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Rogue One CG actors photo
Rogue One CG actors

Nightline shows how ILM created CG actors for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story


SPOILERS on some cameo appearances
Jan 06
// Hubert Vigilla
If you've seen Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, you know that there are some unexpected appearances by well-known (and lesser known) characters from the original Star Wars. Needless to say, SPOILERS to follow. Some of my favorit...
Assassin's Creed VR photo
Assassin's Creed VR

Assassin's Creed VR experience basically simulates a virtual reality tech demo/commercial


It's like you're really sitting there
Dec 03
// Hubert Vigilla
As Assassin's Creed tries to hype up its December 21st release, it looks like some new technology is being used to sell the movie to you. In this case, it's a virtual reality movie that was shot on-location during the actual ...

Review: Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk

Nov 14 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]221033:43193:0[/embed] Billy Lynn's Long Halftime WalkDirector: Ang LeeRating: RRelease Date: November 11, 2017 You may recall complaints about The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey being shown in HFR 3D. Audiences said it looked strange and artificial, which is why neither of the two sequels had HFR screenings. That was just at 48 frames per second. With Billy Lynn, more frames per second doesn't translate into greater verisimilitude. Instead the high frame rate tends to make the movie look amateurish and fake. This is experimental technology, and only two theaters in the United States are equipped with the projectors to properly show the HFR version of Billy Lynn. The full experience is underwhelming on the whole with a few exceptions. What does HFR look like? Picture an HD cooking show shot with a consumer-grade digital video camera. Or maybe a local news broadcast viewed on an LCD viewfinder. Movements tend to look overly smooth. In some shots, the figures in the foreground look like they were inserted via green screen. In an early graveyard scene, it felt as if Lee was laying Colorform decals of his actors onto a flat background. 3D never looked so artificial. Other scenes felt like HD versions of cut scenes from 90s video games. I was reminded how expensive things can often be so tacky. It doesn't help that the cinematography lacks life. The film is built out of mechanical, workmanlike medium shots, flat close-ups, and pristine tracking shots. Lee continually returns to the POV of Billy Lynn (Joe Alwyn), like a riff on the symmetrical POV dialogue scenes in an Ozu film. There's a problem. Since Billy's eyeline is not trained at the viewer like the people he's speaking to, the Ozu effect is lost from inconsistency. It's one of many curious choices with the overall way the film was shot. The movie doesn't look clinical but synthetic. In terms of camera placement and movement, the movie almost feels as if it was shot by a first-time cinematographer. In fact, the film was lensed by John Toll, whose credits include The Thin Red Line, Almost Famous, and Cloud Atlas. High frame rates may make amateurs of pros. Occasionally the HFR works well. When Bravo Company takes the field before the game starts and throws some footballs around, the vast length of the field is captured thanks to depth of the tableau. But it's also a tech-demo shot ("Let me show you what this baby can really do!"). The battle scene and halftime show--the sole justification for the technology--are pretty spectacular as well, though more the Iraq scenes than the halftime show. At the Dallas Cowboys game, the troops are meant to share the stage with Destiny's Child. Destiny's Child body doubles, to be more precise. Just when the halftime show seemed like something real, the blatant fake-Beyonce took me right out of the scene. So much of Billy Lynn is about small character moments rather than big spectacle, which makes the decision for HFR filmmaking somewhat baffling. Billy flirts with a cheerleader (Makenzie Leigh) after a press conference. It's a medium shot with a dark curtain as the background. The distracting look of the frame rate and the lack of 3D depth in the shot called attention to the artifice of the scene and the superfluous use of this technology to tell this story. It would be a bad shot and a poorly blocked scene in 2D, but in glorious 4K 3D the banality of the shot is much more apparent. I've spent all of this time complaining about the look of the film that I haven't even gotten to the scenes that work. That ought to say something. Lee's got a good lead in Alwyn, who carries the imperfect movie on his back. He has the all-American look coupled with vulnerable eyes. He's a kid always at the verge of breaking, trying to tamp down the unspeakable hurts. Vin Diesel is the late philosopher warrior of Bravo Company, essentially playing Vin Diesel. Kristen Stewart makes a solid impression in her brief supporting role as Billy's anti-war sister Kathryn. A tense Lynn family dinner scene feels more real than the stadium stuff. Garrett Hedlund makes the most of his screen time as the driven head of Bravo Company, a strong center that orients the group. All of the boys in Bravo have an easy camaraderie, though some of it's built on the same old war movie cliches. This may be just a roundabout way of saying the real immersive material in a movie has nothing to do with 3D or frame rates or spectacle and everything to do with the emotional content. I think about an alternate universe in which Billy Lynn was shot in the same way as The Ice Storm or Brokeback Mountain (and with no fake-Beyonce). I wonder how much more moved I would have been. I wonder what kind of movie this would be. As it is, there's a good movie in Billy Lynn that's constantly struggling to break out and breathe. Witness in 120 frames per second and 4K 3D the folly of mismatched form and content. It's ironic yet fitting that Billy Lynn's technology gets in the way of what works in the film. This is a movie about people using troops as a means to an end--they're good for ratings, they're good as a recruitment tool, they put butts in seats, they're fantasy figures, they can angle for a movie deal (a cloying, winky, meta element to the film that's too on the nose). It's also a movie about disregarding our troops as people. Lee had good intentions, but is feels like the tragedy of these heroes is just an excuse to play with some new cinematic toys.
Review: Billy Lynn's photo
High frame rate, low level execution
I can say this about Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk: Ang Lee and his cast have their hearts in the right place. Adapted from Ben Fountain's novel of the same name, the film is constantly trying to remind its viewers about th...

