Friday, July 31, 2009

This week at the Nerd-O-Drome

In the hope of increasing the visibility of our little studio, I've asked the Bit Films Intern Supervisors (myself included) to gather some bit of production news from this week of work and let me throw it up on a blog post.

Cornucopia (Perry)
One big piece of news is that we've moved from "untitled feature project" to a acceptable working title. Eric and I finished the first complete draft of the film's treatment, and though it's full of problems, it's exciting to see it from beginning to end. Interns Marcel and Leo have been cranking out beautiful visual work that have really made the environments come to life. I've been working on some simple boards. Here are a few samples for you to enjoy:

a concept painting of the junkyard (Leo)

a concept painting of a growing vine (Marcel)

a rough board from act I (Perry)

Caldera (Viera & Bishop)
Team Caldera had a productive week. the last of the boards were drawn, the first render test was completed, and progress continued on layout and character modeling. Here are some images from the week:

a render of the cove environment (Viera, cove model by Jake)

an act III storyboard (Bishop)

Tube (Kurdali)
Bassam's got his own blog for the Tube project, and he provided a timely post today that covers his team's progress this week.

Other Interesting Stuff
Studio-wide, we also made major advances this week on launching Blender and After Effects renders from Helga. We have yet another new system for launching a general render, and this one seems to be the most functional yet. Heck, it can even handle the annoying stuff that has to happen to get aerender to actually render (please, Adobe folks who might be reading: make aerender actually launch from the command-line without needing any window server connections). More on this as it develops.

Also, excitement builds for next week's SIGGRAPH conference, where at least four of our summer crew will be relocating for the week. So things may be quieter than usual in the 'drome.

Monday, July 27, 2009


Excitement and frustration both as we prep for SIGGRAPH next week.

The excitement comes with the pending prize announcement (the student prize winner will be announced at the beginning of Monday August 3rd's Evening Theater screening). That same night, watch for the late-night Bit Films party; follow us on Twitter with your phone to catch the late-breaking announcement of when and where.

Be on the lookout for some new Bit Films schwag in New Orleans as well.

The frustration comes in that despite the nomination we have only two screenings during the week, and they're in the middle of the day on Monday. They've been added to the calendar.
TO BE CLEAR: The Incident at Tower 37 will be screening exactly twice at SIGGRAPH, in back-to-back programs during the day on Monday August 3rd.
The first show is a reel made up of all the award nominees (not just the student prize nominees, either). I'm going to guess that it'll be well-attended since it's the only time all week you can catch the nominees at one time. The second screening on Monday is a program called "Young at Heart." I'd like to see it too, but I'd also like to eat before the Evening Theater and the night of parties that follows. It's not unusual for me to be running entirely on fumes by the end of SIGGRAPH; looks like that might start earlier this year.

You may also find it playing in the Autodesk booth on the exhibition floor, but I certainly would try to catch one of the higher-quality screenings on Monday.

Friday, July 17, 2009

fall fest announcements

The fall schedule is beginning to get exciting. Tower 37 will be in the Ars Electronica Festival in Linz, the Woodstock Film Festival in NY, and the Route 66 Film Festival in IL. All have been added to the calendar and will get more specific screening information once it is available.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

new Bit Films website, Tower 37 snippet

I'm pleased to report the launch of the new Bit Films website, with a sleeker design, higher-quality videos, and a short snippet from Tower 37 to satisfy those who keep asking me "when can we see some of the film online?"

The new site also directs more attention toward the best sources for late-breaking Bit Films news, namely, this blog and the bitfilms twitter account.

Many thanks to Evan Viera, Dan Gilbert, and Ben Fiske for their help making this happen!

Monday, July 6, 2009

Laboratory Films shuts down

I received an email today saying that the first Laboratory Films production has been shut down. If you don't know what I'm talking about, you'll have to do some google searching and check for cached pages, since I think the "Pathfinder" (Twowan) for the production has done a remarkable, almost eerie, job of cleaning up after himself.

One part of his email motivated me to comment here:
If this production system does not require monetary capital, it does need great amounts of trust capital (goodwill). We need a massive amount of enthusiasm from a great number of artists right from day one. Being an unknown, whatever I do, I can never generate this amount of trust. Therefore, I would need a partner with an international filmmaking name who would bring credence to the enterprise.

I don't concur with this assessment. I avoided the project not because Twowan was an unknown, but because he worked so deliberately to keep himself (and the project) unknown. What I mean by this is that instead of making the work and himself and the project as visible as possible, it was kept secretive. The whole thing had a deceptive vibe surrounding it, when I think it needed more of a grass-roots, communal energy.

I would have voted for open, open, open. Put the work of the artists online, make it easy for people to see and get excited about the film. SHOW the progress and let the strength of the work do your recruiting for you.

But what about protecting intellectual property? Use an open source or CC license, even one of the most restrictive ones! This would allow for work to be posted publicly without fear. It would be foolish (and illegal) for someone or some corporation to take the work and then try to turn their own profit on it. And it would yell out trust rather than privacy and fear.

I watched the Laboratory Films project closely and with excitement. I'm sorry to see this iteration fail, but I hope there are future versions to observe and, possibly, contribute to.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Palm Springs part 2 (guest author)

Palm Springs, California...known for it's world class golf courses, it's intense heat, and it's film festival. I had the pleasure of experiencing two of these three things this past weekend along with fellow Tower 37 crew member Andrew Flanagan. It was 112 degrees in Palm Springs when we arrived, which is simply oppressive (I don't care about what anyone says about it being a dry heat, 112 degrees is 112 degrees any way you slice it). So what better way to spend the afternoon then inside an air conditioned theater?

