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How Did They Create Iron Man’s HUD?

Iron Man’s Heads Up Display (HUD) is one of the cooler effects in “The Avengers.” To create it, filmmakers turned to a special effects house to re-imagine Tony Stark’s new toy.


Robert Downey Jr. plays the billionaire Tony Stark (and Iron Man).

The computer graphics wizards at Cantina Creative were one part of the visual effects team of “The Avengers.” The company helped create not only Iron Man’s HUD but also assisted in the development of the screen graphics for the S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier, lab sequences (like those featuring Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner) and other cool technology used by Tony Stark.

Making Iron Man Fly
Designer Jayse Hansen of Cantina Creative told fxguide how he created the effects for the Helicarrier’s computers. “I started by researching real aircraft carrier screens and then designing based on what purpose each had…Fury’s screens would be the overall screens and he would have a high-level view of basically everything in the Helicarrier and the world. There would be map screens with globes. It also had security cam footage and video feeds from news footage.”

For Iron Man’s HUD, the digital artists used After Effects to create the visual display that keeps Tony Stark informed on what’s going on when he’s in the air. After Effects is the movie industry standard for adding computer effects to live images and learning After Effects can lead you to a job in the movie industry.


Iron Man’s HUD was created using After Effects (click the image for a larger view).  

Iron Man’s Next Outing?
The success of “The Avengers” assures not only a sequel for “The Avengers” but for Iron Man, too. “Iron Man 3″ is scheduled for release on May 3, 2013.

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posted by Vince Matthews in Digital Filmmaking,News Blog and have No Comments

First Look: Official “Skyfall” Trailer

“Some men are coming to kill us,” cinema’s greatest action hero says. “We’re gonna kill them first.”

That’s the take-away line from the just-released trailer for “Skyfall,” the next James Bond action extravaganza, which opens November 9th in the U.S. It’s been four years since “Quantum of Solace.” Bond is finally back from vacation—and he’s ready for anything:

Daniel Craig suits up as 007 for a third time in “Skyfall.” 

Since taking over in 2006’s “Casino Royale,” Craig has brought a tough sense of menace back to the role—something sorely missing since Sean Connery (the original movie Bond) left the series – which now numbers 23 films.

The Plot Thickens
We don’t know much about “Skyfall” yet, and there’s a good reason for that: It’s not based on any of Ian Fleming’s original Bond stories. But what we do know is this: The spy business is built on secrets, and when secrets from M’s past pose a real threat to security, Bond leaps into action.

Once again, Judi Dench will return as M, the head of the MI6 branch of British Intelligence. She will be joined by actor Ralph Fiennes (who played Lord Voldemort in half of the “Harry Potter” movies), who portrays a fact-finding bureaucrat looking for faults within Her Majesty’s Secret Intelligence Service. Rumor has it Fiennes is being groomed to replace Dench, who is (in real life) suffering from macular degeneration and losing much of her eyesight.

Of course, no Bond picture would be complete without a villain. This time out, that role will be played by Javier Bardem, who scared the popcorn out of anyone who saw his Oscar-winning performance as a psychopathic murderer in 2007’s “No Country for Old Men.”

Equally breathtaking are the locations. Bond movies usually involve some serious globe-trotting and that’s certainly the case here. “Skyfall” was shot in London, Istanbul (Turkey), Scotland and—in a new twist for the series—China. And while it’s already known that part of “Skyfall” takes place in Shanghai, there is an exciting rumor circulating that says “Skyfall” also includes a heart-stopping motorcycle chase around (or perhaps even on) the Great Wall of China.

Behind the Scenes of “Skyfall”
Creating a movie takes many talented people, including production designers with a background in filmmaking and graphic design. Like Oscar-winning Production Designer Dennis Gassner, who takes us inside how he created the look of “Skyfall”:

Incredible action sequences are the bread and butter for this film franchise. The “Skyfall” trailer provides glimpses of some of them: Bond on the run, underwater, running in traffic, falling down an elevator shaft and escaping helicopter fire. Other set pieces from the trailer include a subway-train derailment, motorcycles racing across rooftops and (of course) numerous explosions.

Check back here for breaking updates on “Skyfall,” as well as reports about the 50th anniversary of the Bond series, which began way back in 1962 with “Dr. No.”

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posted by Phill Powell in Digital Filmmaking,News Blog and have No Comments

Marvel’s Plans for The Hulk

The Incredible Hulk has been smashing his way through television and movies since the 1970s and now there’s more green goodness on the way, courtesy of Marvel Studios.

The Hulk teams up with the Avengers.

Mark Ruffalo owns the role of the brooding scientist/wrecking machine in “The Avengers.” So much so, he recently signed on for more movies (six of ‘em, in fact) to play the Hulk. And despite some past headaches with the franchise, Marvel is ready to (yet again) re-start the green machine.

