DMA Central

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Will Disney Make a Yoda Movie?

Ever wondered how Yoda became a Jedi master? Or Han Solo’s origin story? You may find out sooner than you think. That’s right, young Jedi. You may find yourself parked in front of movie screen watching a new “Star Wars” movie in the next few years.

Harrison-Ford-returns-as-Han-Solo-in-new-Star-WarsHan Solo and his trusty sidekick from the original Star Wars.

Walt Disney Studios – which purchased George Lucas’ Lucasfilm (including the entire “Star Wars” universe) for $4 billion last year – confirmed in a recent interview that it will not only produce new “Star Wars” sequels, including Star Wars: Episode VII, but other “Star Wars” films as part of the franchise reboot.

Meanwhile, In a Galaxy Not So Far Away…
In an interview with CNBC’s Katie Couric, Walt Disney CEO Bob Iger said Disney will distribute “a few” stand-alone films that would not be part of the saga. The news was wholly embraced by “Star Wars” fans who began online predictions about a Yoda or Boba Fett movie.

Disney hasn’t wasted any time getting Star Wars back into theaters. In recent news, the studio named J.J. Abrams to direct the next Star Wars sequel and the studio also killed plans to release 3D versions of the second and third films in the series.

JJ-Abrams-Star-Wars-scene
Eager – and anxious – to see just how J.J. Abrams will put his touch on “Star Wars,” this image, showing Abrams’ signature lens flare, was produced by a fan.

In fact, the first Star Wars spinoff movie is already in development, with Lawrence Kasdan and Simon Kinberg working on the script. “Star Wars” fans will remember Kasdan from the credits of another “Star Wars” film; he co-wrote Star Wars V: The Empire Strikes Back.

The Boba Fett Movie
“Entertainment Weekly” confirmed that Boba Fett would be the star of one of the stand-alone films. Introduced first in in Star Wars, Boba Fett is the intergalactic bounty hunter who was first introduced in Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back.

The new Boba Fett “Stars Wars” film would apparently take place between Empire and Star Wars: Episode VI: Return of the Jedi. The movie will chronicle the time between the two films when Boba Fett was delivering Han Solo to Jabba the Hutt. Just who will play the bounty hunter remains unknown…

When Does the Han Solo Movie Come Out?
Industry insiders have reported that Harrison Ford will reprise his role as Han Solo in the stand-alone Han Solo film. “It’s a done deal,” a close industry source told us. Ford, who was last seen onscreen as Han Solo in the original saga, has signed a contract with Disney to play the character that made him a household name.

new-han-solo-movie
Harrison Ford will return to the role that made him a star. (Disney/Lucasfilm)

Rumors have also circulated that a younger Han Solo will carry most of the movie. It’s unknown how Disney will handle that. Some have speculated that a younger Han may be computer-generated, much in the same way a younger Jeff Bridges was brought to life in Tron: Legacy.

Fan Films Inspire Filmmakers
Fans have been making their own “Star Wars” stories since the very first one hit theaters in 1977. The film also motivated J.J. Abrams and Iron Man director Jon Favreau to become filmmakers. And for anyone who wants to learn how to make a movie, the “Star Wars” franchise continues to be a huge inspiration.

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posted by Vince Matthews in News Blog and have No Comments

Behind the Scenes of “The Avengers”: The Storyboarding Process

“The Avengers” continues to set box office records. The reason? It’s a fun and well made movie. Behind the film were literally hundreds of artists (both traditional and digital) who brought the director’s vision to life.


A scene from “The Avengers,” in storyboard form.

For any special-effects movie (including “The Avengers”), after the script has been written, one of the first parts of the pre-production process is visualizing what the scenes will look like. For this process, storyboarding is essential; set designers, filmmakers and digital artists will all use the storyboards as a blueprint.

What are Storyboards? 
Storyboards are hand-drawn panels that show filmmakers how each scene will look. Storyboards usually look almost like comic-book panels, except without those little word balloons. Storyboards are primarily used for camera setups and effects shots where the effect will be created later, but they extremely helpful for the entire process.

For Marvel Studios’ “The Avengers,” the filmmakers enlisted artist Federico D’Alessandro.  D’Alessandro is the Head Storyboard Artist and Animatic Supervisor at Marvel Studios. He’s currently overseeing storyboards for “Iron Man 3,” but is also known for his work on “I Am Legend,” ”The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian,” ”Where the Wild Things Are,” ”The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader,” “Thor” and ”Captain America: The First Avenger.”


