Saturday, April 17, 2021

Oscar Pool Ballot, 93rd 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 93rd 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, April 14, 2021

Lone Pine Mall: Easter Egg or Thing in the Movie?

view on YouTube

 Twin Pines Mall became Lone Pine Mall after Marty changed the future in “Back to the Future” (1985). Is that an Easter Egg or a Thing in the Movie? Let’s find out!

To me, an Easter egg is a fun gag referencing something that doesn't require full audience understanding to decode the character or plot point. For example, the Harold Lloyd "Safety Last!" clock operates as both an Easter egg and a setup+payoff gag.

If the audience member doesn't know the clock is a reference to "Safety Last!", it's okay! It's not an obstacle to them understanding key character/plot information:

--this character is obsessed with clocks and time
--setup+payoff to his dangerous stunt at the end of the movie

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

That Amazing Drone Video and The New York Times

An absolutely beautiful piece of video went viral - the stunning drone footage of Bryant Lake Bowl & Theater shot by Jay Christensen is wonderful and has been showered with praise on social media.

In visual effects, we constantly bump up against an uncanny valley of sorts when it comes to camera moves. Over the decades, audiences have become completely aware of dolly camera moves, tracking shots, steadicam, hand-held, big booming crane shots, and have integrated these moves (either consciously or unconsciously) into their cinematic vocabulary. These types of camera moves "make sense" to audiences, and therefore "feel honest". Sometimes, artists and directors who create live-action scenes rendered entirely in computer graphics go too far with their camera moves (twisting, twirling, speeding up and slowing down with magical precision), creating camera paths that are literally unachievable in the real world, forcing audiences to consciously or unconsciously reject them as "dishonest". We sometimes refer to unrealistic synthetic camera moves as "cameras of God", as in God is the only camera operator who could achieve this kind of move.

When new camera techniques become ubiquitous, audiences will accept them as "honest" and consider it part of the vocabulary.


That's what I was trying to get across in my hastily written tweet - that this drone shot, captured in-camera, could signify the addition of these types of authentic live-action camera moves into our cinematic vernacular.

I was very surprised to see The New York Times' writeup of the drone shot and its reaction from Hollywood filmmakers.

Wait - "adds to the language and vocabulary of cinema"? That sounds familiar. Sure enough, after quoting praise from Lee Unkrich, Elijah Wood and James Gunn, they quoted my tweet.

I'm thrilled that the video is getting such praise, and am humbled that The New York Times thought my comment was of any interest.

New York Times: "A Drone Went Bowling. Hollywood Noticed." by Mike Ives

Thursday, February 18, 2021

We Talked About "Sneakers" on Defocused


I had the pleasure of talking with Joe Rosensteel and Dan Sturm about one of our favorite movies, "Sneakers" (1992) on the Defocused Podcast.

Here's some images based on things we talked about on the show:

The film's (probable) Texas Switch

The hidden ramp for Whistler to drive over, complete with parking spot paint.

A screenshot of the San Francisco Chronicle from the film.

Tuesday, February 09, 2021

VFX Artist Todd Vaziri Answers Movie & TV VFX Questions From Twitter for WIRED Tech Support

It was a lot of fun to participate in WIRED's "Support" series for YouTube. Named "VFX Support", I do my best to answer actual questions from actual movie fans, and not sound like a complete idiot while doing so!

Thank you to everyone over at WIRED for inviting me to be a part of the program.

Here are some "show notes":

More to come.

And now, here are two things I got wrong in the video.

  • I mistakenly said "Poltergeist" (1982) was the first non-Lucasfilm visual effects project undertaken by Industrial Light & Magic, but it was actually "Dragonslayer" (1981) a year earlier. The next year saw ILM take on "Poltergeist", "Star Trek II" and "The Dark Crystal", three more non-Lucasfilm projects.
  • I also said Robert Zemeckis and Ken Ralston would use what they learned from "Forrest Gump" (1994) on "Death Becomes Her", but meant to say the exact opposite, since "Gump" was made after "Death".

