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Way of the Future

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'...

Transcendence Trailer photo
Transcendence Trailer

First trailer for Transcendence, starring Johnny Depp

Dec 23
// Nick Valdez
When I posted the teasers a few days ago, I wondered why Transcendence hadn't been on my radar until then. It promised a neat film about a man who bonds with a super intelligence and goes all Skynet on everyone. But with the...
C.R.E.A.M photo

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...

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...


Flix for Short: The Future

Feb 06
// Nick Valdez
The Future, a short animated film by Alex Goddard, simply asks "want to see the future"? It's an extremely brisk, mesmerizing, almost cutesy, but it's damn great. Essentially everything hovers. I want that Hover Nose.  [via Alex Goddard]

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...

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 ...

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 ...

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...

Film vs. Digital: Why everyone loses

Apr 13 // Maxwell Roahrig
Before we get on with the meat of this article, let's get the obvious statements out of the way. Shooting film isn't automatically better than shooting digital, and vice versa. There will always be tradeoffs, and you need to understand that now. Film is a proven worldwide standard for over 100 years, and benefits from a better looking final product. Digital will always be cheaper, more portable, and easier for most folks to work with. I suggest reading this article to further understand the pros and cons of each medium. Okay, are we all caught up? Brilliant. Let's get started. Now, this article isn't just about shooting on one medium over another. It's about the ramifications of technological advancements made over the course of twenty years, and how that's going to trickle down to us, the consumer cinephile. It wasn't long ago that movies were always printed on film. Even all digital productions like Toy Story, or Antz were always printed on 35mm film for exhibition at your local theatre. This is because digital technology hadn't reached a level high enough to broadcast the incredible high-quality images we've become used to. But then came George Lucas with his crazy idea of shooting a movie all using a digital video camera. "It'll look like shit, George," I hope someone said to him. But you know what? For all it's mistakes as a piece of canon, Attack of the Clones is a great looking picture. Now, that may be due to the fact Lucas made everything digital, including the sets. But Lucas realized the limitations of digital and made it work for him. "Good for you, George!" we all heralded. But little did we know that this was the beginning of the end. And not just for Star Wars. Since then, an abnormally high number of independently shot digital features sprung up, with 28 Days Later leading the pack. The industry took a step back and asked themselves, "Why can't we do this digital thing?" And so they did. Since 2003, every major motion picture studio has slowly but surely pushed the change over to digital filmmaking. Citing cheaper budgets, saving time on set, and easier post production, it seemed almost like a win-win. But, as always, the technology just wasn't there. Sure, you could shoot digitally cheap, but your end product looks cheap. At the end of the day, filmmakers still preferred the look and quality that film brought to the table. However, there were a few hold-outs. My old friend James Cameron being the most vocal about it. Now, we all know the rest of this story. Cameron shot Avatar all-digitally using green screens out the wazoo and a new way of capturing facial expressions. The hype train gets started, Cameron demands all theatres upgrade their projection equipment, and th-Hey, wait a second. Hold on now. A filmmaker was not only able to demand that his movie be shown digitally, but theatre owners actually paid money to upgrade their equipment? Sadly, that's exactly what happened. Want to know the cost of upgrading your theatre to fancy schmancy digital projection? Anywhere between $70,000 to $150,000. Per screen. Seems a bit steep, right? Well, your good friends at the Movie Studios™ will help you out! Since they're not making film prints and shipping them out to theatres (around a $1,500 job per print), and instead putting movies on a drive (a measly $125/drive), the studios will help finance the projection system to play their films. Seems about right. So where does that leave the independent theatres? The little one or two screeners with loads of history and character, and show movies ranging from classics, to the obscure? To put it bluntly, they're fucked. A small independent theatre doesn't make enough money in a year to upgrade their systems to an all digital platform. "Wait a minute," you ask, "isn't that only for new releases? Why should the indie theatres care at all?" Glad you asked, reader. Studios are making it harder every day to rent out a print of an older film. Sometimes, it just won't happen.  See, after a film is shot, the studio keeps the master for records purposes, as well as historical reasons. Well, sometimes. Remember when MGM was going to dump it's original nitrate prints of Gone with the Wind and The Wizard of Oz into the ocean? Thankfully, archives such as the Library of Congress and the UCLA Film & Television Archive took the prints off of the studio's hands for proper preservation. Now, it's said that, if taken care of properly, film can be preserved for hundreds of years. Digital files, on the other hand, have a hard time staying on a hard drive for a couple months. Besides, human error will always find a way to intervine and accidentally delete a file. Or what if the file type the movie is at suddenly becomes irrelevant? Happens all the time! Or what if the hard drive's interface won't work with a modern computer? Well, you're out of luck, basically. The issue I have with digital isn't that it's not as good looking as film, or whatever. It's the preservation of the movie. It's the fact that, no matter how hard we try, studios will find ways to not allow you to see a film the way it was meant to be seen. The fact that indie theatres are willing to pay for exhibition rights to an old 35mm film that's probably rotting away in some salt mine but deny them the rights sickens me. Hell, some studios won't rent out a print of a film that hasn't even seen the inside of a projector for 40 years, let alone a DVD release. This is how anti-film these studios have become. Now, this is the part of the article where I ask you to join me in a fight against the establishment. But sadly, there's not a whole lot we can do. Obviously, go support your local indie theatre. Heck, I'd tell you to do that in a normal news post. But this fight is going to be a tough one to win. Maybe we should march outside studio gates demanding action be took. Or maybe we should organize a letter writing campaign, similar to Operation: Rainfall. If you guys have any good ideas, be sure to leave them in the comments.

