Wednesday, June 24, 2009

News - 06/24/09...

Ponyo trailer debuts online

Apple has made available the trailer for Hayao Miyazaki’s upcoming feature Ponyo in various formats including HD. Ponyo follows the story of an ordinary boy and his friendship with Ponyo, a goldfish who wishes to be human. Featuring the voices of Cate Blanchett, Matt Damon, Tina Fey, Cloris Leachman, Liam Neeson, Lily Tomlin, Betty White and Frankie Jonas, Ponyo opens across United States on August 14.

Frederator presents Drinking and Drawing

Drinking and Drawing is coming to New York City once again. These events are always a lot of fun, and I’m glad it’s back. The event is being held on Wednesday, June 24, 2009, at 7:30pm, at M1-5 Bar/Lounge at 52 Walker Street, NYC.

Hope you can all make it! For more information, please visit

(Thanks asifaeast)

Special Agent Oso Returns for Disney

Disney Channel has bought a second season of Secret Agent Oso, the hit animated series starring Oscar-nominated actor Sean Astin.

The Playhouse Disney series follows Oso, a stuffed panda bear who works as a secret agent for U.N.I.Q.U.E., a secret group that helps kids accomplish every day tasks.

"I'm so proud of this show, especially because my kids have connected with it and that makes me cool in their book,” says Astin. “I can't wait to start recording Oso's new missions for the second season with our fantastic technical team and my incredibly talented castmates."

Since it premiered in April, Oso has been the top program in its daily timeslot. It’s also become a global hit, airing in more than 35 nations and dubbed into five languages.

(Thanks Animation Magazine)

Bashir, Tom & Jerry Waltz Home on DVD, Blu-ray

Waltz With Bashir, the Oscar-nominated animated film from Israeli director Ari Folman, leads a heavy week of animation and VFX-heavy releases on DVD and Blu-ray.

Bashir, which told the tale of Folman’s experience as an Israeli soldier in the 1982 invasion of Lebanon, was one of the most acclaimed films of the year. Released by Sony Pictures Classics, the film is available on DVD ($28.96) and Blu-ray ($39.99) and features a new English-language dub, a “making-of” featurette, animatics, a Q&A with Folman and a director’s commentary. Waltz With Bashir was nominated as the Best Foreign Language film at last year’s Academy Awards. It also was nominated for four Annie Awards, two BAFTA awards, and won the best foreign language film at the Golden Globes.

Fans of classic animation will also find plenty to love this week, with the release of Tom & Jerry: Chuck Jones Collection (Warner Bros., $26.99), a two-disc set of remastered cartoons directed by the beloved animation master.

Also coming to DVD is Inkheart, a VFX-heavy family film starring Brendan Fraser (New Line, $28.98 DVD, $35.99 Blu-ray).

Other animation releases of note include Death Note Re-Light #1: Visions of a God (VIZ, $24.92) and Dragon Hunters (Phase 4 Films, $14.99 DVD, $22.99 Blu-ray)

(Thanks Animation Magazine)

NYICFF Hosts U.S. Premiere of Kells

The Secret of the Kells, the long-awaited animated feature from the producers of Kirikou and the Sorceress and The Triplets of Belleville, will have its first U.S. screenings at the New York International Children’s Film Festival July 18 and 19.

Directed by Tomm Moore, The Secret of the Kells tell the story of a boy living in a remote medieval outpost who comes across a magical book that leads him on a dangerous quest into an enchanted forest.

An Irish, French and Belgian co-production, The Secret of the Kells won the audience award at the Annecy festival and has been acclaimed by critics around the world.

(Thanks Animation Magazine)

Spine Animator Landreth to Speak at SIGGRAPH

Chris Landreth, director of the acclaimed computer-animated short film The Spine, will be speak at this year’s SIGGRAPH conference in New Orleans.

Winner of an Academy Award for his 2004 short film, Ryan, Landreth is set to share insights into the development and the animation of The Spine in a special discussion set for Aug. 6.