Morgan photo
Morgan

Trailer for Morgan made by IBM AI


Soon they'll be writing our reviews
Aug 31
// Matthew Razak
Computers just can't get enough of stealing everyone's jobs. They're coming for the trailer creators next as this new trailer for Morgan shows. Somehow IBM's fancy Watson computer analyzed a bunch of horror movies and ch...

Darth Vader VR photo
Darth Vader VR

A Darth Vader VR project is in the works


Will probably be impressive
Jul 19
// Hubert Vigilla
The storytelling potential of VR is pretty fascinating, as I noted with Allumette during the Tribeca Film Festival. A virtual headset can give you this unique feeling of immersion that allows you to interact with the story. I...
BioShock Twilight Zone photo
A dimension of sound, sight, and of mind
BioShock director Ken Levine is teaming with Interlude to explore the intersection of gaming and film: his next stop is The Twilight Zone. According to Wired, Levine and Interlude are finalizing their deal to use the tropes a...

Tribeca: Allumette showcases the game-changing potential of immersive VR storytelling

Apr 14 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]220506:42913:0[/embed] Allumette centers on a girl and her mother who sell large, magical matchsticks around town. The world they inhabit is sort of like Venice by way of Hayao Miyazaki and classic Final Fantasy--a city in the clouds with bridges and tiers, and little docks for the airships that course through the sky. Allumette is essentially a 20-minute silent movie, with the characters communicating in hums and sighs, expressing emotions through body language like classic pantomime. "Alfred Hitchcock said that to be good with spectacle you had to be a simplifier," Chung noted. "Painters and writers can be complicators, but when you're working in spectacle (i.e., cinema and now VR) you have to simplify. So you have to take something and strip it down to its core elements." The heart of the story concerns a mother's love for her child and the sacrifices people make, all rendered with simplicity and sincerity. Even if the core of the spectacle is simplified, there's lots of room for the viewer to explore. The very beginning of Allumette seems to invite a look around. As the opening credits appear against a black background, a window lights up as if watching a building across the street. The window dims. Then another window, then another in your peripheral vision, and then windows all around as you turn in a full circle. It's as if you're surrounded by dots of candlelight, each one a window, and you can walk up and peer in a little closer at the shadow puppet story inside of it. I found myself pacing around the virtual set of Allumette. At first I was trying to frame shots of these characters, like I was cinematographer, leaning in for close-ups, bending down for a slightly different angle, even trying to simulate a slow tracking shot. But every now and then I would feel less self-conscious about the HTC Vive on my face. In those moments of total immersion, I was just a bystander in the imaginary city watching a mother and daughter do their thing. Occasionally I'd stray too far to one side--there are edges to this virtual world--and I'd feel a gentle tap on my shoulder from someone nearby just to get me centered again. The mother and daughter's airship is one of the great elements of Allumette, and a source of wonderment as well. It docked in front of me after I'd watched it descend from above. Just through the headphones I heard Jimmy Maidens, lead technical director at Penrose, say that I could look inside. Until Maidens mentioned it, the thought had never occurred to me. The sense of immersion made me feel like there was an actual boundary between this object and me. My mind thought it was physical, real, like a dollhouse, but I could actually peer into it, as simple as dunking my face into a pool of water. The airship interior was a miniature world within this virtual world. It was one of many strange moments of realization, like when I first looked down at the lower level of the setting in Allumette. I expected to see my feet; instead, clouds and sky and a town square. This mix of emotion and technology seems to fit with Chung's own sensibilities. His mother was a CPA, and his father was an opera singer. "I've always had this duality of left-brain/right-brain all throughout my career, which is important for VR," he said. Even before founding Penrose, the duality is evident: Chung attended NYU Film School and Harvard Business School, he worked in production at Pixar and then became a venture capitalist. Allumette is the second project by Penrose Studios. The San Francisco-based startup is just a few months old but has assembled a team of artists, engineers, and storytellers with backgrounds at Oculus, Pixar, and Dreamworks. The company's previous VR piece, The Rose and I, debuted at the Sundance Film Festival earlier this year and was very well-received. Penrose has other VR projects in the works, though they have yet to announce their slate. They've been experimenting with an interactive component to VR at the moment, though Chung explained it's really a matter of how the interactivity can be used effectively as part of the storytelling experience of a piece. "Presence is that feeling of being someplace else; storytelling is storytelling," he said. He added, "When you're given agency, it changes the way you perceive the story." With the way things are looking, VR might change the world of storytelling.
Allumette VR storytelling photo
An immersive and emotional experience
Watching Allumette is almost like watching a Pixar movie as an immersive theater experience, but even that description seems to sell the film short. It's difficult to describe VR storytelling without using familiar contexts. ...