“If Hulk’s successful turnaround continues,” Marvel’s Paul Gitter recently told Forbes magazine, then Marvel “will spin him off to a stand-alone program next year.” A new Hulk movie is slated for 2015. But before that, don’t be surprised if you see the Hulk making some cameo appearances in commercials. Marvel reportedly is interested in having Hulk represent one or more companies in a manner similar to the way that “Peanuts” character Snoopy has become the corporate icon for MetLife Insurance Company.

A new Hulk television show created by film director Guillermo Del Toro, of “Hellboy” fame has also been rumored. Some have wondered how well a Hulk TV show would perform against a new Hulk movie series starring Mark Ruffalo.


The birth of a giant: The Incredible Hulk #1. (Marvel Comics, May, 1962)

The Hulk is a creature of constant change, and he’s gone through quite a bit in the past:

“The Incredible Hulk” (1978-1982) 
The highly-rated television series starred TV icon Bill Bixby as the genetics researcher altered by his experiment. Part of CBS’ Friday night ratings juggernaut (along with “Dallas”), the program ran for 82 episodes over five seasons.

Journeyman TV actor Bixby was the producers’ first choice for the role of Bruce Banner, but much casting went into finding the right Hulk. Arnold Schwarzennegger auditioned for the role was thought to be too short. Bodybuilder Lou Ferrigno finally won the role – and three-hour makeup sessions (his green wig was made out of yak hair). After five seasons, CBS sold the TV franchise to NBC, which went on to make three made-for-TV Hulk movies, two of which were directed by Bill Bixby himself.


The original Incredible Hulk: Bill Bixby played troubled scientist David Banner, while Lou Ferrigno dominated the screen as the Hulk in the 1970s TV show of the same name.

“Hulk” (2003)
Directed by Ang Lee, this film was the first time the raging green monster made his way to the big screen. “The Hulk”made an impressive $245 million worldwide but had more than its fair share of film production headaches.

The project began back in 1990 and went through several re-writes (at one time or another, at least ten different screenwriters were working on the project). In addition to Eric Bana, the film featured Sam Elliott, Jennifer Connelly and Nick Nolte, as Bruce Banner’s father, David. In the end, mixed reviews and upset fans caused the film to be removed from the Marvel Universe…


Eric Bana plays the alter ego of the green giant.

“The Incredible Hulk” (2008)
After Hulk fans expressed their extreme dissatisfaction with the 2003 film, Marvel reacquired the film rights and began making a movie that would meet fans expectations. One of those fans was actor Edward Norton, who liked the original comic book, as well as the original television series. When Norton was brought on board the movie (directed by Louis Leterrier), he not only took on the role of Bruce Banner but also served as script doctor, rewriting large chunks of Zak Penn’s script.

The movie grossed $263 million worldwide, scoring $58 million of that from DVD sales alone. As the production began, there became increasing conflict between star Norton and the film’s producers. Eventually it was decided that despite his major acting chops and writing talents, the Hulk franchise and Edward Norton would not work together again.


Edward Norton – a fan favorite – parted ways with the franchise due to conflicts over creative control with Marvel Studios.

“Untitled Hulk Movie” (2015)
Mark Ruffalo replaced Edward Norton in “The Avengers” after negotiations between Norton and the studio broke down. Joaquin Phoenix was also rumored to be considered for the part, but in the end, Ruffalo stepped up and not only played the role, but owned it. For the voice of the Hulk in “The Avengers,” the filmmakers tapped Lou Ferrigno, who played the Hulk in the original television show, and who has often voiced him in other versions.


Ruffalo and “the other guy,” his new alter ego, The Incredible Hulk.

Actor Ruffalo spoke about playing the character(s) recently and had this to say, “(Bruce Banner is) a guy struggling with two sides of himself, the dark and the light; everything he does in his life is filtered through issues of control.” What does he think about the “hulking” alter ego? “(He’s) a loose cannon – he’s the teammate none of them are sure they want. It’s like throwing a grenade into the middle of the group and hoping it turns out well!”

It looks like it will turn out well – Ruffalo enjoyed playing the Hulk so much, he has a six-film deal. And based on audience reaction, it appears fans have finally found their not-so-jolly green giant.

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posted by Vince Matthews in Digital Filmmaking,News Blog and have No Comments

Official Trailer: “The Dark Knight Rises”

Barreling upward through floor after floor of Gotham’s blue/gray skyscrapers…the camera rises steadily, acting out the verb in the movie’s title. Then come the words, whispered with urgency. “If you make yourself more than just a man…if you devote yourself to an ideal…then you become something else entirely. A story…a legend.”