If you follow me outside of Flixist, you no doubt saw an article I linked to yesterday from LA Weekly. The article detailed the decline of widespread industry use of 35mm film and forcing digital into the lives of flimmakers ...

How The Hunger Games reveals the flaws in the IMAX Experience

Apr 02 // Alec Kubas-Meyer
I’d like you to join me in a little experiment.  There is a pretty good chance that somewhere in your vicinity is something you can use to take a picture. I want you to do that. Done? Good. See how (relatively) nice it looks on the screen? Now, either on the device itself or on your computer, look at the image zoomed to 100%. Comparatively speaking, it doesn’t look so good, does it? If you didn’t feel like participating, I did an example for you. This is a picture of a painting my girlfriend did. It doesn't really matter if you think it's a good painting or not; that isn't the point. I took this picture on a Canon T2i/550D at a resolution of 5184×3456, cropped to 4748×3159. I took the photo in poor lighting to make everything easier to see. This image has been resized to 620×413, because of the width required by our blogging software. It's not a particularly flattering image, but it doesn't look terrible. Kind of flat, sure, but there aren't a whole lot of visual problems going on with it. Now compare that with this image, which is a section from the original photograph at full size and cropped to 620×413. See how noisy it is? It's awful. All of that visual noise technically exists in the first image, but it's basically hidden because of something known as "oversampling." Oversampling, in this case, refers to the condensation of an image and its pixels. In the case of the above image, the original resolution of the image is ~8X larger than what you see here. That means that each pixel in the above image is taking the place of ~64 pixels from the original image. This makes the image seem much sharper and clearer, because problems with individual pixels are masked. But if you take an image and blow it up at full size or larger, such as when a non-IMAX image is projected onto an IMAX screen, the exact opposite thing occurs. A film’s visual flaws may be able to hide on a regular sized theater screen, but when it’s being shown on a five story behemoth, the pixels are forced to expand rather than contract. They become bigger and their issues become clearer. This is especially problematic when dealing with CGI. Let me pause here to explain something about resolution and its place in digital filmmaking. If you understand the difference between 1080p and 4K, feel free to skip the next two paragraphs. When you are given a TV’s resolution, the numbers you see given are defined by an image’s number of vertical pixels. A 1080p image is 1920 pixels wide and 1080 pixels tall. 720p is 1280 pixels wide and 720 pixels tall. When dealing with larger resolutions, however, the width becomes the defining number, and the specificity is ignored. This is because different films are shot at different aspect ratios. For example, the bottom rung film resolution is 2K, which theoretically results in an image that is 2048×1152. However, some 2K cameras shoot at, for example, 2048×1080. Although not exclusively, many filmmakers shooting digital use cameras that record at what seems to be the industry standard of 4K, or 4096×2304 (depending on manufacturer). Aside from the Arri Alexa (which gorgeous films like Drive and Melancholia were shot on), few of the major cameras used these days shoot below 4K, and some of them are beginning to shoot higher. Much of the indie scene is relegated to 2K at the moment, but with the advent of (relatively) affordable 4K cameras like the RED Scarlet-X and the upcoming Canon EOS C300, it will likely replace 2K in the indie space within the next few years. When 4K is replaced by Super-Hi Vision/Ultra High Definition/8K, which is closer to the resolution of an IMAX image, some of these arguments will be made irrelevant. But we've got a ways to go before that happens. It's even worse in the case of The Hunger Games, because it has poor CG to start with. Pretty much every bit of CG effects work looked bad, since every flaw was magnified on the IMAX screen. The fire effects on Katniss' and Peeta's suits as well as Katniss’s dress were unimpressive at best, the train and flying ships were ugly in all of the wrong ways, the green screen effects were middling, and the projectile weapons (arrows, spears, etc.) didn’t mesh well. Really, the only CG effects that worked were all of the Truman Show meets Minority Report effects that took place in the control room. Admittedly, that all worked pretty well. Considering the elements in the room are not actually supposed to be “real," even in the context of the world in The Hunger Games, I don’t know if that’s such high praise, but I have to give credit where credit is due. Films like Avatar can get away with it since pretty much everything in that film is effects-driven and because of the sheer spectacle of the big screen (not to mention the budget used is considerably more padded). This means that it’s even more difficult to spot the flaws in it. I think the fact that so much of The Hunger Games is live-action (something I appreciated greatly) actually worked against it. The special effects are used pretty sparingly, so the moments where they are used stand out dramatically. Last year, I attended a talk given by film historian David Bordwell, and he made a comment about Michael Bay's editing style. He said the reason that nothing Bay does makes sense on a big screen is because he makes them on a small one. Nobody has the luxury of editing in a theater, so all of the cuts are made on smaller screens. These smaller screens allow for the brain to more rapidly process the images. So an editor may not even realize how jarring and headache-inducing a film might be until it's shown in a theater, and people who see it on DVD or Blu Ray months later will