Sunday, October 14, 2018

"Caddyshack" Long Lens Focus

A shot from "Caddyshack" (1980), filmed with a long lens, with a dramatic focus change. The same shot at 8x speed.

Friday, September 21, 2018

Robert Patrick, "T2" and Blinking

For "Terminator 2: Judgment Day" (1991), Robert Patrick learned how to fire a gun without blinking, to prepare for his role as the T-1000, a killer robot.

🎥 4 shots
🤖 16 rounds
👁 1 blink

The GIF at the top of this post is real-time, as it was seen in the film. If It Were Made Today™: would still have Patrick train to fire the weapon without blinking; the one blink in this sequence could be digitally painted out by a talented paint artist.

Original tweet. 

Thursday, September 20, 2018

A Cold Open for "Better Call Saul"

The cold open montage from “Better Call Saul” S4E07 is one for the ages. A narrative and technical masterpiece.

✂️ Edited by Skip Macdonald
⌨️ Written by Alison Tatlock
🎥 Directed by Deborah Chow

original tweet

Apple Event Film 2018 vs. "Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol"

While the music was from “Fallout”, the inspiration for Apple’s terrific opening film for the iPhone event was clearly “Mission: Impossible - Ghost Protocol”.

direct YouTube link

Monday, September 17, 2018

Twitter and Quote Tweets

Seems to me that Twitter should allow users to easily be able to view all "Quote Tweets", just like users can easily list a Tweet's Likes and Retweets.

My quick and dirty mockup of how Twitter could implement Quote Tweet tracking. Clicking on the "Quote Tweets" gives you all the instances, which is just a Twitter search for the URL of the original Tweet. This seems like low-hanging fruit.

My original tweet.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

The Birth of Sandman

For my money, one of the great visual effects shots of all time. "Spider-Man 3" (2007), with visual effects by Sony Pictures Imageworks.

direct YouTube link

Thursday, September 13, 2018

When You "Buy" a Movie on iTunes

There's been a lot of chatter about what exactly does it mean to "buy" a movie from iTunes, Amazon Prime Video, or any of the other online movie services.

Rene Ritchie says that when iTunes severs a licensing agreement for a particular film, the film disappears from the iTunes Store. You can no longer stream the film from Apple servers, even if you "bought" it. (However, if at some point you had downloaded the movie to your Mac/iPhone, you would still be able to watch that movie, even after it leaves the store, apparently.)

If Apple (and Amazon Prime Video, Comcast, etc.) were a little more honest about what it meant to "Buy" a movie on their service, I think the user interface buttons would look a little different.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

An Editing Trick in "Terminator 2" and "The Road Warrior"

To add impact to a shocking moment of extreme violence, director Jim Cameron and the editors of "Terminator 2" used a very old-fashioned, low-tech editing trick.

A single frame of solid white was added into the edit precisely at the moment of impact. Nestled within a predominantly dark sequence, the quick 1/24th-of-a-second flash of bright light shocks the audience and makes the moment that much more striking.

"Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior" (1982): another example of adding a single bright frame in the middle of the edit to intensify a moment of personal violence.

Unlike the "T2" example, the frame is a single frame of overexposure (rather than a white solid color).

There's also jump cut to a different take a just before the head butt, which is hardly noticeable in real-time, especially with the added subsequent flash frame.

Another example from "The Road Warrior", again with a single frame of overexposure to punctuate the impact.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

The Myth of the "Jaws" Shooting Star

The GIFs below were part of a Tweetstorm where I attempted to debunk the whole "the Jaws shooting stars were real and actually happened on camera" mythology. These read better as tweets than as a blog post, so see the thread here, if you want.

All these "Jaws" tweets reminds me to dig up my half-finished project files debunking the whole "those shooting stars were real" myth.

A'ight , I'm just going to post these in their current state, w/no context. I planned to talk day-for-night, fast lenses, film stock, exposure of stars, depth of field, motion blur, tracking, hand-drawn animation composited into live-action... but nobody's got time for that.

I planned to talk day-for-night, fast lenses, film stock, exposure of stars, depth of field, motion blur, tracking, hand-drawn animation composited into live-action... but nobody's got time for that.

For more reactions, visit the original Twitter thread.

Motion Smoothing is Bad

Just about every single TV sold in the U.S. has ‘motion smoothing’ switched on by default.

The TV attempts to create additional temporal frames, to make the motion feel “smoother” and less jerky. This makes movies (shot and projected at 24fps) appear smeary and wrong.

