Wednesday, December 12, 2012

"Star Trek Into Darkness" Teaser

The first teaser for J.J. Abrams' "Star Trek Into Darkness" has arrived.  You can watch it in HD at Apple Trailers, or on YouTube.

An exclusive, nine-minute preview of the film will be shown in IMAX 3D theaters in front of "The Hobbit", starting December 14.  For a list of theaters showing the extended preview, click here.

The film features visual effects by Industrial Light & Magic, supervised by VFX supervisor Roger Guyett.  Below are a few random images from the teaser.

Images selected by Randomizer Mountain Lion Edition software.

Sunday, December 02, 2012

The List of 10, 85th Academy Awards

It's Bake-Off time! The visual effects branch of the Academy have revealed the short list of films that will be participating in the bake-off for the race for the 85th Academy Awards:

The Amazing Spider-Man
Cloud Atlas

The Dark Knight Rises

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey

John Carter

Life of Pi

Marvel’s The Avengers



Snow White and the Huntsman

The 40-person executive committee of the visual effects branch of the Academy (led by industry veteran Craig Barron) came up with this list of ten films that will present at the bake-off.  Each film will present a 10 minute reel of finished work, along with a short introduction and brief Q&A.  All visual effects branch members are invited to attend and vote for the films that will earn a nomination.  Since the 83rd Academy Awards, there will be five nominees for the Oscar.

This year, the bake-off will take place on January 3, 2013, much earlier than previous years.  The nominations will be announced the next week in all categories (on January 10, 2013), and the awards ceremony will take place on February 24, 2013.

Congratulations go out to the visual effects teams of all of these films on their hard work.

We will run the numbers through The VFX Predictinator, our unified formula for predicting the winner of the visual effects Oscar (which has been 100% accurate in the four years since its invention, based on analysis of 20 years of winners and nominees) after the full nominations are announced.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Five Types of Romantic Comedy Movie Posters

A new post in our long-neglected "Movie Marketing Is Hard!" series.

"The Five Types of Romantic Comedy Movie Posters", collected by the geniuses at College Humor.  Here is their collection of #3, The Back-To-Back:

See them all at

Sunday, September 09, 2012

NCC-1701 Smart Car

You may disagree, but I think this is pretty darn cool.  If I had a Smart car, I'd probably do something like this.

Spotted today in Larkspur, California, a Smart car decked out with U.S.S. Enterprise 1701 markings, including Starfleet logos.  The car is marked as the Galileo shuttlecraft, one of the primary shuttlecrafts for the "Star Trek" flagship.

Friday, August 31, 2012

Empty Chair 2012

Download your free "Empty Chair 2012" bumper sticker right here.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

DC vs. Marvel Films

With the recent news that Warner Bros. and DC Comics are looking for a director for "Justice League", I thought it might be an interesting exercise to take a look at the feature films based on the two biggest comic book companies’ properties.

Growing up, I didn’t read comics; I watched movies and tv.  In fact, I probably have only read one entire comic book in my life.  My exposure to comic book superheroes was entirely based on their films and television shows.  One of my favorite movies as a child was “Superman” (1978), I loved the Adam West “Batman” series, and even was a fan of the awesome CBS “Spider-Man” series.  I didn’t know the difference between Marvel heroes or DC heroes.

I only became aware of the two titans’ personalities in the 1990’s, when comic book movies exploded after Tim Burton’s “Batman” became the first in a new line of comic book-based blockbusters.  Comic book films are attractive to risk-averse studios due to characters’ built-in audience awareness and apparent ability to reboot and reinvent themselves every few years.

Since 2000, Marvel has been especially aggressive in Hollywood, making twenty-six films based on their properties.  Marvel maintains partnerships with various studios (Sony produces Spider-Man films, Fox produces X-Men films, for example), but also began independently producing their own movies with Jon Favreau’s “Iron Man” in 2008.  Marvel Studios’ track record has been phenomenal; the Marvel brand has become synonymous with quality superhero flicks.  The culmination of Marvel Studios’ hard work in establishing its brand is Joss Whedon’s “The Avengers”, a universally loved film that has grossed almost $1.5 billion at the box office.

It’s clear that DC and Warner Bros. (DC’s parent) are sitting on a gold mine; they just can’t seem to get their act together.  Well-known properties like Wonder Woman, Aquaman (“Entourage” did it, I know) and The Flash just sit on the shelf, ripe for the picking.  DC needs to follow the simple formula perfected by Marvel: hire quality filmmakers (Whedon, Favreau, Kenneth Branagh) and actors (Robert Downey Jr., Mark Ruffallo, Samuel L. Jackson, Scarlett Johanssen) to make consistent crowd-pleasing films that aren’t monumentally stupid.

The only time DC has been close to mimicking this formula is with its magnificent handling of the Batman films; hiring the brilliant Christopher Nolan to run the franchise was a stroke of genius, which brought along the amazing acting talents of Christian Bale, Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, Anne Hathaway, and Heath Ledger.  Nolan’s trilogy is complete, and DC and Warner Bros. will probably reboot Batman by 2015 with, oh, let’s say, McG directing.

DC has essentially struck out on all of their other attempts, failing miserably by the shoddy, forgettable productions of “Catwoman”, “Jonah Hex” and “Green Lantern”.

Interesting notes for the time between 2000-2012:

  • Marvel has rebooted three franchises: X-Men, The Punisher, Spider-Man with Fantastic Four on the way (with “Chronicle” director, Josh Trank).  In that time, DC has rebooted zero franchises, but will reboot Superman in 2013, and probably will reboot Batman in 2015.
  • Through 2014, DC has only one film slated for release, MAN OF STEEL.  Marvel has eight films slated for release.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Not Dead, Just Busy

Sorry for the lack of updates, folks.  I'm busy working on the future.

I'm sure one of my several dozen half-written articles will make their way to FXRant soon.  In the meantime, read my tweets for up-to-date FXRant-esque words.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

This Is Meaningful

This is meaningful.

This inspirational message has been brought to you by Papyrus and stock photography.

Saturday, June 02, 2012

The New "The Talk Show" Is Now "The Talk Show With John Gruber"

Last week, amidst the controversy of John Gruber leaving Dan Benjamin's 5by5 Network (and taking the name of the podcast, "The Talk Show," with him), I lamented the fact that there are now two "The Talk Show" podcasts, both with the exact same title.

Apparently this is no longer the case.  I noticed on iTunes that Mule Radio Syndicate's "The Talk Show" has changed its name to "The Talk Show With John Gruber".  This is an admirable (albeit small) step in differentiating the new podcast from the previous show's incarnation.

Much has been written in tech-geek-land about Gruber taking the podcast (along with its title) to a new network, and most of it revolves around idle gossip and speculation.  The former partners have made their statements about the split.  Benjamin published a short, four minute special podcast "Regarding The Talk Show", which appeared on May 21, three days after the Mule show debuted.  Gruber mentioned the breakup on Episode 2 of the Mule podcast from May 24, and on May 29, wrote a few words about the split on Daring Fireball.

I will miss 5by5's "The Talk Show" very much. The Gruber/Benjamin production was the first regular podcast I ever listened to, and it turned me on to other 5by5 podcasts, like "Build and Analyze" with Marco Arment and, in my opinion, the new flagship 5by5 podcast "Hypercritical" with John Siracusa.  In a short period of time, Benjamin has created a brilliant podcast empire.

I will also continue to read Gruber's insightful commentary on Daring Fireball, as well as subscribe to "The Talk Show With John Gruber"; it will take some time for Gruber to find his rhythm as host (rather than guest, which is essentially what he played on the 5by5 podcast), and I'll be listening to hear the show progress and evolve.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Sunday, February 26, 2012

"Rango" Wins The Oscar

Congratulations to director Gore Verbinski on his win for "Rango", the Oscar winner for Animated Feature at the 84th Academy Awards!

This was Industrial Light & Magic's first feature-length animated feature, and we were so very happy to bring Gore's vision to the screen.  A hearty congratulations to visual effects supervisors Tim Alexander and John Knoll and animation director Hal Hickel, and absolutely everyone at ILM that contributed to the film.

23 Years In A Row

As detailed in this post, we used The VFX Predictinator formula to predict the winner of the visual effects Oscar, "Hugo". We were correct.

Our single formula has now accurately predicted the winner of the visual effects Academy Award for its 23nd straight year.

Heh heh.

"Hugo" Wins The Oscar

Rob Legato, Joss Williams, Ben Grossmann and Alex Henning

Congratulations to the visual effects team behind Martin Scorsese's "Hugo", the winner of the Oscar for Visual Effects, at the 84th Academy Awards.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Oscar Pool Ballot, 84th Academy Awards

It's time for the Awesomest Oscar Pool Ballot In The History Of Oscar Pool Ballots.