Federico D’Alessandro, Head Storyboard Artist and Animatic Supervisor, at his desk in Marvel Studios.

“A storyboard artist can progress to working as a director, which is something I always wanted to be. What I enjoy most is having control over how my vision is conveyed to the viewer,” D’Alessandro said in a interview. ”That means not only representing what the scene looks like in my head, but how it feels. When I create an animatic, I want the viewer to have an emotional experience. That means having control over not only the visual storytelling, but the pacing, the sound design and the musical cues. When all of that comes together and I’m able to show the viewer the same scene I imagined, that’s enormously gratifying.”


The battle sequence between Iron-Man and Thor was planned out using storyboards (click image for a larger view).

The Origins of Storyboarding
The storyboarding process was first developed by Walt Disney in the 1930s at Walt Disney Studios. In the biography “The Story of Walt Disney,” Walt’s daughter Diane Disney Miller remembered that the first complete storyboards were created for the animated short “Three Little Pigs.” The process evolved from “story sketches” that Walt would have artists create to set up key scenes.

Disney artist and animator Webb Smith was credited with the idea of drawing scenes individually and then pinning them to a bulletin board (hence the term “storyboard”). Within a few years, the idea had been adopted by other studios and by 1938 storyboarding was a standard practice.

“Gone With the Wind” (1939) was one of the first live action films to be completely storyboarded. William Cameron Menzies was hired by producer David O. Selznick to design each shot. The great suspense director Alfred Hitchcock relied heavily upon storyboarding, so much so that a myth emerged that he never bothered to look through the camera’s viewfinder to set up any shots.

In addition to storyboards, animatics are also used to help filmmakers visualize the story. Animatics are animated storyboards. These give filmmakers a way to see the action in real time, so shots can be planned.


For a sequence in “The Avengers” in which Black Widow attempts to take down an airborne alien, several drawings were required to convey the action.

Creating the Action
Learning movie making is not as simple as learning to point a camera. There are several skills that go into making a film, including scriptwriting, editing and, of course, storyboarding. Good directors (and for that matter, good filmmakers) understand that it takes more than one person to make a film and to use the latest technology available, while not forgetting the tried-and-true techniques that have worked for years.

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posted by Vince Matthews 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

The Greatest Back-to-School Movies of All Time

Headed back to school? Looking for a movie to get you in the mood, or bring you closer together with your new class or roommates? No worries, we’ve rounded up the best “back-to-school” films of all time:

Election (1999)

What’s It About? A student and teacher go head-to-head for control of an Omaha High School.

Why It’s Great: The film stars two great actors – Matthew Broderick plays Jim McAllister, a level-headed high school history teacher while Reese Witherspoon plays Tracy Flick, a human dynamo with ambition to burn – and features some of the funniest high school moments you’ll ever see on screen. Ranked by critics and entertainment publications alike as one of the funniest film based around high school, it’s perfect for back-to-school. The story? Tracy Flick is running unopposed for the high school student election. McAllister, who wants to see Tracy face a challenger (and then some), talks popular varsity football player into running against her. The rest of the film follows Flick and McAllister as they go head-to-head, again and again.

Trivia: Look for the Apples, which foreshadow major events. Matthew Broderick’s role reversal; in Election he plays a teacher while Broderick skipped school as a student on the lam in the 1986 film, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

Back to School (1986)

What’s It About? A millionaire goes back to college and ends up teaching the students and teachers a thing or two.

Why It’s Great
Iron Man’s Robert Downy, Jr. stars as a New Waver with a multi-colored “Flock of Seagulls” haircut. But what really makes Back-to-School great: Rodney Dangerfield. Dangerfield plays Thornton Melon, a successful clothing store chain owner. Upon a visit to his son’s university, Melon begins worrying that junior is bombing out, so Thorton decides to enroll. Want to shake up your university? Then watch how it’s done, by a pro.


“Yeah, I took out an English teacher. That didn’t work out at all. I sent her a love letter… She corrected it!” BMOC (Big Millionaire on Campus) Thornton Melon (Rodney Dangerfield) talks with fellow classmates.