We got our tickets, got our popcorn and got in line for the Amazing Animation shorts screening. The original plan was to come, see the film, and head back to Los Angeles, however while on line I received a call from a festival official asking if I was going to be attending the awards ceremony later that evening. To say this piqued my interest would be an understatement and I graciously accepted the two complimentary tickets to the event they offered to me. The line than began to move and we were let into the theater.

The theater itself was very nice, the screen was a little bit smaller than the one that I saw the film on in Newport Beach but no less nice. Within 10 minutes the theater was filled, not a single seat left empty and after some perfunctory opening remarks from a festival volunteer they dimmed the light and the projector came on. The first thing to come up was the festival introduction video, a whimsical piece about the filmmaking process that could only be described as video mixed media. Check it out here.

The Amazing Animation block of films contained some of the most impressive animated shorts I have ever seen and it was a real honor to be selected to screen alongside them. It was a very international screening, with the nine films screened representing seven countries: Spain, Mexico, Switzerland, France, England, Germany and the USA.

My favorite films of the series were "Alma" a CG animated modern fairy tale about a girl drawn to a mysterious doll that looks just like her (check out a clip here), the film was dark and atmospheric and genuinely creepy. Another great short was "Apple of My Eyes" a whimsical and sexy rotoscoped piece about a woman and the four inch tall man who lives in her apartment whom she is involved with romantically. Then there was "French Roast" (check out a clip here), a very fun short about a rich man at a coffee shop who forgets his wallet and the chaos that ensues as he tries to figure out how to pay. It was very well constructed, playing out almost entirely from the same angle.

Then, there was the screening of Tower 37, which went fantastic. Nothing is better than watching the film with an attentive audience. Laughs and giggles accompanied Operator's big reveal and the dud bomb exploding, they were transfixed as Leed swam around the pitcher, audible gasps could be heard as Operator slipped almost falling on Leed, and an eerie silence feel over the crowd as they watched the tower come down. A brief Q&A followed the screening and I talked about how the story evolved during production and talked about the benefits to having your composer be an active part of your production process long before picture is locked.

The closing night award ceremony started almost immediately after the end of our Q&A. We moved into a larger theater that was as packed as the one we had just left and Andrew and I found seats in the back right up against the wall. The ceremony started up and they got right to the first award, which just happened to be the Best Student Animation. They started by awarding the runner up, which went to "The Incredible Story of My Great Grandmother Olive," and then they announced the winner...


Boy, my heart was racing as I made my way down the theater and up to the stage. I know I made a thank you that Andrew would later tell me was very good...but I can't really remember what I said all that clearly...really, what I remember most of all was crossing the stage to the podium and repeating in my head over and over "don't trip, don't trip, don't trip!"

You can check out pictures of the awards ceremony on the Palm Springs ShortFest website. As Chris pointed out, according to the captions on the photos taken of me at the awards ceremony, the Fest seems to think I am Estephan Wagner, director of the Best Student Documentary. In most situations I would be somewhat annoyed by this, except I appear to be making really goofy faces in the photos, so let the public think that's Estephan.

The festival handed out around 25 more awards that night and screened a few more shorts, including the 25 minute animated film "Lost and Found" which is based on the children's book of the same name. The film tells the story of a little boy who attempts to return a seemingly lost penguin to the arctic. The film was really wonderful. Check out the trailer here.

After the ceremony, Andrew and I headed to the after party which was held poolside at the swanky Ace Hotel. A couple fish tacos later it was time for us to start the long drive back to Los Angeles. Even though I was only there for a few hours, my experience at the Palm Springs ShortFest was fantastic.


(by Daniel)

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

one half of a Palm Springs summary

The Palm Springs Shortfest has come and gone, and with it went months of my very own carefully-cultivated stomach bacteria. Yes, I was taken down mid-fest by what I still hold was food poisoning, but which I hear could have been just some bad water. Although the causes may differ, the results were the same. Happily, now that I've returned home I've yogurted my way to a fresh new set of active cultures and once again feel (mostly) human.

This is the dark half of what I hope will be a two-part PS festival review. I am counting on Daniel to provide the brighter half. This will also be the short half, since I made it to exactly one screening (Art Attack, which was awesome, by the way).

What? You didn't even attend your own screening?

Yes, I have to register one complaint with the festival organizers: the policy to release screening dates and times only two weeks before the festival worked against this particular filmmaker's budget and schedule. Needing to make affordable travel plans from the east coast, but being unable to attend the entire festival and thus guarantee attendance at my own show, I had to guess at a reasonable 4-day window and cross my fingers.

Well, when the news came in that our film was showing twice, I was ecstatic. That is, until I scrolled further down and saw that the first screening was a few hours before I was scheduled to land on Wednesday, and the second would be a few hours after I would leave on Sunday. Alas. So once I arrived I asked around about our first show. Steven Vander Meer, the maker of the wonderful film More From Life, had been at the show and said that Tower 37 was well received. He actually joked that this was his third time seeing it, having been at the Humboldt Film Fest back in April as well!

So while I don't have a lot of festival stories to tell, my son Jordy and I did get to watch a few films in the marketplace room (very well-organized though we found it was hard to hold on to a viewing station very long) and we sure got to swim a lot before I fell ill. And I have to note how grateful I was to have Mom show up just in time for me to be bed-ridden. She signed up for a vacation and instead got to take care of both me and Jordy. Sorry, Ka.

I'm going to leave the rest to Daniel. But I have to say, just look at the resemblance between this guy Wagner (from the PS photos pages) and our very own producer! It's uncanny, isn't it?