Sunday, July 29, 2007

Heavy Metal

Barbara Robertson interviews plenty of ILM'ers for an article for Computer Graphics World, covering our work in "Transformers."

You'll read some great quotes from our visual effects supervisor Scott Farrar, associate effects supervisor Russell Earl, animation supervisor Scott Benza, TD supervisor Hilmar Koch, our digital production supervisor Jeff White, viewpaint supervisor Ron Woodall, our location matchmover Duncan Blackman, and my office-buddy, sequence supervisor Tom Martinek.

Tom was in charge of the lighting of two key nighttime sequences, the Witwicky house sequence (where the Autobots hover around Sam's house while Sam looks for the glasses) and the alley sequence where the Autobots reveal themselves for the first time to Sam and Mikaela.

Tom and the artists involved with those sequences did a phenomenal job-- in the other action sequences, we could get away with certain things. However, for his sequences, there was no place to hide. The robots had to look believable. They had to look perfect.

Read the full article.

Saturday, July 28, 2007

Michael Bay and Brett Ratner

Funny. Long, but funny.

My favorite bits: "The editing was distracting and frenetic. How 'bout a wide shot once in a while?" And, Michael transforms into a... well... you know.

Super Giggles

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

See Me In Montreal

Will you be in the greater Montreal area at the end of September? Then come see me talk about "Transformers" at the ADAPT Conference. It looks like it will be a great conference, with presentations by Phil Tippett, Syd Mead, Carlos Baena from Pixar, and Shawn Kelly from ILM (who will also be talking about "Transformers").

My presentation will be jam packed with sweet breakdowns and works-in-progress. I've got a lot to talk about, and if you're interested in how ILM created the visual effects for "Transformers," you cannot miss it.

Hey, Americans. Dust off your passport and book your flight. It's gonna be awesome.

Visit the ADAPT Conference website.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Bonds And The Record

I love baseball. But this is all I have to say about Barry Bonds.

Philadelphia fans treated Bonds to this wonderful banner in May 2006.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

An Interview with Josh Saeta

Read an interview with my old colleague and friend, Josh Saeta, over at Josh is a lead compositor at Rhythm & Hues, and talks about his experiences on "Night at the Museum" and "Superman Returns."

Josh and I go way back - we both started our effects careers at Banned From The Ranch together. He is an extraordinary talent who is genuinely self-taught, an attribute I greatly respect. It was such a blast working with him at BFTR, Flat Earth and Pixel Magic.

Josh, Glenn Cannon and I spent three months on the set of "American Pie" together, and that time we spent together sticks in my head as one of the greatest movie experiences of my career. We laughed so hard and long on that show. We had a blast.

The movie was extremely low-budget ($12 million, but we made it for $11 million), and the stages were in the middle of Van Nuys during a heatwave. Our un-air-conditioned stages were sweltering. (Look carefully at all the actors in "American Pie," especially Jason Biggs. That sweat ain't makeup.) So we had to have fun, to make it bearable. Of course, watching Shannon Elizabeth get naked, take after take after take, certainly took the edge off.

Fun fact about working on "American Pie": I developed a cist on my buttbone from sitting cross-legged for hours on end on plywood stage floors. I would huddle underneath the desk where Jason Biggs was performing his scenes, and between takes, I would rise up and reset his prop computer. Then, I would descend back underneath the desk. For weeks afterwards, I couldn't sit in a regular chair without experiencing butt pain. True story.

Read Josh's interview.
Read what we (Banned From The Ranch) did on "American Pie"

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Not Funny: Carlos Mencia

Why in the world does Carlos Mencia dominate 14 hours of programming a day on Comedy Central? And why do I see about 4,927% more commercials for his "Mind of Mencia" program than, say, "The Colbert Report"? I mean "Drawn Together," one of Comedy Central's minor hits, is leagues funnier than Carlos' program.... ahem, I mean Ned's program, which is a ghost of a ripoff of a shadow of a copy of "Chappelle's Show."