Watch the video here.

watch on YouTube

Thursday, November 19, 2020

Todd Vaziri on the Talking Bay 94 Podcast

It was my pleasure to be the guest on Talking Bay 94, a terrific Star Wars podcast. 

Industrial Light & Magic digital artist and compositing supervisor Todd Vaziri has worked on every Star Wars movie since 2002, beginning with Attack of the Clones.

Whether for the prequels (including the final duel on Mustafar), the sequels (figuring out the feel of a modern Star Wars movie), the spin-offs (helping to bring Tarkin and the Kessel Run to life), theme park rides (including Star Tours and Rise of the Resistance), or Stephen Colbert’s Green Screen Challenge, Mr. Vaziri’s passion for movie-making is evident in his every shot, and in his every answer on this episode, I’ve wanted him to be a guest on Talking Bay 94 for such a long time, and man, it was so worth the wait. Make sure you are following him on Twitter: @tvaziri … he is truly one of the best people to follow, period, on that app.

Talking Bay 94

Sunday, November 15, 2020

Looking at a Shot from "Bullitt"

Trying something new. I thought I'd attempt to discuss a single weird shot in the 1968 classic film, "Bullitt". I wrote this text and made the video for Twitter (hence the 2 minutes and 20 second video limit, and you can read the original thread here.

Here's a quick video analysis of a shot in Steve McQueen's "Bullitt" (1968).

view on YouTube

An example of a similar phenomenon - in this sequence from "The Blues Brothers" (1980), the crash cam gets hit by the car, and the editors chose to keep this chaotic, potentially fourth-wall-breaking moment in the cut.

Here's the shot I'm referring to, isolated:

Update! @MarkMcKenny1 spotted these incredible videos. First, an old YouTube clip of the sequence. The original shot has a ton of light leaks and damage and a black frame! This means at some point (for DVD?), WB cleaned up the damage and also removed the black frame.

And this, a clip from @RealEOC, shows off the film damage and additional light leaks. It cuts directly to behind-the-scenes footage of the shot, and to say that the movie camera got damaged is putting it lightly. This is how catastrophic damage to a film camera can cause light leaks. That rig got completely taken out!

Monday, November 02, 2020

"How I Letterboxd" featuring Todd Vaziri

I recently chatted with Jack Moulton at Letterboxd about how I use the Letterbox app, and we went deep into how we look at movies throughout our lives. This was an especially fun interview, and I hope you like it.

How I Letterboxd: Todd Vaziri,

Saturday, January 25, 2020

Oscar Pool Ballot, 92nd 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 92nd 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.

Sunday, November 24, 2019

Acting Through a Mask

As a kid watching this bit of performance by David Prowse in "Return of the Jedi", I was absolutely convinced that Vader's mask was--somehow--changing and emoting. I could see the conflict going on inside of Vader.

Breaking it down today, we realize it's not solely Prowse's performance (his posture, his timing, the angle of his head tilts, the slow head turn to his Emperor then back to his son in pain) that sells the emotion; there are several contextual aspects of the scene that add to it.

🎞️ music: Williams' original trilogy score is at a literal crescendo, achieving its emotional zenith
🎞️ costume: we have never seen Vader's costume this dirty (weakened & vulnerable)
🎞️ camera move: there are very few dolly-in moves in the original trilogy, especially in closeup

In summary movies are cool because it's never just one thing that makes a scene work.

It's every craft working together to achieve a common goal.

Original tweet.

Wednesday, November 06, 2019

Pretend Disney+ Artwork

Disney has been tweeting artwork for each of the movies and TV shows that will be available to stream on its new network, Disney+. One particular tweet caught a lot of folks' attention:

Yep, that's the 1947 20th Century Fox classic "Miracle on 34th Street", rebranded as a Disney film, since Disney now owns and controls all films under the 20th Century Fox banner. Unsettling as it is, I wondered what it would look like if other Fox hits were rebranded as Disney films.

 Here's a link to the original "Die Hard" tweet, where you can follow the thread to my artwork for "Predator 2", "Fight Club" and "Alien".


