffee. July 2nd, we met for the first time at Intelligentsia Coffee in Venice. We met and talked and decided to go on more dates. There is nothing weird, or creepy, about it.
Online dating is crucial for many people that don’t have much social interaction in their busy lives. It can also be essential if you are a guy that is not looking for a girlfriend. Online profiles tend to clear up a lot of ambiguity.
I encourage people to give that Analog(ue) episode a listen to hear Myke’s experience.
Graeme McMillan wrote an opinion piece for The Hollywood Reporter about the online reaction to trailer for Warner Bros. next superhero movie. Unfortunately, Graeme misplaces the blame for the reaction to the trailer at the feet of the fans. It’s not Warner Bros. that has a problem, it’s the people that love Superman and Batman, or films, that have a problem. We’re all such jerks.
Think of it as “A Tale of Two Trailers.” Thursday saw the release of teasers for both Star Wars: The Force Awakens and, thanks to what appears to be a camera phone-aided leak, Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. Both are among the most eagerly-anticipated movies of the next twelve months, but that’s pretty much where the similarity ended. While The Force Awakens was met with a huge embrace, the response to Batman v Superman was a whole lot cooler — and crankier.
This is an apt comparison to make. I also made that same comparison.
Graeme feels like The Force Awakens’ marketing task was a small hurdle:
By contrast, Star Wars: The Force Awakens had a far easier job: all it had to do was convince the audience that it was the Star Wars that they grew up with.
Oh. That’s all! Easy-peasy.
Ultimately, audiences know as much (or, really, as little) about The Force Awakens as they do BVS, but because the latter is building off of a base of goodwill as opposed to apathy or outright suspicion, the Force trailer was successful in a way that the BVS trailer can only dream of being.
Who’s fault is that, Graeme? It’s not the fault of the fans. It’s not the fault of people that saw Man of Steel. It’s not like they’ve been unfairly maligned by a smear campaign from someone else making a terrible Superman movie.
Graeme even compares the plight of Batman v. Superman to Terminator Genisys [sic]. He says that fans reject the premise so strongly, so Fox couldn’t help but release a trailer that shows the twist of the movie three months before the film hits theaters. Fans are such jerks for making them ruin their movie!
Trailers are marketing tools, and they exist to get people into theaters, but don’t “ruin” your movie to try and get people in to theaters. Fretting that BvS is equally ridiculous.
Trailers, ultimately, are tricks; they’re something that exists to convince the audience that, hey, this movie is exactly what you want to see! Unfortunately, such tricks only work on audiences that are willing to be convinced, or at least open to persuasion.
Yes, trailers are tricks. They are marketing instruments that often have little to do with the final film. They are laboriously constructed to get people to go to theaters opening weekend. With franchise films, they are specifically about building off good feelings that already exist toward a piece of intellectual property — like a novel, comic book, film, or TV show.
This piece of marketing does not appeal to me, or seemingly, almost anyone. That is a failure of marketing. The trailer might be accurate to what the film winds up being, but then it’s a failure of marketing, and a failure of filmmaking.
JJ Abrams, and Disney, had an uphill battle with Star Wars: The Force Awakens. They created an appealing piece of marketing. What the final film ends up being — well, we’ll see. That is a heroic feet.
By now, everyone and their grandmother has seen the new teaser trailer for the next Star Wars movie at least five times. I’ll keep what I have to say about it short.
I like the teaser. I feel something when I watch the teaser. Even someone as jaded, and cynical, as myself can be tricked into being excited about a film these days. This is what JJ is good at — He knows how to work the feels. You can pick apart many shows and movies JJ has done, but he always jams his work full of things that immediately resonate, emotionally, with the audience.
The first teaser was full of stuff that resembled things from the original Star Wars movie. Visual analogs were offered that called back to something we had good feelings about. Many of these costumes, and objects, are tweaked, instead of being the same as they once were. The first teaser was met with positive comments (mostly.) It didn’t have any of the actors from the original film series. Fans already know that those people are involved.
When the first teaser came out, Dan and I put out a whole trailer-centric episode — Defocused 25: ‘A Controlled Leak’. We also discussed Star Wars: The Phantom Menace‘s trailers, as well as Cloverfield and Star Trek.