Just about every single program on Comedy Central is funnier than his lame program. Okay, maybe it's tied with "The Showbiz Show with David Spade" for lameosity.

Joe Rogan is right. And Joe Rogan is funny.

Sunday, July 15, 2007


Apple is now hosting the teaser for the J.J. Abrams-produced film, simply known as "1-18-08."

Watch the trailer here.

Always Awesome: David Morse

Never flashy or over the top, David Morse is an always reliable go-to Hollywood character actor.

There's no doubt that the "St. Elsewhere" veteran visits similar dramatic territory with his roles (usually as a soft-spoken cop, a menacing hood, or as the leading man's old, wise friend), but there is no doubt that he has brilliant screen presence. His steely gaze instantly gets your attention.

Morse in "St. Elsewhere" (1982-1988) and "Twelve Monkeys" (1995)

His roles are certainly getting bigger ("Disturbia"), which is promising, because it might lead him to more diverse, mainstream roles. He has such robust dramatic skills that I see no reason why he couldn't carry a feature, too. At least dramatically speaking-- I doubt the MySpace crowd is itching to see 'the new David Morse movie.' Although someone online put together a rather large website devoted to his work (David Morse Online).

Morse in "The Green Mile" (1999) and "The Rock" (1996)

My favorite role of Morse's might be the creepy, double crossing 'Dr. Peters' in "Twelve Monkeys" (directed by Terry Gilliam) or as Ellie Arroway's father in Robert Zemeckis' "Contact" (that was him talking to Jodie Foster on that alien tropical beach at the edge of the universe).

Read David Morse's IMDB page.
Read all Always Awesome posts.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Nearly $200 Million

"Transformers" is at $197.9 million dollars in domestic box office as of July 13. The film opened on July 3.

Adding foreign receipts brings its total to nearly $300 million.

It's gratifying to see that people are still flocking to the theaters to catch the film. We must have done something right.

Track the box office at Box Office Mojo.

Friday, July 13, 2007

The Onion on "This American Life"

I love the NPR. I really do. But sometimes it makes me want to kick my car stereo into pieces.

I enjoy listening to Morning Edition, Talk of the Nation, Fresh Air, Marketplace, and other fine programs on the NPR. But I never really understood the fandom of This American Life. In fact, this Onion article pretty much sums it up for me, and how I interpret the show:

Here's my favorite passage:
"We've done it," said senior producer Julie Snyder, who was personally interviewed for a 2003 This American Life episode, "Going Eclectic," in which she described what it's like to be a bilingual member of the ACLU trained in kite-making by a Japanese stepfather. "There is not a single existential crisis or self-congratulatory epiphany that has been or could be experienced by a left-leaning agnostic that we have not exhaustively documented and grouped by theme."

Any San Francisco readers will also recognize a similar self-congratulatory theme in KQED's Perspective series, played intermittently during Morning Edition. The Perspectives are consistently... nauseatingly... vomitous. Oh, mercy.

Oh, and sometimes I want to strangle the FM dial when I hear Carl Kasell's voice giving the national news in the mornings. His slurpy delivery, his clearly audible shuffling of papers, his monotone readings, they all drive me into a rage.

If anyone ever wanted to torture me, I'll give you a tip. Forget about the thumbscrews; duct tape me into a chair with a radio with NPR playing nothing but This American Life and "The Best of Carl Kasell's Awful Newsreading."

Just thinking about his voice makes me sweat.

Read The Onion article.

That's A Lot of Parts

In the CG Society profile of Alex Jaeger, they published a list of statistics, as gathered by ILM's digital production supervisor, Jeff White. The CG models for "Transformers" were extremely heavy.

That's some serious geometry. But if these stats don't blow your mind, perhaps this one will, as seen on the Trivia section of the "Transformers" IMDb page:

According to one of the CGI artists that created the animated robots at ILM, if you took all the polygons (CGI building blocks) from all the autobots and decepticon models they created at the studio, and strung them end to end, they'd reach to the moon and back and you'd still have enough left over to build the coliseum in Rome two times.

