Monday, March 13, 2023

"Men in Black" and What's in the Frame

watch on YouTube

A lovely example of "what's in the frame is the entire universe" from "Men in Black" (1997). Look how director Barry Sonnenfeld sets up the scene - Agents K and J pull over Reggie in broad daylight. Then the camera dollys a few feet to reveal his wife in labor in the back seat. The narrator (the camera) didn't want you to see her until just the right time.

Of course the Agents would have seen her as they walked up to the car. But the camera movement reveal is what makes it funny.

A Twitter thread of other examples:

Monday, March 06, 2023

Vulture - The Stunt Awards

I was thrilled to be a part of Vulture's inaugural "The Stunt Awards".

The folks at Vulture, like myself, believe strongly in the art and craft of stunt professionals, and find it bizarre there's no Academy Award for this important part of Hollywood storytelling.

Enter: The Stunt Awards, created from a desire to not only highlight great stunt work over the past year (and there was great stunt work this year), but to underscore the obvious awards-worthiness of action storytelling. To do so, we created our own academy of voters, a combination of stunt professionals, filmmakers, cinematographers, visual effects artists, and critics. They considered stunt work in feature-length films released between January 1, 2022, and December 31, 2022, appraising individuals scenes and performances, as well as movies on the whole, across 10 different categories. A smaller group of consultants including Gill, director and writer Liam O’Donnell, stunt coordinator and second unit director Angelica Lisk-Hann, and visual effects artist Todd Vaziri helped us to decide what those categories would be — making clear that aerial and vehicular feats deserve to be distinctly celebrated, and that great fights and great shoot-outs are their own art forms. Importantly, this group emphasized that stunts did not need to be purely practical to qualify for our awards. The massive fight sequence that serves as actor Ram Charan’s introduction in RRR, for example, might have involved VFX, but it took 35 days to actually film.

Thanks to Bilge Ebiri and Brandon Streussnig for inviting me to the team. It was a blast to discuss the stuntwork of 2022, and also help them sift through the grey area between physical stunts and digital visual effects. The final piece is terrific.

The nominations announcement:

The winner's announcement:


Sunday, March 05, 2023

Oscar Pool Ballot, 95th Academy Awards

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

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

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

Download the ballot here for the 95th Academy Awards and use it at your Oscar party.

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

Saturday, February 25, 2023

An Ongoing List of Directors Positively Acknowledging Visual Effects

Over on social media, I provide an extensive and exhaustive chronicle of movie directors and studios denigrating, marginalizing, and outright insulting the visual effects crews of their own films.

I want to do a better job of chronicling the positive: the lovely, fleeting moments of Hollywood leadership actually publicly acknowledging and praising the digital visual effects work in their films and the people who create the work. 

Have you seen a studio, producer or a director specifically praising the people and work behind the visual effects of their film? Send me a link - .

2023, Rian Johnson and "Poker Face"

Here's "Poker Face" showrunner Rian Johnson talking about the show's visual effects, calling out supervisor Craig Clarke and the visual effects houses that contributed to the show.

2023, John Francis Daley and "Dungeons and Dragons"

I served as ILM's compositing supervisor on "Dungeons and Dragons" (2023) and directors John Francis Daley and Jonathan Goldstein were fantastic partners on the movie. 

original tweet:

2023, Craig Mazin and "The Last of Us"

Writer and producer Craig Mazin was extremely complementary of the visual effects work on "Chernobyl" on his podcast Scriptnotes, and even dedicated an episode of the show to a discussion about visual effects. In Scriptnotes 588, Mazin goes out of his way to praise the visual effects artists of his show "The Last of Us".

watch on YouTube

original tweet:

2023, Jim Cameron and Jon Landau, "Avatar: The Way of Water"

I wrote about how director Cameron and producer Landau were public and supportive of their visual effects teams on the night of the Visual Effects Society Awards in 2023. See also Landau calling into Corridor Crew's VFX Artists React video.

original tweet:

Thursday, February 23, 2023

Box Office Breakdown of MPAA Ratings, 1980-2022

note: This is an update to an old post, which has a lot of cool links to articles concerning the historical link between MPAA rating and box office performance.

I'm really proud of my original post, which looked at the percentage of the top ten films at the domestic box office as they relate to the films' MPAA ratings. I've always felt that the dominance of PG live-action movies had been waning (taken over by PG-13) hits, and it was reassuring to see that feeling accurately play out in chart form.

The chart above adds years 2016-2022, which saw a staggering increase in PG-13 domination, culminating in 2021 and 2022 where PG-13 films made up a 93% and 86% of the top ten box office dollars, respectively.

The gigantic 2021 PG-13 percentage was fueled by five PG-13 superhero movies, "F9", "No Time to Die" and "Ghostbusters: Afterlife". That's nine of the top ten films at the box office; the sole non-PG-13 film in the top ten was "Sing 2".