Dangerfield turns the entire university system upside-down. He hires NASA scientists to help him with his Astronomy homework, he gets help from author Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. (who makes an actual cameo) with a book report. From renovating his dorm room into a luxury pad to the epic parties he throws, Thornton Melon is a master at work. Dangerfield, who was one of stand-up comedy’s all-time greats, also co-wrote the story for Back to School, which ensures the one-liners never stop.

Trivia: Dangerfield helped mentor young comics, like Sam Kinison who plays Professor Terguson – but up-and-coming Jim Carrey, also was considered for the role. He was ultimately considered too young by casting directors.

National Lampoon’s Animal House (1978)

What’s It About: A college fraternity stirs up trouble at college.

Why It’s Great: It features one of the greatest all-time comedy scripts and director John Landis’ Animal House still slays audiences whenever it plays. It is the ultimate college comedy – just as Caddyshack is the ultimate golf comedy.


John Belushi plays Bluto. Belushi flew between Oregon (where Animal House was shot) and New York during filming, as he was still a key player on Saturday Night Live.

The story? It’s 1962 at Faber University and fraternity rush is in session. But this year, university dean Vernon Wormer wants to shut down the loudest, most obnoxious frat house on campus: Delta house. However, the Deltas won’t go quietly or without a fight, even after the evil dean places the house on “double-secret probation.” John Belushi achieved instant screen immortality as “Bluto” Blutarsky, the loudest and most obnoxious Delta of them all. More classic comic moments than can be inventoried in an entire blog. “This situation requires a really stupid and futile gesture,” says Otter (Tim Matheson). Bluto: “And we’re just the guys to do it.” Boy, are they ever.

Trivia: Harold Ramis (Egon from Ghostbusters), co-wrote the film, and based many of the jokes on his own college experiences. When it debuted, this early National Lampoon-branded feature broke the bank (earning $141 million). It was made for only $2.7 million.

Napoleon Dynamite (2004)

What’s It About: Napoleon Dynamite, what’d you think it was about? Gosh!

Why It’s Great: Long before Glee started making high school misfits feel warm and understood, this film celebrated the King Kong of nerds. Preston (Idaho) High School student Napoleon Dynamite…his name all the funnier because it sounds like it should belong to a double agent out of a James Bond film…oozes nerdiness from every pore.


A nerd for the ages: Napoleon Dynamite has skills. “You know, like nunchuku skills, bow-hunting skills, computer hacking skills. Girls only want boyfriends who have great skills.”

With his perpetually dulled expression, monotone voice and must-have school accessories (Trapper-Keeper notebook, a pants pocket full of cafeteria tater tots and the action figures he dangles from a string off the back of his school bus), Jon Heder was born to play this role. As Napoleon Dynamite progresses, it’s revealed that he’s surrounded (both at home and at high school) by others who are just as goofy, although sometimes in different ways. It’s incredibly quotable (“I’ve caught you a delicious bass,” “Pedro offers you his protection”) and has a unique Rogue’s Gallery of wigged-out characters. And just when you think Napoleon has been out-nerded by his older brother Kip (Aaron Ruell), then his Uncle Rico (Jon Gries) appears and the competition really begins.

Trivia: Napoleon Dynamite showed nerds have box office muscle; this modest $400,000 film earned $46 million.

Grease (1978)

What’s It About: A pair of students who fell in love over the summer come to grips with seeing each other daily in school.

Why It’s Great: Grease is the original high school musical. And must be considered among the best back-to-school movies, because it’s set during one complete school year in 1959, starting with the end of summer vacation and plowing forward until graduation in late spring. Beyond that, Grease remains a blast of pure energy, still fun to watch more than three decades after its massive box office run.


Audiences continue to bond with Grease, the Grease Sing-A-Long is now a yearly standard at many outdoor music festivals.

The story? Danny (John Travolta) and Sandy (Olivia Newton John) fall in love during summer vacation, then find each other attending Rydell High that fall. Will Danny and Sandy stay together? Few expected the screen version of the hit Broadway musical (which ran for nine consecutive years and numerous revivals) to hold up as well as it has, but director Randal Kleiser’s movie perfectly captured the show’s infectious energy and all the cameo appearances from actors and actresses who were actually TV and movie stars during the movie’s time period are a hoot.

Trivia: At least three money-making hit songs came from the catchy soundtrack, including Frankie Valli’s title song.