Films seen on a TV with motion smoothing on are not being presented properly. The “new” look changes the emotional impact of every single scene. This is not how the film was intended to be seen; this is similar to the appalling process of colorizing black & white films.

Check out the Twitter hashtag #tvninja - a TV ninja is someone who stealthily turns off motion smoothing on a TV owned by friends, relatives, or Airbnb.

Directors who have publicly fought motion smoothing include Reed Morano and Rian Johnson, who, as far as I know, came up with the hashtag #tvninja.

More, please.

Christopher Nolan and Paul Thomas Anderson Battling TV Motion Smoothing

Motion smoothing goes by many different names (Auto Motion Plus, TruMotion, etc.). Turn it off. Here's a great blog post by Stu Maschwitz from 2011 properly titled, "Your New TV Ruins Movies".

"Darth Vader Being a Jerk", HD Restoration

I made a Special Edition High Definition restoration of Doomblake's video, "Darth Vader being a Jerk."

direct link to YouTube

I used an HD source of "The Empire Strikes Back" and did a frame-by-frame restoration of Doomblake's edit. Later, I realized I messed up one of the edits (a second cut to Piett), but I liked my cutaway to Veers more, so I kept it. Making arbitrary changes to source material is a Star Wars Special Edition trademark, so why not continue that tradition. I also added titles, and an actual introduction and conclusion. The audio of the new sequences is mine, but the audio from Doomblake's amazing editing is pure Doomblake.

Update: Doomblake deleted her/his YouTube account, but the good news is that I kept an archive copy of the clip.

A Low-Tech Effects Shot from "Mission: Impossible III"

This is one of director J.J. Abrams' favorite visual effects shots from his film, "Mission: Impossible III". Rather than have actor Eddie Marsan forcibly shove the prop into Tom Cruise's nose, J.J. came up with a different idea on how to accomplish the shot.

direct link to YouTube

Watch his full TED talk from March 2007 here.

Interview with "Rogue One" Animation Supervisor Hal Hickel

Hal Hickel, promoting "Rogue One" on home video, with Alan Tudyk (voice of K-2SO)

If you want to hear a fun interview with ILM animation supervisor Hal Hickel, check out his appearance on the podcast Talking Bay 94, episode 15. Hal talks about his career, how we made Tarkin and Leia for "Rogue One", and about those amazing Yoda “Empire” tests that I’ve seen with my own eyes.

Overcast link:

iTunes link:

Monday, September 10, 2018

The Cinematography of "Jaws"

I read this somewhere.

In an attempt to answer the question "What is great cinematography?", a solid answer is "if you can jump to any random frame of the movie and it looks *good*, THAT'S great cinematography." 

So I tried that with "Jaws" (1975):

"Jaws" cinematographer Bill Butler was nominated for an Oscar for his work on "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" that same year (1975). He shared the Oscar nomination with Haskell Wexler.

Tuesday, September 04, 2018

Comparing the Color of Two "Halloween" Blu-ray Editions

Whenever there’s a chance to do an apples-to-apples comparison of something related to the art and science of filmmaking, I’ll jump on it.

“Halloween” (1978) has seen approximately 70,000 different home video releases, including multiple iterations on DVD and Blu-ray. I personally own two versions of the movie on Blu-ray: a 2007 release, and a 2013 release, which touts a new HD transfer supervised and approved by the film’s original cinematographer, Dean Cundey.

Rarely do studios use the name of a crewmember to help sell a new pressing of a library film. Intrigued, I wondered exactly how different could the color grading would look, with an apples-to-apples comparison to the 2007 Blu-ray release of the film. I randomly chose frames from the film to compare; I didn’t specifically seek out dramatically different color grades.

Usually when a film-to-digital transfer is completed without the involvement of the original filmmakers, educated guesses (based on the cinematic memory of whoever is behind the controls, the best film prints available, old transfers, etc.) must dictate the exposure and color choices that are required to be made. Color grading (and film-to-digital transfers) are completely subjective; in the end, “what should the film look like?” dictates how saturated, bright or contrasty the movie appears. These are creative decisions.

Even though the discrepancies between the transfers are, at times, inconsistent, the general look and feel of of the 2007 release is much brighter, warmer and saturated. If this 2013 release is truly Cundey’s original vision for the film, he always intended the print to be much darker, cooler and more muted than the 2007 release.

There is no single “correct” way to process and grade a film. Just as a filmmaker chooses the colors and textures of the film’s costumes, the filmmaker chooses the look and feel of the color grade. There are an infinite number of possibilities, and, in a perfect world, new film-to-digital transfers should be supervised by the original filmmakers. As you can see in this comparison, the 2007 “unsupervised” transfer is bright and colorful, which was not the intent of the cinematographer. For some context, take a look at this blog post from Stu Maschwitz, which shows some feature film comparisons of "before creative color grading" and "after creative color grading".

