30th Birthday of the Engine That Powered the CGI Revolution

❝ When Pixar President and co-founder Ed Catmull announced his retirement earlier this year, people rightly saw his impending departure as a transitional moment for the animation studio. But it’s bigger than that. Catmull’s shadow looms large not just over groundbreaking films like Toy Story and Coco, his influence can be traced all the way back to the dawn of digital visual effects. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. The Abyss. Terminator 2. Jurassic Park. All of these titles came out before Woody and Buzz Lightyear, yet all remain watershed moments for VFX—and all used the tool that Catmull and his colleagues helped create at George Lucas’ Industrial Light & Magic.

RenderMan, as it’s known, came out of ILM’s computer graphics team (the same one that would later spin off into its own company called Pixar). It started as a powerful algorithm, but then became something greater—a graphical interface. “Up until that point,” says Catmull, “the look, the lighting, essentially had to be done by programmers.” A movie like 1982’s Tron might have been mindblowing, but its digital sequences also necessitated an absolutely knee-buckling amount of work, creating its futuristic effects frame by frame. RenderMan, though, allowed effects artists to realize their visions without needing to write code.

CGI Rulez! Most sci-fi geeks would agree. Most would also understand how the threads and techniques reach out into many aspects of today’s film-making regardless of genre. RTFA!

Before becoming a great filmmaker, Stanley Kubrick was a photographer for Look magazine

❝ Director Stanley Kubrick’s science-fiction classic 2001: A Space Odyssey, celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, is a challenging and technically dazzling piece of cinema.

From the enigmatic Dawn of Man opening to the climactic mindbending trip through the Stargate, the film still feels at the vanguard of genre, special effects, and cinematography. Yet while making 2001, Kubrick utilized a relatively low-fi piece of gear: a clunky Polaroid camera.

❝ It’s estimated Kubrick shot some 10,000 insta-images on 2001, and if you only know Kubrick as a reclusive eccentric that reliance on the Polaroid might seem a characteristic quirk.

But in fact it was an extension of the creative sensibility he developed as a teenager working for Look. From 1945 to 1950, Kubrick was a photographer for the picture magazine, evocatively and empathically documenting ordinary New Yorkers, celebrities, athletes, and post-war playgrounds like the amusement park.

He shot more than 135 assignments for LOOK while honing the skills, relationships, and chutzpah that led him to filmmaking.

RTFA through to the end. There – along with stills in the article – you’ll find a few more examples of Kubrick’s work for LOOK. A delight.

Neil Young Describes Fake President in 4 Words — “Trump has no balls!”

Never meet your heroes, they say. It’s an adage seemingly tailor-made for world-weary rockers, not known to be the most even-tempered of beasts.

So when Neil Young strolls into the room—a suite at the Four Seasons with a lovely view of the lake, mind you—sits down, locks eyes with me, and flashes a rascally smile, I’m overcome with relief.

❝ The 72-year-old is at SXSW in Austin, Texas, to promote the new experimental film Paradox. Written and directed by his partner of four years, the actress and activist Daryl Hannah, it stars Young as the mythical “Man in the Black Hat,” a cowboy-musician whose days are spent causing mischief and making music at a rundown stagecoach stop with his merry band of outlaws, including good ol’ Willie Nelson. Their lives are upended when an ethereal group of womenfolk arrive, destined to change their old ways.

In addition to starring in the labor of love, which premieres March 23 on Netflix, Young created an entire 21-song soundtrack album for the film. And you get the feeling from speaking with him that he wouldn’t have done it for anyone but Hannah.

RTFA. Some people still believe in love – even when it hasn’t always worked out. In their past.