Christian Bale suits up for a third – and last – time as Batman, Gotham’s protector.

The rapid-fire action comes hard and heavy—with a caped crusader using superior fighting skills and hot-shot technology to wage a one-man war on crime. There are jaw-breaking brawls. Things are exploding. And we’re getting a better look at “The Dark Knight Rises,” the final installment in director Christopher Nolan’s wildly popular “Dark Knight” series, which releases everywhere on July 20th.

The Bankable Batman
As with “Batman Begins” and “The Dark Knight,” the caped crusader will be played with total intensity by Christian Bale and his performance will be supported by Hollywood heavyweights like Michael Caine, Anne Hathaway, Morgan Freeman, Gary Oldman and Joseph Gordon-Levitt.

The last Batman movie created a full-blown international sensation. “The Dark Knight” (helped by its IMAX presentation) dominated the 2008 box office, earned more than $1 billion worldwide, and served up Academy Awards for Best Supporting Actor and Best Sound Editing. That film remains the eleventh highest-grossing movie of all time and features a performance for the ages—delivered by the late Heath Ledger (who won an Oscar posthumously for his performance). His turn as The Joker electrified theater audiences and redefined super-hero villains.


Brains and brawn, Bane (Tom Hardy) brings the pain mentally and physically. 

Bane vs. Batman
This time out, Batman faces the brutal arch criminal Bane, portrayed by actor Tom Hardy. To bulk up for the role, Hardy gained 30 pounds. “Bane, to me, is something we haven’t dealt with in the films,” commented director Nolan. “We wanted to do something very different in this film. He’s a primarily physical villain.”

The actor was even more specific about what Bane is capable of: “The style is heavy-handed, heavy-footed, it’s nasty,” said Hardy in a recent interview. “Anything from small-joint manipulation to crushing skulls, crushing rib cages, stamping on shins and knees and necks and collarbones and snapping heads off and tearing his fists through chests, ripping out spinal columns. He is a terrorist in mentality as well as brutal action.”

In one clip, Bane has beaten Bruce Wayne nearly to death, then taunts the caped crusader, “When Gotham is ashes…you have my permission to die.”


Anne Hathaway roars into “The Dark Knight Rises” as Selina Kyle, better known as Catwoman.

Trailer Frenzy
The Dark Knight Rises” had some big shoes to fill, but Warner Bros. responded by unlocking its war chest and giving Nolan a $250 million budget for the final installment. In May 2011, Warner Bros. launched the film’s official website and recently released the third trailer for the film.

Like “The Dark Knight” (not to mention Nolan’s “Inception”), the new official trailer for The Dark Knight Rises contains plenty of elaborate set pieces and mind-blowing effects:

Expectations are running high for the third Christopher Nolan Batman film. Will it surpass the whopping billion-dollar box office of “The Dark Knight”? Stay tuned to this Bat Channel…

The End of the Beginning?
One of the most intriguing aspects of Warner Bros.’ marketing of “The Dark Knight Rises” is the slogan on the film’s poster: “The Legend Ends.” Is this the end of Batman? Unlikely, a money-maker like Batman will be rebooted by another director in the years ahead.

Superheroes and movie franchises are constantly being reinvented for new generations of film audiences. Effectively taking beloved characters and relaunching them with today’s latest Hollywood visual effects requires lots of creative energy, as well as a solid education learning how to create special effects. Why not spend your summer at film camp and learn how you take million-dollar ideas and transform them into box-office blockbusters? Maybe in future years we might be lining up for your big Hollywood premiere.

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posted by Phill Powell in Digital Filmmaking,News Blog and have No Comments

2012 Summer Movie Round Up

“The Avengers” is currently ruling the box office. The mega-blockbuster exceeded $207 in domestic box office for its opening weekend, and this past Saturday, “The Avengers” churned more than $69.7 million in ticket receipts, making that the highest Saturday gross of all time. Name a box office record and “the Avengers” has either broken it, or has its eye on it.


Look! Up in the sky, it’s a bird, it’s a plane, no…It’s the soaring box office totals for “The Avengers.”

I Believe I Can Fly
How high will “The Avengers” profits soar during its entire initial theatrical run? Some industry analysts are predicting that the film may not surpass the revenues produced by director/producer James Cameron’s one-two combination of “Titanic” and “Avatar,” but that “The Avengers” will probably blow by another superhero blockbuster, “The Dark Knight,” which made $533.3 million back in 2008.

Can anyone, or any film, defeat Earth’s Mightiest Heroes? There are plenty that are going to try – in addition to “The Dark Knight Rises,” “The Avengers” will be competing with Spider-Man and Abraham Lincoln. But the summer has a slew of other great flicks lined up, let’s take a look at what’s adding up to be the best movie summer ever!