Review: Steve Jobs

Oct 23 // Hubert Vigilla
[embed]219839:42637:0[/embed] Steve JobsDirector: Danny BoyleRating: RRelease Date: October 9, 2015 (limited); October 23, 2015 (wide) Even though he was an ideal public persona for Apple products, Steve Jobs was not a good person behind the scenes. There are numerous examples of Steve Jobs being a giant jerk, and the Steve Jobs of the film played by Michael Fassbender is superbly unrepentant. Before the launch of the original Macintosh computer, Steve throws tantrums. He's abusive to his staff, and he continues to avoid his financial and personal responsibilities to his daughter Lisa and her mother. (He's only 94.1% likely to be Lisa's father, he keeps pointing out.) Steve Jobs was a self-centered prick, a long-view Machiavellian entrenched in the tech industry, and there are times in this film that he verges on pure supervillainy. But he was also a savvy businessman. Based on this performance, you know who would make a great Lex Luthor? Michael Fassbender. (Also, Steve Jobs.) With some historical figures, we ponder the link between madness and genius. With Steve Jobs it's maybe more a question of morality and genius. The big conversation that the film wants to provoke is whether Steve Jobs could have been successful if he weren't such a raging douchebag. There's a pivotal argument in the third act with Steve Wozniak (Seth Rogen), who calls Jobs out for all of his persistent moral shortcomings. Fassbender plays Steve Jobs as this ethically challenged, emotionally unmoored figure, and the rest of the cast helps make this work by playing moral counterpoint for the wretch. Picture people holding down a hot air balloon with rope. The task is to keep this thing grounded as much as possible. Rogen's Wozniak is one of these people, and he's mainly seeking recognition for his hard work. There's also steady and loyal Andy Hertzfeld played by Michael Stuhlbarg, and a warmly paternal Jeff Daniels as former Pepsi and Apple CEO John Sculley. The most set upon moral figure in the film, though, is Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet). She's portrayed as a kind of power-personal assistant to Steve Jobs, though her marketing roles at Apple and NeXT were probably far different. Ditto her overall career trajectory. Hoffman apparently retired in 1995, years before the iMac launch, though she's at Jobs' side in the film in each act. This deviation makes sense for the sake of the screenplay, which requires a character as morally resolute as Jobs is morally aloof. In real life, Hoffman was considered the person who was best able to stand up to Jobs, and that kind of figure--the immovable moral object to Steve Job's unstoppable narcissistic force--is necessary in this particular type of story. Winslet disappears into the role. I didn't even realize it was her until the second act of Steve Jobs. Many of the best scenes involve Winslet verbally grappling with Fassbender. There are Sorkin-isms throughout the briskly paced Steve Jobs (e.g., the walk-and-talks, the trivia, the impeccable ripostes), and Boyle does a good job of differentiating the look and feel of each section of the film. The world of 1984 is shot in a grainy 16mm, for instance. The film's acts were shot independently, which allowed the actors to tailor their performances to each year before reconsidering their character for the next. Certain gags or lines or ticks in a performance call back to others. As strong as Steve Jobs is for its first two-thirds, it gets a little soft by 1998. I don't know if it's the Hollywood aspect (or Danny Boyle) shining through at this point, but the movie begins making these overtures of Steve Jobs' redemption, all with a heavy dose of crowd-pleasing schmaltz. I didn't buy any of it. A cringeworthy cutesiness also creeps into the iMac section of the movie. Here and there, Steve critiques the limitations of 1990s technology and hints at 21st century Apple products, as if we're watching a winky retroactive commercial. The lines are clunkers when they come, and one of them is a total eyeroller. It doesn't help that I'd been rolling my eyes at the triumphalism that the movie takes on in the final act even as elements of the script do its best to keep the man and the story on the ground. The argument between Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak I mentioned earlier offers a great encapsulation of the film's underlying concerns. And sure, while the story chronicles one man's ability to overcome years of failure, Steve Jobs does this mostly by screwing over other people. During the NeXT section of the film, Jobs calls it "playing the orchestra." In real life, most people call it "being a dick." In A Christmas Carol, Ebenezer Scrooge has his three visions, wakes up in the morning, and reforms. In Steve Jobs, there are three products and a hint of a better Steve Jobs in the future. Bah humbug. In real life, Steve Jobs woke up after the iMac was released and was still Steve Jobs.
Review: Steve Jobs photo
A better way to do a biopic about a jerk
I was texting a friend about Steve Jobs over the weekend, the new biopic written by Aaron Sorkin and directed by Danny Boyle. Sorkin thankfully avoided the birth-to-death biopic that we've all seen and grown tired of by now. ...

Review: Open Windows

Nov 07 // Nick Valdez
[embed]217384:41308:0[/embed] Open WindowsDirector: Nacho VigalondoRated: RRelease Date: November 7, 2014 Open Windows stars Elijah Wood as Nick (which is one of the many reasons I found myself identifying with him), a lonely man who runs a fan website for actress Jill Goddard (Sasha Grey). Nick won a contest to eat dinner with Goddard, but that contest was promptly canceled. As Nick finds himself in a hotel room playing with his laptop, Chord (Neil Maskell) hacks into his computer and states that Jill Goddard is a diva who selfishly always gets what he wants. As Chord walks Nick through various levels of hacking into Jill's life, Nick realizes there may be a more sinister plan at work.  First of all, Open Windows' main draw is its presentation. Presented entirely through electronic devices (mainly Nick's laptop, but later expands to camera phones, dashboard cameras and the like), Windows blends multiple threads together. The POV creates a far more intimate and interesting outing and makes it easier to find yourself in Nick's shoes. Honestly, this whole presentation would've fallen flat if not anchored by Elijah Wood. He's charming and charismatic enough that even the most "Hollywood" aspects of the film's technology were able to swallow. If I had one thing to say about the presentation, however, is sometimes not even Wood is enough to keep the logic afloat.  Windows asks for quite a bit of bent logic from the viewer as hacking takes on a more fantastical role as the film progresses. Rather than stay rooted, and believable on Nick's laptop, eventually (in order to keep the film from going visually flat) the changes in scenery notably jolt you out of perspective and force you to question how long the battery on Nick's laptop could truly last. The unfortunate thing is, however, is that you'll find yourself wanting the film to go back to the intimate beginning. As the mystery of the film slowly reveals itself and becomes cartoonish, it loses sight of that initial spark. There's a very interesting idea at play here that's unfortunately forgotten as the film tries to become a satire of other things.  You see, when the film opens, you get a lonely man sitting in front of his computer as he idolizes a famous someone he will never meet. This is where I became involved with the film. I've been there, and I know exactly what the awkward feeling of longing does to you. As Jill becomes more of a fleshed out character, the film neatly satirizes the very nature and attitude of the Internet. Grey is perfectly cast as the famed actress as I'm sure Grey knows a thing or two about idolization. There's a question of control at play during Nick and Jill's initial interactions that unfortunately aren't explored as Windows sees fit to throw those interesting ideals out the window and become a jumbled mess before concluding.  No matter how much you enjoy Open Windows, there's no way you're going to make it through the muddy finale without feeling a tad bit confused. Although there are slight hints of a greater mystery throughout the film, there aren't enough to save it from the complete derailment within its final ten minutes. Characters are introduced, thrown into weird perspectives, and odd visual choices don't necessarily help matters. But oddly enough, they don't hurt matters either.   While the conclusion is awfully jolting and makes little sense, the intentionally skewed point of view creates a great sense of suspense as you'll find yourself trying harder just to try and *see* who's who. It's neat little payoff of the original idea. Once again, it all relates back to the idea of control. When given control what would you do? Would you take advantage of another? But when you find yourself in the opposite position, and that control is taken away, what would you do then? I found myself thinking about all of things as the film went on, but unfortunately realized that the general nature of the questions were completely unrelated to the film at hand.  Open Windows is a great, stripped down narrative in the beginning, but sadly devolves into mush as it rolls on. It's got an interesting idea at play, but never quite hits its mark. 
Open Windows Review photo
You'll never want to use your computer again
Open Windows was the first film I saw during SXSW 2014. I've never covered the festival before, so I had no idea what kind of features I'd end up exposing myself to. Going in I was awkward, tense, but mostly curious. As the f...

Men Women Children photo
Men Women Children

First trailer for Jason Reitman's Men, Women & Children


Aug 20
// Nick Valdez
This teaser trailer for Jason Reitman's next film, Men, Women & Children has quite the hook. It's nearly silent, folks are looking at their phones, and people stare blankly into space. While that doesn't make for th...

Why technology shouldn't resurrect the dead

May 30 // Jonathan Wray
I watched the Michael Jackson performance at the Billboard Music Awards, and I was extremely uncomfortable. I had seen Michael Jackson before - music videos, concerts, television shows - so knowing that he had passed on, I closed that door in my life. The opportunity to see Michael Jackson was gone, and it could never come back.. until it did. Hollywood tapped on the gravestone of Michael Jackson, and though he couldn't personally answer it, technology did. The performance itself was fantastic, and I know it would've had his seal of approval, if he had the chance to give it. Regardless, the whole thing was surreal, and it made me extremely uncomfortable to watch. It wasn't just me, either, a quick search on Twitter validated my opinion. That's why it really rubs me the wrong way now that news has come out about the cost of putting CGI Paul Walker in Fast and Furious 7. I won't lie - I haven't really seen any of Paul Walker's work outside of the Fast and Furious series, but the Fast and Furious movies are a guilty pleasure of mine. I've been watching since the first came out, so in a way, I feel like I have some sort of stake in this series (even though I'm well aware that I don't). So to hear that the "cost of putting Paul Walker's image" is soaring above $50 million is just wrong. This is a guy's life we're talking about here. He put all of his effort into acting, and when he wasn't on the screen, he ran a charity dedicated to helping people that have had their lives forever changed by disasters. It's not too much to just have a stunt driver drive his car off into the sunset? Maybe there's a situation where they can write in "Walker didn't want to take part in this one guys, he said he's got a family to be with now," and let it be that. I'm even okay with stand-ins. But to know that CGI is being used for any of Walker's scenes makes me uncomfortable. One death that Hollywood handled properly was John Ritter. At the time, he was working on 8 Simple Rules. He was having some chest pains and was misdiagnosed as having a heart attack. Once they discovered that he actually had an aortic dissection, he went into surgery immediately, but sadly, he passed. I remember there being some initial confused as to how to write his character off. They eventually decided to write that he was at the grocery store, had a heart attack, and died. They didn't use any past footage, his voice, or anything. You can watch the episode in its entirety here. Simultaneously, Ritter was also a character on Scrubs. Granted, he was only in two episodes, but he could've been written in for more. Rather than just never mentioning him again (it had been a year and a half or so since he was last on an episode), Bill Lawrence decided to make an entire episode dedicated to him. Ritter played JD's father. He appeared in both seasons one and two, and his tribute episode was during season four. In the episode, Dan, JD's brother, shows up with chocolate cake. During an inner monologue, we learn that JD's family prepares a chocolate cake any time something bad happens. JD immediately asks him what happened. Dan hesitates, asking why he can't just show up with a chocolate cake. JD asks again, and Dan says that dad died. The entire episode deals with JD trying to deflect the news while Dan struggles to cope. The show, when it aired on NBC, closed with "For our friend John Ritter". Strangely, this screen was taken out of the DVD and Netflix versions. That's how it should be in Hollywood. When an actor is gone, they're gone. Whatever film footage you have of Paul Walker for Fast and Furious 7, or Philip Seymour Hoffman for whatever Hunger Games movie they're working on - that's all that should exist. There shouldn't be any CGI, no voiceovers, etc. You can't artificially create the magic that these people bring to the screen. They should live in our hearts and our minds, not on our computers.
What's Past is Past photo
What's past is past.
When an actor signs on to commit to a particular film, they don't anticipate that they'll be dead before the contract is up. Hollywood stars are people too, and the grim reaper waits for no one. When an actor passes on, that'...

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New closed-caption glasses for Regal Cinemas


May 13
// Logan Otremba
Regal Cinemas plans to have new closed-caption glasses distributed to over 6,000 of their theaters across the country by the end of this month. These new closed-captioning glasses are Sony Entertainment’s Access Glasses...
C.R.E.A.M photo
C.R.E.A.M

Avatar sequels will have underwater performance capture


Sure okay whatever.
Apr 10
// Nick Valdez
You know how the first Avatar was just Dances With Wolves but with blue folks? Avatar 2 (and eventually 3 because money) will be more like another Costner film, Waterworld. In one of those decisions brought on by "hey we...
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Iron Man editor develops iPad editing app


Feb 19
// Logan Otremba
Dan Lebental, editor of the Iron Man series, apparently misses touching real film while he is editing. So he has been developing an application for the iPad called TouchEdit which will bring us a step back closer to the simpl...
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Flix for Short: CodeHackerz


Feb 19
// Nick Valdez
CodeHackerz, by Jonathan Franco, Matthew Levenstein, and Micheal Parks for the Univeristy of Central Florida's Campus MovieFest, is a spoof of all of the terrible "computer hacking" in films from the late 90s-early 2000...
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Flix for Short: C: 299 792 km/s


Jan 30
// Nick Valdez
C: 299 792 km/s, created by Derek Van Gorder and Otto Stockmeier, was filmed entirely without a green screen, in-camera, with hand made props and sets, and traditional special effects. This makes a "low budget" fil...
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New ILM Avengers reel shows off all of the movie's FX


Jan 11
// Nick Valdez
Did you know The Avengers was nominated for an Oscar for achievement in visual effects? Who saw that coming? While I really hope it gets the Oscar (so we can have a comic book film be an Oscar winner), there is some steep co...

GoPro announces HERO3 camera

Oct 17 // Maxwell Roahrig
When Crank came out in 2006, Nevildine/Taylor's vision was chaotic, brutal, hilarious, and a nice fresh breath of air for action filmmaking. Using prosumer cameras, and makeshift camera dollies (usually camera operators on rollerblades), the look of the film was the most striking aspect. And as prosumer camera technology advanced, so did the look of independent movies. Used to be, you had to shell out for loads of expensive equipment just to shoot a basic indie comedy (I'm looking at you, Clerks). Now, you can shoot something that looks pretty damn good on your pocket telephone. Think about what you could do with a device that's as small as that, but a dedicated camera. While the HERO3's 4K performance isn't usable by anyone's standard, the fact it's there is a triumph in itself, and paves the way for the inevitable HERO4 in the next year or so. 4K Cinema @ 24fps in your pocket is the future. Movies are going to look even more incredible, and cheaper to produce, meaning studios could potentially take on a risky project. Don't believe me? Take a look at some test footage. [embed]213283:38989:0[/embed] I've never seen a camera that shoots as impressive footage as that, and still be incredibly portable. Because of how cheap they are in nature, you could mount a bunch of these guys on cars and get some incredible car chase footage. Oh, and if 3D is more up your alley, strap two HERO3's side-by-side, and you have an impressive 2K 3D camera for $800. I, for one, will be picking up one of these to replace my dSLR for videography as soon as they're released. GoPro, you've potentially revolutionized cinema without even knowing it. Now let's just hope the camera doesn't suck. [via Engadget]
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4K video in your pocket for $400
We don't cover a lot of tech announcements over here in Flixistan (official name of our imaginary country), but this one seemed notable for a number of reasons. GoPro, the makers of fine action cameras, announced an update to...

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Flix for Short: True Skin


Oct 11
// Nick Valdez
True Skin, brought to you by Stephan Zlotescu and production company N1ON, is sort of a mix of Deux Ex: Human Revolution and a natural progression of the philosophy behind Gattaca. This awesome short film takes pla...
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Flix for Short: Lost Memories


Polaroids > Digital Cameras.
Oct 03
// Nick Valdez
Lost Memories, by Francois Ferracci, is set in Paris eight years in the future. Which also means that in eight years France is getting awesome projection phone dealies and Polaroid cameras will still exist. The premise ...
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Roger Deakins talks Skyfall and film vs digital


Sep 12
// Xander Markham
Roger Deakins is one of the most respected cinematographers working today, so when he weighs into the film vs digital debate, it's an opinion worth hearing. Turns out he comes down confidently on the side of digital, which w...
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Spike Jonze is back in the realm of making bizarre movies with Her starring Joaquin Phoenix and Amy Adams. Phoenix plays a writer who buys a "newly developed operating system designed to meet the user's every needs." The...

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New Apple patent could keep you from theater texting


Aug 30
// Nick Valdez
As I said before, people who text or use their phones in theaters are jerks. I didn't just pay like a billion dollars just to hear about your grandmother's arthritis. Thankfully, that may all change.  Apple had a patent ...
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No extra charge for 48fps Hobbit screenings


Aug 23
// Xander Markham
Reactions to footage of Peter Jackson's 48fps version of The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey have been distinctly underwhelming so far, although at least moviegoers won't be forced to cough up extra to decide for themselves whe...
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Glasses-free 3D movies may come sooner than you think


Aug 22
// Jenika Katz
Do you hate those horrible 3D glasses you need to watch movies in theaters? Of course you do. You're human. They're especially heinous for anyone who tries to wear regular glasses underneath. Have you ever gotten a seat in a ...
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Obviously The Hobbit in 48FPS is having a limited release


Aug 08
// Alex Katz
This shouldn't surprise anyone with even a small amount of technical know-how. Part one of The Hobbit will only be releasing in its new-fangled 48FPS (or HFR as they're now calling it) in a very select number of theaters acro...

