Life of Pi

There’s something ironic about the fact that the better visual effects are, the more difficult it can be to notice them at all. At the top level, talented VFX artists create imagery so seamlessly lifelike that the average moviegoer isn’t even aware that the fantastical creatures and majestic landscapes they’re watching were painstakingly crafted on a computer, not captured in reality.

What’s really unfortunate, though, is that these workers aren’t just overlooked by the audience but also by the industry they work for. About a year ago, the issue reached a boiling point when effects house Rhythm & Hues picked up the Best Visual Effects Oscar for Life of Pi, two weeks after it had filed for bankruptcy.

The new documentary short Life After Pi takes a good hard look at the broken system that sank Rhythm & Hues, even as the film they’d made possible went on to make five times its production budget at the global box office. Life After Pi is now available online, and you can watch it in its entirety after the jump.

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Life of Pi

February 2013 was a bittersweet month for the visual effects house Rhythm & Hues. Due to the increased cost of effects-based work in Hollywood and the competitive nature of the business, they were forced to declare bankruptcy, fire hundreds of people and close up shop. Two weeks later, the company was given the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects for their work in Ang Lee’s Life of Pi. The closing spawned tons of protests around Hollywood. How could the best visual effects house not be making any money?

That question has become a fundamental issue within Hollywood, and Rhythm & Hues employees used the unique and upsetting occasion to make a short documentary called Life After Pi. The trailer is out now and the full length short will be released online February 25. Eventually, it’ll be used in a feature length documentary called Hollywood Ending which explores “why the movie capital of the world is forcing filmmakers to leave.”  Read More »

Life of Pi

Ever wanted to spend an afternoon visiting the museum of Night at the Museum or grappling with the xenomorphs from Alien? You may be able to soon, provided you’re willing to travel to Malaysia.

20th Century Fox is partnering with property conglomerate Genting Malaysia to open its first theme park, featuring attractions based on the aforementioned Night at the Museum and Alien along with several other Fox titles. The park is expected to open doors in 2016. Hit the jump for the details.

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"The Secret Life of Walter Mitty"

Last year at CinemaCon, 20th Century Fox previewed very early footage for Ang Lee’s Life of Pi. Attendees at the presentation were floored, and the buzz on all the blogs was that Pi was an Oscar contender. Some argued that April was too early to be calling for possible Oscar contenders, and they were probably right. We all know how that turned out.

This year Fox arrived in Vegas bearing another special preview: between fifteen and twenty minutes of the Ben Stiller-directed The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. (Stiller also stars.) Again, it’s April, it’s too early to make such claims, but the Oscar buzz has begun.

After the jump you can read my thoughts on the footage screened from Mitty, or watch a video blog I recorded with Alex from Firstshowing talking about presentations of footage from The Wolverine, Epic, How to Train Your Dragon 2 and Walking With Dinosaurs: The Movie.
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On Sunday Ang Lee took the Best Director Oscar for Life of Pi, which also won three other awards, making it the big Oscar winner this year. But what of the more than 400 visual effects employees who spent Sunday protesting business practices that make VFX work a losing proposition for many artists?

The Oscar wins come, ironically, at a very difficult time for one of the companies most directly responsible for the movie’s success: Rhythm & Hues, the effects house that filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection just a week ago. Lee didn’t mention the company by name in his speech, or thank the artists who brought his film to life.

That bankruptcy highlights a big issue in Hollywood: films are ever-more dependent upon digital effects, but often treats the process of their creation like the work of a sweatshop. (See the Tumblr Before VFX for many examples of familiar scenes without their effects.) Claudio Miranda won the Best Cinematography Oscar for Life of Pi, but much of what we see in the film is the work of CG artists. Many of the film’s waves, skies, and animals, including the tiger Richard Parker, are digital. Miranda may have broadly overseen the creation of effects, but he didn’t point a camera at some of the film’s signature elements.

The men who oversaw creation of those digital elements did get honored, but also took a heavy backhand from the Oscar producers. Just as Life of Pi VFX Supervisor Bill Westenhofer was trying to bring up the trouble Rhythm & Hues faces as part of his award acceptance speech, he was rushed off the Oscar stage with the theme from Jaws. His mic was even cut off. That moment was an ugly metaphor for exactly what the VFX industry is angry about: the people who create the elements big-budget movies rely on for success get no voice, and no respect.

(If you see Facebook and Twitter icons going green this week, that’s in support of VFX artists.)

So what’s happening in the visual effects segment of the movie industry, and what was the protest about? After the break we’ll break down the issues facing effects companies, and explain the reason that imposition of the Jaws theme was so ironically ugly.

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There’s no better place than the Oscars to see all your favorite movie stars assembled in one place, but the trailer for Jimmy Kimmel‘s Movie: The Movie V2 might be a close second.

In his post-Oscars show last year, Kimmel debuted an epic, star-studded 9-minute trailer poking fun at every obnoxious movie trope under the sun. This year, he’s back with an even more epic, even more star-studded trailer for Movie: The Movie V2. Because as Kimmel quips, “When you have a big success in Hollywood, there’s only one reasonable thing you can do, and that is cheapen it with a sequel.”

Watch Movie: The Movie V2 after the jump, followed by Kimmel’s other big movie parody, Life of Psy. Yup, that’s exactly what it sounds like.

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Here are the winners of the 85th Oscars. It was a rather strange year, with only the sixth tie in the history of the awards (for Sound Editing) an excess of references to Chicago, and a surprise win in the Best Director category for Ang Lee. (And those who expected Jessica Chastain to take the Best Actress award were surprised by Jennifer Lawrence winning the award, for Silver Linings Playbook.) Lee’s Life of Pi actually ended up being the night’s big winner, with four Oscars.

As expected, Ben Affleck‘s Argo took Best Picture, with producer Grant Heslov taking the opportunity to really highlight Affleck (also a producer) and give the director time to have the mic. And though the event was hosted by a comedian, Best Actor winner Daniel Day Lewis made the best jokes of the night — surprise, surprise, the guy was better than everyone else in the room.

For more commentary check out the night’s live blogRead More »

In a weird way, special effects are never less noticeable than when they’re done really well. The best artists are able to blend the real and the unreal so seamlessly that it’s all but impossible to tell where one ends and the other begins. So it’s cool to get a chance to see the painstaking labor that goes into enhancing these films, as we do in two new VFX reels for Looper and The Hobbit.

In a similar vein, we also have behind-the-scenes featurettes from Brave and Life of Pi, which not only explore the making-of processes but also offer commentary from directors Mark Andrews and Ang Lee (respectively). Watch all four videos after the jump.

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