Saturday, July 25, 2009

News - 07/25/09...

Comic-Con: The Princess and the Frog - Exclusive Footage

Comic Con draws you a behind the scenes sneak peek at the animation process for Disney’s The Princess and The Frog Coming to theaters July 24th.

Comic-Con Report: An Inspiring Tribute to Walt Stanchfield

Animation fans attending Comic-Con on Thursday afternoon had the heart-breaking task of choosing between a Bill Plympton event (in-person appearance with a screening of his latest short Horn Dog), a panel showcasing Robot Chicken and the new adult swim series Titan Maximus with Seth Green and Matthew Senreich, and a much-hyped preview of James Cameron’s 3-D spectacular, Avatar.

We were happy to take in a wonderful tribute to Disney animator and brilliant mentor and teacher Walt Stanchfield, moderated by the amazing Don Hahn, who recently edited two must-have books about the subject titled Drawn to Life: 20 Golden Years of Disney Master Classes (Focal Press).

From left: Don Hahn, Eric Goldberg, Tom Sito, Ruben Procopio and Glen Keane, Photo by Jodi Bluth

Hahn, whose producing credits include The Lion King, Beauty and the Beast and The Nightmare Before Christmas, had invited four of the industry’s top animation talents—Glen Keane (Tarzan, The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Rapunzel), Eric Goldberg (Aladdin, Hercules, Fantasia 2000), Tom Sito (Aladdin, Beauty and the Beast, Shrek, Looney Tunes: Back in Action) and Ruben Procopio (sculptor and animator on Beauty and the Beast, Mulan) to share anecdotes about working with the legendary teacher.

Showing many of Stanchfield’s sketches, Hahn also shared various sketches by the panelists to demonstrate how they were influenced by their great teacher. He also talked about the animator’s famous Xeroxed lectures and drawings, in which he pointed out the do’s and don’ts of animation. “Besides being a great artist, he dedicated 20 years of his life to training the young artists at Disney,” said Hahn, who was attending Comic-Con for the first time.

Goldberg talked about the legacy of hand-drawn animation at Disney. “All of us who are working on The Princess and the Frog feel fortunate that we’re part of what we hope will be the rebirth of hand-drawn animation,” he noted. “We feel like we’re standing on the shoulders of giants. Stanchfield always stressed feeling over anatomy. You have to draw verbs, not nouns.”

Gestural sketches by Stanchfield

Sito praised Stanchfield’s ability to convey valuable information in his Xeroxed missives. “We would be on production, working eight hours a day, and we really looked forward to Walt’s classes. At the end of day, all the animators would be vying to be includes in the ‘draw like this’ parts of the notes.”

Sito also brought up how the approach to training animators was different back then. “Our generation grew up with the masters from the Golden Age of animation, we were sitting at their knees—and it was a master and apprentice system—Today, the modern system is so much more about learning the software, it’s more calculated and analytic. Stanchfield represented a different approach to art education: It was about feeling and expressing opinions with your drawing.”

Tigger Sketch

Keane recalled his early years at Disney, where people like Frank Thomas and Ollie Johnston—Disney legends—were working at the studio and sharing their knowledge with a new generation of animators. “Stanchfield was a great river of life…he understood what it meant to be an artist. He always had his sketchbook with him and encouraged you to think more and put more of yourself in your work.”

Words to Live By

The panelists also shared some of Stanchfield’s wonderful wisdom that had inspired them through the years. “Don't be afraid of the details,” said Keane. “Tell a story and don’t be precious with your art. Everyone has 10,000 bad drawings in them, it’s better to get them out sooner than later! The real test of a mentor is how their teachings come out at some point in our own work.”

Keane said he had stopped drawing for six months to recharge his batteries and attack his work with new joy and enthusiasm. He said he had bought a sketchbook recently and wanted to draw “all the weird people at Comic-Con!” On the train to San Diego, he looked out of the window and began to sketch again. “I started thinking about Walt again…that’s exactly what happened,” he said. “A great teacher plants something in you, and you discover it later.”

Sito got a lot of appreciative laughs when he recalled a conversation he had had with Joe Grant. Years ago, he asked the legendary Disney artist to be brutally honest and tell him what the big difference was between working as an animator in the 1940s and today. Grant told him, “It was the same baloney, the same deadlines, the same politics, the same problems—but people drew better back then!”

You can learn more about Walt Stanchfield and order his book Drawn to Life at

(Thanks Animation Magazine)

At work with animation legend Hayao Miyazaki

Variety hosts a series of articles on Hayao Miyazaki under the title Animation legend Hayao Miyazaki featuring the famous Japanese animation director often regarded as one the the world’s greatest storyteller. Miyazaki hopes to break US spell talks about Miyazaki’s upcoming release Ponyo which will be his biggest stateside release so far. The article talks about the living legend behind four decades of hand-drawn classics. Various artists from around the world share thoughts on inspirational director in the article Industry pros pay tribute to Miyazaki. Hewitts bring Miyazaki Stateside shares details on the care taken in Disney’s English translations of Miyazaki’s films.

Hayao Miyazaki’s Ponyo opens across theatres in US on August 14.

