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The_Hollywood_Reporter__February_07_2018

‘I NEVER IMAGINED I

‘I NEVER IMAGINED I COULD BE KOBE BRYANT’ Two men in transition — a 38-year Disney animator who’d worked on The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast and an NBA great — found common ground and a shared new purpose with animated short nominee Dear Basketball By Glen Keane, as told to Mia Galuppo Ihad left Disney after nearly 40 years there, and since then I had been focusing on personal, expressive films. Kobe had seen this film I did for Google, Duet, and he contacted one of the executive producers, and she set up a meeting. He came in to our tiny studio in West Hollywood, which is just in a duplex, and it was so surreal. He drives up in a big black Suburban, and he is just in our neighborhood. Kobe Bryant! Kobe loves animation; he is an animation geek. So he walked in and was standing in our little dining room — but it is actually our story room — and he looked around at the drawings and storyboards and little things on the wall, and I’m Keane thinking, “Oh boy, here it comes.” And he says, “This is perfect. This is what I want.” We crowded into my little office in the back and connected over things we had in common. For me, it was leaving a career at Disney, which was so much a part of me, and for Kobe it was leaving behind the Lakers. We talked about doing something together but didn’t know exactly what it would be. Before Kobe retired, he wrote this letter, “Dear Basketball,” and he called me and asked me if I would be interested in animating it. He goes, “I have my friend John Williams who is going to do the music.” And I go, “Oh, that would be really wonderful.” Right after his last game [in 2016], where he scored 60 points and my son and I were in our little studio screaming our heads off, he texted and said, “Let’s do this.” I told Kobe, “You’ve got the worst basketball player on earth animating you.” He said that it was OK because everything I would learn about basketball was going to come through studying him. So Kobe came over, and we downloaded YouTube’s “Top 20 Kobe Bryant Plays” and stop-framed through every one while Kobe talked about what was happening on the court. My mentor — one of Disney’s Nine Old Men — Ollie Johnston told me, “Glen, don’t animate what the character is doing — animate what the character is thinking.” So we talked Toon Contenders GARDEN PARTY A gang of frogs at a luxurious villa uncover the human owner’s whereabouts. NEGATIVE SPACE An often-away father bonds with his son by teaching him how to pack. LOU In this Pixar short, a creature made of lost-and-found items attempts to mentor a bully. REVOLTING RHYMES Roald Dahl’s darker take on Snow White, Red Riding Hood and more fairy tales. about what was going on on the inside. Kobe has an incredible emotional memory of how he was feeling during the plays. Any time you are animating, you are living in the skin of your character. For me, I’ve been a mermaid and a beast, but I never imagined I could be Kobe Bryant. DEAR: COURTESY OF GUNPOWDER & SKY. KEANE: THEO WARGO/GETTY IMAGES FOR TRIBECA FILM FESTIVAL. GARDEN: COURTESY OF MOPA. LOU: DISNEY/PIXAR. NEGATIVE: COURTESY OF IKKI FILMS & MANUEL CAM STUDIO. RHYMES: COURTESY OF GKIDS. DEKALB: COURTESY OF REED VAN DYK. ELEVEN: COURTESY OF FINCH COMPANY. NEPHEW: COURTESY OF JOE ZAKKO. HOUSTON: AP PHOTO/GEORGE BRICH. ERLAND: VALERIE MACON/GETTY IMAGES. LORD: PIERRE VINET/NEW LINE CINEMA/PHOTOFEST. LETTERI: DIA DIPASUPIL/GETTY IMAGES FOR SCAD. SILENT, WATU: COURTESY OF LONDON FLAIR PR. Real-Life Action Several of this year’s live-action short nominees were inspired by true events, while others tackle complicated relationships By Rebecca Ford DEKALB ELEMENTARY Inspired by a real 911 call during a school shooting in Atlanta, the film follows a man who enters an elementary school with a semiautomatic rifle. THE ELEVEN O’CLOCK This Australian short is set during a session between a psychiatrist and a patient (who is convinced he is the doctor). MY NEPHEW EMMETT A 64-year-old African-American man tries to protect his 14-year-old nephew, Emmett Till, from two white men who invade his home. THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER 72 FEBRUARY 7, 2018

Academy Sci-Tech Awards Feb. 10 Beverly Wilshire Hotel A VFX MASTER ISSUES A WARNING Jonathan Erland, this year’s recipient of the Gordon E. Sawyer Award, worries that the overuse of visual effects doesn’t always serve storytellers By Carolyn Giardina C inema is going through massive changes,” acknowledges visual effects technologist Jonathan Erland, who will receive the Gordon E. Sawyer Award, an Oscar statuette, at the Academy’s Scientific and Technical Awards on Feb. 10 at the Beverly Wilshire Hotel. “But then, 100 years ago things were technically in a state of chaos, and it’s interesting that 100 years later they are in a state of chaos.” The innovator himself personally has witnessed many of those changes. The U.K.-born Erland, 78, initially trained as an actor — he appeared in the 1965 pilot for TV’s The Man From U.N.C.L.E. — but soon transferred into effects work. He was part of the team that created the Charles Eamesdesigned audio animatronic puppet theaters for the I.B.M. Pavilion at the 1964 New York World’s Fair, and he also worked as a miniatures model-builder during production of 1977’s Star Wars. In addition to serving on the Academy’s board of governors, he was a founding member of the Academy Science and Technology Council and has been honored with two previous Sci-Tech awards. Erland welcomes the newest technologies, citing developing laser projectors that enable high-dynamic-range imagery as well as the potential for variable frame rates that give the cinematographer a broader range of creative tools. But he also issues a warning — today’s movies use too many razzle-dazzle visual effects Erland too indiscriminately. “The VFX world, which is capable of some quite extraordinary accomplishments in terms of putting images on the screen, is suffering somewhat from what I would call the commodification of VFX,” he says. “So you see films with a lot of VFX in which the VFX are not necessarily advancing the storytelling. That’s a shame. It’s more effective when a very powerful art form like VFX is being used to enhance the storytelling process.” Fresh off Star Wars in 1977, Erland (center) and fellow model makers Paul Houston (left) and Lorne Peterson created spaceships for TV’s Space Academy. HOW DINOSAURS LED TO CREATING GOLLUM The wizardly Joe Letteri, busy with all those Avatar sequels, will be honored with the Visual Effects Society’s George Melies Award King Kong. The Lord of the Rings’ Gollum. Avatar’s Neytiri. The Planet of the Apes’ Caesar. These are just some of the iconic digitally created characters that have been brought to the screen with the help of Joe Letteri, four-time Oscar winner, Weta Digital’s senior VFX supervisor and 2018’s recipient of the Visual Effects Society’s Georges Melies Award. In fact, it was the opportunity to play a role in creating the tragic Gollum that brought Letteri, 60, to Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings. He had worked as a CG artist on 1993’s Jurassic Park, where, he explains, “I became interested in what made something like a dinosaur look realistic — some of that was the detail that you see in the dinosaur skin. I also started learning about cinematography and lighting.” Seeing those creatures come alive onscreen, he realized the next step was to use similar techniques to create a character, and “Gollum was the perfect opportunity to do that.” While Gollum started with Andy Serkis’ performance capture, the challenge for Letteri was “creating a facial performance that would believably convey human expressions. I had never had to work with a character that was so humanlike, delivering a compelling performance onscreen right next to other actors.” His work on Avatar took it all one step further, since performance capture was combined with virtual production while the actors were effectively working with digital sets, allowing director James Cameron to shoot as if he were filming a live-action movie. On the upcoming Avatar sequels, the process has become “more integrated than anything we have been able to do in the past and is a much more realistic representation of being in that world,” says Letteri. “That’s great for the actors, great for the director, and it’s great for us because we know what the film is that we’re trying to make.” Having set the bar more than once, Letteri admits that it now keeps getting raised higher. “If you could do one Gollum, you must be able to do a whole planet full,” he notes. “Figure out how to do something new, and it quickly expands into having to do lots of them. That’s still hard to do; it’s still a very artist-dependent medium.” — C.G. 16th Visual Effects Society Awards Feb. 13 The Beverly Hilton Lifetime Achievement Award Jon Favreau THE SILENT CHILD A deaf 4-year-old, isolated from the world and her hearing family, is taught sign language by a caring social worker. WATU WOTE: ALL OF US The Kenya-set tale follows bus passengers who are attacked by a terrorist group demanding the Muslim passengers identify the Christian onboard. Letteri THE HOLLYWOOD REPORTER 73 FEBRUARY 7, 2018

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