MAY

“Dark Shadows” is the eighth film Johnny Depp has done with director Tim Burton. (Warner Bros. 2012)

“Dark Shadows” (5/11)
Johnny Depp stars as Barnabas Collins, a vampire that returns to his ancestral home to find the current inhabitants (his descendants). Tim Burton directs the comedy, which is based on the 60s TV classic – the first horror soap opera.

“The Dictator” (5/16)
Sacha Baron Cohen–who made audiences howl with laughter as “Borat”–is back as the unhinged leader of the Republic of Wadiya (say it out loud). Directed by Larry Charles, of “Seinfeld” fame.

“Battleship” (5/18)
Aliens place a force field around a naval fleet and command them to battle it out. Part sci-fi action movie, part board game “Battleship” stars Taylor Kitsch, Rihanna and Liam Neeson.

“Men in Black III” (5/25)
Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith return as the Men in Black – this time joined by Josh Brolin who plays a much-younger version of Jones – in the third installment of Barry Sonnenfeld’s popular sci-fi series. While script re-writes could have derailed production, early buzz and the trailer have fans eager to take on a whole new alien menace.

JUNE

Thor, uh, Chris Helmsworth plays The Huntsman in the updated version of the fairy tale classic. (Universal Pictures. 2012)

“Snow White and the Huntsman” (6/1)
Kristen Stewart and Charlize Theron join a cast that includes Ian McShane and Bob Hoskins in the live-action reboot of the fairy tale Walt Disney made into a household name. Cast also includes Chris (“Thor”) Hemsworth, fresh from appearing in “The Avengers.”

“Piranha 3D” (6/1)
A year after ravaging Lake Victoria, our favorite prehistoric eating machines are back – and swimming through the town plumbing! Next stop: water park! The 3D horror-comedy features Danielle Panabaker, Gary Busey and wait for it…David (“Knight Rider,” “Bay Watch”) Hasselhoff!

“Madagascar 3: Europe’s Most Wanted” (6/8)
Produced by DreamWorks Animation, this “Madagascar” joins back up with Alex the Lion, Marty the Zebra, Melman the Giraffe and Gloria the Hippo. This time, the gang is trying to return to the Big Apple despite detours to Africa, England and Monte Carlo.

“Prometheus” (6/8)
Call it what you like, Ridley Scott epic, sci-fi brain scrambler, but don’t call it a prequel to “Alien” (1979) – although it shares much of the same universe and references the movie. “Prometheus” is a sci-fi thriller that explores the dark corners of man’s origins.


“You think the Confederates are bad? Four score and seven years ago…I fought hordes of zombies.” (20th Century Fox. 2012)

“Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” (6/22)
In the summer’s wildest movie concept, the beloved President does some serious moonlighting, taking the stake to legions of 19th Century undead. Set during the Civil War, the movie plays like “Sherlock Holmes” meets “The Walking Dead.” (Why are we not surprised that this adaptation of the popular novel is being brought to the screen by Tim Burton?)

“G.I. Joe: Retaliation” (6/29)
Duane “The Rock” Johnson stars as Roadblock in the sequel to the 2009 dud, “G.I. Joe: The Rise of Cobra.” The trailer looks promising and co-stars like Bruce Willis and RZA (from the Rap group Wu Tang Clan) should help to bring much needed starpower to “Joe.” (UPDATE: G.I. Joe has been moved to March 2013, the studio says it’s so the movie can be converted to 3D.)

JULY

Spider-Man’s back! (Sony Pictures. 2012)

“The Amazing Spider-Man” (7/3)
More Marvel movie mayhem is set to pop in this reboot of the hugely successful film series. Andrew Garfield (“The Social Network”) plays Peter Parker/The Amazing Spider-Man with Emma Stone as famous love-interest Gwen Stacy and Rhys Ifans as Dr. Curt Connors, the geneticist who transforms into The Lizard. Rounding out the cast: Denis Leary, Martin Sheen and Sally Field.

“Ice Age: Continental Drift” (7/13)
The fourth “Ice Age” film will be the second to utilize Digital 3D, as well as the first to be shot in the really wide widescreen aspect ratio of 2.35:1. This time around, Scrat goes nuts over an acorn, leading him and his wisecracking posse on a huge adventure that has “world-changing consequences.”

“The Dark Knight Rises” (7/20)
The last Batman film with Christopher Nolan at the helm has some mighty big shoes to fill. Not only will it finish the “Dark Knight” series, the movie hopes to shatter the record and expectations set by its predecessor, “The Dark Knight.” Christian Bale returns to don the famous cowl, joined again by heavyweights like Michael Caine, Gary Oldman, Anne Hathaway, Morgan Freeman and Joseph Gordon-Levitt. This time Batman is the hunted villain, while trying to save Gotham from Bane, his latest super-foe.