Wow!!! Has you mind been completely blown away?

Alex Jaeger Article

CG Society is running a new article on Alex Jaeger, ILM's art director for "Transformers." Alex had the difficult job of interpreting the flat design artwork done by Michael Bay's production team, translating it into fully three dimensional transforming robots. Alex is an incredible artist, and a great colleague.

We worked together on "Hulk" for a very short time, and then on "Mission: Impossible III" last year, which was a blast. Alex pumped out an enormous amount of work for "Transformers," and he was a fantastic collaborator; he could easily talk to compositors, technical directors, matte artists, and communicate on the same level. It's always fun trading ideas back and forth with Alex.

He is one of the reasons "Transformers" looks so damn cool.

Read the full article here, and read his blog posting about the article here.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

ILM's Biggest Fan: My Mom

So, after reading the review of "Transformers" written by her hometown newspaper, the Chicago Tribune, a reader wrote to the film critic, wondering why he didn't spend more time talking about the visual effects for the film.

That reader? My mom.
The other day I got a letter from Tribune reader Nancy Vaziri asking me what I thought of the Industrial Light & Magic special effects in "Transformers," which are essentially the point of the picture. In a nice way Vaziri chided me for focusing too much on matters not relating to the effects. After all, she wrote, "Do we really care who acted in this movie?"

Not much, no, which is one reason "Transformers" is a decently carpentered two-and-a-half-star diversion rather than a terrific popcorn picture. While the effects are pretty stunning in their assaultive way, only occasionally does Bay's film impart some brain-rattling pleasure to go with the noise. For me the highlight comes in the sight of the giant 'bots roller-skating down an L.A. freeway smashing into stuff.

Way to go, mom! (Readers note: I did not put her up to it! I swear!)

Read the full article.
Read all "Transformers" visual effects related review snippets here.


From Wesley Morris' review of "Transformers," from the Boston Globe:
To find the cube, these guys are in a hurry for Sam to fetch an important planet-saving prop from his house. While the kid and his girl slip inside, the Autobots stand around impatiently, only halfway heeding Sam's instructions to stay hidden. Instead, they trample his parents' lawn and peer into the windows, barely avoiding an encounter with Sam's dad and tipsy mom (Kevin Dunn and Julie White), who are anxious to know what their son is doing in his bedroom.

This is a fantastic sequence. For one thing, the effects -- which are state-of-the-art throughout "Transformers" -- are put to brilliant use. Sure, Sam's Craftsman-style house gives us a vivid sense of the Autobots' scale and textures (the contrast of cold, gleaming metal against soft, dark wood). But crowding around it and stooping over to peek inside, they seem incredibly lifelike.

Read the full review.
Read all "Transformers" visual effects related review snippets here.

Profiles in Timing

Another classic "The Word" from "The Colbert Report":

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Best Special Effects Of All Time?

From Phil Parker's movie blog from The Albuquerque Tribune, titled "Transformers: Best Special Effects Of All Time?":

Do a movie's special effects acually serve its plot? They do in "Transformers." This is a movie about 30-foot tall robots beating the snot out of each other. It looks, no joke, like there are actual living robots as tall as buildings who are agile enough to battle like ninjas. There are moments during the final scene, which will go down as an all-time great, where I just stopped and thought "Oh my God, that was amazing." I'm not exaggerating.

Read the full article, which also comments on the visual effects of "Jurassic Park," "Forrest Gump," the "Terminator" films, the "Pirates" films, "War of the Worlds," and more.
Read all "Transformers" visual effects related review snippets here.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Mind-Dazzling Effects

From Terry Lawson's review of "Transformers," featured in the Detroit Free Press:

Not only is it full of way-cool machinery, epic robot fights and mind-dazzling effects, it also has more than its quotient of actual wit and fun.

Read the full review.
Read all "Transformers" visual effects related review snippets here.