Bonus: never-before-seen "Predator 2" version:

Sunday, November 03, 2019

I Was on the Light the Fuse Podcast

It was my absolute pleasure to be a guest on the always-fun "Mission: Impossible" podcast, Light The Fuse. Charles Hood and Drew Taylor asked terrific questions and really know their stuff. I'm really proud of this appearance.

Light the Fuse, #67 - Todd Vaziri Part 1
An interview a year in the making (seriously), we talk to Industrial Light & Magic visual effects supervisor Todd Vaziri (@tvaziri on Twitter), who worked on two installments in the franchise! We talk about how he got into the series, working on “Mission: Impossible 3” (including the bridge sequence), the shot J.J. Abrams did himself, and where you can spot R2D2 in the movie! We also get into the Dubai sequence from “Ghost Protocol,” so hang on tight!

Light the Fuse, #68 - Todd Vaziri Part 2
In the second half of our episode with the legendary Todd Vaziri (@tvaziri on Twitter), we do a deep dive into the visual effects of “Ghost Protocol,” including some secrets from the car park sequence, where the A113 Easter eggs are hidden, and what he contributed to the gecko gloves. Also, we get him to dish about what it was like working with Steven Spielberg, Rian Johnson and Michael Bay.

In the episodes, we talk a lot about one shot in "Mission: Impossible III", a shot I went into great detail here at FXRant: Visual Effects Camera Work: "A Fish Called Wanda" and "Mission: Impossible III"

Here are some supporting tweets to the episodes:

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Twin Suns Setting and Beyond: The Perfect Star Wars Shots

Hal Hickel and I had a lot of fun talking with Ashley Barry-Biancuzzo about our favorite shots from the "Star Wars" movie series for

Twin Suns Setting and Beyond: The Perfect Star Wars Shots

From Luke Skywalker gazing wistfully at the twin suns to the X-wings swooping through the trenches of the Death Star, Star Wars is chock-full of iconic shots. But what’s going on in these images from a filmmaking perspective? To satiate our curiosity, sat down with Industrial Light & Magic’s Hal Hickel and Todd Vaziri to find out. They shared with us the emotional impact of their favorite scenes, the technical trickery of a Texas Switch, the challenges of hand-drawn animation, and much more.

Here's an excerpt: In your opinion, what’s the most beautifully designed shot in Star Wars?

Todd Vaziri: The shot where the Millennium Falcon flies toward the camera with the core of the Death Star exploding behind it in Return of the Jedi resonates with me on a technical and aesthetic level. There’s a real progression to it, too. First you’re inside these claustrophobic tunnels and then you’re zooming around inside the main reactor, which is huge and cavernous. The last part of the sequence has you going through those tight tunnels again, but doing the exact inverse. It has this rubber-band effect where the tension releases and then builds up again.

I tweeted about this moment earlier this year. Click on the tweet below to see the whole thread:

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Designing the Look of the Blockade Runner Engines from "Rogue One"

"Rogue One" (2016), visual effects by ILM. Visual effects supervisor John Knoll.
Lighting by Tom Martinek, compositing by Todd Vaziri and Will McCoy. Full ILM credits.

Making The Blockade Runner Engine Look for ROGUE ONE
Written by Todd Vaziri, lead artist at Industrial Light & Magic
originally published on

I was thrilled to get to work on this shot from "Rogue One" with my friend and frequent collaborator, ILM lighter Tom Martinek. Leia's Blockade Runner escapes, which ties directly to the start of "Star Wars" (1977)? Yes, please! We'd love to bring this moment to life. It was a thrill to be able to help create the updated look of a classic ship we haven't seen on screen since 1977. Also, it's fun to realize that pretty much no one agrees how to pronounce "Tantive IV"

Our first task was to study those first fleeting glimpses of the Tantive IV from the original "Star Wars". Replicating the engine look of the engines precisely from the first film would not work for our movie. This was a recurring theme for our design challenges we took on for "Rogue One".

I created the Blockade Runner 'engine look' to appear the way you think you remember it from "Star Wars", not the way it actually appeared -- honoring the spirit of the original look and updating it to fit modern sensibilities and the stylistic signature of our new film.