AUGUST

Things get turned upside down when normal guy Douglas Quaid begins to think he’s actually a spy. (Sony Pictures. 2012)

“The Bourne Legacy” (8/3)
You almost need a scorecard to keep up with this franchise; this is the fourth film in this spy-action series, but Matt Damon won’t be returning as series protagonist Jason Bourne. Instead, Jeremy Renner (recently seen in “The Avengers”) plays the lead character against villain Edward Norton and with supporting help from Scott Glenn, Joan Allen and Albert Finney.

“Total Recall” (8/3)
Colin Farrell takes over the role of Douglas Quaid, first made famous by Arnold Schwarzenegger. The “Total Recall” remake promises cooler special effects but sadly, no trips to Mars.

“The Expendables 2” (8/17)
With a call sheet that reads like an 80′s action hero who’s who, the sequel to the sleeper hit stars Sylvester Stallone, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Summer of Entertainment Options
The world looks to Hollywood for its most popular entertainment. Summer blockbusters begin with ideas brought to life by talented creative professionals. Learning filmmaking can be your ticket to the show. Film production or movie-making camps can start you on the way to making your own blockbuster!

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posted by Phill Powell in Digital Filmmaking,News Blog and have No Comments

A Roundup of Reviews for “The Avengers”

“The Avengers” is officially the biggest comic book movie of all time. Name a box office record and the film has either broken it or is preparing to break it.


“The Avengers” is packed with action…and star power. The cast includes (from left): Robert Downey Jr. (Tony Stark/Iron Man), Scarlett Johansson (Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow), Chris Hemsworth (Thor), Chris Evans (Steve Rogers/Captain America), Samuel L. Jackson (Nick Fury), Jeremy Renner (Clint Barton/Hawkeye) and Mark Ruffalo (Bruce Banner/The Hulk).

But what are critics saying about the movie? We gathered comments from some of the nation’s top writers about film and here’s what they had to say about this summer’s mega-movie event…

Peter Travers, movie critic of “Rolling Stone,” had nothing but raves in his review:
“‘The Avengers’ has it all. And then some. Six superheroes for the price of one ticket: Iron Man, Thor, Captain America, Hawkeye, Black Widow and the Hulk. It’s also the blockbuster I saw in my head when I imagined a movie that brought together the idols of the Marvel world in one shiny, stupendously exciting package.”

Owen Gleiberman of “Entertainment Weekly” awarded the flick a B+ rating in his critique:
“In terms of storytelling, ‘The Avengers’ is for the most part a highly functional, banged-together vehicle that runs on synthetic franchise fuel. Yet the grand finale of CGI action, set in the streets of New York, is—in every sense—smashing. True, it wouldn’t be out of place in a Michael Bay movie, but no Transformer was ever as transfixing as this leaping, flying, pummeling superteam. It makes you eager to see what they’ll do next, now that they’ve defeated a threat even bigger than their egos.”

In her Avengers review, Associated Press critic Christy Lemire praised the movie, especially the script:
“Whedon has come up with a script that’s cheeky and breezy, full of witty banter and sly pop-culture shout-outs as well as self-referential humor, one that moves with an infectious energy that (almost) makes you lose track of its 2-1/2 hour running time.”

Richard Corliss, of “Time Magazine,” gave the film a generally positive review, due to its sheer entertainment power:
“Reworking Zak Penn’s original ‘Avengers’ script, Whedon sat on his usual impulse to go meta; instead he served as expert mixologist for this all-star cocktail party. The movie guarantees fast-paced fun without forcing anyone to think about what it all means…”


“Hulk smash box-office records!” Ruffalo digitally bulks up for his role as the Hulk.

In his movie review, Michael Phillips of the “Chicago Tribune” gave it 3 out of 4 stars and called it “143 minutes of stylish mayhem”:
“So is this Marvel Comics franchise alumni reunion a full-on Hulk smash? Financially, yes, most likely (‘The Avengers’ is already killing ‘em overseas.) If the film is more solid and satisfying than terrific, so be it. Cleverly, writer-director Joss Whedon combines and recombines its various intramural rivalries. If you were a fan of two or three or more of the movies directly feeding into this one, you’re already planning on seeing ‘The Avengers’.”

Even Roger Ebert, the dean of American film critics, found much to admire in the movie, rating it 3 out of 4 stars in his write-up about the super-hero movie:
“‘The Avengers’ is done well by Joss Whedon, with style and energy. It provides its fans with exactly what they desire.”

Build Your Own Blockbuster!
It looks like “The Avengers” is well on its way to winning a huge chunk of this summer’s box office. But what about next summer? Young people can start learning the movie industry this summer, thanks to digital filmmaking camps offered by Digital Media Academy, which are taught by seasoned Hollywood professionals using the latest, cutting-edge software. We’ll see you at the theaters this summer for “The Avengers.” And next year, who knows? Maybe we’ll be lining up to see your hit movie.

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posted by Phill Powell in Digital Filmmaking,News Blog and have No Comments

Who Was Edgar Allan Poe?

“The Raven,” stars John Cusack as one of America’s greatest literary figures. The thriller, set in 19th century Baltimore, involves a string of brutal and horrifying murders, crimes that seem inspired by the shocking stories of a local writer—Edgar Allan Poe.


In “The Raven,” John Cusack plays Poe in a tale of murders most monstrous.

This isn’t the first time Poe has appeared in a motion picture. In fact, the famous writer/poet/critic is featured in Francis Ford Coppola’s experimental horror film, “Twixt.” In that story, the main character (played by Val Kilmer) has an eerie dream in which he visits with a very-much-alive Poe…despite his death in 1849.

Haunted from Birth
So who was this strange little man with the haunted eyes and drooping moustache? In many regards he was America’s first professional writer; before Edgar Allen Poe, the thought of a writer actually making enough money to support himself was laughable. Poe was one of the first writers to make his living completely from his pen.

But it wasn’t an easy life. An orphan at age 2, Poe was dead by 40 (and under mysterious circumstances: found delirious on the streets of Baltimore, incoherent as if drunk and wearing clothes that he did not own). To this day, there is no final verdict on what killed him.


One of the few photographs of the real Edgar Allan Poe, taken about a year before his mysterious death.

During his short life, Edgar Allan Poe experienced much tragedy. He grew up in a foster family where he received harsh discipline. As a young man, he dropped out of the University of Virginia, in part due to mounting gambling debts. Later he was court-martialed out of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point for neglecting his duties.

Years later, after he was steadily making a name for himself as a writer, he published the classic horror poem, “The Raven,” but although the poem made Poe world-famous, there was no such thing as copyright law at the time and Poe only earned $7 for his masterpiece. Shortly thereafter, his young wife died—emotionally scarring the brilliant writer. Within seven years, Poe himself was dead.


In Francis Ford Coppola’s “Twixt,” Val Kilmer consults with Poe (played by Ben Chaplin).

Tortured Soul…But Productive Life
And yet, in spite of a brutally hard life, Poe achieved some amazing things:

  • He’s considered the father of American horror, as writers like Stephen King have often acknowledged. Many of his scariest works have been adapted for film over the years.
  • Poe is one of the first American writers credited with popularizing the short story as a literary format.
  • The father of the modern detective story, Poe’s famous “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” was the very first ever in which a detective solves a mystery by piecing together clues and using deductive reasoning. (Modern TV shows like “CSI” owe Poe an enormous debt of inspiration.)
  • Poe helped establish the genre of science fiction.
  • A great poet, Poe published classic verse like “The Bells” and “A Dream within a Dream.”
  • Poe was also a hugely influential literary critic, who commented on the work of other writers and poets.

Finally, Poe was a larger-than-life character whose own personal misfortunes seemed to mirror the awful and mysterious aspects of his writing. There are only a few photographs of Poe and he’s never smiling in any of them. Furthermore, there are few if any “happy endings” within his stories and poems. Poe seemed to be as haunted as his imagination, and the public image of a troubled, unhappy artist has stuck with him for well more than a century.

Poe in Pop Culture
Edgar Allan Poe cast a very long shadow and he’s rarely been out of public circulation. This “master of the macabre” keeps turning up in the strangest places:

1. “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” The Beatles…Poe is one of the many celebrities and public figures featured on this 1967 landmark album’s equally famous cover. The collage mixes the images of more than 70 figures, with Poe anchoring the back row (between pioneering psychiatrist Carl Jung and Fred Astaire, Hollywood’s greatest dancer).


Even The Beatles saluted Poe; he appears in the middle of the back row of celebrities on “Sgt. Pepper.”

2. “Play Misty for Me”…In the first film Clint Eastwood directed (1971), Clint plays a DJ who has a brief fling with a fan, not realizing that she’s a complete maniac. But he finally gets the point…or nearly does. Played by Jessica Walter (now the mother on TV’s “Modern Family”), the unhinged fan quotes from Poe’s tragic love poem “Annabel Lee,” and it’s never gotten a spookier reading.

3. The Baltimore Ravens…The pro football team (which captured the 2000 Super Bowl championship) needed a new name when the Cleveland Browns franchise was bought and moved to Baltimore. A fan contest was conducted to select the new name. Although other titles were considered (e.g., “The Baltimore Marauders,” “The Baltimore Americans”), the team was eventually named in honor of Edgar Allan Poe and his most famous poem because Poe had lived and eventually died in the northeastern city. Now the team’s three raven mascots share his name; one’s called “Edgar,” another is “Allan” and a third is called “Poe.”


When a new NFL franchise came to Baltimore, a fan contest chose “Ravens” in honor of Poe’s famous poem.

Putting Poe to Work
Edgar Allen Poe would have loved the medium of digital filmmaking—now it’s possible to bring a writer’s vision to life and take audiences even deeper into their world. All it takes is an active imagination and some Hollywood visual effects to help create nightmares that leave a lasting impression on people. Poe would be proud.

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posted by Phill Powell in Digital Filmmaking,News Blog and have No Comments

More Marvel-ous Movies: Avengers, Captain America 2, Thor 2

“The Avengers” has wowed audiences and broken box offices records. And in the not-too-distant future, “The Avengers” will be joined by even more movies from the Marvel Universe.


“The Avengers” assemble at Comic-Con in San Diego. From left: Robert Downey, Jr., Scarlett Johansson, Chris Hemsworth, Chris Evans, Samuel L. Jackson, Jeremy Renner and Mark Ruffalo.

How about an”Incredible Hulk” franchise helmed by Mark Ruffalo? For now, all eyes are turned toward “The Avengers,” which is expected to be the blockbuster of Summer 2012.

Assembling a Cast of Heroes
“The Avengers” trailer features Robert Downey Jr. (as Iron Man/Tony Stark), Chris Evans (Captain America/Steve Rogers), Mark Ruffalo (The Incredible Hulk/Dr. Bruce Banner), Chris Hemsworth (Thor), Scarlett Johansson (Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff), Jeremy Renner (Hawkeye/Clint Barton), Stellan Skarsgard (Dr. Erik Selvig), Gwyneth Paltrow (Pepper Potts) and Samuel L. Jackson (Nick Fury).

The story, written by Zak Penn and Joss Whedon tells how the Avengers came together to fight Loki and an alien army he brings to Earth to destroy mankind. Whedon wrote the screenplay and directs the film.


On the set of  “The Avengers,” director Josh Whedon looks on while the actors relax between takes. 

The film, which was first announced in 2005 has taken a long road to completion. Originally delayed by the release of “Iron Man” in 2008, “The Avengers” was pushed back to July 2011. Then actress Scarlett Johansson signed on and the film was delayed again to accommodate her schedule.

Fine-tuning the script (which director Whedon rewrote after joining the project in 2010) additionally delayed production. And finally, there was the much-publicized substitution of Mark Ruffalo to portray the Incredible Hulk – after actor Edward Norton left the cast. (Longtime Hulk fans may be pleased to learn that the Hulk’s voice will come from none other than Lou Ferrigno, who played the not-so-jolly green giant on TV back in the 1970s.)

So much for the art of digital filmmaking, still both the studio, cast and director understand the urgency to get it right, because multiple sequels are riding the film’s success, like…

Thor 2
In November 2013, moviegoers can look forward to the arrival of “Thor 2,” which will again star Chris Hemsworth as the hammer-swinging Norse god from Asgard. His last screen outing, 2011’s “Thor,” earned nearly a half-billion dollars ($449 million internationally). Suffice it to say, Marvel already has high hopes for the follow-up film.


Immediately on the heels of “The Avengers,” release, Hemsworth will start shooting “Thor 2.” 

Filming on “Thor 2″ is set to begin late this summer in London and while several big-name directors have been attached to the project, it appears Alan Taylor (“Game of Thrones”) will get the assignment. The screenplay is being written by Robert Rodat (“Saving Private Ryan”). Along with Hemsworth, Natalie Portman is scheduled to return for the sequel, along with Tom Hiddleston, who will again portray Thor’s evil brother, Loki.

Captain America 2
Last summer’s “Captain America: The First Avenger” also scored big at the box office, raking in more than $368 million worldwide. The film was a solid hit with critics, too. Critic Roger Ebert wrote, “I admired the way that director Joe Johnston propelled the narrative. I got a sense of a broad story, rather than the impression of a series of sensational set pieces. If Marvel is wise, it will take this and ‘Iron Man’ as its templates.”


The good Captain will return to movie screens in April 2014.

Marvel has been listening. The publisher/studio (now owned by The Walt Disney Company) has been planning a Captain America sequel since before the first film was released, they’ve even camped out a release date: April 4, 2014.

Captain America 2 is rumored to take place mainly in the present day, with the Cap’n adjusting to his new surroundings, although the screenwriters have said they’re experimenting with flashbacks to the World War II period.