Among the topics he intends to discuss are the “uncanny valley” and how he tried to avoid its impact in The Spine.

The Spine was produced by the National Film Board of Canada in association with Copperheart Animation and C.O.R.E. Digital Pictures, with the creative participation of Autodesk Canada CO. and Seneca College School of Communication Arts.

(Thanks Animation Magazine)

English Evangelion to Screen at Anime Expo

The English dub of Hideaki Anno’s feature film Evangelion: 1.0 You Are (Not) Alone will premiere at this year’s Anime Expo. Set for July 2-5 at the Los Angeles Convention Center.

The film, a sequel to the animated TV series Neon Genesis Evangelion, expands Anno’s vision with a complete redesign and the use of 3-D computer graphics.

The film will be shown Friday, July 3, at 5:30 p.m. in Room LP1.

(Thanks Animation Magazine)

Bob Bell was art director for TV's Gerry Anderson

British art director Bob Bell, designer of the fantastic and futuristic sets for several of Gerry Anderson's imaginative puppet-animated TV series, died in hospital June 6 after a prolonged illness. His age was not made available.

Bell may be best remembered by as the art director of Anderson's 1965 series Thunderbirds.

He joined AP Films in 1958, assisting art director Reg Hill on Torchy The Battery Boy. He soon showed his talents and was promoted to art director when production began on Fireball XL5 (1962). Bell remained in this role right through to Anderson's live-action 1972 series The Protectors.

He returned to Gerry Anderson Productions as associate producer on Terrahawks (1983) and then Dick Spanner (1986).

Other Anderson series where he was an art director included Stingray (1963) and Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons (1967 -- as supervising art director).

For the second Thunderbirds feature film, Thunderbird 6 (1968), he was the art director as well.

Bell also worked on such live-action feature films as The Wild Geese (1978) and Lion of the Desert (1981).

He served his country in the Royal Army during the Second World War, seeing action in North Africa.

Bell's funeral was held last Wednesday afternoon at Amersham Crematorium and afterward at The Hit Or Miss, Penn Street, Amersham. His family asked for flowers not be sent. However, donations will be gratefully received for the Alzheimers Society.

Near-capacity crowds attend peek at new "Ice Age"

Sneak previews of Twentieth Century Fox's "Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs" played exclusively in 3D to an average 90% capacity in 330 theaters throughout the United States on Sunday, with numerous sellouts in markets big and small.

Commented Bruce Snyder, Fox's president of domestic distribution: "The Father's Day sneaks resulted in excellent word of mouth among theatergoers. The reaction from the nearly sold out showings bodes extremely well for our July 1 opening."

In Fox's first 3D film, the sub-zero heroes from the worldwide blockbusters Ice Age (2002) and Ice Age: The Meltdown (2006) are back for an incredible adventure.

This time, they break through the ice to discover a whole new prehistoric world of dinosaurs. Manny prepares to face a new challenge -- fatherhood leaving Sid to feel left out of his friend's growing family. Determined to start a family of his own, Sid discovers three enormous eggs and decides to adopt the baby dinosaurs that soon hatch.

Ice Age: Dawn Of The Dinosaurs features the voices of Ray Romano, John Leguizamo, Denis Leary, Simon Pegg, and Queen Latifah. Directed by Carlos Saldanha and co-directed by Michael Thurmeier, the CGI-animated family comedy was produced by Lori Forte and John C. Donkin. It was written by Michael Berg, Peter Ackerman, Mike Reiss and Yoni Brenner from a story by Jason Carter Eaton.

"Slaves," "Amma" win at CFC short film festival

"Slaves," a Swedish-Danish co-production, and Canadian director Aparna Kapur's "Amma" were the animated films that were among the 10 winners at this year's CFC Worldwide Short Film Festival.