wonder what everybody was complaining about. The brain can only handle so much information, so it makes sense that a rapidly edited fight scene could become more and more visually confusing as it became larger and larger. Case in point, The Hunger Games. Generally speaking, the fight scenes in The Hunger Games don’t actually have too many unnecessary cuts. There are two exceptions, one of which worked better than the other. In the first battle over the equipment, the quick cuts and rapid movement seem designed to create a level of confusion and disconnect similar to what was happening in Katniss’s mind. I thought that was fine and it worked. The characters were different enough looking that I got the basic sense of what was happening, and the entire scene came across as properly disorienting. In the final fight between Peeta and Cato, however, I don’t think it worked. Maybe that was intentional, but whereas the opening confusion drew me into the film, the final confusion took me out of it. I was thinking about the fact that I had no idea what was going on, and I was annoyed with the filmmakers for doing it that way. I absolutely think that it would have made more sense on a smaller screen, because I couldn’t even get a bearing on what kind of fighting was really happening, let alone who was doing what.  And here we get to one of the biggest general complaints about The Hunger Games: the shakycam. If I had to guess, I’d say that the majority of the filming was done handheld using telephoto lenses. There are a huge number of extreme close-ups (something you really don’t see a lot of), and the camera moves around violently for pretty much the entire film. I know that there are people who hate handheld camerawork, but I have no problem with it. It’s a stylistic thing, and it can definitely have a positive impact on a movie, but here it was just too much. Or it seemed to be, at least on that screen. About five minutes into The Hunger Games, I began having second thoughts about purchasing that IMAX ticket. For whatever reason, the first act has the most consistently distressing camerawork, and by the time the Reaping had been completed, I was actually out of breath and I had to sit back and rest for a moment. The less of a scene you can see onscreen, the more work your brain has to do to figure out how everything connects, and the tenser you feel. This is why nearly all fight scenes take place primarily in close ups. As soon as it moves to a wider shot, tension is released and you feel better. There are not a lot of wide shots in the opening scenes of The Hunger Games, so the tension just keeps ratcheting up and up. Fortunately, the pace slows down a bit after leaving District 12, and aside from the aforementioned fight scenes, it never really cranks up to that same level again. Fortunately, when it did speed up during the games, I had been acclimated to the shake, but it took far too long to get there, and I imagine that for people less accepting of shakycam it could be a major problem.  But pretty much all of this stems from the fact that so few movies are shot in IMAX or with IMAX in mind. Just as many films these days are converted to 3D in post, so too are films turned into “The IMAX Experience.” As of right now, only three released features have been shot partially in IMAX (none have been shot fully): The Dark Knight, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, and Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol. More are being released in the next few years, but it’s very rare.  Perhaps every director would love the ability to work in IMAX and with IMAX, but it seems like a lot of this is coming down to the whims of the studio and studio heads rather than those of a filmmaker. If Gary Ross had made The Hunger Games with the intention of seeing it in an IMAX theater, he probably would have changed the way it was shot at least slightly to accommodate that. Perhaps he knew from the beginning that it would be getting an IMAX upconversion, given the success of the final Harry Potter movies, but even so, thinking about the possibility is not the same as working towards that goal, and the team behind The Hunger Games clearly wasn’t working towards that goal. I think that seeing movies at the IMAX is absolutely fantastic. I honestly do. I saw both Avatar and The Dark Knight at the IMAX on opening day, and I saw Inception in IMAX three times. When I could, I would always choose that. Now I realize that IMAX isn’t such a sure bet. The spectacle is wonderful, but it has the potential to do more harm than good. Such is the case with The Hunger Games. I’m very happy that I saw The Hunger Games. It’s an amazing film, and I’m hoping to see it again soon. But if/when I do see it second time, it won’t be in IMAX.

On Tuesday, I went to see The Hunger Games with my younger sister. Because the IMAX Theater near our house has a special price on Tuesdays, we elected to see it that way. And why not? If you’re going to go for a theater...


Prometheus viral marketing set to kick off at TED 2023

Feb 28
// Alec Kubas-Meyer
I don't watch TED talks as much as I'd like to. Sometimes they run a bit long, and I have many things to do and not enough time to do them. Sometimes, though, they're short enough that I can watch them during my snack break....

Doug Trumbull thinks 48fps is for babies, shoots at 120

Nov 15
// Alec Kubas-Meyer
Much earlier in the year, we brought you news that director Doug Trumbull would be joining the likes of James Cameron and Peter Jackson into the new era of shooting at 48 frames per second (or perhaps even 60). As it turns ou...

Martin Scorsese predicts holograms, lightsabers

Nov 08
// Jenika Katz
I'm in the school of thought that 3D won't go too much further. Sure, I think it'll enjoy some popularity for a while longer, and I don't think it'll entirely disappear, but in most cases, it's just a gimmick to throw a few e...

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