Every year I create a special ballot based on the printable ballot -- but on my ballot, each category has a different point value. The highest valued category is "Best Picture," while the mainstream films' categories are valued at two points. The non-mainstream categories (like the documentary and short film categories) are valued at one point.

This way, in a tight race for the winner, the winner most likely would not be determined by the non-mainstream films (i.e., blind guesses).

Download the ballot here for the 84th Academy Awards and use it at your Oscar party.

And if you're wondering why Tom Cruise is on my ballot... he's on every one of my Oscar ballots. Because he's soooooooooo cool.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

The VFX Predictinator in Podcast Form

Mike Seymour, Jeff Heusser and I talk about the Oscar race for visual effects on FXGuide's podcast, "The VFX Show" #142.  The podcast leads to a discussion of The VFX Predictinator, my formula that has correctly predicted the visual effects Oscar winner every year since 1989. If don't want to wade through the zillions of posts I've written about The Predictinator, this podcast is for you.

I had a great time talking with Mike and Jeff, and it's always a pleasure to be on the podcast.

"The VFX Show" #142,   Oscar Preview.  Mike Seymour, Jeff Heusser and Todd Vaziri speak live from Los Angeles to preview the VFX Oscar nominated films of 2011.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

ILM Wins Big at VES Awards

Last week at the 10th Annual VES Awards hosted by the Visual Effects Society, my friends and colleagues from Industrial Light & Magic were honored with seven awards, including a clean sweep for our first animated feature, "Rango".

"Transformers: Dark of the Moon" won two key awards: one for Outstanding Created Environment and one for Outstanding Models. Both of the awards centered heavily around the Chicago destruction sequence, where Driller, the giant snake-like Transformer circles an already damaged building, squeezing it to the point of spitting the edifice in half, with the top half crashing onto another skyscraper.  Taking home awards for that work was Tim Brakensiek, Kelvin Chu, David Fogler, Rene Garcia, Giles Hancock, John Hanson, Scott Younkin, and my very good friend Tom Martinek, who did an extraordinary job supervising the tilted building sequence.  I have been fortunate to work with Tom for many years now, and I'm glad he now has this tangible proof of his enormous talents.

I have been very lucky in 2011: the three films to which I contributed ("Rango", "Transformers 3" and "Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol") have been showered with praise for their innovative visual effects work. I'm proud to have been a part of these magnificent productions.

Congratulations to all the winners that night, and thank you so much to the Visual Effects Society for sponsoring the event.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Resident Universal

I just watched the new teaser for Sony's new film, "Resident Evil: Retribution", and I couldn't help think that the title card's design looks awfully similar to a rival studio's iconic logo.

Monday, February 06, 2012

"Transformers 3"

Two very amazing things happened recently, related to the visual effects of "Transformers: Dark of the Moon".

For one, Deadline Hollywood reports that Michael Bay, Paramount and Dreamworks are buying television commercial ad time to help with the Oscar push for the latest "Transformers" film.  This is unprecedented and very much appreciated.  The commercial also touts the incredible sound work of the "Transformers" team.

Here's the commercial:

I contributed to shots throughout "Transformers 3", and was also compositing sequence supervisor on the tilted building sequence.

On behalf of all the artists at Industrial Light & Magic who worked on your film, I'd like to say, Thank You, Michael.  We appreciate your very public support of our work, and for calling us "The Best Visual Effects Team of the year".  (Here is The Hollywood Reporter's coverage of this event.)

Michael also released the bake-off reel for "Transformers 3" on his website,  The bake-off reel is the montage shown to visual effects Academy branch members to help determine the final nominees for the Best Visual Effects Oscar.  Each of the 10 bake-off candidates brings a 10 minute reel of finished work as it appeared in the film (no before/after's or breakdowns allowed).  After seeing all the reels, along with brief Q&A with each visual effects supervisor, the visual effects branch votes on the five final nominees.

The edit clearly illustrates the massive amounts of work put into the visual effects of this epic film.  In most cases, these reels are only seen on the night of the bake-off.  Again, thanks to Michael for sharing this impressive reel with the world.

Transformers' Oscars VFX Reel from Michael Bay Dot Com on Vimeo.

Visual Effects Are Important To Box Office

An image from "Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows, Part II", which has earned over $1.3 billion at the global box office.

Last month, I tweeted this:

If only there was some way to visualize the importance of visual effects films to the box office.

The above chart was made by the website, which, as many pointed out, only chose certain categories to chart, since they made the chart to support a specific point in one of their articles.

This inspired me to make my own, complete chart, customized to include everything I wanted to see.  I wanted to visualize the average global box office take of each of the nominees of each category of the 84th Academy Awards.  I had an idea of how the graph would ultimately turn out, but I wasn't expecting it to be this lopsided.  Click here to see a larger version of the chart.

Now, I can happily, confidently and completely say that visual effects films have a significantly higher box office take than any other Oscar category for this year's 84th Academy Awards.  The average nominee for Best Visual Effects earned over $662 million in global box office.

This should surprise virtually no one.  Visual effects get people into the theaters.  Our amazing images, brilliant spectacles, and never-before-seen worlds are the new movie stars, not just domestically, but globally.

To be fair, the Academy usually rewards actors and directors of prestige pictures with nominations-- films that don't typically earn hundreds of millions of dollars.  I think it is, however, significant to illustrate this idea - out of all of these important categories of filmmaking that the Academy wishes to celebrate with awards, it is clear the visual effects branch's films are doing the heavy lifting of selling tickets around the world, lifting the industry.

It also illustrates the sad state of the visual effects community. The average Oscar nominee for visual effects made over $662 million globally, and yet our industry has relatively little power in Hollywood.

Some notes: Had this been a typical year, the Animated Feature average would have been much higher, since two out of the five nominees from this year have yet to see a wide release.  But even if those two nominees made, say, $350M globally, it wouldn't have pushed the average even close to the visual effects average of $662M.  Also, the Makeup category was significantly bolstered by the inclusion of "Harry Potter 7.2" (which currently has a global box office take of $1.3 billion), which offset its two very modest fellow nominees, "The Iron Lady" and "Albert Nobbs" (which has yet to have a wide release).

And, just to state the obvious, it would be interesting to see what this chart looks like for, say, the last 10 years of Academy Awards, to see if this years' chart is an anomaly, or if this is a good reflection of a decade's worth of data.

Showing my work; a CSV of the data is here.

Thursday, February 02, 2012

Tim Burton's Secret Formula Proven Correct... Again

An old story that was already creepy + Johnny Depp + buckets of white makeup + Helena Bonham Carter + they're all dead (vampires) + black costumes + Danny Elfman score = Tim Burton's new film, "Dark Shadows", based on the cult TV series, coming May 2012.

All of this was prophesized by the prescient College Humor video from March 2010 titled, "Tim Burton's Secret Formula".

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Ghost Protocol

I’m overwhelmed by the positive response audiences have given “Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol”.  The folks that had a chance to enjoy the film in a real IMAX theater were treated to an exceptional experience - nearly 30 minutes of the film is presented in true IMAX, with entire sequences filmed with the large-format camera, giving audiences a unique, immersive experience that is, personally, far more intriguing than 3-D.

I was compositing supervisor for Industrial Light & Magic, which provided around 650 visual effects for the film, and I’m extraordinarily proud of the entire team.  The vast majority of our shots were intended to be invisible -- our goal was to stay out of the way of the storytelling and let the scenes play out without the effects calling attention to themselves.  I had a blast working again with John Knoll, our visual effects supervisor, Lindy DeQuattro, our associate visual effects supervisor, Hayden Landis, our Digital Production Supervisor, and our teams at ILM in San Francisco and Singapore and all our facility partners.  I offer humble thanks to all of them for a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

I’ve never had a greater impact on a film before, and I’m so proud to be associated with such a great film.  I was lucky enough to catch a screening in IMAX, and really enjoyed the movie.  In visual effects, we consider ourselves lucky if we get to work on one really, really good film in our entire career.  I’ve been lucky enough to work on a few of them, and “MI4” ranks among my favorite films to which I’ve contributed.  It was my second "Mission: Impossible" film, my first IMAX film, and my tenth anamorphic film.

Here’s a snapshot of how Brad Bird’s directorial debut has been received by the public:

Box Office

As of January 31, 2012, the film has grossed nearly $572 million dollars.  Its $203 million dollar take in North America makes it the seventh highest grossing film of 2011.  (It will most likely overtake “Fast Five” at number six, with $209M.)   “MI4” is the highest grossing “Mission: Impossible” film, globally, and will most likely become the highest grossing Tom Cruise film of all time, toppling “War of the Worlds”.