IMAX, 35mm, The Dark Knight Rises, and you

Aug 03 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
Now, I've already written about problems with the IMAX experience and how The Hunger Games made clear some of issues with the translation from 35mm to IMAX. It was a problem then and it's still a problem now, but I will do my best to not tread old ground. If you want to know what I think of upscaling, go there. This isn't about that. This is about things that are far more problematic. Also, I will be staying away from spoilers, so don't worry about that if you still haven't seen it (weirdo). In order to get ready for The Dark Knight Rises, I watched Batman Begins and The Dark Knight again. It was the first time I had seen either one in several years. I love both movies immensely, and that didn't change with these viewings. One thing that did change, though, was my impression of The Dark Knight's visual fidelity. I watched both films on Blu-ray, and the IMAX shots in The Dark Knight were just gorgeous. But then it would cut away from them, and I could actually see the drop in quality. But it's more than that. It's not just the drop that bothered me, it was the change in aspect ratio. Time to get a little technical. I imagine most of you know what an aspect ratio is, but you may not know how varied they can be from film to film. If you look at the back of your DVD/Blu-ray cases, it will usually tell you the aspect ratio in which the movie is presented. Films are generally shot at the Cinemascope ratio of 2.35:1 (although other 2.3x:1 ratios are not uncommon), but most consumer cameras shoot at the widescreen friendly 16:9 format, or 1.78:1. Since the so-called Ultrawidescreen TVs (which are 21:9, essentially Cinemascope ratio) are unnecessary, prohibitively expensive, and barely available, I can essentially guarantee you're using a screen with a 16:9 or 16:10 ratio, the latter of which is found on most smartphones as well as older computer monitors. Unless you're using a big old 4:3 (1.33:1) CRT, in which case what are you doing with your life? IMAX is different. IMAX cameras shoot at a ratio of approximately 1.44:1, which is far closer to that old CRT you shouldn't have anymore than it is to a regular Hollywood movie. What does this mean from a practical perspective? Well, if you're projecting both a 2.35:1 image and a 1.44:1 image on the same screen, one is obviously going to take up dramatically more vertical real estate. Since IMAX screens are designed for the 1.44:1 ratio, a regular film will be wasting a massive amount of space. Part of what makes IMAX so impressive is how completely it fills your vision, both vertically and horizontally. Obviously, any image shot in such a wide format cannot replicate that. So now we get to the problem. Here we have a film that is shot using both IMAX and 35mm cameras, and sometimes the switch between the two literally happens from shot to shot to shot. It happens right from the beginning. Jim Gordon gives a speech, and it's in Cinemascope. The next shot begins the brilliant (if somewhat bizarre) Bane abduction sequence, shot in IMAX. To say nothing of the quality (we'll get to that), the shift in aspect ratio is... jarring. Really jarring. Instead of coming across as an intentional use of the widescreen format (something which can be used to beautiful effect), it just seems like part of the image was cropped off in post. Obviously that's not what happened, but that's the apparent effect. It just looks like we're getting less than we should be. I noticed this when I was watching The Dark Knight at home, and even that bothered me. Obviously the IMAX images had to be cropped to accommodate the 16:9 format (imagine how visually distressing it would be if bars on the top and bottom became bars on the left and right of the image, especially in the cases where it goes shot to shot to shot), and they were cropped to 16:9. So it would go from 2.35:1 to 1.78:1, essentially filling in the black bars when it was IMAX and returning to them for the 35mm. A less drastic shift bothered me on my 42" TV. I went into The Dark Knight Rises worried about the impact of the shifts, and it was the thing that distracted me the most from my enjoyment of the film. It wasn't the audio mix, which seems to be the chief complaint about the film, that really got to me (although it did bother me at times), it was the shift. Watching a 35mm film blown up in IMAX has its issues, fine. Watching an IMAX movie in IMAX is amazing, cool. But if you put the two of them together and do absolutely nothing (and what could you do?) to help ease one into the other, then you have a problem. Now let's talk about the quality. A lot has been made of the whole "Digital vs. 35mm" debate, but there's no doubt that proper IMAX format destroys either of them. From a detail and quality standpoint, IMAX is head and shoulders above either. There is also 70mm (or 65mm, depending on who you ask), which is also better than current digital cameras and obviously holds more detail than a 35mm frame, but is so underutilized that it may as well not exist. Technically, an IMAX image is also referred to as 70mm image, but it means something different. [Jeff in the comments pointed out the flaws in my logic, although they do nothing to change the argument itself]. In the case of 35mm film, that is the width of the entire strip of film, not just the width of the image area. So the perforations on the side as well as the place to capture sound both take away from the width of the 35mm. But it's not true about IMAX. An IMAX frame is 70mm wide, and 48.5 mm tall, which translates to ~3 inches wide by ~2 inches tall. Comparatively, a 35mm image actually translates to 21.95mm by 18.6mm (~.85" by ~.75"). Each IMAX frame is more than eight times the size of each 35mm frame, which translates to an 8x jump in quality, because each image captures 8x more detail. For all of you digital camera lovers (of which I count myself a part), it's the difference between a 2 Megapixel camera or a 16 Megapixel camera, except it's probably closer to the difference between a 16 MP camera and a 128 MP camera. Admittedly, it's essentially impossible to properly equate an analog image, but it works as an approximation of what is going on. A 128 MP image has, shocker, 128 million pixels, versus 16 million pixels. Assuming equivalent quality of the sensors in each camera (and in this case, I think that's a fair assumption), each pixel on the 16MP sensor takes the place of 8 pixels on the 128MP sensor. That is an incredible loss in detail. Admittedly, it's not all about size, and it never has been. The Arri Alexa (which was used to shoot Drive, for example) shoots at a lower resolution than RED cameras (which are used for most movies these days), but produces an arguably superior image. But IMAX cameras allow for so much more detail and have high quality sensors, so it would be nigh impossible for any smaller camera to replicate IMAX quality on such a large scale.  So we've concluded that an IMAX image is 8x more detailed than a 35mm image, but what exactly does that mean? Well, it means that all of the little subtleties that get lost in 35mm get picked up. It's like going from 480i (SD) to 1080p (FHD) or putting a VHS tape next to a Blu-ray. Maybe that's not entirely fair, and when both of them are put together on a non-IMAX screen (or on a Blu-ray), the difference in quality is not quite as distinct. However, and this is something I focused on last time, a shrunk down version of a larger image will appear to be sharper and more detailed, and there is a clear difference on the Blu-ray of The Dark Knight from between what was shot on IMAX and what wasn't. When the native image is put up o several-story high IMAX screen against something that has been upscaled, though, it really works against the film as a whole. It doesn't look cohesive, because two vastly different technologies were used to make it happen. Comparatively, the upscaled 35mm looks blurry and far less colorful.  