Monday, December 19, 2011

Animation Roundtable features Lasseter, 'Pooh' director, and a discussion on MoCap

Briefly: Watch the Hollywood Reporter's roundtable discussion with the Animation contenders this awards season. Those in the discussion include Stephen J. Anderson (Winnie the Pooh), Jamie Beard (Tintin), John Lasseter (Cars 2), Chris Miller (Puss in Boots), Jennifer Yuh Nelson (Kung Fu Panda 2), Carlos Saldanha (Rio) and Gore Verbinski (Rango).

Make sure to watch all three parts of the discussion, which covers a range of topics, including the controversial "motion capture vs. animation" debate.



My Tour of Pixar

Back in July, Brianna Galloway, Chris Wiggum, and the great folks at Pixar were all kind enough to give me a tour of the studio.

And, let me tell you, it is everything you expect, and more. When you first enter the grounds, it is quit pleasant. There is a lot of lush greenery and walkways and open space. Upon entering the main building, you are greeted by the iconic massive atrium, complete with 6-foot-tall LEGO Woody and Buzz, and full-sized Guido and Luigi figures.

The receptionist's desk is directly to the left, and a couch sits to the right. Behind the couch is a display case filled with Oscars, Annie Awards, Golden Globes, etc. Quite impressive.

The atrium also includes, of course, the cereal room (complete with any kind of milk you might desire), an exclusive "Studio Store" where I spent far more money than I could afford to, a small cafe, and tables for employees to relax and socialize.

The back wall of the atrium leads to a large screening room where the Pixarians watch dailies, host events, and just have fun. The night after my visit they planned on watching Jurassic Park, most likely spurred on by their upcoming dino-project.

The upper level contains production offices, and a massive gallery in the main hallway. The gallery was all about Cars 2 during my visit, since it changes based on the current project. There's anything from storyboards to character sheets and digital poster art. There are even TVs with headphones playing video interviews with the film's creators.

On the first level is the RenderFarm and over at the brand new building, Brooklyn, are the pre-production offices (and massive, wonderful Brave paintings and art). The final building houses the publicity department.

There is also a gym, basketball court (complete with Luxo's ball in center court), garden, and soccer field.

As you'd expect, nothing escapes the Pixar charm. The bathroom plaques are Bo Peep for Women and Woody for Men. (An interesting anecdote I was told is that Lasseter only wanted two restrooms on the whole grounds so that it would force employees to interact with each other, but apparently that wasn't realistic.) The Brooklyn building's marble floors have the occasional Pixar character's silhouette hidden among the abstract pattern if you look hard enough.

Oh, and every person had a glowing smile on their face.

Let it suffice to say that I plan on working at Pixar one day. Not just because they make the world's best movies. Not just because they are outside the world's most awesome city, San Francisco. Not just because Fenton's, as featured in Up, is a short drive away and had the best sundae I've ever had. Not just because I went broke at the Studio Store and need to make more money to support the habit. But for all of these reasons combined. It's just a great place to be.

If you ever get the chance to pass through that gate, take it. You'll never want to look back.


Friday, December 16, 2011

New 'Misson: Impossible' is action-packed, storyless

Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol is fun. It delivers everything you expect from a Mission: Impossible flick. Car chases, explosions, death-defying stunts, and more gadgets than you can shake a stick at—it's all there. Director Brad Bird definitely learned a thing or two when he made The Incredibles, because the action is superb. I won't give away much of the plot, but that's just because there isn't much of a plot to divulge. This movie is intense, action-packed eye candy. Don't look much further than that.

But actually, you really shouldn't have to. I'd venture to say that this particular film has some of the best action sequences I have ever seen. They developed some seriously fantastic set pieces. The opening prison escape set to Dean Martin's Ain't That a Kick in the Head? Genius. The insane acrobatics on the side of a skyscraper, hundreds of feet above Dubai? Terrifying. Once your heart is pumping faster than a metronome set to max, they up the intensity even more. The suspense is constantly stacked higher and higher, unbelievably so. And then they make it even crazier. Let it suffice to say that this movie creates such dynamic and well-paced action that it is tiring to watch. In a good way.

The intensity of the action is off-set by a subtle yet biting humor that rears its head at just the right moments, making you laugh out loud. (You'll do so to both relieve some of that action-induced tension, but also to engage with such well-written wit.)

Like I said, this movie is great for everything besides its story. The plot is obviously there to just serve the set pieces and imaginative gadgetry. Their attempts at emotion come off as cheesy and fall flat, and whatever twists they tried to infuse (which I think they did), didn't come across. But that's OK, because the attempt at a powerful story doesn't distract from the adrenaline rush you get from the action.

Giacchino's score, as always, is perfection. Brad Bird slipped in two tasteful Easter Eggs in the form of “A113” inscribed on the graduation ring of Josh Holloway's character, and Ethan requesting extraction from quadrant “Alpha One-One-Three.”

Mission: Impossible Ghost Protocol won't disappoint. Don't expect an emotional punch. But do expect mind-numbing, sweat-inducing, thousand-mile-per-hour intensity flying at you.

It is a fun movie.


Sunday, December 4, 2011

Go See 'The Muppets'

Briefly: Go and see The Muppets as soon as you can.

I know it's old news since I haven't had much chance to do much of anything lately, but do yourself a favor and follow my advice.

It is the best comedy I've seen this year, and possibly the best film, too. Not only does it bring back that lovable Muppets charm we've been missing for a few decades, but it also has catchy music, impressive cameos, downright funny jokes, and a plot with as much charm as a Lasseter picture. The jokes are in the classic style of the Muppets: self-aware, clever, and always fresh.

It's been a long time since I laughed out loud during a movie that also packed an emotional punch, but it happened routinely during The Muppets. I've been waiting for years to see something new from The Muppets, and I was not let down.

The Muppets are back, and I could not be happier.