First, I matched the hue of the engine glow from the original film. From there, I wanted to add an organic "jet engine" texture to the inside of each engine, so I rotoscoped and stabilized some footage from a Bell 209 helicopter engine, which had a lot of built-in dynamic energy.

I placed the texture inside the engine geometry of each of the eleven engines so we could get peeks at it when looking down the tunnel, and offset and rotated the helicopter engine footage for each engine (so each engine would have unique energy signature).

Tom developed a flickery cucoloris effect to create the interactive light from the engine cast onto the inside of the chamber--I split that into 11 passes to animate them separately. Then I had to come up with a way for the engines to ignite as if from a cold start.

I knew we never saw a Blockade Runner power up in any of the movies, but I asked Pablo Hidalgo and others to see if there was any precedent set in any of the animated shows. Apparently there was none! So I thought it would look cool if the four corner engines fired up first for stability, then the other seven engines followed up behind. I didn't want the shot to become a big lens flare show, so I only had a few crisp flares peek through (taking my cues from the original trilogy X-wing engine flares).

This engine look became a quick-start setup for the other Blockade Runners you see in the film. Finally for this shot, I added a hopefully-subtle camera rumble as the engines ignited.

We had a lot of fun talking about the rotating dish atop the Tantive IV. Look carefully at it in the original "Star Wars" (1977)--in shot 1, it's not visible. In shot 2, it's rotating counter clockwise. In shot 3 it's rotating clockwise! For "Rogue One", we animated the dish counterclockwise.

Todd Vaziri is a lead artist and compositing supervisor at ILM.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

One Visual Effects Shot from "Pirates 2"

 "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest" (2006), visual effects by ILM. Visual effects supervisor John Knoll. Winner of the Academy Award for Best Visual Effects.

Rotoscoping by Lauren Morimoto, compositing by Todd Vaziri.

This was a fun shot. The foreground was shot on a docked boat facing the sea, but the entire background was replaced with synthetic water, to match the look of the rest of the sequence. Every single thing on the boat, for this shot, had to be rotoscoped or extracted.

The actor playing Captain Bellamy was photographed with the other two actors saying their lines. He pretended to react to a non-existent tentacle grabbing him with wide eyes and an open mouth, flinging his arms up in the air. Later, without the other two actors a stuntman was rigged with a wire and stood in the same spot, and was flung off the deck of the ship. I had to seamlessly transition from the actor to the stuntman. The morph transition finishes entirely* before he goes behind that middle actor. It was fast but complicated.

I did the morph completely in After Effects using Re:Flex to first shape the stuntman into the actor's position, then carefully revealing different parts of the stuntman at a time. The buttons on his jacket were particularly difficult. I wanted the tentacle to grab Bellamy between his arm and his body; I already isolated and animated his foreground arm (bending it with FE Bend It), so it was straightforward to matte it behind the arm. It gave the shot a little more complexity, and hopefully realism.

I kept the honest movement of the stuntman intact after he becomes airborne (couldn't re-animate him anyway, since he was photographed with all those ropes on screen right) but I thought it would be fun to track Bellamy's face on the stuntman as long as I could which made for a nice little moment when you see his great facial expression as he flies through the air between the two remaining actors. The water effects, droplets and splashes are several photographed splashes tracked in 2D and some generated in AE Particle World.

It's barely noticeable, but there's the face of Alex Norton (Captain Bellamy). If your eye happened to be in the vicinity, you would have seen him, rather than the motion-blurred face of a stuntman who didn't really look like him.

As for the splashes, the CG water folks had their hands full with other, giant shots, and since this was a relatively subtle, non-spectacular shot, I was confident I could do all the effects in 2D. I probably used six or seven photographed splash effects (filmed against black).

Coming up with the right combo of droplets, splashes and mist to create the motion and energy the shot required was fun. When comping filmed elements that have action, the trick is to NOT over-animate them in 2D because you can easily negate the natural energy of the elements.

Original Tweet.