Wallace & Gromit: The Complete Collection DVD and Blu-Ray in September

DVDTimes reports that Lionsgate and Hit Entertainment have announced the DVD and Blu-ray releases of Wallace & Gromit: The Complete Collection on 22nd September 2009. Created and directed by Nick Park, this collection will include all four made for TV Wallace & Gromit adventures. They are: A Grand Day Out, The Wrong Trousers, A Close Shave and their latest title, A Matter of Loaf and Death. Extras on the discs will include audio commentary with creator Nick Park on each film, Making of the films, Amazing Adventures of Wallace & Gromit featurette, and more.

Sony ImageWorks -- A Dialogue

A constant reader (I assume) writes below:

... I am at Sony Imageworks. I have been there for many years now. Recently there have been a lot of changes, old management teams being replaced by newer ones. This is the norm right? Every few years new blood, new brooms, new styles. The style of this group seems to be slash/burn. Seasoned vet's getting tossed on their @sses to be replaced by a younger (cheaper) crowd. Benefits are being cut to the bone. Severance pay - cut out completely and we are being asked to sign new contracts that strip away our current health coverage to a shadow of what it is now. A few years back the union tried to come in, but back then Sony's benefits were better than what the union offered so many of us voted against it. WE WERE WRONG! ...

And Yours Truly responds:

Ah yes, I remember it as though it were yesterday. There we were, the IA reps and the Animation Guild officers (President Koch and I) in the Imageworks theater, rolling out the IATSE contract, Motion Picture Industry Pension and Health Plan and TAG 401(k) Plan (without a mtach) that we hoped to sell to the Imageworkers.

The production hires were receptive, but the permanent employees weren't buying. In fact, many bristled with anger that their generous Sony benefits were being threatened by this new deal, and wanted no part of it. Campaigned against it. And the day of the vote, the permanent employees ... with their production-hire allies ... handed the IA (and TAG) their heads. The vote was something like 289 NAYs, and 27 AYEs.


We (the unionists) skulked out of there with our tails between our legs. An IA rep asked me later: "So, what do you think we should have done?" I replied: "Cancel the vote before it was held."

Of course, the union side (my side) was not about to do that. Couldn't do that. They had to roll the dice. Even though I knew ... and several of them knew ... we were headed for the rocks. I had talked to enough employees and ex-employees to know that beyond much doubt, even as I told them:

"You think this sweet deal you've got with ImageWorks is going to go on and on. The benefits, the pay, it's all permanent. Except it's not. The company can revoke them whenever it wants."

Let me state right here that I don't begrudge anybody for buying the company line and voting to keep the IA out. It's always comfortable and easy to go with the status quo, particularly when you are in Fat City. Your head says, "Maybe this won't last..." but your heart yells:

"Heey now! This is the way it was meant to be! And this is the way it will be FOR-EVER!"

But it isn't, actually. It never is. Everything --the good, the bad, and the indifferent -- is temporary. We know this intellectually, but emotionally we resist the sad reality. And I most likely would have done the same thing the ImageWorks folks did all those years ago, when Tim Sarnoff ladled out the b.s. and employees lapped it up. (Tim, like many of the employees, is gone now. He's off in France, building a new career and empire.)

Face it. It's hard to resist the profit-sharing, rich 401(k) plan, and nice salary, and go into a voting booth and gamble on something else.

But here's the deal with Imageworks now. I would love to organize the place. Problem is, I can get into the studio, but new management watches me like a bird of prey, so there is no way I'm going to chat up the non-union crew. What would be more useful is for ImageWorkers who want to change things to call me at 818-845-7500. We can set up some meetings, do lunch, chat on the phone or whatever. Work to get something happening down there in Culver City.

Because the past is dead and gone. And an organizational drive begins with the first Representation Card.

(Thanks Animation Guild Blog)

"Captain Pugwash" creator John Ryan dead at 88

British cartoonist John Ryan, creator of the long-running "Captain Pugwash" animated TV series, died Wednesday in hospital in Rye, East Sussex. He was 88.

As founder of John Ryan Studios, he produced Captain Pugwash (1957), as well as the animated series The Adventures of Sir Prancelot and Mary, Mungo & Midge (both 1972).

Born in Edinburgh on March 4, 1921, he first drew bumbling pirate Captain Horatio Pugwash as a comic strip in the first edition of The Eagle in April 1950 while an art teacher at Harrow School. Pugwash's crewmates on the Black Pig included Tom the Cabin Boy and Willy, and his enemy was Cut Throat Jake.

A book deal followed. After seeing Ryan's books about Pugwash, the BBC commissioned a black-and-white animated series. It used cutout characters moved by hidden levers.

The black-and-white episodes were made until 1967. In the mid-1970s, the BBC aired color episodes during a revival.

In 1998, Pugwash was revived once again for an ITV cartoon series. At the time, Ryan told the BBC that necessity was the mother of Pugwash.

"I had to make some money having got married, being a sort of artist, and I think he represented something which is in all of us, which is cowardice and greed."

Captain Pugwash used simple sets and homemade puppetry. Generally, members of Ryan's family controlled levers which made flat cardboard characters move.

Actor Peter Hawkins provied all the voices in the earliest episodes, which were recorded live and unedited.

"We had a lot of fun with pieces of colored card, Indian ink, Copydex glue, staples, pins, putting things together and cutting things out and sharpening pencils -- genuinely feeling as though we were part of the whole process," Ryan's daughter Isabel said in 1998.

There was "a huge amount of love" for the childish pirate and his shipmates, said Ryan's agent, Jane Gregory.

He was "always enthusiastic, always charming," Gregory told BBC News. "A lot of the character of Captain Pugwash was John, which is probably why we loved him as much. He was an absolute gentleman."

Ryan was also the resident cartoonist at the Catholic Herald for 40 years.

"He bought a lot of fun to a lot of people," son Christopher said.

Ryan's lifelong fascination with pirates began when his family moved to Morocco. From his bedroom window in the exotic fishing port of Rabat, he scanned the rolling seas to catch a glimpse of real pirate ships.

Later at Ampleforth College, a Catholic boarding school in Yorkshire, Ryan was encouraged to draw by an ex-Fleet Street cartoonist who had become a monk. After he had co-founded a scurrilous "alternative" magazine at school, the Second World War intervened, and the army sent him to fight in the jungles of Burma. Between battles, he quite often got into trouble for drawing wicked caricatures of his superior officers.

In 1950, he married fellow artist Priscilla, whom he had met at art class at the Regent Street Polytechnic in London. Priscilla found herself dealing with increasing numbers of offspring, pets and lodgers.

As an art teacher at Harrow, Ryan found that his salary was not quite enough, so he sat down, doodled and sketched, and on the page before him appeared a chubby pirate... Captain Horatio Pugwash was born.

Ryan created his first picture book for children, Captain Pugwash, A Pirate Story, using pen and paint in a small spiral-bound sketchbook. A dozen publishers rejected it before The Bodley Head said "yes"' in 1956. Since then, 20 more Pugwash books have been published.

Meanwhile, Owen Reed of Children's BBC got to hear about the Captain. In Ryan's spiral-bound sketchbook, he spotted the beginnings of an animated character for children's TV.
One look at the drawing where Pugwash, forced by Cut Throat Jake to walk the plank, falls with a gigantic splash into the sea, convinced him. The BBC commissioned an animated series.

But how was Pugwash to migrate from the flat page into a moving image on television? After much trial and error, Ryan perfected his own unique 2-D animationmethod. First, he cut out and painted flat cardboard figures of the pirates and all the other characters. Then he "jointed" them intricately with hidden brass paper clips. Then he added scenic backgrounds in which the figures could move. It took about 50 backgrounds to make one five-minute episode. Unseen by the film camera, cardboard levers were manipulated by hand, to animate the characters and -- hey presto! Jake's mouth roared, Pugwash's legs ran, the ship's wheel revolved, and Tom the Cabin Boy's eye winked at us while he rowed away.

Those who saw the early black and white episodes will never forget their jaunty (some might say jerky) movements. Moving those levers smoothly was an art in itself: Priscilla, John and their studio assistants quickly became adept. Hawkins' voiceovers were so hilarious that he had to be hidden behind a screen during recording to prevent the film crew and animators from having hysterics. Pugwash productions were a real family affair: incidental sound effects were often created by the Ryan children.

Perhaps the most memorable aspect of Pugwash on television was the theme tune -- a piece of music instantly recognizable to millions today. It is a hornpipe played by the late Tommy Edmondson of Northumberland on his piano accordion.

The Pugwash books were translated into many languages. Audio tapes of the Pugwash books and videos of the TV episodes were launched in the 1980s.

In 1998, Captain Pugwash was recreated for TV by John Cary Studios, this time with computer animation.

"I'm a lucky man, because I've managed to earn a living by doing what I love: drawing and painting every day!" Ryan once said.

"And I've been supported by my wonderful wife, children and grandchildren, who've helped keep Pugwash afloat, sailing the high seas for 57 years! No matter how many other characters I create, I always seem to come back to the Captain.

"Pugwash has two qualities which I believe are present in all of us to some degree: cowardice and greed. It is the conflict between these opposing emotions which make the stories work. It may be that the Captain is popular because we all have something in common with him. What would YOU do if you saw a delicious toffee on the nose of a crocodile?"

Ryan also created and hosted the 1981 animated series The Ark Stories.

From 1976 until it went off the air in 1984, he produced and directed the beloved Canadian live-action children's show The Friendly Giant, featuring Bob Homme, which first aired in 1958.

John Ryan is survived by his wife and three children.

Marvel's Joe Quesada on Increased Input for Animation, "Black Panther" Delay

In his latest "Cup O' Joe" interview, Marvel Comics' Editor-in-Chief Joe Quesada expanded on earlier comments on his added responsibilities for creative input for Marvel's animation and movie projects, saying "I suspect that my involvement will be on creating new concepts, reviewing proposals, scripts, art and so on." He also relayed the news that BET's Black Panther animated series will be delayed, according to executive producer Reggie Hudlin, because "The series is now covering in more material than was in the original six issues, which has caused some production delays." Hudlin added that it will not debut this year as originally planned.