But look what happened in the truncated, abbreviated, all-around-crummy year of 2020: 41% of the top ten's box office was from R-rated films! The top film of 2020 was "Bad Boys for Life" which was rated R, and there were impressive showings from fellow R-rated movies "Birds of Prey" and "The Invisible Man". Granted, due to the pandemic the severely-constricted box office for the top ten films of 2020 was about 1/5 of the 2019 top ten, which included hits like "Avengers: Endgame", "The Lion King", and "The Rise of Skywalker".

That said, 2020's performance of R-rated films was the highest percentage since 1988 when "Rain Man", "Coming to America", "Die Hard" and "Cocktail" dominated the box office (42%). In 1996 when R-rated fare like "Jerry Maguire", "Ransom", "The Rock", "The Birdcage" and "A Time to Kill", restricted films made up 39% of the top ten box office.

The year which saw the highest percentage of R-rated hits in the top ten was 1987, where movies like "Fatal Attraction", "Beverly Hills Cop II", "Good Morning, Vietnam", "The Untouchables", "Stakeout", "Lethal Weapon" and "The Witches of Eastwick" made up for a staggering 70% of the top ten box office.

Sunday, February 19, 2023

Fake "Before and After" Images and Color Timing

Criticize a finished movie all you want but please don’t make pretend “before and after” split screen images to stoke anger about color timing. The discourse is bad enough as it is.

The top image is a production still taken with a still camera and processed and color corrected for the express purpose of looking good as a production still (to be used online, magazines and newspapers). The bottom image is an altered frame from the trailer(?), which typically has different color timing choices than the final film. Of course, the original poster doesn't care about any of this.

It's very easy to make fake before/after images. See?

Also, please define "before" to me, either with film acquisition or digital acquisition. (There is no "before". There's only "the image as it has been handed to me by the previous step in the image pipeline".)

A while back someone tried to do a "gotcha!" tweet comparing the original "Halloween" (1978) and a grab from the trailer of "Halloween Ends" (2022). The original tweet is no longer online because the author has protected their tweets. This was their "comparison image", complaining how ugly the new movie looks:

I wrote:

[screenshot from 30-year old masterpiece, one of the most beautiful movies ever filmed]

[screenshot from random modern shitty movie gamma’d up]

look how fuckin ugly movies are today

But it wasn't even a fair comparison, since their "Halloween" screengrab was artificially brightened, and the screengrab from the "Ends" trailer" was decontrasted and brightened falsely.

Below is a good faith comparison of a production still (made by a still photographer corrected for use on the web/newspaper/magazine) and the finished MOVIE frame. Very different images made for very different uses.

original "Ant-Man 3" tweet:

original "Halloween Ends" tweet:

"Pitch Black" (2000) and its Post-Release Persona

At left, the original poster for "Pitch Black". At right, the retrofitted key art which now includes the star's name, and the 'Chronicles of Riddick' tag to indicate it's part of a film saga. A bit of a difference.

"Pitch Black" (2000) is a great movie.

The film is an ensemble piece that has beautiful design, genuinely shocking moments, and authentic characters. It's a surprisingly grown-up science fiction film.

I think it also suffers from the fact that one of the ensemble became an international star who headlined the (ugh) sequels, which--I think--puts off folks from seeing the original for the first time. Rather than the film positioned as a gorgeous one-off ensemble piece, it's been unfairly retrofitted as "the first film in the superstar's saga", which isn't fair to the movie. Part of the mystery of the first film is genuine uncertainty of alliances or survival.

Anyway, we joke a lot about 'sequels ruining the original', but in this case I'm kinda on board with it because the mere existence of the sequels reshapes how potential audiences view the first one. New viewers push PLAY are 'waiting for the superstar' to do their thing.

Original tweet:

Saturday, February 18, 2023

"Goodfellas" Prop Fail

view on YouTube

I... never noticed this before. This has less to do with a "fail" and more to do with "where does the audience's eyes track, per-shot".

"Goodfellas" (1990).

update: Ryan Butterworth on Mastodon says the license plate prop falling off the real license plate has been painted and 'fixed' in the 4K edition of "Goodfellas". The official statement from Todd Vaziri Incorporated is that fixing stuff like this is incredibly dumb and whoever asked for this to be fixed is wrong.

Monday, January 23, 2023

"M*A*S*H" Tidbits


File this under things "only Todd" thinks about.

I was thinking about "M*A*S*H" s08e11, the 'real time' episode with the ever-present clock in the lower right corner of the screen. When comparing my DVDs (which are faithful representations of what was aired on CBS) and the Hulu HD remastered versions of the episodes, I noticed a few things.

As created in 1979, the clock in the episode must have been a video effect (as opposed to a film optical) placed over the conformed film edit. For the HD remaster, which features per-shot reframes, they created a new burn-in of the clock.

left: HD remaster on Hulu, right: the original way it was seen on CBS

I'll do you one more. s07e04 was a "clip" show. As aired, Fox clearly cut together video segments of a bad CBS telecine which included the stupid laugh track. For the HD remaster, they actually RE-CUT the clips from the previously remastered episodes. Bravo, Fox!