The new teaser has gone further with calling back to the original series of films. Again, many things are altered to be slightly different, and yet the same. The teaser winks and nods at the audience. “Hey, buddy, remember those good times we had? Remember this guy?” Every frame of it seems composed to expressly tie elements with the previous stories, including the voiceover from Luke Skywalker, and appearance of Han and Chewie.
I am charmed by it, in the truest sense. There are many things a teaser trailer like this can do to mitigate the “bad PR” of the prequels. We all know a giant, corporate entity runs it as a film franchise. We cheer, and tear up, over seeing familiar things that trigger our memories. It’s pavlovian.
I hope that the film can deliver, and that I’m not distracted by all the winking and nodding that comes through in the teasers. I want to be in the moment of the movie, and I don’t want to be knocked out by remembering the other films. I’m very optimistic about it. That’s really my only concern — my optimism.
JJ seems far better suited to Star Wars, than Star Trek, and I can only assume that means the film will be as good as 2009’s Star Trek was at playing with feelings (if not the plot).
I suggested to Dan that we watch Total Recall for our podcast, Defocused. Of course I was referring to the 1990 hit, by Paul Verhoeven. Before we recorded our podcast, I did decide to go ahead and watch the 2012 reboot by Len Wiseman did for Columbia Pictures.
That remake infuriated me — and not because it was a remake. It was just a shitty remake. Much like Columbia Pictures’ remake of RoboCop — another Paul Verhoeven film. All the quirky comedy was extracted, the goofball, over-the-top violence was gone. Influences of J.J. Abrams’ 2009 Star Trek flares and Ridley Scott’s Blade Runner (a different Philip K. Dick story) are pasted on.
It’s not like the 1990 film has much in common with the short story, but 2012 film didn’t do itself any favors by trying to go a third way with the story.
Reboots and remakes can work, but they do often miss the mark. I’ll pitch you on an example idea.
Let’s go back to what works, the 1990 movie. Same story, no need for a new plot twist. Instead it’s about a casting twist. Gender swap the whole main cast.
The only element of the 2012 movie I would retain is keeping agent (Lori, in this case Douglas) through the whole film and removing the character of Richter.
We still open on the dream, and waking up. We have the breakfast scene where the husband tells the wife that her dreams are nothing. The wife thinks about Mars, and the husband talks down to her about it. She goes to work in an office job (no rock quarry) and does the same thing as everyone else around her. Everything in her life is bland and boring. A coworker warns her not to go to Recall. She goes.
How much more interesting is this story about male fantasy when it’s reframed from a whole new perspective? Hell, I’d even pitch having Sharon Stone as Vina Cohaagen. Arnold’s head would malfunction and repeat “Two Weeks” — it would be fantastic.
A few days ago, U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh dismissed a class action lawsuit against several animation, and visual effects companies. This is directly tied to the emails uncovered in a 2010 suit by the Justice Department for the companies agreeing not to poach employees from one another. Ed Catmull — one of the most important people in computer graphics, and film — was sending very casual emails about coercing people to participate in the no-poaching scheme. Ed also did away with contracts because they thought it would be better for employees not to be tied down, they’d all be “at will” and could, in theory, leave for better paying jobs. You know, jobs no one was offering them because of Ed’s no-poaching agreement.
From Joel Rosenblatt, writing for Bloomberg Business, emphasis mine:
“We have avoided wars up in Northern California because all of the companies up here — Pixar, ILM, DreamWorks, and a couple of small places — have conscientiously avoided raiding each other,” Catmull wrote to [Disney Executive Dick] Cook.
Asked about the e-mail during his January 2013 deposition, Catmull said he saw it as his duty to insulate Northern California film companies from salary bidding wars that drive costs up, move the animation jobs overseas, and destroy the U.S. industry.
“Like somehow we’re hurting some employees? We’re not,” Catmull said. “While I have responsibility for the payroll, I have responsibility for the long term also,” Catmull said. “I don’t apologize for this. This was bad stuff.”
Steve Jobs played a major role in this through Pixar and Apple.
When Koh ruled against the former employees, I was gobsmacked that the employees couldn’t sue the companies because the statue of limitations had expired. The clock started ticking when the employees were affected, not when proof of a scheme came to light. So tough cookies.