Heyward's A Squared Connects with AOL

A Squared Entertainment LLC, a new Los Angeles-based children's media company formed by DIC founder Andy Heyward and Amy Moynihan, has partnered with AOL to launch a slate of new entertainment properties for kids. Warren Buffett, Gisele Bundchen, Martha Stewart and the late Carl Sagan are some of the personalties featured in these animated shows which aim to teach kids about finance, the environment, creativity and science.

A Squared and AOL will produce a season's worth of 3-5 minute webisodes involving each celebrity. AOL is also working with MGX Lab to create a unique interactive world for each property. The titles include The Secret Millionaire’s Club (Buffet) and Gigi & The Green Team (Bundchen) will premiere on AOL this fall, while Little Martha (Stewart) and Kosmos (Sagan and co-author Ann Druyan) will have a spring 2010 debut date.

"A Squared was created to introduce great entertainment for kids that also serves to teach them about the world around them in fun ways," says Heyward. "We are privileged to have some of the premier icons of our time to inspire modern content for children. Each an expert in their respective fields, these celebrities have committed to bringing content with a purpose to kids. Together with AOL, we are reinventing the way multi-media brands are launched to connect with kids throughout their multi-tasking daily lives."

Heyward has over 30 years of experience in the children’s entertainment field. His numerous DIC credits include Strawberry Shortcake, Inspector Gadget, Hello Kitty, Madeline, Sabrina the Teenage Witch and The Care Bears. Moynihan is a 20-year brand marketing veteran who has been responsible for developing and launching new products for McDonald’s, Disney Cruise Line, Hasbro and The Los Angeles Times.

To learn more about this new venture, visit

(Thanks Animation Magazine)

Adventures of Morph producer Patrick Dowling dies

Patrick Dowling, producer of Aardman Animations' very first television series, died June 17 in Sydney, Australia after a brief illness. He was 89.

Dowling was responsible for The Amazing Adventures of Morph, directed by Aardman founders Peter Lord and David Sproxton. The clay-animation series ran for 26 five-minute episodes on BBC1 in 1980-81.

He had written and produced the show after his formal retirement from the BBC in 1979.

Dowling was also the driving force behind Vision On, an internationally known children's series mainly for the deaf. The 1965-76 show attracted a wider audience and gained national and international awards, including the 1973 BAFTA for Best Specialised Series, thus becoming for the children's program to gain an "adult" BAFTA award.

Vision On included animated segments -- such as surreal shorts from the likes of Oliver Postgate, Sproxton, Lord, Bob Baker and Dave Martin. Baker and Martin would later join Sproxton and Lord in making Aardman's Wallace and Gromit films.

Born Bruce Patrick Dowling in Kensington, West London, on August 19, 1919, he grew up in Blackheath, in southeast London.

After attending Eltham College, St George's College, Weybridge, and The Perse School, Cambridge, he joined the Royal Air Force, where he claimed to have an "undistinguished" career. Although he hoped to become a pilot, he was rejected due to color blindness. He married actress Jane Gregson in August 1944 and was demobilized at the end of the Second World War.

A year later, he was taken on as stage manager/electrician with Guildford/Amersham repertory companies. From 1951 to 1952, Dowling was stage director at the Oxford Playhouse.

In 1955, he started working for BBC Television as a production assistant. His series included Girl at the Window, The Black Brigand, The Railway Children, Thompson Family, Secret Garden, Great Expectations, Adventures of Tom Sawyer, The Treasure Seekers and The Balloon and the Baron (for which he also composed the music).

With other producers, he made Victory, Idiots Delight, Makepeace Story, Invisible Armies, Hole in the Wall, Pocket Lancer, Last Man Out, and Just William. Dowling directed Cabin in the Clearing and miscellanous episodes of other series.

In 1959, he joined the BBC's Television Training Centre, working with various departments, such as Light Entertainment and Further Education (producing the pioneering 1965 series Working With a Computer).

He directed a mime play for Ursula Eason, For Deaf Children, which turned into a Vision On. The series received the Unesco Award, SFTA Harlequin Award, Pye Colour Television Award for Distinguished Service and the Prix Jeunesse at Munich.

Other productions for the Children's Department included Price to Play, I Want to Be a Pilot and Code in the Head.

In 1974, Dowling pulled the plug on Vision On and made Take Hart with Tony Hart instead. He then went on to make a season of Why Don't You Just Switch Off Your Television Set and Go and Do Something Less Boring Instead? (which -- understandably -- the Radio Times cut down to Why Don't You …?)

He started The Adventure Game, which ran for two seasons until his retirement.

Dowling was the founding secretary of the BBC Yacht Club in 1954, and spent weekends and holidays sailing across the English Channel to France. He gained the Board of Trade "Yachtmaster Coastal" ticket and subsequently became an examiner for the Royal Yacht Association.

With his wife, he emigrated to Australia in 1983, and was a member of the Bush Fire Brigade for 21 years. In 2004, he moved to Hunters Hill, just outside Sydney. He practiced Tai Chi and spoken French.

"He always kept in touch with his Gurkha roots. For a very long period, he was active in raising funds in support of the soldiers in Nepal. He was a warm and generous man and was also tremendous company", said Colonel William Shuttlewood of the Gurkha Welfare Trust.