Presented by Telus, the festival presented over $60,000 in cash and prizes to this year's top filmmakers Sunday in Toronto. Offering one of the largest prize packages for short film in the world, the WSFF honored filmmakers in the presence of over 400 industry delegates and filmmakers from around the globe.

The Best Animated Short honor and a Sony digital camcorder went to Hanna Heilborn and David Aronowitsch for Slaves, described by festival organizers as a "powerful and haunting documentary."

Kapur received the Jackson-Triggs Award For Best Emerging Canadian Filmmaker and a cash prize of $5,000 for Amma, the richly animated story of a girl's bond with her grandmother.

The WSFF is one of only three Canadian festivals accredited by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, which presents the Oscars each year. Winners of the awards for Best Live-Action Short and Best Animated Short become eligible for the Academy Awards.

WSFF Canadian award winners are eligible for Genie Awards, the Canadian equivalent of the Oscars.

"The CFC Worldwide Short Film Festival is delighted to honor these talented visual artists," said festival director Eileen Arandiga. "Ranging from live action, animation, documentary and experimental films from Canada and across the globe, this year's selection of award-winning shorts prove that the short film form continues to be a powerful cinematic art form."

Hanna Heilborn and David Aronowitsch's Slaves, named Best Animated Short at the CFC Worldwide Short Film Festival.

Scene from Aparna Kapur's Amma.

Christian Bale Says ‘Batman 3’ Might Not Happen

If not for the offer of “whipping lessons” from Michelle Pfeiffer, the Catwoman of 1992’s “Batman Returns,” last week would have been a complete downer for Batman movie fans. On Wednesday, a rumor hit the ‘Net that director Christopher Nolan might not return for a third film after “Batman Begins” and “The Dark Knight,” and we’ve seen little reason to disqualify it thus far.

Heck, when we spoke to Batman actor Christian Bale on the set of his upcoming film “Public Enemies,” even he sounded uncertain about the Dark Knight’s big-screen future.

“I truly don’t know that we’re ever going to see another Batman movie,” Bale told MTV News.

Bale, whose contract requires him to play Gotham’s greatest hero in at least three films, said Nolan’s participation is likely to be decided by the quality of script over any other factor.

“It would be purely that he would need to find a story that was good enough,” said Bale, “and if he couldn’t find that, it wouldn’t happen.”

While Bale is obligated to put on the cape and cowl again, the same isn’t true for Nolan. “The Dark Knight” director is currently working on “Inception,” so if “Batman 3″ did enter the equation, production couldn’t begin until 2011 at the earliest.

As it is, Bale said the idea of a Batman movie without Nolan wasn’t something he was willing to consider at this point, but reiterated that he wasn’t sure if audiences should ever expect a third film in the current franchise.

“I don’t even want to think about that,” said Bale. “I don’t know if there will be a third.”

‘The Last Airbender’ Trailer Arrives Online — Here’s Your First Look!

M. Night Shyamalan’s “The Last Airbender” doesn’t hit theaters until next July, but we have your first look at the trailer here on! (Click here for the high-definition version of the trailer.)

Set in a world full of martial arts and magic, “The Last Airbender” is a live-action adaptation of the award-winning Nickelodeon animated series “Avatar: The Last Airbender.” In the series, the last survivor of a race of nomads who can “bend” air sets out to bring peace to warring nations that each control one of four elements: air, water, earth and fire. “Slumdog Millionaire” star Dev Patel stars as the villainous Prince Zuko, heir to the throne of the Fire Nation.

Back in May, we got our first look at Patel as Zuko, as well as Tae Kwon Do-trained actor Noah Ringer as Aang, the hero of the series. (That’s him in the trailer.) Along with being able to control the element of air, Aang is also abale to “bend” the other three elements as well — a trait that makes him the target of Zuko and the Fire Nation.

Along with ringer and Patel, the film also stars “Twilight” alum Jackson Rathbone as Sokka, a warrior from the Southern Water Tribe.

Freeze Frame: ‘The Last Airbender’ Trailer!

The new trailer for M. Night Shyamalan’s “The Last Airbender” has hit the ‘Net, and we have your first look at it here on Splash Page!

Now, even though the new trailer keeps things simple and doesn’t reveal too much about the story, that doesn’t mean there aren’t some things we can learn about Shyamalan’s live-action adaptation of the award-winning animated series. Heck, we’re pretty sure there are some of you out there who probably haven’t even heard of “The Last Airbender” until now — but that’s going to change.

Here’s a quick breakdown of “Airbender” alongside some shots from the new trailer. Consider it “Airbender 101″ for the uninitiated.

In the world of “The Last Airbender,” certain people have the ability to “bend” one of the four elements: earth, water, fire and air. While nations have developed around those who can control each of the first three elements, 12-year-old Aang (played by Noah Ringer) is the last of those who can bend the air — making him “The Last Airbender.”

Here we get our first look at Aang in action. Along with “bending” the elements, the world of “The Last Airbender” is also heavily influenced by the martial arts. And lucky for him, Aang is no slouch in either discipline.

While Aang is the last of the Airbenders, he learns that he is also the “Avatar” for the world — someone possessing the rare ability to learn to bend all four elements, not just air. This makes him a powerful wildcard in the ongoing war the Fire Nation has declared on the Earth and Water nations.

After wiping out the rest of Aang’s air-bending peers, the Fire Nation will stop at nothing to finish the job. The villainous Prince Zuko (played by Dev Patel), the heir to the Fire Nation throne, now hunts Aang in the hope of winning his nation’s throne.

And that’s all the backstory you should need, folks! Now, go ahead and watch “The Last Airbender” trailer again and let us know what you think.

How the giant-robot F/X in Transformers 2 nearly broke ILM. Seriously

Shia LaBeouf hurt his hand and Megan Fox looks good leaning on a motorcycle, but what about the real stars of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, Optimus Prime, Megatron, Bumble Bee and Starscream, who all return, and Devastator, twins Skids and Mudflap and The Fallen himself, who are new?

Visual-effects supervisor Scott Farrar was in charge of turning Industrial Light & Magic's computers up to 11 to create the new characters and told reporters that the sequel features 40 new characters. That and the increased resolution of the characters for new IMAX footage nearly exhausted ILM's render farms: After one hard night of rendering computer-generated footage, some of the hardware actually exploded.

"We did, we lost some machinery that night," Farrar said in a press conference on last week in Beverly Hills, Calif. "Little puffs of smoke, just like in the movie."

The largest sequence in Revenge of the Fallen was also the biggest in ILM history: the climax in which Devastator tears apart one of the great pyramids in Egypt. "We're trying to hit new levels of realism in every single thing we do, whether it's the render of the robot or the physical environment that they're reacting with," Farrar said. "It's just like upping the game on every level, so it was a pretty complicated show."

To give you some sense of just how big Devastator is, Farrar said that Optimus Prime has 10,000 moving parts. The computer algorithms actually manipulate each part to go from truck to standing robot. Well, Devastator is made up of upwards of 80,000 parts. The only thing that saves time is the camera position. The animators only have to transform the parts that are visible on screen.

"Every shot is dressed to camera," Farrar said. "We have a lot of moving parts and a lot of pieces that are all finished up, but every single time that we set up a new camera position, the cameras swirls around to the back, and doggone it, there are some pieces that are unfinished. We have to repaint them and get them so they can be animated. They only move if we need them to move, so it's a logarithmic jump to try and get all those pieces to move, and it's all up to the animators, frankly, to lay down the movement first. We tried to free it up to be creative."


Even after the animation is complete, the filmmakers need to run it by Hasbro, the toymaker that is a partner in the production of the films: The movie can't show a move that might break a kid's corresponding toy in real life. "All this has to be sort of bought off also by the Hasbro people, because we want to have the essential shape of the transformation fit to what the toy will do," Farrar said.

Revenge of the Fallen also required the visual effects artists to figure out how to put big metal robots underwater. You've seen snippets in the trailer of Decepticons diving to bring up Megatron's carcass. ILM developed a plug-in to their software that adjusted the animation to look like it's underwater.

The biggest giveaway in any sequence is light sources, says Farrar, and underwater lighting gets even trickier. Presumably, there is no light at all in the deep depths of the ocean, although living robots may emit some light of their own.

"Everything that we do in our world is all about the light," Farrar said. "It's not just building the robot, but it's about how it commingles with all the light sources. It might be ambient. If they're really deep in the water, how much light do we give them? How much internal lighting should they have? We had a lot of deep-sea underwater research photos that we looked at, and we sort of gleaned from that. How clear do we want to be? How much plankton and spinaci, we called it, floating in front of the camera do we want? All these little tricks to try and make you believe you're really underwater, we have to employ."

Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen opens tomorrow everywhere.

Why Shyamalan let us on the Airbender set, what we saw and why it's special

Dev Patel is Prince Zuko

After the less-than-stellar critical and box-office reception for his last two films, Lady in the Water and The Happening, director M. Night Shyamalan might have been expected to crawl into a hole somewhere dark and secluded, where he could ruminate over what went wrong.

Well, we're here to tell you he's holed up somewhere dark and secluded all right, but there's not an ounce of self-flagellation. Matter of fact, in the bowels of several massive complexes in the suburbs of Philadelphia, Shyamalan has gone in a direction that would surprise most: The man's gone epic in his new movie, The Last Airbender.

On June 16, SCI FI Wire was among a small group of reporters invited to visit the top-secret set of Night's upcoming live-action adaptation of the popular Nickelodeon animated series Avatar: The Last Airbender (the movie loses the "Avatar" to avoid confusion with James Cameron's own upcoming sci-fi epic).

This is no small thing: It's the first time that Night has let the press set foot on one of his locations or soundstages. On his previous films, lockdown was the name of the game.

So on this day it's something special for Night to give our small group carte blanche to observe the shooting of a pivotal character reveal, get a guided tour of the film's massive sets and even chat with him and much of his cast. The new openness is probably a response to the very public hits he's taken, but it's also part of Night's choice to stretch himself to outrageous new heights with some of what may be his savviest creative decisions in some time.

The movie marks a lot of firsts for Shyamalan. The Last Airbender is the first film he hasn't created strictly out of his own head; rather, it's based on the work of Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko, who created Nick's series. It's the first film he's shooting on extensive green-screen stages. And it's the first film for which he left Philadelphia to shoot some scenes (more on this later).

Noah Ringer is Aang

Fans of this engaging animated series will know that the story centers on a fantastical world that is separated into peaceful nations that represent the four elements: Air, Water, Earth and Fire. That tranquility is shattered when the Fire Nation wages a campaign of destruction against the other three nations with the intention of ruling them with an iron fist.

Over the course of a century, the world is nearly shattered by relentless battles until the only hope for peace appears in the form of Aang (Noah Ringer), a bald little boy with some serious kung-fu skills. An Airbender from the Air Nation, Aang discovers that he is the legendary Avatar, the lone human who can harness the powers of each element to restore balance to the ravaged world. Together with Katara (Nicola Peltz), his Waterbender best friend, and her headstrong brother, Sokka (Jackson Rathbone), Aang reluctantly goes on the journey to fulfill his destiny of restoring the world through his remarkable gift of "bending" the elements to his will.

Cast with relative unknowns or up-and-coming performers such as Slumdog Millionaire's Dev Patel as Fire Nation bad boy Prince Zuko, The Last Airbender is nothing less than Night's opportunity to create his own mythic cinematic series, his own Star Wars for this millennium. And the structure is already set up for him, since the animated series is conveniently broken up into books based on each element. The film series will follow suit, with the first film adapting Book 1: Water and subsequent sequels focusing on the next elements. And from the looks of the first film location we're taken to, this is not a franchise that is being created on the cheap.

In the heart of an old, decaying automotive factory about 10 miles outside of Philly, Night's army of 600 craftsman, techies and designers have filled every corner of a massive warehouse with detailed sets that are dizzying in their sheer number, scale and attention to detail. Gone are Night's trademark claustrophobic spaces and intimate environments, traded for the gigantic bow of a Fire Nation warship that serves as a staging area for our group.

M. Night Shyamalan on the set of his last movie, The Happening

Across the way, there's a monastery set with columns of intricate bronze prayer wheels sitting idle in the dark. And along the walls behind everything hang green-screen curtains that will be replaced with computerized set extensions and visual effects for each and every scene.

Before we are allowed to wander the space, producer Frank Marshall references the drapes and says, "We are creating a completely fantastical, make-believe world. A couple of firsts on this film for Night: One is shooting all this green screen. He's never really done much of that before ... at all. And we went out of Philadelphia for the first time. We went and shot in Greenland for three weeks. It's really the first time he's shot on location, and that's another reason Kathy [Kennedy] and I were called [to produce,] because we have a lot of location experience with these big kinds of movies. He's expanding his talent and range, and that's what I find exciting about it. He's taking his filmmaking style and applying it to this fantasy world, which he hasn't done before."

We walk a few yards away from the mouth of a white "ice" cave, carved from foam and plastic and covered in a blanket of faux snow. Its steps lead into the mouth of a darkened bluish-gray cave that twists along for 40 feet before the path opens up into a glorious chamber that looks as if it was plucked from the canvas of a beautiful Asian landscape painting. High walls rise to create a cocooned oasis of (now dry) koi ponds, with green moss banks that lead to the stunning focal point: a towering, twisted-limbed, resplendently blooming cherry tree filled with blossoms. Even with the set not fully dressed for filming, the tree is a breathtaking vision, with 3,500 hand-placed tiny pink blossoms. It's called the Spiritual Place, where Aang will meet the Moon Spirit, and it elicits authentic goosebumps for what this place will look like once captured on film.

Eventually we come to the live set of the Northern Air Temple, where Night breaks away from his star Ringer, the delightfully enthusiastic anchor of this whole film. It's a relatively relaxed Night who ambles up to take stock of what he's creating around us. With about two weeks left of principal photography, Night admits he's coming out on the other side of a humbling process.

"It's been such a great growing experience for me as a director and a human being, because I am a complete control freak," Shyamalan says with a grin. "You know, I feel like a little bit of pain when I look at a frame and it's not right and I have to correct it. This has taught me there are just so many factors going on; it's doing two and a half times a [normal] movie of mine, so it made me go back a little bit and become a student. Any time you can become a student again, that's the way to do it. You learn again, and you are open about everything. I felt like I've become a much better filmmaker, because I have had to go through this process where it's just not possible for me to do that for 400 extras with the action going on. It's overwhelming. I am scared to death."

Shyamalan laughs with sincerity. "There are two and a half weeks left of not being as scared to death, but there were plenty of days where I was scared to death of what I'm doing," he admits.

One can only imagine what Night looked like a few weeks ago in the snows of Greenland or on the first day he shot on the biggest set ever created for a movie on the East Coast (which is inside an old airplane hangar about 15 miles away). But today he's got that famed Night confidence on full display, enthusiastic about how it's coming together.

"It's so original, which has always been my hope: that it's not like anything else," Shyamalan explains about his vision for Airbender. "It's not really Lord of the Rings or Harry Potter or The Matrix or Pirates of the Caribbean. But there is a little bit of this and that, with me smothered all over it. There is pathos in it, yet it's really fun. You pray that it will find its own personality and will be its own self and the world will appreciate it for that."

The Last Airbender opens July 2, 2010.

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