During my twitter indignation over this, Glenn Fleishman and Jason Snell pointed me towards the new Becoming Steve Jobs book. They informed me that the book doesn’t shy away from it (unlike Catmull’s autobiography) and specifically includes a quote from Tim Cook defending Steve Jobs’ position in this. The book is, frankly, a bit of a mess, particularly the chapter relevant to the no-poaching agreement.
From Chapter 16 of Brent Schlender’s & Rick Tetzeli’s Becoming Steve Jobs:
Tim Cook doesn’t see anything egregious in Steve’s thinking—even though he has since tried to settle the lawsuit by offering to pay hundreds of million of dollars to participants in the class-action suit. “I know where Steve’s head was,” he says. “He wasn’t doing anything to hold down salaries. It never came up. He had a simple objective. If we were working together on something—like with Intel, where we threw everything in the middle of the table and said let’s convert the Mac to the Intel processor—well, when we did that we didn’t want them poaching our employees that they were meeting, and they didn’t want us poaching theirs. Doesn’t it make sense that you wouldn’t, that it’s an okay thing? I don’t think for a minute he thought he was doing anything bad, and I don’t think he was thinking about saving any money. He was just very protective of his employees.” It’s a rational argument, insofar as it goes. All CEOs want to keep their best employees at their company. But it ignores the simple fact that making such an agreement with other companies, explicitly or otherwise, is illegal, according to the U.S government and most antitrust lawyers. Steve, apparently, couldn’t be bothered even with acknowledging those rules.
With all the positive, social speaking he’s done recently, it was very disappointing to read Tim excuse this.
It shouldn’t really be surprising, since Ed Catmull doesn’t regret his actions at all. He didn’t include them in the book he wrote, which specifically talks about managers needing to understand the mistakes they’ve made, so … great book, Ed.
If there’s anything Steve, Ed, and Tim are guilty of, it’s caring too much about employees. Don’t you get it?
The LA Times has a piece by Richard Verrier on the end of California’s film and TV incentive program that ran for seven years. A new program is starting with a different set of issues.
Last year, the Legislature signed a law to disband the lottery program and replace it with an expanded program that will triple funding to $330 million annually. The new program also allows more projects to qualify, such as big-budget features and TV pilots.
The new program cited from the California Film Commision’s site:
Eligible for 20% Tax Credit (Plus 5% Uplift*):
- Feature Films: $1 million minimum budget; credit allocation applies only to the first $100 million in qualified expenditures
- Movies-of-the-Week and Miniseries: $500,000 minimum budget
- New Television Series for any distribution outlet: $1 million minimum budget per episode (at least 40 minutes per episode, scripted only)
- TV Pilots: $1 million minimum budget
Eligible for 25% Tax Credit:
- Independent Films: $1 million minimum budget; credits apply only to the first $10 million of qualified expenditures (only independent projects may sell their tax credits)
- Relocating Television Series, without regard to episode length, that filmed their prior season outside California; $1 million minimum budget
5% Credit Uplift
- Filming outside the Los Angeles zone + 5%
- Music scoring/music tracking recording expenditures + 5%
- Visual effects expenditures (minimum spend required) + 5%
*Note: The above uplifts cannot be combined. The maximum credit a production can earn is 25%.
This is messy. The reason pilots are mentioned so prominently is because networks commission a ton pilots every year. That’s how they preview things, they get together the cast, and make a show. The networks roll some dice, pick some flower petals, flip some coins, and then they give a small selection approval to go to series. Then the next time networks need a show, they make more pilots. This creates a lot of work for people.
In an effort to cut costs, pilots are happening outside of California. Then they go to series outside California. That’s why there’s a lot of emphasis on pilots, and on TV relocation, in the new incentives. It’s a lot of jobs.
The film side of the credits might make more sense to people unfamiliar with film production. It seems like films make a lot of money, right? Wrong.
The maximum tax rebate a film can get is 25% on everything. Compare this to Vancouver, British Columbia where they have a stacking system of credits.
You will notice that is a bigger payout than the California program. The program also doesn’t have a cap of $330 million. If you ran a film studio, it would seem far better to set up a Canadian production company to collect tax credits and sit in your Hollywood office.
Production was in danger of leaving BC for Ontario, and Quebec, without increased tax breaks to compete with those provinces. The credits remained the same, and work stayed in BC. Justin Smallbridge writing for the Saskatoon Phoenix:
Shooting for “Deadpool,” the eighth instalment in the “X-Men” franchise starring Vancouver-born Ryan Reynolds, has begun and is expected to spend $37.5 million in B.C. and employ 1,100 people.
It’s one in a string of Hollywood features shooting in the province, including “Star Trek 3” and “The B.F.G.” (big friendly giant), Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of the Roald Dahl children’s book.
The productions, and many others, have prompted one industry insider to predict that 2015 will be one of B.C.’s most lucrative years ever.
Another factor is that facilities and infrastructure for many places that support each film moved, and are unlikely to move again as long as nothing is significantly better, or worse. They’ve achieved critical mass to sustain themselves as long as everything stays relatively the same. A former employer relocated and spoke to The Globe and Mail:
Randy Lake, executive vice-president and general manager of the animation and visual-effects leader Sony Pictures Imageworks, brings a hard, cold, cash-based reality back into play when he says, “I love Vancouver.” Having moved the Imageworks head office from Culver City, California, to Pacific Centre as of April 1, “I would not want to pick up and leave. But if the [tax] incentives were gone tomorrow—well, that’s my nightmare scenario.” The sweetest of those incentives, for Sony, is the DAVE—the Digital Animation or Visual Effects—tax credit, which lately means that a credit of “17.5% can be applied against any qualified B.C. labour expenditures that are incurred while performing eligible post-production activities in B.C.” Lake says this break, more than any other factor, drove the relocation from Culver City.
So again, when the LA Times used visual effects employment as an example, “Applicants can boost their ratio if they do visual effects work in California…” I had a morbid little guffaw. California will not woo those jobs back. Perhaps it will stabilize TV VFX, or houses that haven’t moved, but Imageworks is staying put.
Obviously, the work moved because places offer more money than California, but that hasn’t worked out well for everyone.
Take Lousiana for example. They have a $1.6 billion budget shortfall and yet they are still doling out money that leaves the state. Quoting from Chelsea Brasted’s report on a state mandated study: “Overall, the entertainment tax programs cost $4.48 for every $1 of state revenue they create.”
The study underscores the low return on investment on film projects with big name talent because these “higher-end paid individuals … are typically not Louisiana residents,” (emphasis the study’s own). Specifically, it said about 25 percent of the state’s total spend on all entertainment programs goes toward paying those big name actors, directors, writers and producers. “It is a heroic assumption that these monies will actually be spent in Louisiana,” it notes on page 15.
The governor is trying to abide by a “no tax” pledge he signed with the national anti-tax group, Americans for Tax Reform, in Washington D.C. Americans for Tax Reform would consider certain changes to the film tax credit program a “tax hike,” according Tim Barfield, Secretary of Louisiana’s Department of Revenue. It’s unlikely the governor would approve any changes that Americans for Tax Reform would label a tax increase.
Resist and die. Don’t resist, and die.
There was a piece by John Paczkowski, the managing editor of BuzzFeed San Francisco about the new Apple TV not supporting 4K. This shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone, really, because the current one doesn’t support it, and the only two streaming media companies that offer 4K (UHD) content are Netflix (some original programming) and YouTube (some user-generated videos). iTunes doesn’t sell UHD content to use on your Retina Macs, and Netflix won’t even stream UHD to them. Maybe save UHD for some point in the future when there’s more than 6 things to watch in UHD? When it can be a real, headline feature?
Naturally, John concludes his post with that acknowledgment. Actually he concludes with “Apple declined to comment ‘on rumor and speculation.’”
A few days ago, my boyfriend and I were watching a rerun of Friends on the TV Land channel. It was an episode that was remastered in HD, compressed by DirecTV, and displayed in his living room. I had seen the episode a long time ago, it was one where Phoebe’s identical twin sister, Ursula, was using Phoebe’s name. Phoebe confronts Ursula over it. Lisa Kudrow has no real life twin, so this was accomplished with split screen, and doubles. The shots showing the back of the double, and Lisa Kudrow’s face were as crisp as anything in HD on DirecTV. The split screen shots, where Lisa Kudrow was composited with herself, were a fuzzy mess. It kept cutting back and forth from crisp shots, to blurry shots, as the scene played out. To my trained eye, it looked like whoever was in charge of remastering Friends had to blow up the original standard definition output and crop it, instead of going back to the source and redoing the split screen. Remember it’s not just scaling, it’s also the aspect ratio change so you actually have to remove pixels on top and bottom.
Ultimately, it’s Friends, so very few people will care about a handful of blurry shots. This does illustrate a problem with “content” in that it isn’t future proof. Companies either can’t (original source is gone, or degraded) or won’t ($) remaster visual effects shots when they transition from one output medium to another. Naturally, most people assume that’s an issue for Star Trek and Babylon 5 (and it is), but it’s also a problem for Friends, and other sitcoms. Even dramatic shows that take place in the real world make extensive use of enhancement. Set extensions, painting out wires, adding explosions, combining different takes, image stabilization — all kinds of stuff that people don’t even perceive. Only they will perceive them because they’ll all be blurry when that moves up to a higher resolution.
Even CBS, which has been applauded for their work remastering the original Star Trek and Star Trek: The Next Generation, has no immediate desire to remaster Star Trek: Deep Space Nine or Star Trek: Voyager. (My personal theory is that this has to do with the decline of Blu-Ray sales, in general, reducing the profit.)
Babylon 5 a show that used computer graphics instead of miniature photography, is adrift. Warner Bros. lost everything they had. Jason Snell referred me to a fan that tried to redo all the effects himself (he gave up).
HD is still the law of the land in TV. It is newsworthy for a production to work in a resolution higher than HD. Netflix’s House of Cards is being mastered in 6K (and archived) and also mastered for UHD (4k), and HD, to be streamed today. Keep in mind, 6K isn’t even a standard, the next step up right now is 8K UHD, so … Let’s see where that goes?
Films are in the same boat. Most VFX have been produced at 2K. The exact resolution varies based on the project, and what the client requires for delivery, but it’s around 2048 wide with different regions of the frame being masked to produce different aspect ratios (or using anamorphic lenses that compress and stretch horizontally). Film resolutions and TV resolutions are not directly comparable so “4K” doesn’t mean the same thing.
Even films like the original Star Wars trilogy have 4K problems. A firm called NanoTech Entertainment hired Petr Harmy, the creator of the unauthorized Star Wars Despecialized Edition HD remasters to do the same thing in 4K for their UltraFlix 4K streaming service. Think of how many times Star Wars has been futzed with — whether George Lucas was involved or not.
Even knowing 4K will be eventually asked for, modern motion pictures aren’t entirely produced in 4K DCI (around 4096 wide). Those that are, might include VFX shots done at 2K, and blown-up to 4K.
This creates an uneven library of material to pull from and populate your “4K” TV with.
It’s OK, Netflix, your ISP, Vimeo, YouTube, DirecTV, Verizon, etc. can all step in and compress a video too, so it’s not like you’re literally getting pixel-per-pixel stuff anyway.
Beyond the issues of pixels, is colorspace. An overly simple way to think of that is the way the color data is stored, but it also has to do with how that stored data is transformed on to the screen where you see it. The internet is just awful when it comes to color accuracy. That has to do with the delightful interplay between how images and video are stored, the browser, plugins, operating systems, drivers, and monitors. Line up a bunch of computers and load the same sites on all of them and you will see slight differences. This is also why the colorspaces you’ll see used most often are sRGB, or Adobe RGB, because they’re from so long ago, and use such a narrow gamut, that maybe you’ll luck out and it’ll look uniformly bland.
As bad as that is, your home TV is weirder. HD TVs support a standard colorspace called Rec 709. As anyone who’s seen more than one TV at a time can attest, it’s not uniform color. It too is subject to the whims of the TV manufacturer. Sometimes they increase the saturation, and brightness, to make their TV seem more appealing on a showroom floor.
4K UHD is also plagued with this problem. Again, it supports a standard — Rec 2020— but it suffers the same fate, with each manufacturer doing different things to how they display that Rec 2020 material in your living room.
Here’s a very thorough piece from FX Guide about colorspace, and color pipelines.
Most consumers aren’t fazed by this at all because they simply don’t care. Much like they don’t care about resolution issues. They want their whole TV filled with an image. They want to know they bought the highest number of pixels, and they want it to be bright and colorful. Mark my words, in a few years, some manufacturer is going to make some Android stunt-phone that’ll claim to show 4K movies and TV shows, and they’ll get all the positive press in the world, because numbers are bigger than other numbers.
Everything’s a lie.