I tried to do more research and hear directly from Cundey himself, but I couldn’t find any interviews with Cundey about his involvement with the 2013 Blu-ray release. At one point, apparently hosted this photo of Cundey working on the transfer (the link is now dead, and I was unable to find an Internet Archive version).

The Other Marty McFly, HD Analysis

Back in July of 1986, Starlog Magazine printed an article by Bruce Gordon about "Back to the Future", in which Gordon ponders the idea of the alternate universe created in the Robert Zemeckis time-travel film. Gordon talks about the opening of the film, as we see Marty and Doc get ambushed by terrorists. Gordon speaks of a mysterious figure in the background of this opening scene, which takes place at Twin Pines Mall.

At the very instant that Doc tosses his pistol to the ground (and all eyes in the audience are following its path across the pavement), a silhouetted figure steps into that light. Less than a second later, the figure is gone, Doc has been shot and the chase is on.

I thought it would be fun to look at the artifact that Gordon supposes is "Marty II" in HD.

Clearly, it's "Marty II" back there. Or Bigfoot. Gordon wrote follow-up articles after "Back to the Future Part II" and "III" were released. They're available online via the Internet Archive.

“The Other Marty McFly” by Bruce Gordon, Starlog #108, July 1986

“The Return of the Other Marty McFly” by Bruce Gordon, Starlog #54, May 1990

“The Other Marty McFly Rides West” by Bruce Gordon, Starlog #170, Sept. 1991

Thursday, August 30, 2018

Cinefex Spotlight

I was profiled by my favorite visual effects magazine Cinefex for their Spotlight series. I'm really proud of the things that I said. Here are a couple of pull quotes:

CINEFEX: What’s the most challenging task you’ve ever faced?
TODD VAZIRI: I’m a bit of a heat ripple snob. Most digital effects trying to replicate heat shimmer from jet engines don’t appeal to me. They frequently end up, from a design perspective, too sci-fi and fantastic, calling attention to the effect rather than allowing it to exist as a part of a realistic scene. For Avatar, we tackled several shots with intense jet engine heat ripple, and I privately tasked myself with creating the best-looking heat ripple system we’d ever produced. The effects team and I worked together on a system that included the right kind of particles, the right animation, the right kind of displacement and blur, and other design elements that are usually ignored – like refraction, shadowing, and tiny bits of soot. I was really proud of how it all turned out. Later, hearing that Jim Cameron loved the look of our heat ripple made me very happy.

CINEFEX: And what changes would you like to see [in the visual effects industry]?
TODD VAZIRI: Where to begin? I’d like to see a more level playing field on many dimensions. Right now, movie studios are understandably taking advantage of massive global incentives to make films in certain localities, but this severely tilts the scales and has serious repercussions on all sides.
In addition, just like the rest of Hollywood, we need to make visual effects production a more diverse, inclusive environment. There are too many people making movies who look like me, and who have similar histories, tastes and skill sets. We will be able to tell more dynamic, interesting stories by including more women and people of color in our industry.
We have a work-life balance problem in our industry, too. The hours and stress take their toll on visual effects workers around the world. Finally and more broadly, it is inexplicable how little power the visual effects industry has in Hollywood, while our work remains critical to the success of modern films.

Read the whole article here. 

Podcast: I Was On Reconcilable Differences

I joined my friends Merlin Mann and John Siracusa for a special episode of their podcast, Reconcilable Differences. It's a very special "Members Only" episode, available to Relay FM subscribers.

Here's Merlin and John hyping the episode. We talked for over two hours about Full Media Blackout™, recommending movies, showing movies to your kids, "Star Wars", the spaghetti man from "Seven" and much much more. Reconcilable Differences is one of my favorite podcasts, and it was an honor to be on the show.

To hear the special episode, become a member of Relay FM.

Friday, July 27, 2018

"12 Angry Men" (1957): How the Jury Voted Throughout the Film

I made a graphic charting the progression of the guilty-not guilty voting in the jury room from the 1957 classic film, "12 Angry Men".

Saturday, June 02, 2018

The Cave in Real Time

Every single shot of the original "Star Wars" trilogy is shown in real time without any temporal maniuplation, with only two exceptions. The first is a single shot of Darth Vader striking down Obi-Wan Kenobi in the original “Star Wars”.