Magyar anti-terror coppers seize weapons from zombie film crew

Hungarian police have seized a stockpile of weapons that was shipped to the Hungarian capital for the production of a film about zombies starring Brad Pitt…

Weapons expert Bela Gajdos, who has worked on the filming of zombie movie “World War Z” to ensure the safe handling of the weapons used, told national news agency MTI that each firearm had been converted to restrict its use to blank ammunition. Gajdos added that the weapons were completely harmless and had already been used on a shoot in London…

“We had a police permit to bring these guns into the country,” Gajdos told MTI, adding that the production had contracted arms experts to establish whether the guns complied with Hungarian laws. But the guns were seized before experts could inspect them…

Janos Hajdu, the chief of the Hungarian Anti-Terrorism Center on Monday said the agency seized a large stockpile of weapons, which arrived from England on a chartered plane…Hajdu said the firearms had not been properly disabled and could not be allowed into the country less than two weeks before a national holiday commemorating the 1956 uprising, MTI reported.

Anti-terrorism laws and the coppers chartered to enforce them are damned close to being as demented as the terrorists they say they’re fighting.

Banned film about Save the Children charity gets rare airing


Corporate headquarters in Westport, Connecticut

A 1969 documentary by Ken Loach, made for and later banned by Save the Children, has been shown to an audience of critics and colleagues in London. The untitled film will have its public premiere on 1 September and forms part of a major retrospective of the British director’s work at BFI Southbank.

The film took a critical view of the charity’s work in the UK and Kenya that its backers felt subverted its aims.

“There was a showing and not much was said,” the 75-year-old Loach remembers. “People left the room, and then we heard from the lawyers.”

The 53-minute film was co-funded by Save the Children, then celebrating its 50th anniversary, and London Weekend Television. “We assumed LWT would support the independence of a critical eye,” said Loach on Monday. “But they just backed away.”

As a result, the piece was consigned to the British Film Institute’s National Archive “and the key thrown away”.

That’s the version the Brits get to deal with. During my years in performing arts in among other places – Fairfield County in Connecticut – there were several happenings like this in the same time period.

One involved staff from Save the Children quitting their world headquarters over the “cost of doing business” which had a surprisingly smaller percentage of charity donations than perceived actually passing through to the children supposedly being saved. I knew a few of those folks and they worked for salaries considered nothing more than standard for the market. Yet, the managers of the charity took big chunks for themselves. Perhaps that’s changed?

Of course, films can be strange beasts. I saw the first cut of “Carry it On” and Joan Baez liked to have a fit on the spot with so much portrayed of her hubby, David, walking away from pacifism after he spent serious time in prison with folks from mean streets. The version that made it to nicey-nicey film festivals had lots of changes.

Face-on-Mars person was on earth in 1928 talking on cell phone

Is a woman in a 1928 film who appears to have a cell phone glued to her ear in fact a time traveler? That’s what some conspiracy theorists think this eerie scene (video below) from Charlie Chaplin’s 1928 film, “The Circus” is telegraphing, or rather phoning, and that the woman — who looks about as time-traveler-ish as Martha Stewart, is indeed a voyager from the vortex of time and space.

Belfast filmmaker George Clarke, a Chaplin fan, says he was watching the “behind the scenes of ‘The Circus’ ” and was “stumped” at what he saw.

“I kept winding it back, playing it; winding it back, playing it back, and I couldn’t explain this,” he says.

Watch the video. I clearly see her (?) holding something with the letters “K-y-o-c-e-r-a” on it. What else could it be?

Baltimore university offers class on zombies

The course is being offered by the University of Baltimore and will be taught by the author Arnold Blumberg, who wrote a book on zombie movies, and the curator of Geppi’s Entertainment museum, which specialises in American pop culture.

Students taking English 333 will watch 16 classic zombie films and read zombie comics according to the Baltimore Sun. As an alternative to a final research paper they may write scripts or draw storyboards for their ideal zombie flicks.

Jonathan Shorr, chairman of the university’s school of communications design told the newspaper it was introduced to meet a demand for “interesting, off-the-wall” courses…

“They think they’re taking this wacko zombie course, and they are. But on the way, they learn how literature and mass media work, and how they come to reflect our times.”

Just in case anyone wondered why American education is held in such low regard.