Get Your Hero On!
Whether it comes to saving the universe or dominating movie screens, superheroes rule. And today’s superhero movies finally deliver the explosive, larger-than-life hollywood visual effects that comic books can only depict through illustrations. Creating comic book characters isn’t the easy and bringing them to life on screen is even more difficult. We’ll be headed to a theater to see if earth’s mightiest heroes “The Avengers,” really do save the day.

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posted by Phill Powell in Digital Filmmaking,News Blog and have No Comments

Hitchcock and PSYCHO: A Love Story

Alfred Hitchcock, cinema’s all-time master director of suspense, is set to return to the big screen in 2013. “Hitch,” as he was called, influenced both the horror genre and forever left his stamp on the craft of filmmaking. We take a sneak peek at the new biography and the film’s star.


A larger than life presence: the great director Alfred Hitchcock works his magic.

Bringing Hitchcock Back
In the new film “Hitchcock,” Anthony Hopkins (best known as Hannibal Lector and more recently as Thor’s father Odin), will star as Alfred Hitchcock with Helen Mirren portraying Hitchcock’s beloved wife Alma. The Fox Searchlight production will be directed by Sacha Gervasi and co-produced by Ivan Reitman, of “Ghostbusters” fame.

“Hitchcock” will concentrate on the lifelong love story between the famous director and his wife. The backdrop for the story: the 1960 production of Hitchcock’s brilliant terror masterpiece, “Psycho,” a film many critics still consider the greatest horror film ever made.

Shooting on “Hitchcock” began last week in Los Angeles, with the cast being rounded out by Scarlett Johansson (as actress Janet Leigh, who portrayed the ill-fated Marion Crane in “Psycho”), Jessica Biel (as actress Vera Miles, who also starred in the original film) and actor James D’Arcy (who will play Anthony Perkins, an actor who gained tremendous notoriety based on his performance as “Psycho”’s deranged Norman Bates).


Hitchcock on the set of “Psycho,” setting up the shower scene…


…And Sir Anthony Hopkins, in full makeup, displaying the famous director’s profile in the new film “Hitchcock.” 

Hitchcock’s challenges to get “Psycho” made are legendary in Hollywood circles: The master director eventually was forced to fund the entire $800,000 budget himself and save money by utilizing the shooting crew from his celebrated TV program. Once released, however, the film (which the studio didn’t want to make) caused an international sensation and earned its director and producer both financial success and and a reputation as filmdom’s Master of Suspense.

Based on Stephen Rebello’s outstanding book, “Alfred Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho,” (which detailed Hitchcock’s struggles to get the project produced, despite a complete lack of interest in making the film by Universal Studios) “Hitchcock” could be an Oscar contender.


Ever the prankster, Hitchcock released this publicity shot of him sitting in the set chair of “Psycho”‘s very dead Mrs. Bates.

Meet the Masters in Film School 
Serious about becoming a filmmaker? Then learn how to make a movie this summer at film camp. Learn about the techniques that masters like Hitchcock used to make movies. If you’re an aspiring filmmaker, there’s no better time to learn the craft than now. Tools like Final Cut Pro X and After Effects make it easier than ever before to bring your cinematic vision to life. Who knows? You might have what it takes to be the next Alfred Hitchcock.

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posted by Phill Powell in Digital Filmmaking,News Blog and have No Comments

What is a MacGuffin?

If you’re going to make a movie the first you need to learn (beside how to point and shoot a movie camera) is, what is a MacGuffin.


Indiana Jones with the Ark of the Covenant – the macGuffin from Raiders of the Lost Ark.

According to Wikipedia, a MacGuffin (also known as a McGuffin or Maguffin) is “a plot element that catches the viewers’ attention or drives the plot of a work of fiction.” The common wisdom with screenwriters is that a MacGuffin can be almost anything, but many times it’s mysterious or open to interpretation by the audience. All the characters seek it and are after it, it can be a mission, survival, power, a potential threat or maybe something completely unexplained.

MacGuffin’s Make the Movie
MacGuffin’s are common in filmmaking and even game development, especially action flicks. In most movies, a MacGuffin drives the central plot. It’s introduced in the first act, takes a backseat in the second (act as the characters, their motivations and connections) to it are played out and then the MacGuffin may be re-introduced or forgotten entirely as the story evolves.

Learning what a MacGuffin is and its importance is vital to learning digital filmaking. Steven Spielberg is a filmmaker that more than understands the postives and negatives of a good MacGuffin. On the topic of the Macguffin for Indiana Jones and the Crystal Skull, Spielberg told Entertainment Weekly, “I sympathize with people who didn’t like the MacGuffin (the crystal skull) because I never liked the MacGuffin. George [Lucas] and I had big arguments about the MacGuffin.”

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posted by Vince Matthews in Digital Filmmaking,News Blog and have No Comments