I have no doubt that Christopher Nolan and co. were completely aware of all of this when the film was being made, so why didn't they use their enormous budget and shoot the entire thing in IMAX? Well, because the problems with shooting IMAX don't stop at the cost. The biggest problem, at least for Nolan, is the noise. IMAX cameras are very loud, which makes recording dialogue (or anything, really) difficult at best. That's why the scenes that were shot in IMAX in The Dark Knight were primarily helicopter exteriors and action scenes. More action means less dialogue. And much of the dialogue that there was could be easily ADRed (ADR stands for Additional Dialogue Recording or Automated Dialogue Replacement), such as everything that the Joker and his team said in the awesome opening heist. They were all wearing masks, so there was nothing to match up and ADRing was easy.  If you pay attention, you'll notice that the same is true here. It's easy for anything involving Bane to be shot in IMAX because all of his dialogue is ADRed anyway (no mouth means no hassle), but ADRing a conversation between Bruce Wayne and Jim Gordon would take a lot of time (and thus money) to do. Considering images of conversations don't need to have vast amounts of detail, it makes a lot of sense to not shoot IMAX for them, and the smaller image also creates a more intimate feeling, which can also be good for conversation. But it's still jarring, especially when a shot of a beautiful helicopter exterior shot in IMAX is thrown into the middle of a 35mm conversation. It is, as I said in the beginning, jarring. I've been complaining this whole time without giving any kinds of possible solutions, and I'm kind of at a loss. Aside from biting the bullet on ADR and other costs in order to shoot the entire thing in IMAX (or forego IMAX entirely), there doesn't seem to be any real solution. There isn't much of a happy medium, but there are two mediums that are a little less sad. The first involves a return to the good old days of 1.375:1 (Update: I incorrectly said 1.33:1, which was the silent standard. The sound standard is ever so slightly wider). Outside of films attempting to replicate the look of old, ugly consumer cameras and The Artist, it's just not something that gets used anymore. But it would do a lot to mitigate the issue. Although there would still be a change in the aspect ratio, a shift from 1.44:1 to 1.375:1 (which would reduce the image horizontally) would be far less dramatic than the shift to 2.35:1. It wouldn't be perfect (and the need to blow up the image further would likely widen the gap in quality between shots), but it would be less immediately jarring. The Artist proved that the use of that old aspect ratio is entirely viable (as does The Dark Knight Rises, to a lesser extent, given the aspect ratio of its IMAX shots). But in a world where screens are only getting wider, 1.375:1 wastes too much space, and it's not realistic to ask filmmakers to that or for audiences to put up with it. A more practical method would be to remove any sort of shifts from shot to shot to shot. Putting those IMAX exteriors in between 35mm interiors/conversations is a reminder that you are watching a movie. It's like a particularly glaring continuity error or audio feedback when a character shouts. These all act as distractions that remove you from the experience. The brilliance of IMAX is and always has been intended to draw you in, which is why the format has been primarily used for documentaries of gorgeous places. But transitions to and from have exactly the opposite effect. Segmenting sections as "This is 35mm, this is IMAX" would go a long way towards mitigating this issue. There would be the initial shock, but until the next transition, there'd be nothing to think about. Perhaps Christopher Nolan is the wrong director to do this, though. He loves his parallel action, so making sure to keep the IMAX shots out of the 35mm scenes becomes a bit more difficult than if everything was more linear. His non-linearity-within-linear-scenes is fantastic, and it's one of the reasons his films are so unique, but it is also not conducive to this kind of intense planning, since at least some of it comes from not necessarily having the shots planned out in advance and some of the scenes being parallel-y action-ed are likely to be more conducive to the larger format than others. But nonetheless, there is no doubt in my mind that the IMAX experience of The Dark Knight Rises is hampered by this problem. If you saw the film in a regular theater, you may have noticed a change in quality, but without the ratio switch (and with no worries about magnification) it probably didn't even register. It flowed smoothly between the two. You're lucky. I shouldn't be recommending an inferior version of a film because its (varying) quality makes it distracting. When I was watching the IMAX-shot scenes in The Dark Knight Rises on a screen that was at least five or six stories tall, I was in awe. The detail, the color, the scope, and the scale of it is just jaw-dropping. There is nothing like it. If studio executives want to keep customers going to theaters, they just need to start shooting in IMAX. Even if the tickets are ludicrously expensive, they give an experience that cannot be replicated at home. But it's a double edged sword, and The Dark Knight Rises proves that. If you have the option to see The Dark Knight Rises in IMAX, or any future film that was shot that way (including, funnily enough, the sequel to The Hunger Games), you should take it. But you have to go in understanding that it will switch (and switch frequently) from mind-blowing to mostly-eh quality. It's a sad state of affairs, and there's really no way to fix it. Maybe in 5 years (or even less) digital cameras will be able to shoot at 8K or 10K or 12K or whatever resolution it is that matches the analog equivalent of IMAX, but at that point there won't be much reason to shoot using IMAX cameras in the first place, especially since the relative silence of digital equipment means that the noise issue that plagues current shoots will disappear. But for the moment, let's give three cheers for IMAX. Proper IMAX, not that ridiculous upscaled nonsense, and three cheers to Nolan for bringing it to the mainstream. Hip hip hooray!
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Four years ago I went to the local IMAX theater to see The Dark Knight. It was the first mainstream film shot partially in IMAX, and I knew I couldn't see it any other way. And it completely blew me away. I'd seen documentari...

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We're at it at last. The final death throws of the physical medium known as film. With every passing day another nail is hammered into celluloid's coffin as the steady whir of a theater projector in the back of the theater fa...

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Proof of concept for IRIS tech from Man of Tai Chi


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By now we've all heard tales of the humility and warmth of the otherwise bitterly attractive Keanu Reeves, so I feel a personal hope that his authorial and directorial debut, Man of Tai Chi, turns out well and finally gives ...
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Now, this is where I'd usually gloat and jump up and down saying "HAHAHAHA! I TOLD YOU SO!" But I'm beyond that (and already did that this morning). During CinemaCon, Warner Bros. showcased some "beautiful" 48 fps footage of ...


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