Predeceased by his wife in 1993, Patrick Dowling is survived by his son Michael.

Producer Patrick Dowling and Ursula Eason discuss program changes for Vision On.

Comic-Con - Tron Legacy Concept Footage Officially Released In Glorious QuickTime!!
Light Cycles!! Flynn!! Clu!! Some Poor Bastard!!

Last year, Disney stunned ComicCon by running a clip of "concept footage" (test footage) from what was then called TR2N (now Tron Legacy). This footage was shown again at yesterday's Disney panel - this time in 3D.

Since its initial presentation, we've only seen crappy, shaky cam captures of said footage on YouTube - which kinda/sorta suggested what the SSCC audience saw, but were frustrating at best. Disney has now released high quality versions of the footage, in various forms of Glorious QuickTime.

Keep in mind: this may not be final material - FX, design work, etc. may have been altered substantially between the creation of this reel and production of the film itself. Nonetheless, this is a very tantalizing glimpse at what we have in store for us late next year.


Comic-Con : James Cameron reveals Avatar's genesis

James Cameron at Comic-Con on Thursday

James Cameron can pack a lot of interview into a short walk. In between his last scheduled print interview and his walk to the television press line at San Diego Comic-Con on Thursday, Cameron agreed to answer a few questions in an exclusive interview with SCI FI Wire about his upcoming 3-D film Avatar, which garnered rave reviews from fans.

About 6,500 fans in Hall H got their first peek at the 3-D footage from Cameron's long-awaited sci-fi epic, which Cameron had previously touted to 3-D industry professionals and theater owners. Now we know what the alien Na'vi look like on the planet Pandora. With this chance to follow up on the film's story and themes, Cameron explained specifically what he's still waiting to show us on Dec. 18 and even a tidbit about the video game tie-in.

Avatar is the story of an ex-Marine who finds himself thrust into hostilities on an alien planet filled with exotic life forms. As an Avatar, a human mind in an alien body, he finds himself torn between two worlds, in a desperate fight for his own survival and that of the indigenous people. Following is an edited version of our exclusive Q&A with Cameron about his film.

As far back as The Terminator, you've made science fiction accessible to all audiences. How are you doing that in Avatar?

Well, first of all, I think you have to know that you're making science fiction for a broad audience, not a science fiction audience. I think you can do shows targeted on [Syfy] to a science fiction audience. They get all the references. They know the history. They've seen Stargate and Star Trek and they know that there are different ways of moving around, faster than light ships, wormholes, all this stuff. I don't think you can make those assumptions with a broader audience. So now you've got a twofold problem. You can either do something that would be rather pedantic to a true sci-fi fan, but the general audience is still almost lost, or you don't explain it, and they're really lost. I don't know what the answer to that is. I don't think there's a simple answer. I think you keep the narrative elements recognizable to anyone as narrative archetypes. You keep the characters very accessible. A really good example of that is Jake Sully. He's not a scientist. He doesn't understand all the stuff that's going on around him. He's explaining some thing that he's seeing. He says, "Grace explained to me what that is, and I don't really understand it, but it's something to do with superconduction, and I don't even know what that is." So he's a grunt. He's an everyman. He's also an everyman with an emotional resonation that I think audiences can relate to, which is he's got a disability. He got the disability in combat from having been a marine.

Sam Worthington, who plays Jake, said in an earlier interview that an element of the script is about bullying. How does that work into the story?

It is, it is. He's introduced in a bar at the beginning of the film. He sees a guy slap a girl, big, solid guy twice his size, plus he's in a wheelchair. He goes over and beats the crap out of him. That's the first thing you see the character do. Later, what you find is, I mean really, our cultural history for the last 5,000 years is about bullying. I've got the men, I've got the weapons, I've got the armor, I've got the ships and the cannons and all that stuff, and you don't. You've got bows and arrows. Your s--t is mine. That's how it works. That's what this country's based on, the musket versus the tomahawk. You've got the oil, we're coming. So it is a form of bullying. It's about the cultural interface and how one culture always buckles to another culture. Very seldom are we so enlightened that we're culturally inclusive of the culture that's getting hammered and displaced. So this is about a culture that fights back and says, "No, no, no. You don't get to do that."

How do you conceive of an entire race, and then individuals within that race?

It's a lot of work. You really have to think it through. You've got to find the thing that is alien and you've got to balance the thing that is alien with the thing that is recognizable, because you'll lose the audience if you just create aliens. If you create true aliens, they're not going to look like us, they're not going to think like us, the things that motivate them will be different, their emotions will be different, their culture will be so different. That will be a cool thing to do at this point but now you're making something for a very narrow hard sci-fi fan base. I'm trying to tell a love story that's got some kind of universal kind of appeal to it. So the trick was how to find the alien within the recognizable. The Banshee is a good example. Maybe it's kind of like a pterodactyl, but it's really not. It has aspects of an eagle. It has aspects of a barracuda. It has aspects of a lot of different creatures and it's neither a dragon nor a pterodactyl nor a big bat. It's its own thing but the alien within that is in the details, like the fact that it breathes through intakes in its upper chest and vents through an exhaust here so it's almost like a jet in a way. Things like that. Some of it you didn't get to see [in the footage]. The same thing with the people, with the Na'vi. We have some things that they do that are pretty darn alien, but really it was how do we find the things that remove them from human just enough to remind you that you're on another planet but still make them very accessible.

You've clearly thought of every aspect of the story and the technical production. Are you that well versed in the world of gaming as well?

Ubisoft came to us with such a strong pitch that I didn't need to sit over their shoulder all the time, but I was definitely a strong partner with them in the development of the game. Here's an example. We were all excited about stereo[scopic 3-D]. Doing a big title in stereo was really cool. We looked at their first demo scenes, and we're playing it, and it's a first person shooter. We're shooting a bow as a Na'vi. It's really cool watching the arrow go out there and hit stuff. At a certain point I said, "Guys, this is great, but should it be first person? If you're supposed to be a Na'vi, and you can't see yourself, you don't see how kind of beautiful and noble and powerful and you don't see how all your cool gear looks on you. Maybe it shouldn't be a shooter." A shooter sort of says, "I know what I look like." Anyway, we decided to change the experience to a third person over the shoulder.

Comic-Con: District 9 triumphant screening, new images

Much of the early attention at Comic-Con focused on the 20 or so minutes of James Cameron's Avatar that screened to great acclaim on Thursday to the 6,500 fans in Hall H. But a smaller group of ardent fans and journalists, including SCI FI Wire, got to screen an even more top-secret movie in its entirety: District 9, from producer Peter Jackson and newbie South African director Neill Blomkamp.

And the consensus among a small group of viewers on Thursday night was that District 9 is the sci-fi movie to beat. We can't give a formal review at this point, but we can tell you that the movie is original and unexpected, with a gritty look and visceral feel that deftly mixes complex visual effects with the grim reality of a South African slum and rocking action with deep character development. The movie combines social commentary, satire and splattery R-rated sci-fi action.

The movie deals with the arrival of a million insectoid aliens, derisively called "Prawns," in a massive ship over Johannesburg, South Africa, and the uneasy coexistence between humans and aliens 28 years later who live in the grinding poverty and violence of a township-like camp. The action is set in motion by a low-level bureaucrat, played by newcomer Sharlto Copley, who heads an armed force that enters the slum, District 9, to make way for a forced relocation of the aliens. When things take an unexpected turn, Copley's Wikus van der Merwe finds his life turned upside down, and he is forced to question his assumptions and forge an uneasy alliance with an alien and his young son.

We also got to speak exclusively with Blomkamp and to take part in a group conversation with Jackson and will be posting those interviews soon. In the meantime, we have some new images from the film, below. District 9 opens Aug. 14. (Click on the images to enlarge.)

Comic-Con Exclusive: Wanted 2 to Start Shooting in 8 Weeks

While talking to Mark Millar for Kick-Ass he revealed to us that the script for Wanted 2 is complete and that they're going to start shooting in eight weeks time.

Timur Bekmambetov is returning to direct while James McAvoy will again play Wesley Gibson.

Millar told us the sequel will revolve around the international group of assassins from issues 4 and 5 from Millar's graphic novel.

The first film, made for $75 million, earned $341.4 million worldwide in theaters.

Comic-Con: District 9 director on mixing sci-fi, slums and action

Neill Blomkamp, the fledgling director of the upcoming sci-fi action drama District 9, said the movie is an attempt to do something new: mix a Third-World setting and Hollywood-style action and visual effects.

"I grew up in that Third World environment, and all I wanted was to see those two things combined," the South African filmmaker told SCI FI Wire in an exclusive interview at Comic-Con in San Diego on Thursday. "And so District 9, really, is that. It's I grew up with all that [sci-fi] s--t, and now I'm going to put it in my hometown. And so when you decide to do that, then there's kind of a whole bunch of decisions that have to be made that will, you know, either sort of complement or be destructive to that idea. So, for example, the style of photography, in my mind, needs to be very grounded and feel very real and feel unbeautiful and sort of slightly overexposed or ... sun-bleached and just real. Almost like ... footage coming out of Afghanistan or Iraq or something. And it kind of adds to the realism of it. So it's those two topics merged together, is what the film is. Hollywood meets the real world."

The movie deals with the arrival of a million insectoid aliens, derisively called "Prawns," in a massive ship over Johannesburg, South Africa, and the uneasy co-existence 28 years later between humans and aliens who live in the grinding poverty and violence of a township-like camp. The action is set in motion by a low-level bureaucrat, played by newcomer Sharlto Copley, who heads an armed force that enters the slum, District 9, to make way for a forced relocation of the aliens. When things take an unexpected turn, Copley's Wikus van der Merwe finds his life turned upside down, and he is forced to question his assumptions and forge an uneasy alliance with an alien and his young son.

The movie came together after producer Peter Jackson brought Blomkamp in to direct a proposed feature version of the video game Halo based on the strength of Blomkamp's short films, including Alive in JoBurg, the precursor to District 9. When Halo famously fell apart in the development stages, Jackson decided that he and Blomkamp should simply develop an original movie and seized on JoBurg as the kernel of a bigger story.

Following is an edited version of our interview with Blomkamp. District 9 opens on Aug. 14. (Possible spoilers ahead!)

It started out as a short film?

It started as a short film, I guess in 2005, the end of 2005, and then I just wanted to create it, I guess, for the sake of pure creativity. Like, just do it. And so once I had completed it and it was done, I kind of, I felt that was the end of it, forever. I thought that, you know, that we were finished. And then I guess fast-forward a whole bunch of years until Halo collapsed and, uh, I was getting to leave New Zealand, and Pete Jackson and Fran asked me if I wanted to develop another film with them and just keep, you know, keep the momentum going of all the people we knew down there, and that's what happened. So once the idea was "Let's keep going, let's work on something new, what can we turn to?", Alive in JoBurg ... seemed like a really awesome place to start, yeah.

It seems like the film was maybe a metaphor of apartheid, but clearly there's more going on with the feature film than simply a critique of the South African situation.

Yeah. Yeah, that's true. I mean, yeah, I was very aware of not being heavy-handed with any sort of allegories or metaphors that were there and present in the foreground. They can be present as much as you want in the background, and provide the structure that the film can be set against, because it's an interesting social dynamic, but to have the story in the foreground be about some sort of really depressing, race-related and segregation-related topic, I thought would probably not be a good idea for my first film. So it's like, ... it sounds really bad to say, I suppose, but it's a Hollywood film, set against a really violent and destructive background.

The marketing of it has been very creative. Last year at Comic-Con they had these bug posters everywhere, "Humans only," and nobody knew what the heck it was for.

Yeah. But even before you know what it's for, you still instantly recognize the idea of segregation. Which is pretty interesting, you know? ... America has its own batch of that, I suppose. But audiences in America really responded, I think, to that kind of [idea], that instant [sign]: This water fountain is only for humans, this elevator is only for humans. I mean, it's an interesting concept. And it's really interesting if you think those are real.

Americans don't have an experience of townships, like you do in South Africa. And that raises it to a whole new level. I mean, we had internment camps for Japanese Americans during World War II and understand what a concentration camp is.

Yeah, during war.

But this will be new to a lot of Americans.

Yeah. That's a good point, actually. I've definitely thought about whether Americans will accept the film or not, because obviously I just have no idea how people are going to take it. But the way I've always thought of it is that they're going to see a film that's set in a Third World setting, but I've never really thought of the concept that they're just completely unfamiliar with townships, which I suppose other than news and documentaries and stuff is probably true. But then movies like City of God and, you know ...

I think they understand the idea of a favela, a Brazilian slum, or a barrio.

Yeah, exactly. And Mexico's next door, you know? So, yeah, the idea, it's just really more extreme poverty is what it is, and then once you grasp that, it's pretty, it just becomes about the story.

Also, it's interesting to me that you describe it as a Hollywood film, and from what little we've seen from the trailer, there is some really pretty fantastic stuff in it, with giant spaceships and robots. Talk about those elements and sort of incorporating those elements into a really gritty-looking movie.

The two topics that we're talking about bleed together into this one. Like this topic is the melting point, so you have to have the favelas, and you have the sort of slums that Americans may or may not be aware of, and then you have the Hollywood staple science fiction stuff that we all grew up on.

And you just merge them. And that is the genesis of the film. I mean, that's where the idea for the short film came from. ...

What kind of challenges does it present to take these fantastical things, which are obviously computer-generated visual effects, but make them look so real to match?

We didn't have a massive budget, which is important, but even, ... aside from not having a massive budget, one of the ingredients that probably helps that cause is just sort of an exercise in restraint, really. And if you restrain how many spaceships you're seeing and how many robots are blowing s--t up and ... how many explosions per minute are happening, if you bring that number down, you can either create a kind of more subtle but very real-feeling environment, but if you go too far, it may sort of become boring. ...

For a popcorn audience, yeah. So I was aware of that while I was doing it. But, hopefully, one of the things that makes it feel real, and of course we don't know yet how people are going to take the film, but I'm hoping if it feels like science fiction that they've seen before, but it just feels a little bit more grounded, you know, a little bit more sort of real.

People are going to think of Alien Nation, they're going to think maybe even of RoboCop in some ways.

Well, RoboCop, I f--king love RoboCop, but what do you mean, though? In terms of what, the satire?

In terms of the satire, in terms of the gritty milieu. I'm talking about the original film, the gritty, urban sort of commentary and this high-tech kind of science fiction stuff, in this slum.

Well the satire for sure, I mean, just, I love that sort of like black humor, kind of dark, satirical stuff. And there's a lot of that in District 9. There's a hell of a lot of it. RoboCop is still, on a sort of cinematic basis, it's still, you know, it's ...


Yeah, no, glossy's the wrong word, but you're going in the right direction. Like, ... it's still kind of beautiful in a way, so I'm trying to make this as unbeautiful as possible.

Comic-Con: Oldman confirms new Batman shoots in '10

Gary Oldman in The Book of Eli

During the Comic-Con panel today for Warner Brothers' The Book of Eli, Gary Oldman told attendees that shooting for the third Batman film is immiment.

"Batman will start shooting next year," he said when a fan asked how soon we would get to see another film from Christopher Nolan. "So it's two years away [from release]. But you didn't hear that from me."

Oldman declined to provide additional details, but this qualifies as one of the first public confirmations that the third Batman is going forward.

Comic-Con: 'Ripley,' sci-fi women on Hollywood's new age

Sigourney Weaver at Comic-Con

SCI FI Wire on Thursday checked out the Wonder Women: Female Power Icons in Pop Culture panel at the San Diego Comic-Con, featuring Sigourney Weaver, Zoe Saldana, Eliza Dushku and Elizabeth Mitchell.

One fan asked Weaver about taking her iconic role in Aliens. She was asked whether she was encouraged to pass up the role, since science fiction as a genre wasn't a popular place for an actress back then. "I was the one who didn't want to do science fiction," she said. "I didn't know much about science fiction." She explained that it wasn't until she met with director Ridley Scott and saw the props that she decided to do the role. "I'd never seen anything remotely like this in a movie, and I was dying to be part of it," she said, calling it a "radical little science fiction film." She talked about her theater background and said that being part of an ensemble was really important to her. And she got an amazing one to work with in Aliens: "I just got really lucky." When the fact that Ellen Ripley was voted the second greatest action figure of all time, beating out Clint Eastwood, she said, "I think she could take him."

The next question was for Lost's Elizabeth Mitchell, whose character Juliette was described as "morally slippery." About how she justifies that, she said, "I think I've always said that liars are always the best when they think they're telling the truth." She stressed that she couldn't play the character effectively if she thought she was doing something wrong. "I think that usually we think we're going towards the best thing. No one thinks they're a bad person." About her character, she said, "I ... really like complicated women. They're enticing to me." Of course, she was asked whether Juliette, who came to a bit of a messy end at the close of last season, would be back. She didn't say much, telling us, "It really depends. It depends if Jack's plan works or not. ... They told me to say it's a cliffhanger."

Saldana, who plays Uhura in the new Star Trek, was asked about playing not only an iconic and beloved character, but also one who, in the original series, broke the color barrier. Saldana said that the experience was interesting because, in the Star Trek universe, there is "no such thing as discrimination." She explained that she was allowed to be who she was without regard to sex. "To be given an opportunity to play a strong character" and "to not have to compromise your humor, your femininity" was " a humbling position for me to be in," she said. As far as the sequel, Saldana said, "The writers are germinating a very interesting idea. I couldn't be more excited. We all know how secret-y [director] J.J. [Abrams] can be. ... I know it's going to be great."

Dushku, who plays the memory-wiped character Echo on Fox's Dollhouse was teased about taking up all the good female roles in Hollywood (she plays a different character each week). She said that great female roles are all about the writers. "Ask and ye shall receive," she said. She asked creator Joss Whedon for great characters, and he gave them to her. She also said that the whole multiple-personality thing wasn't really a stretch for her.

The discussion turned to female archetypes and why it seemed to be difficult for Hollywood to create female archetypes that were as varied and distinct as the ones created for men. Weaver said that it was really about the writers not trying to create female action figures. "They are creating characters. It's really to me, about character." She continued, "Hollywood goes kind of crazy figuring out what to wear. I'm grateful that I got to wear actual clothes when I did this," referring to Aliens.

Dushku agreed, saying, "I try to play people." Still, she had no problem with using sexuality as one of the aspects of her characters. "I also think that my womanly wiles are sometimes helpful for the people I'm playing. Sexuality is something that ... can be manipulated or very disgustingly portrayed, or it can be beautiful. ... Sex is part of our society. It's a big deal. ... It's something that I embrace."

Saldana talked about not seeing it as a battle anymore, and instead focusing on creating better roles. "If we continue to see this as a battle, it will take so much energy from who we are." She said she didn't want to spend time fighting against a room full of men, convincing them that "I should wear pants to do an action scene, when they think I can do it in a skirt and hoochie boots." She added: "I think, as women, we are uniting more. We are fighing to be writers and fighting to be producers, ... to teach how a woman should be treated." Nodding to Weaver, she said, "Ellen Ripley could have been a man. ... Objectives would have been the same. ... but it happened to be a woman, thank God."

Mitchell told the audience that, "as a kid, I was always a huge sci-fi fan. That's what I loved. ... The great thing is that I loved what sci-fi could do for women. That women could be strong and vibrant." Weaver agreed, "Science fiction is sort of an investigation into what it is to be human. As you say, there are no rules. It's very much a reflection of real life." She added: "Happily in a sense, they weren't trying to control what women did in sci-fi," saying that women in the genre had sort of flown under the radar.

Of course, the Wonder Woman film, or lack thereof, was brought up. Dushku joked, "I don't think anyone wants to mess it up. ... I think there have been a few people taking passes at it," referring to Whedon's abandoned script. Saldana didn't seem to be aware of that, saying, "I think maybe they just need to find the best writer to capture what's in the comic, ... to capture the conception of who the character is."

An audience member asked about why the focus was on casting a 25-year-old and why they were thinking about Megan Fox. Saldana admitted, "I happen to have a huge crush on Megan Fox. I'm not hating on that idea. ... Sixty-year-old men want to see 25-year-old girls. Unfortunately, those are the people cutting checks. Not just in Hollywood."

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