It Rocks

From Bruce Newman's review of "Transformers," in the San Jose Mercury News:

The movie's first transformation by one of the Decepticons rocks, and it demonstrates how they can get inside the military's defenses by appearing as a mechanized wolf in a mechanized sheep's clothing.

Read the full review.
Read all "Transformers" visual effects related review snippets here.


So, did anyone else see the mystery J.J. Abrams trailer?

From Yahoo: "Transformers" audiences get peek at new disaster pic

Update: view the trailer here.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Nonstop Feast of Coolness

From Peter Hartlaub's review of "Transformers," from the San Francisco Chronicle:

[Director Michael Bay] got more than his money's worth with the visuals and sound, which provide a nonstop feast of coolness throughout the film.

...even more important is the special effects work from Industrial Light & Magic, which creates its most seamless visuals on a big budget picture since "Master & Commander: The Far Side of the World." The transforming effects are awesome.

Read the full review.
Read all "Transformers" visual effects related review snippets here.

Delightful and Ingenious

From Roger Ebert's review of "Transformers," featured in the Chicago Sun-Times:
The robots, created by Industrial Light and Magic, are indeed delightful creatures; you can look hard and see the truck windshields, hubcaps and junkyard stuff they're made of. And their movements are ingenious, especially a scorpion-like robot in the desert.

Read the full review here.
Read all "Transformers" visual effects related review snippets here.

The Best Special Effects Ever?

From Matt Sullivan's article in Popular Mechanics, titled "Transformers: The Best Special Effects Ever?":

[It's] all in a day's work for the motor magicians at George Lucas's Industrial Light & Magic (ILM), who for the last two years have been juggling the limits of the possible (turning a real car into a fake robot and figuring out what the heck to put inside) and the demands of reality (studio budgets, GM sponsorship, the wrath of fanboys worldwide) to build the most painstaking — and maybe most believable — effects achievement in movie history: Transformers.

Read the full article here.
Read all "Transformers" visual effects related review snippets here.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007


From Claudia Puig's review of "Transformers" in USA Today:
["Transformers"] features some of the most spectacular action and effects sequences of any movie of its kind.... [the film] perfectly embodies the concept of a summer blockbuster with its simple good-guys-vs.-bad-guys plot, cheeky humor and flawless special effects.

Read the full review.
Read all "Transformers" visual effects related review snippets here.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Way Cool

From Deeson Thomson's review of "Transformers," for the Washington Post:
"Transformers" has some of the best action sequences you'll see all summer, including a way-cool shootout between a tank-size, scorpion-tailed Decepticon and American soldiers in the Middle East Desert.

Read the full review.
Read all "Transformers" visual effects related review snippets here.

Some of the Best CGI Work Ever Created

From Elizabeth Weitzman's review of "Transformers" in the New York Daily News: sure to buy the biggest bucket of popcorn you can, because you're not leaving your seat once the lights go down. Thanks to some of the best CGI work ever created, the Transformers you remember as toys and TV characters from the '80s have become massive, intricate affairs.

Read her full review.
Read all "Transformers" visual effects related review snippets here.

Out of This World

From Bill Muller's review of "Transformers," in the Arizona Republic:
You'll find yourself rooting for computer-generated robots that magically transform into cars, trucks and fighter planes. It's selling the movie short to say the special effects are amazing - they are out of this world.

...the one-sided battle [in Qatar] shows Bay in all his over-the-top glory. Explosions shake the base as sprinting soldiers flee the giant robot, which sets off firestorms and shatters vehicles with a plasma weapon it fires into the ground. As jaw-dropping as all of this is, it's just a snack compared with the feast to come.
Read the full review here.

"Transformers" Opens

"Transformers," a Michael Bay film featuring visual effects by Industrial Light & Magic opens in U.S. theaters today.

I spent almost an entire year on the project at ILM. I was a sequence supervisor for the film, focusing on the Qatar army base attack sequence at the beginning of the film, the desert Scorponok sequence, and the end battle between the Autobots and the Decepticons.