The shot is step printed, meaning the action was filmed in the standard frame rate of 24 frames per second, but in this case each frame of the shot was printed twice (hence, double-printed). The ultimate effect is slow motion, stretching a real life moment into twice its original, real-world length.

The only other use of time-distortion in the trilogy occurs in the cave sequence in “The Empire Strikes Back”, which features a dream-like encounter between Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader deep underneath the Dagobah swamp planet. The entire thirteen shot sequence (not including one jump cut) was triple printed; the sequence was filmed at 24 frames per second but each frame of the sequence was printed three times, slowing down the motion to ⅓ its original speed. The slow motion effect is used as a narrative device, to disorient the audience with the surprising appearance of Vader, ultimately revealed as a nightmarish vision.

Ever since I was a kid, I wondered what the scene might have looked like in real time, and how the scene, without slow-motion, would play differently to the audience. So I created it.

view on YouTube

I removed the step printing by lifting two out of every three frames of the sequence, which was fairly trivial. The audio editing took much longer and required much more precision, since I wanted to keep as many sync sounds in the cut as possible. The edit would look pretty bizarre without the appropriate lightsaber whooshes and explosions, so it was tricky to get all of those sound cues to feel honest to the original sequence.

If the real-time sequence feels fast to you, it should! Two reasons: if you've seen the film before, the original pacing and rhythm of the sequence is burned into your brain. The slow motion is driven by the narrative, which is why it works so well. Taking away that significant visual element robs the scene of an emotional truth, which make it feel odd and rushed. Secondly, and it goes without saying, but I feel like I need to say it anyway: had the filmmakers chose to run the sequence in real time, it's a safe bet to say the length of the shots would undoubtedly had been adjusted from what you see in the final film.

To remove the step printing, I used After Effects (to give me fine control over the retiming), and used Final Cut Pro X for all the picture and sound editing.

Monday, March 05, 2018

"Blade Runner 2049" Wins the Oscar

Congratulations to the entire visual effects team behind "Blade Runner 2049" for their Academy Award win for Best Visual Effects!

John Nelson, Gerd Nefzer, Paul Lambert and Richard R. Hoover

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Oscar Pool Ballot, 90th 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).  This year, I started with a ballot from InStyle, since didn't make a pretty, printable ballot this year. Again.

Download the ballot here for the 90th 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.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

"War for the Planet of the Apes" Wins Big at the 16th VES Awards

“War for the Planet of the Apes” was the big winner at the 16th VES Awards.

Winner of four awards, including Outstanding Visual Effects in a Photoreal Feature, "Apes" was the top earner of live-action feature film awards, with "Blade Runner 2049" taking home two awards, and "Dunkirk" and "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2" getting one award.

Listed below are all the live-action feature film winners. For the full list of winners, read Deadline's coverage. The full list of nominees is here. Congratulations to all the winners!

Outstanding Visual Effects in a Photoreal Feature

War for the Planet of the Apes, Joe Letteri, Ryan Stafford, Daniel Barrett, Dan Lemmon, Joel Whist

Outstanding Supporting Visual Effects in a Photoreal Feature

Dunkirk, Andrew Jackson, Mike Chambers,Andrew Lockley, Alison Wortman, Scott Fisher

Outstanding Animated Character in a Photoreal Feature

War for the Planet of the Apes; Caesar, Dennis Yoo, Ludovic Chailloleau, Douglas McHale, Tim Forbes

Outstanding Created Environment in a Photoreal Feature

Blade Runner 2049; Los Angeles, Chris McLaughlin, Rhys Salcombe, Seungjin Woo, Francesco Dell’Anna

Outstanding Virtual Cinematography in a Photoreal Project

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2; Groot Dance/Opening Fight, James Baker, Steven Lo, Alvise Avati, Robert Stipp

Outstanding Model in a Photoreal or Animated Project

Blade Runner 2049; LAPD Headquarters, Alex Funke, Steven Saunders, Joaquin Loyzaga, Chris Menges

Outstanding Effects Simulations in a Photoreal Feature

War for the Planet of the Apes, David Caeiro Cebrián, Johnathan Nixon, Chet Leavai, Gary Boyle

Outstanding Compositing in a Photoreal Feature

War for the Planet of the Apes, Christoph Salzmann, Robin Hollander, Ben Morgan, Ben Warner

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Visual Effects, Oscars and the Box Office in 2017

"Star Wars: The Last Jedi" was the top earner of this year's visual effects Oscar nominees, at $1.3B global box office. 

Just as I did for 2016 films2015 films, 2014 films2013 films2012 films and 2011 films, I thought it would be interesting to track the average global box office grosses from this year's Academy Award nominees, per category.