In addition, as aired, the black and white sections and the titles were clearly video effects. The Fox HD remastered version properly pillarboxes the black and white material, but didn't reconstruct the video composite using the camera negative. They would have had to create new titles, as well. So I understand the decision.

left: HD remaster on Hulu, right: the original way it was seen on CBS

left: HD remaster on Hulu, right: the original way it was seen on CBS


Saturday, January 21, 2023

"Heat" Alternate Edit of the Coffee Shop Scene

view on YouTube

Fellow "Heat" (1995) fans - I just found an amazing Easter Egg on the Blu-ray. It's an early edit of the infamous Pacino/De Niro coffee shop scene, created early in the film's production when director Michael Mann wanted the scene to be shorter and have a lot less dialogue. It's much moodier and more threatening than the final version, if you ask me.

Thursday, January 19, 2023

Success is Proof of Failure

The tweet you see above is an absolutely perfect example of how the success of plausibility and believability of modern digital effects is used by bozos as evidence that "CGI sucks".

Because the suit in the "Iron Man" (2008) shot they're referring to is computer graphics, not a physical suit.

Another beautiful, chef's kiss example:

"Nope" was shot on film—the day-for-night material was shot on film AND digital infrared simultaneously, which were combined in the digital intermediate and every single sky in the movie [except one] was computer graphics/digital paintings.

Friday, January 13, 2023

TV Shows in High Definition

"Columbo" s02e04, in HD as it appears on Peacock

Important context for the discussion of "how easy is it to remaster an old TV show in HD?"

Old TV shows that were shot on film, edited and conformed on film:

  • Knight Rider
  • Columbo
  • Murder, She Wrote
  • M*A*S*H
  • The Love Boat
  • V

Old TV shows that were shot on film, edited and conformed on video:

  • Frasier
  • Scrubs
  • Star Trek: The Next Generation
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
  • Friends
  • Seinfeld

Shows shot on film & edited and conformed on film -- the path to an HD restoration is straightforward. A scan of the already edited and conformed negative. Yes, color balancing and fixes are required.

"Star Trek: Deep Space Nine" s01e09, in standard definition as it appears on Paramount+

Shows shot on film but edited and conformed on video -- the path to an HD restoration is much more difficult. All filmed material needs to be scanned and that means hunting through original camera negatives. Then the whole show has to be reedited. MUCH MUCH MUCH more complicated.

Another complication for shows "shot on film but edited and conformed on video" - visual effects. The visual effects were finished at VIDEO RESOLUTION, while the rest of the live-action for the show was captured on film. The choices at this point are:

  •  upscale the video resolution visual effects (720x480) to HD (1440x1080)
  •  redo the visual effects from scratch at HD

The former is cheap and is generally unacceptable. The latter is very expensive and time consuming but looks much better.

This is why shows like "The Love Boat" made for a relatively easy HD transition, and shows like "Star Trek: The Next Generation" took years and millions of dollars to go to HD, and why we may never see "Scrubs" and "Star Trek: Deep Space Nine" in HD.

original Mastodon thread:

Saturday, January 07, 2023

"Captain Phillips" on HBO Max Has Broken Subtitles

Looks like the on-screen subtitles of Somali dialogue in “Captain Phillips” (2013) are broken on HBO Max in the U.S. Scenes in Somalia feature no on-screen subtitles (even when English CC is ON), unlike the English Blu-ray and DVD versions of the film which show the lines of dialogue in English.

Most likely, this is similar to the "Schindler's List" issue on Peacock (which has since been fixed!). The issue: two versions of the English-language-native movie are made available to the streaming service, a textless version for international use, and a version with English subtitles where appropriate burned into the movie (as was seen in English movie theaters upon initial release).

The textless version of the movie is used for streatming in non-English localities and the local language is subtitled with on-the-fly on screen graphics. The problem might be that HBO Max is serving the textless version of the film for English localities, like the United States.

view on YouTube

Originally pointed out by @FifthCrichton 

update Jan 8 2023: HBO Max has replicated the issue and has opened a ticket for it to be fixed.

Original tweet:

update Mar 24 2023: HBO Max has fixed the problem!

Friday, January 06, 2023

New Rule: No New 4K Releases Until...

New rule (if I was in charge): a movie studio can’t release any 4K titles of their already-in-HD movies from their catalog until every single film they own the rights to has a solid HD release.

This is self-explanatory.

Original Mastodon post: 

"Why does OLD MOVIE's visual effects still hold up?"

"Why does OLD MOVIE's visual effects still hold up?"

  • shot design
  • planning and organization
  • taste
  • sticking to a plan
  • appropriate timeline
  • small volume of work
  • appropriate budget

These principles are timeless.

If you think a visual effects shot looks like crap, the people involved with the movie can point to one or more of these bullet points to indicate the reason.

Please note how none of these bullet points are about technique because making good art is technique-agnostic.

Original tweet: