Tuesday, December 06, 2022

Grifters on Twitter

Amidst everything else happening on Twitter, the grift economy continues to thrive. People steal content, brand it as their own, and then make money off it.

Well, there's this person Michael Warburton, who is a serial stealer of movie content and analysis. Twitter user TSting18 documented just 24 hours of stealing in a staggering thread.

You gotta see the full thread.

Anywhoo, I noticed he has a 'tip jar' on Ko-fi, so I bought him a 5 pound cup of coffee and asked a simple question:

Would you ever consider stopping your serial stealing of other people's content (without attribution) and apologizing for doing it for so long?

Am I a dummy for giving this guy money just to tell him that others see him stealing and think it's wrong? Maybe! Well, he responded on his public Ko-fi page:

You paid £5 to say that?! You are of course, a moron. But furthermore - you ignoramus - the content you speak was NEITHER CREATED by NOR OWNED by the people you speak of. Unless they created the content THEMSELVES, THEY HAVE BY YOUR IDIOTIC notion have ALSO ‘STOLEN’ the content. Plus, nearly all of the people you refer to aren’t even IN THE BUSINESS/INDUSTRY they’re ‘stealing’ from, whereas I AM. So I’ll take your £5 with glee and ask you to unfollow me, keep your opinions to yourself.

Yikes! That was the best £5 I've ever spent!

The original Twitter thread: https://twitter.com/tvaziri/status/1599500095422361600

A Beautiful Shot from "The Road to Singapore" (1931)

This is a wonderful shot from "The Road to Singapore" (1931) that does a brilliant job establishing geography and spatial relationships between two characters who are thinking about each other but who are physically apart. The audience understands their separation.

view on YouTube

It starts with a full scale shot of Doris Kenyon - the camera pans left behind an unlit tree, then we CUT to a miniature (1/8 scale?) which also has camera move that has an unlit tree in the foreground. At normal exposure you can't see the cut. Here's the first cut, brightened.

The miniature portion of the shot continues, pulls back behind more silhouetted foreground trees, and the second CUT appears, tying in another full scale shot of William Powell that has unlit trees in the foreground, as well. Here's the second cut, brightened.

On Powell's side, there's a scene painting (or a miniature?) of Kenyon's building in the background. Oh, there's also another hidden cut after the camera settles on the Powell side, most likely to shorten the shot before the camera swings around for Powell's closeup.

The long shot actually has 3 hidden cuts, clever tricks to establish the full geography on the B-side, and required lots of planning and careful execution. Most importantly, it supports the narrative and emphasizes what the characters are going through.

At the time of this writing, "The Road to Singapore" (1931) is now playing on HBO Max in the U.S.

Original tweet thread: https://twitter.com/tvaziri/status/1600154259961839616

Based on this tweet from Jack Kennedy: https://twitter.com/JackKennedy/status/1599924728755544064

Wednesday, November 09, 2022

My History of Visual Effects Writing


I’ve written about movies and visual effects on the internet on:

I don't know what I'll be doing in the future, but maybe it's a good idea to sign up for updates on what I might be up to in the future.


Tuesday, November 08, 2022

Split Diopter and Mirrors in "The War of the Roses"

Look at this amazing two-shot scene from Danny DeVito's "The War of the Roses" (1989). In terms of craft, there's SO MUCH going on here, but none of it distracts from the characters and the story. The filmmaking craft on display here reinforces the narrative by creating a distinctive tone.

view on YouTube

Notice how the diopter is removed during the shot when Douglas hits the same distance from camera as Turner - choreographed to be removed in sync with his broad movement of hugging and kissing Turner, to make it nearly invisible upon first viewing.

Monday, October 31, 2022

Cinefex Spotlight - Todd Vaziri (From 2018)

Sadly, Cinefex shut down in early 2021. While our physical copies of Cinefex magazine live on, as does the iPad edition of classic issues (boy, how long will THAT continue to work?), the website was shuttered.

Back in 2018, Graham Edwards interviewed me for the Cinefex Blog. I'm reprinting it here because I am really proud of the interview.

Cinefex Spotlight – Todd Vaziri

Posted on August 29, 2018 by Graham Edwards

To create cinematic illusions, you need conjurors. In this series of spotlight interviews, we ask movie magicians what makes them tick.

Todd Vaziri is a lead artist and compositing supervisor at Industrial Light & Magic. His list of career highlights includes American Pie, Avatar, six Star Wars and two Star Trek films, three Transformers movies and an episode of The Colbert Report, and you might enjoy rummaging through his entertaining effects-centric blog FX Rant.

CINEFEX: Todd, how did you get started in the business?

TODD VAZIRI: I saw Return of the Jedi on my tenth birthday, and afterward devoured anything I could find about how the film was made. I vividly remember reading an official Lucasfilm magazine about the film – there was an entire section on the miniatures and stop-motion animation in the Endor battle, created by a company called Industrial Light & Magic. That made an enormous impact on me. Seeing how the magic was created didn’t ruin the movie experience for me at all. Quite the contrary – I was intrigued and inspired to see pictures of modern-day magicians creating these amazing illusions, like Paul Huston setting up the AT-ST on the miniature Endor set. Years later, I discovered Cinefex, which satisfied my cravings for more detailed stories on how these intricate visual effects were created, and the challenges faced by artists in bringing these otherworldly effects to life. Strange to think that Paul Huston is a colleague and friend now – we worked together on a shot for The Force Awakens.

After film school, and a few years spent writing about visual effects for my website, Visual Effects Headquarters, I packed up my car and drove from Chicago to Los Angeles with the dream of working in visual effects. I was fortunate enough to have been given a chance by Van Ling at Banned From the Ranch Entertainment. Aware of my visual effects writing and understanding my passion for the craft, he gave me a chance to help test out a new piece of software called Commotion, which was, at the time, a brand new and revolutionary tool for rotoscoping and digital painting. Van was a tremendous mentor and I owe him so much for giving me a chance.

CINEFEX: What aspect of your job makes you grin from ear to ear?

TODD VAZIRI: At the start of every production, I am overwhelmed with anticipation. The prospect of doing something new and exciting in a movie is daunting, intimidating and exhilarating.

CINEFEX: And what makes you sob uncontrollably?

TODD VAZIRI: When the harsh realities of the project schedule kick in, along with the inevitable design changes – that’s when I reach for the Kleenex.

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’s the weirdest task?

TODD VAZIRI: I had to create dog urine for an Adam Sandler film. I used Particle World in After Effects to create the pee stream, and the splashing and splatter on the ground. I drew roto mattes and color-corrected the photography to simulate the growing puddle of pee. If I remember correctly, I think I also had to paint out the dog’s testicles.

CINEFEX: What changes have you observed in your field over the years?

TODD VAZIRI: Between the time I started doing feature film work and today, the biggest change has been the ubiquity and democratization of high-quality, highly complicated visual effects. Complex fantasy environments, creatures and invisible effects are no longer solely available to the five or six biggest-budgeted movies per year. Filmmakers like Scorsese, Cuarón, Iñárritu, DuVernay and del Toro now have access to effects that were previously unavailable to their types of films. As a movie fan, I’m thrilled that a movie like Ex Machina can be made today, with the same kind of complicated, high-quality visual effects that previously were relegated to only the biggest superhero films or sci-fi blockbusters.

CINEFEX: And what changes would you like to see?

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.

CINEFEX: What advice would you give to someone starting out in the business?

TODD VAZIRI: The advice I’d give is similar to the advice I’d have for anyone who is interested in Hollywood filmmaking. Firstly, understand that this is not a glamorous job. The people who make films, both in front of and behind the camera – and behind the computer – are passionate and committed to their craft. If you’re not all-in on this as an idea, you might want to consider something else.

More practically, young visual effects artists sometimes get hung up on questions like: “Which piece of software should I learn?” My personal view is that the most successful visual effects professionals in my sphere are not obsessed with software or the technology itself, but are more interested in using those tools to create the imagery or tell the story that’s in their heads. I’m not technically minded at all, and yet I get by because the tools have become so accessible and approachable that even a dummy like me can operate the controls. Also, it’s incredibly important for young visual effects artists to watch and analyze non-visual effects films, and study as much photography as possible.

CINEFEX: If you were to host a mini-festival of your three favorite effects movies, what would you put on the bill, and why?

TODD VAZIRI: Citizen Kane – don’t roll your eyes at me, millennials! You’ll watch this black-and-white movie and like it! Orson Welles and his team were using the camera to tell a story like no-one did before – you can see many now-standard cinematic techniques used for the first time in this film. They pushed every department to its limits and beyond; the film includes special effects and optical work, several ingenious matte paintings, animation and miniatures. Gregg Toland’s deep-focus photography gave the film a striking look, as did all of the hidden optical tricks made possible by Linwood Dunn’s optical printer breakthroughs – like the massive set extensions at the political rally, or the building of Kane’s mansion, Xanadu.

Star Wars (1977 theatrical edition) – come on, do I really need to say why I chose this?

The Abyss – Jim Cameron’s epic underwater adventure used pretty much every single visual effects trick in the book, including the debut of a creature of a kind never seen before on film – the computer-generated pseudopod. The movie is an encyclopedia of photographic effects from the dawn of cinema to that moment, and simultaneously presents a prelude to cinema’s digital era.

CINEFEX: What’s your favorite movie theater snack?

TODD VAZIRI: Popcorn, no butter, a tiny bit of salt.

CINEFEX: Thanks for your time, Todd!

Sunday, October 30, 2022

The "Group Shot" Blocking of "It" (2017)

There's a lot to like about "It" (2017). It's gorgeous, has an amazing cast, some genuinely scary moments and an incredible performance by Bill Skarsgård along with brilliant makeup, prosthetic and digital visual effects.

Our heroes are an ensemble, and I admire how director Andy Muschietti and cinematographer Chung Chung-hoon use the widescreen frame to include our heroes in group shots. Blocking shots like this can sometimes feel awkward (especially on set), but when cleverly blocked and used at just the right time, the 'wide shot of all our heroes' framing really does the job, sealing the unity of our main characters in their quest.

Monday, October 24, 2022

The Apple TV Siri Remote, But Gooderer

I love my Apple TV, and I want it to be better. With the release of updated Apple TV units in October 2022, along with USB-C connectivity replacing Lightning for the remote, my brain started to wander. How can we make the Siri Remote, a huge improvement from the previous Siri Remote, even gooderer?

My original tweet, which was just the redesign mockup with zero context:

The main features of my mockup redesign:
  • hardware - giant Play/Pause button. This is the most important button to use during playback, so having it be more prominent than mute, Back and TV is beneficial on many levels.
  • hardware - it's longer. Makes it harder to lose, and even easier to hold.
  • hardware/software - Find My compatibility. Yes, a premium feature. But Apple TV is a premium product. So why not?
  • hardware/software - Speaker, so you can play a tone using Find My to find a lost remote. Just like the new case for AirPods Pro.
  • software - jog/slow motion/frame by frame controls. This can all be accomplished using the touch sensors already on the Apple TV, but activating this feature in software could be tricky. I consider this a "pro" feature, which could be OFF by default, so only extreme enthusiasts can access this feature which has been a staple of legacy home video devices (VHS, LaserDisc) for decades.
Heh, this isn't the first time I've mocked up an Apple TV remote: How Siri Could Work with Apple TV

Sunday, March 13, 2022

Oscar Pool Ballot, 94th 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.

Saturday, March 05, 2022

I Love My Apple TV. It Should Be Better.

When the Apple TV box first appeared in our house, it sat alongside a cable box and a DVD player. Eventually, the DVD player disappeared. Over the years, our cable TV consumption slowly dissolved to a fraction of what it once was. And as of summer 2021, 100% of my family's living room TV and movie consumption comes from the Apple TV.

While I love my Apple TV, the experience could be better. Nope - it should be better because the Apple TV has positioned itself as a premium product, and it should deliver a premium experience for its customers.

Some of my buddies have been writing and podcasting about the streaming experience, diving deep into the feature sets, capabilities and limitations of the current landscape.

Joe Rosensteel wrote two recent pieces on Six Colors that are worth checking out: When Apple TV’s ‘Universal Search’ is a black hole and Searching for a better guide: Live TV in the age of streaming

John Siracusa wrote on his Hypercritical blog, An Unsolicited Streaming App Spec and a follow-up post, Streaming App Sentiments. John discussed the pieces on his two podcasts, ATP #470 and on Reconcilable Differences #177.

I'm inspired by these pieces and podcast episodes, and I hope to write more about Apple TV in the future. Heh, the last time I wrote about Apple TV was over a decade ago.

Tuesday, May 18, 2021

Todd Vaziri Talks "Edge of Tomorrow" on the Dune Pod Podcast

It was a genuine blast to discuss one of my favorite sci-fi movies of the last two decades on the Dune Pod Podcast.

My friend and ILM collaborator Lorelei David, Matt Haitch, Jason Goldman and I talk about "Edge of Tomorrow" (2014). We talk about Tom Cruise' charisma, Emily Blunt's amazing performance, the editing and visual effects, and much much more.

Listen to Dune Pod on Apple Podcasts, or Overcast.

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