Academy Award winner Scott Farrar was our visual effects supervisor, with Russell Earl as associate visual effects supervisor. Scott Benza was our animation supervisor, with Jeff White in the role of digital production supervisor, and Patrick Tubach as compositing supervisor. Shari Hanson was the ILM producer of the project, with Peter Nicolai as our production manager. We had over 350 people on our crew contributing to the film's effects, and I was very proud to be among them. For many on the crew, this was the best show we've ever worked on.

I will be collecting "Transformers" reviews that refer to its visual effects with the label Transformers Review.

A "Transformers" Breakdown

The Associated Press has a nice little six page interactive graphic, showing off one of our shots from "Transformers." I really like this shot from the film; it's one of my favorites in probably the most exciting and well designed visual effects sequence in the film. There are only two robots, the lines of motion are clearly defined, you can clearly tell them apart, and in this beautiful, long lens, slow-motion shot, you can actually enjoy the giant masses of steel colliding into each other. This shot is what "Transformers" is all about.

The visual effects for "Transformers" were created by Industrial Light & Magic. The artists that created this shot include Shawn Kelly, Mike Jamieson, Nigel Sumner, David Washburn and Shannon Wiggins.

Click here to see the breakdown.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Awful Movie Poster: "Rumor Has It..."

The "Rumor Has It..." one sheet breaks all of the FXRant Rules of Movie Posters.

First off, the poster is purely photographic, with absolutely no intention of creating a lasting impression on a potential moviegoer with art direction; a hastily created Photoshop collage will not intrigue moviegoers.

Let me document the creative process for the creation of this poster: get photos, mask photos, layer photos. Oooh, feel those creative juices flow! Approved! Where's our paycheck? Plus, those stills of Costner, Ruffalo, MacLaine and Aniston have no consistency to them; it's as if each photograph was randomly grabbed from the stills photographer's archive. The lighting, composition, and attitude are completely different in each actors' shot, with some desperate Photoshop work to try and tie them together. They couldn't even get these stars in the same room, together, for a quick photoshoot? Oh, probably not, because considering the salaries of these performers, that photoshoot might have doubled the budget for the film.

While we're talking about the Photoshoppery-nature of this lame poster, we must ask, why the blue sky background? Did these actors just get pushed out of an airplane? Is it a movie about skydiving?

Secondly, there's nothing in the design of the poster to tease a potential moviegoer about the themes of the film. Well, nothing other than the star-power. Because that's all you see here-- stars. Against a blue sky.

This idiotic film (yes, I saw it) supposes that the events in "The Graduate" actually happened to some of the lead characters. How about a sly reference to "The Graduate" in this poster? Perhaps, a visual allusion to one of the most iconic moments in cinema history: Mrs. Robinson's leg, silhouetted against Benjamin Braddock's goofy shape. Or, at least some half-assed attempt to tie the events of "The Graduate" to your crummy film? Naah, the "Rumor Has It..." poster really works better as a cut-n-paste job.

What's with the smirk, Ms. Aniston? Well, it's not really a smirk, it's as if she's telling us "God, I wish I didn't make this crappy movie." Take another look-- that's what she's saying.

And is the ellipsis really necessary in the title? Does it really add anything to intrigue a potential audience member? I'd really like to know, because studios don't approve titles with superfluous punctuation easily. I wonder how many studio/filmmaker meetings had to happen to get that title approved. Who fought for the ellipsis? Seriously, I want to know.

By the way. this movie is awful. I saw it on a plane, and deep inside my soul, as I was watching it, I kinda sorta wanted the plane to go down, if only to end that cinematic experience. Even the greatest poster in the history of cinemakind couldn't have saved this trainwreck of a film.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Completely Convincing

From Todd Gilchrist's review of "Transformers" in
...the state-of-the-art computer animation is completely convincing. Moreover, few if any prior films have as effectively integrated CGI and live-action characters as they do here.

Read the entire review here.