Critical Acclaim

For the fourth entry of a franchise based on a television show, “MI4”’s 93% Tomatometer rating is through the roof.  The Rotten Tomatoes summary is as follows:  "Stylish, fast-paced, and loaded with gripping set pieces, the fourth Mission: Impossible is big-budget popcorn entertainment that really works."

Visual Effects Coverage

We were blown away when we were invited to present our film at the visual effects Academy Bake-Off, which featured ten films competing for five nomination slots.  “MI4” was included in a list that also featured “Transformers 3” and “Rise of the Planet of the Apes”. Although we didn’t get a nomination, we were grateful for the opportunity to go to the bake-off and show our reel.

Cinefex and Jody Duncan will cover “MI4” in its April 2012 issue, which should make for a great read.

The Daily interviewed John Knoll to discuss the film’s visual effects.

FXGuide and Mike Seymour expand on The Daily’s coverage with a more extensive interview with John Knoll.

Vincent Frei at Art of VFX also talks to John about the film.

Over at The VFX Show podcast, Mike Seymour, Matt Leonard and Jason Diamond go over the visual effects of “MI4” with a fine tooth comb for nearly 70 minutes, and have some really nice things to say about them.

And if you’re at all interested in how the film was shot, please read this profile of cinematographer Robert Elswit, the man behind the photography of “There Will Be Blood”, on how he shot “MI4” on film with 35mm and IMAX cameras.

Friday, January 27, 2012

The VFX Predictinator, 84th Academy Awards Edition

It’s that time of year again.  Time to feed The VFX Predictinator.

For the uninitiated, The VFX Predictinator is a formula my wife and I developed in 2010 that accurately predicted the winner of the visual effects Academy Award from 1989-2010 based on quantifiable data points.  Last year, we expanded the formula to accommodate five nominees with success -- The Predictinator accurately predicted the winner ("Inception"), just as it did for the previous 21 years.

The 84th Academy Award nominations were released last week, which means it’s time to run the numbers!  As a reminder, the nominees for the visual effects Oscar are “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II”, “Hugo”, “Real Steel”, “Rise of the Planet of the Apes”, and “Transformers: Dark of the Moon”.

And here’s The Predictinator in action:

And if you're not interested in squinting at the final scores, here they are:
  • 8.39 Hugo
  • 6.21 Rise of the Planet of the Apes
  • 5.34 Harry Potter 7.2
  • 2.91 Real Steel
  • 1.04 Transformers 3
The Predictinator predicts “Hugo” will win the Academy Award for visual effects.

Before running the numbers, I was certain that “Hugo” would post some big numbers, especially because of those 11 (gasp!) total Academy Award nominations, but I was surprised at how gigantic its final score ultimately was.  Its score was even slightly higher than 2009’s “Avatar”.  "Hugo" had an extremely high Tomatometer score (although slightly below "Potter 7.2"), and combined with its late release date (November) and its additional Oscar nominations, it walks away a score of 8.39.

Since “Apes” was the only film among the nominees with organic character animation as well as facial animation, I was fairly certain that “Apes” would have ended up with the highest point tally.  But there’s “Hugo” sitting on top with that huge score, a higher point value than any film since the first “Lord of the Rings” film in 2001.

Some notes: we didn’t classify “Apes” as a sequel, since the film is a reboot, creating a new franchise, personality and mythology from the ground up. “Transformers 3” ended up in a distant fifth place with only 1.04 points -- the lowest Predictinator score in the history of the Predictinator (1989-2011).  The robot sequel was severely punished by its low Tomatometer score (the lowest since “Poseidon”), the earliest release date of all five nominees, and its existence as a sequel.

We’ll see what happens when the winners are announced on February 26, 2012.

update: We were right.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

84th Academy Award Nominees for Visual Effects

Congratulations to all the nominees for Best Visual Effects in the 84th Academy Awards.  The winner will be announced Sunday, February 26, 2012.


"Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2"
Tim Burke, David Vickery, Greg Butler and John Richardson

Rob Legato, Joss Williams, Ben Grossman and Alex Henning

"Real Steel"
Erik Nash, John Rosengrant, Dan Taylor and Swen Gillberg

"Rise of the Planet of the Apes"
Joe Letteri, Dan Lemmon, R. Christopher White and Daniel Barrett

"Transformers: Dark of the Moon"
Scott Farrar, Scott Benza, Matthew Butler and John Frazier