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Reel Steel: The Best Robot Movies

In the future, robot fighters are the stars of the boxing ring. In the new film Real Steel, Hugh Jackman uses a joystick to control Atom – a punching-bag robot who is more or less a metallic Rocky.

“Get in there and show ‘em who’s boss!” 

Before running into Atom, Jackman tours with another robot which he trains to duke it out in a back-alley slugfest. For robot junkies, Real Steel is heaven. But if you can’t get to a theater, there’s still a way to quench your thirst for metal. Entertainment Weekly recently polled its readers to find out what they considered the best robot movies of all time. We broke down the results:

WALL-E (2008) 22%
Pixar’s plucky little recycling bot won the poll hands down, pulling in a whopping 22% of the votes.

Maybe WALL-E is so popular because it’s one of the most recent robot movies out there, and we admit it’s one of our favorite Pixar films. Still, we couldn’t believe the computer-animated flick beat out…

Star Wars (1977) 17%
C-3PO and R2-D2 are probably the most famous robots EVER. And they’ve got six – count ‘em, six - Star Wars movies to prove it.

What a pedigree: One of the robots (C-3PO) was built out of spare parts by Darth Vader (see Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace). 

Terminator 2 (1991) 17%
And the third most-famous robot film is Terminator 2. T2 stars the T-800 Terminator, the robot role that helped transform Arnold Schwarzenegger into one of the world’s biggest movie stars.

Terminator 2 also features another awesome robot…the shape-shifting T-1000.

I, Robot (2004) 6%
Another major action hero, Will Smith, plays a cop in the year 2035, who investigates a crime committed by a robot. The film was based on Isaac Asimov’s classic sci-fi novel.

Will Smith headlined I, Robot, although the real star of the movie is Sonny, a high-end glossy bot that has superhuman powers (but then again, so do most robots).

The Iron Giant (1999) 8%
Vin Diesel voices The Iron Giant, the Jolly Green Giant-sized alien robot that a boy befriends in order to save him from a paranoid government.

An animated classic, The Iron Giant was directed by Brad Bird (who also directed The Incredibles and Ratatouille).

Blade Runner (1982) 9%
Flying cars, building-sized video screens and an ultra-modern Los Angeles are the backdrop for this futuristic noir flick.

The robots in Blade Runner are bad guys and they’re being tracked down by Harrison Ford. The lifelike robots are called replicants, and they never show their metal skeletons.

Short Circuit (1986) 5%
Before WALL-E, the robot in Short Circuit, Johnny #5 (who bears an amazing resemblance to WALL-E) was the little tread-wearing robot that ruled theaters.

“Who’s Johnny?” Short Circuit is an 80s classic.

Transformers (2007) 12%
Isn’t Optimus Prime a truck? At any rate, the giant bots from Transformers not only invaded theaters but had enough power to grab 12% of the vote.

Optimus Prime: Part robot, part truck.

Other 4%
How can you overlook the Steven Spielberg classic A.I.? Sure, the film is a little dark, but Spielberg’s loving portrait of a robot who thinks he’s a boy is amazing on so many levels.

Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots
Long before video games or Real Steel or LEGO robot battles, the original butt-kicking robots could be found in toy stores (where they’re still being sold). “Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots” is Mattel’s two-player action toy boxing game, which features two plastic robots that face off against each other, not unlike the robots in Real Steel. The human “manager” for each toy robot uses two simple joysticks to control the robots, which throw jabs and hooks at each other’s head until one player scores the knockout punch that makes its opponent’s spring-loaded head pop up in defeat. The toy was first marketed in the 1960s by the Marx Toy Company, and has been produced at various times by other manufacturers (most notably by Mattel). The classic game has been recently remade into a video game and an updated toy.

This was first robot-boxing toy, and its object was simple: “Knock his block off!”

Still, for robot lovers who want to get “real” and build their own robots, there’s only one way to go…

LEGO Robotics
LEGO’s NXT Robotics set is the best way to get into robotics. The kit provides everything you need to design, build and program your very own real robot. You can make fetching robots, task robots or even battling robots.

Take control of real plastic – there are some microchips, gears and a little steel in there, too – with LEGO’s NXT robot.

In fact, robot battles have become a big deal. There are robot battle competitions all over the world, and there’s even a robot battle league. So Real Steel isn’t that far off from the truth. Now there are even robot summer camps, where kids and teens can build and battle bots of their own creation – just like Hugh Jackman does in Real Steel.


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posted by DMA Jordan in Digital Filmmaking,News Blog and have No Comments

Making Raiders of the Lost Ark & The Future of Indiana Jones

Earlier this week, Hero Complex (an affiliate site for The Los Angeles Times), hosted a special screening at L.A. Live of Raiders of the Lost Ark to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the film. Tickets to the free event went fast – not only because it offered fans an opportunity to see a newly remastered version of the movie, but as an added bonus, because of the Q&A session following the presentation with director Steven Spielberg.

 ”I’m making ten pictures a year as a producer. What are you doing?” Spielberg addresses the crowd at L.A. Live. 

The event offered great insight into a number of things related to the Indy franchise, and a rare look inside Spielberg’s relationship with longtime best friend and industry colleague, George Lucas.

“George Doesn’t Text”
One incredibly interesting nugget of information from the event: Lucas, who helms possibly the greatest sci-fi franchise of all time (Star Wars), doesn’t use technology much in his daily life. “George doesn’t text or e-mail…ever,” said Spielberg. “He’s a phoner. With George, it’s either by phone or face-to-face.”

The two formed a friendship long before working on Raiders of the Lost Ark, but Lucas first pitched the idea for Indy to Spielberg when the two were vacationing in Hawaii during the opening weekend of the first Star Wars film in 1977.

Lucas was fearful that Star Wars would be a failure, so he escaped to Hawaii with Spielberg to wait out the box office results. “He sprung this concept that he had on me, called Raiders of the Lost Ark, about this intrepid sort of gravedigger/archaeologist going after somewhat paranormal antiquities from all over the world. He didn’t outline the story, because he didn’t really have the story. But he had the genre, he had the idea and he had the homage it would pay to all the old Republic serials. We made a deal right there on the beach to do this movie.”

Making Raiders of the Lost Ark wasn’t easy. This was a generation before CGI, but Spielberg also revealed the re-mastered print (and version soon to be released on Blu-ray) would not include computer effects or other computer-generated trickery, which is popular with filmmakers and those interested in learning digital filmmaking.

The Future of Indy
Raiders of the Lost Ark went on to become one of the greatest films ever. The movie starred Harrison Ford in his first major role since playing Han Solo in Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back and the film still continues to be popular today. Raiders will soon be re-released on video. Currently the Indiana Jones and the Adventure of Archeology exhibit in Montreal showcases props from the actual film, but also reveals the stories behind real archeological sites like Peru’s Machu Picchu and Cambodia’s Ankgor Wat.

In addition to objects from ancient Peru, Egypt and Iraq, the exhibit features the Ark of the Covenant from Raiders and the Holy Grail from Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, all at home together and on display in a Hangar 51/temple-inspired space.

But that’s not all Indy has up his sleeve. In conjunction with the 30th anniversary of the film and the Blu-ray release, Hasbro is also releasing a special collector’s pack of Indiana Jones figures. The Indiana Jones “Lost Wave” Collector’s Pack will unearth an entire set of “lost” fan-favorites, including Indy in German Disguise and Sapito (Alfred Molina’s first big-screen role). Don’t remember the character of Sapito? He was the the guy at the beginning that told Indy, “Throw me the idol — I throw you the whip!”

Back to LA Live, where Spielberg’s impression of Lucas was also downright funny. On the possibility of Indy 4, and working with George Lucas again, Spielberg had this to say, “We talk about it, yes. And we’re hopeful.”

We’re hopeful, too. Our favorite Indy flick? The original Raiders, of course. What’s yours?


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posted by DMA Jordan in Digital Filmmaking,News Blog and have No Comments

The Best End-of-Summer Movie EVER

If you’re looking for a movie to celebrate summer, you can’t go wrong with George Lucas’ 1973 classic, “American Graffiti,” which is quite possibly the greatest end-of-summer movie ever made. People unfamiliar with the movie are surprised to learn that the “Star Wars” wizard made this film classic earlier in his career. And not only did “American Graffiti” put director/co-writer Lucas on the map, but it also relaunched the acting career of Harrison Ford and made other actors in the film major stars of television and movies.

Before ”American Graffiti,” Harrison Ford had given up acting and was supporting himself as a carpenter. The role of cruiser Bob Falfa lured Ford back into show business. Within four years, he would be world-famous for his role as Han Solo in “Star Wars.”

Once Upon a Time
In a Hollywood long ago, there was an enterprising young film student named George Lucas. Lucas met and partnered with Francis Ford Coppola (Francis Ford Coppola’s “Twixt” starring Val Kilmer releases this year). Together they made “American Graffiti” — Lucas directed, Coppola produced — and the results were cinematic magic, as Lucas sketched a lasting portrait of the last night of Summer 1962.

The film tracks its four primary characters as their paths intersect repeatedly during the night. But “American Graffiti” was practically the autobiography of George Lucas. Lucas grew up in Modesto, California during the 1950s; “American Graffiti” is set in 1962 Modesto. There’s a restless spirit in the air as the last long summer night unwinds and the streets are packed with teenagers cruising their hot rods (Lucas was also a gear head as a teenager). Made on a modest budget with many unknowns, the film became a surprise hit and its huge financial success (ultimately grossing more than $200 million) gave Lucas the industry cred he needed to make “Star Wars.”

George Lucas had only worked on a few films before ”American Graffiti,” which gave him instant industry clout.

The story is told through the eyes of four high school friends (and a massive cast of other unforgettable characters)See which stars you recognize in this trailer for “American Graffiti“.

In case you didn’t recognize the cast, that was Ron Howard (from TV’s “Happy Days” and now a respected filmmaker), Cindy Williams (TV’s “Laverne & Shirley”), Richard Dreyfuss (“Jaws,” “Close Encounters”), Suzanne Somers (TV’s “Three’s Company,” ”Step by Step”) and the man in the hat, “Indiana Jones” himself, Harrison Ford (wearing a white Stetson in this film).

George Lucas directs Ron Howard’s starring performance from under the counter at Mel’s Diner.

Ever wonder what inspired the long-running TV series Happy Days“ and kicked off a major 50s revival? This is it. Now recognized as a national treasure, “American Graffiti” took the simple premise of four friends hanging out together on the last real night of summer and turned it into a masterpiece that still speaks to each new generation. As long as there are teenagers with cars who are trying to find some action, there will always be a place for “American Graffiti.”

Music Makes the Mood; Details Make the Movie
Perhaps most interesting about “American Graffiti” is the extraordinary way that Lucas uses sound to set the mood in the film. The AM radio broadcast of DJ Wolfman Jack’s show seems to be blasting from every car and at every location. The hits (41 of them) just keep coming, and everyone and everything is tuned to the same station. No wonder the two-disc soundtrack album became a huge hit.

Paul LeMat became a 70s star on the basis of his portrayal of John Milner, the fastest hot rodder in the Valley. Model car kits are still available of his classic yellow Deuce Coupe.

“American Graffiti” is like an anthropology study of an ancient culture, explained in a wickedly funny and ultra cool way. The movie also has great precision in how it presents the time period, the last night of summer in 1962. Every detail of the era is correct and the energy of the film captures the time period, too. Ultimately, it’s about a slightly more innocent America, right before John F. Kennedy is assassinated and the country is sucked deeply into the Vietnam War and its own internal struggles over civil rights and the rise of the counter culture.

Telling Your Story
If you have a passion for filmmaking, follow your dream like George Lucas did. There are plenty of ways to do that: Take a course about movie making from professional filmmakers. Online courses can be good sources of information, too, although you’ll get your best training one-on-one from an industry filmmaking veteran who is passing their experience along firsthand.

At Digital Media Academy’s Stanford Filmmaking Summer Camp, students learn how to make digital movies from the pros. The program is taught by professional filmmakers, and daytime activities include real production meetings (just like Hollywood studios have) — you’ll also make a movie. Evening activities can include taking in a movie premiere like real Hollywood filmmakers (such as the special pre-release screening of the latest Harry Potter“ that DMA’s Stanford campers attended last summer). So now, are you ready to make a classic like ”American Graffiti”?


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posted by DMA Jordan in News Blog and have No Comments