The average global box office of Best Visual Effects Oscar nominees was $700.8B (up from $575M last year).

The five nominees for this year's visual effects earned a total global box office gross of about $3.5B (up from $2.8B last year). The monster earner was "Star Wars: The Last Jedi" at $1.3B, with "Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2" next up at $864M. The other behemoth Oscar nominee at the box office was "Beauty and the Beast" at $1.2B, which boosted the Art Direction and Costume Design categories.

The last five years at a glance:

Average global box office of Best Visual Effects films:
2017 (90th Academy Awards) - $701M
Top Grosser: Star Wars: The Last Jedi, 1.3B

2016 (89th Academy Awards) - $575M
Top Grosser: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, 1.0B

2015 (88th Academy Awards) - $657M
Top Grosser: Star Wars: The Force Awakens, $2B

2014 (87th Academy Awards) - $723M
Top Grosser: Guardians of the Galaxy, $774M

2013 (86th Academy Awards) - $698M
Top Grosser: Iron Man 3, $1.2B

2012 (85th Academy Awards) - $763M
Top Grosser: The Avengers, $1.5B

2011 (84th Academy Awards) - $662M
Top Grosser: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part II, 1.35B

I wrote this concerning the 2011 box office when I charted the box office averages for the 84th Academy Awards, and unfortunately, this still is true.

It also illustrates the sad state of the visual effects community. The average Oscar nominee for visual effects made over $662 million globally, and yet our industry has relatively little power in Hollywood.

All data from .

Monday, January 29, 2018

The VFX Predictinator, 90th Academy Awards Edition

What is The VFX Predictinator? Start here.

Even though The Predictinator failed at predicting "Ex Machina" two years ago (probably because we're now in a post-digital era and our assumptions are no longer rock solid), the formula bounced back last year, correctly predicting "The Jungle Book" to win the visual effects Oscar.

We ran the numbers for The VFX Predictinator with the nominees for Best Visual Effects for the 90th Academy Awards, based on data for January 13, 2018. Here are the results, as promised, but without our typical annual, long-winded accompanying article.
  • 5.31 points for “War for the Planet of the Apes"
  • 4.72 points for "Blade Runner 2049"
  • 4.34 points for "Star Wars: The Last Jedi"
  • 4.19 points for "Kong: Skull Island"
  • 3.63 points for "Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2"

The Predictinator chose "War for the Planet of the Apes" to win the visual effects Oscar, based on the classic criteria of having strong critical acclaim and the film's prominent organic character animation. It's a solid choice, and a gut-check confirms this.

Following close behind is "Blade Runner 2049", which could upset "Apes", since it is, arguably the most 'artsy' and 'classy' choice for Academy voters. In fact, in a post-digital world, the most classy choice has been winning the visual effects Oscar more frequently ("Ex Machina", "Life of Pi" and "Gravity", for example).

In third is "The Last Jedi", which earned points for its huge box office, but suffers from being a sequel. Rounding out the list are "Kong: Skull Island" and "Guardians 2", which are strong hits but will probably not resonate with Academy voters.

We’ll see what happens when the 90th Academy Awards take place on March 4, 2018.

update, 3/4/2018: Nope!

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

90th Academy Award Nominees for Visual Effects

The nominees for the 90th Academy Awards have been announced. As always, the nominees were determined by the visual effects branch of the Academy after attending a bake-off of 10 films.  The full Academy membership will vote on the winners of each category.  The awards ceremony will take place on March 4, 2018.

Here are the nominees for Achievement in Visual Effects for the 90th Academy Awards. Congratulations to everyone involved in the creation of these amazing images.

John Nelson, Gerd Nefzer, Paul Lambert and Richard R. Hoover
This is Nelson's fourth Oscar nomination, the third for Hoover, and the first for Nefzer and Lambert.

Christopher Townsend, Guy Williams, Jonathan Fawkner and Dan Sudick
This is Sudick's eight nomination, Williams' third nomination, and Townsend's and Fawkner's second nominations.

Stephen Rosenbaum, Jeff White, Scott Benza and Mike Meinardus
This is Rosenbaum and Benza's third nomination, the second nomination for White, and the first for Meinardus.

Ben Morris, Mike Mulholland, Neal Scanlan and Chris Corobould
This is Corobould's and Scanlan's third nominations, Morris' second, and Mulholland's first.

Joe Letteri, Daniel Barrett, Dan Lemmon and Joel Whist
This is Letteri's tenth nomination, the fourth for Lemmon, the third for Barret, and the first for Whist.