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posted by Phill Powell in News Blog and have No Comments

How To: Make an Animated Blockbuster

Pixar have been turning out blockbusters for years, but how do they do it? How do they manage to make every film a hit? When the people of Pixar sit down to plan their next film, it’s an incredibly creative process that involves several steps. Not unlike how Digital Media Academy’s students plan a film project, Pixar’s process includes brainstorming, developing a script and then actually shooting the action.

This summer the studio released Toy Story 3. To bring the film to life it took hundreds of creators and even more ideas, in addition to the countless hours of hard work. Recently Wired magazine visited Pixar and provided an incredible look behind the scenes at the magic.

We’re can’t wait for Toy Story 3! How about you? What’s your favorite Disney/Pixar film? What did you think of the Wired magazine article?

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posted by Vince Matthews in News Blog and have No Comments

After Effects: From Fan to Feared to Favorite (plus tips)

We’ve all been there, watching a film when an amazing special effect blows your mind – leaving you to wonder how did they do that? Well, several years back, I started asking fellow editors and educators this very question – and again and again I heard the same response: After Effects. Want to motion track? After Effects. Want to green screen? After Effects. Want color correction? After Effects. Want an intergalactic light saber fight scene with explosions and an amazing 3D camera move? After Effects.

I started to see a trend . . .

Satisfied with this answer – I happily downloaded the free 30-day trial of AE (that’s After Effects for short) from Adobe’s website. However, my initial enthusiasm soon waned, well, plummeted actually. Almost immediately after launching AE, I had a common new user experience – I will politely dub “After Shock”. To explain, as a full-time teacher of Adobe software for years, I had taught literally thousands of people how to use Photoshop, Illustrator, and/or Premiere Pro. Some would even say I’m bit of an Adobe zealot: I’ve beta-tested new releases, done workshops all over, and even trained new Adobe employees through the Digital Media Academy. Indeed, when it comes to Adobe software no mysterious button, workflow, or special effect is safe from my twisted desire to know everything an application can do.

But here was After Effects, and it appeared to be a different animal entirely. I must confess, I was a grown man . . . and I was afraid.

Like most who experience such After Shock, I did my best to poke around and bend After Effects to my will – but with little success. For those comfortable with other Adobe apps, there are some truly strange and downright spooky moments to be had when first looking at AE – for example, creating a new project does not involve a settings menu, there is no razor tool to cut clips with, there are over 200 effects each with a range of adjustments allowing for literally millions of possible combinations . . . and seemingly as many shortcuts. Clearly, this was not my beloved, intuitive Photoshop.

So given the choice of abandoning the AE quest – or to stubbornly plod on – I looked at every AE website I could find, read every book I could get my hands on, watched DVD tutorials, took a class with my fellow Adobe Ed Leaders, and even bothered contacts at Adobe for more info. It was not always a smooth journey, my friends, but along the way I came to three important conclusions:

1) AE is just as amazing as they say.

2) AE can be easy to learn – if approached the right way.

3) I could have realized #2 a whole lot sooner.

Essentially, in looking back at my AE travails, I am a bit embarrassed to admit that I slowed down my own progress by forming some common AE misconceptions. So for those of you just setting out with AE (or hoping to someday), I hope this list of “5 Beginner After Effect Tips” might make your experience much better – and possibly save you a few months of your life:

5 Beginner After Effect Tips

1) Know your DV basics first. As a longtime editor, this was the only thing I had going for me when I started with AE – and probably the only thing that kept me going early on. Basically, if terms like 24fps, interlacing, NTSC, or compression are entirely new to you, help yourself out by visiting some useful websites that define such basic DV terms and concepts:

For just the bare bones of DV, you can start with: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Digital_video#Technical_overview

For the hardcore user, checkout the extremely thorough DV primers on Adobe’s site: http://www.adobe.com/motion/primers.html

2) Know what After Effects is (and is not) for. Think of AE as a dedicated special effects application for individual shots and short animations – and here’s critical part- you typically perfect these shots in AE and then export them to your preferred editing application. In other words, AE is a great enhancement to (but not a replacement of) your editing software. This paradigm shift is really important– because AE is not really designed to: capture footage, make a bunch of tight cuts, work with transitions, etc. as you would with Final Cut, Premiere Pro, etc. Because AE is dedicated to special effects, it is appropriately different in many respects and truly does have a logical structure and workflow. Embrace these differences (and the rationale for them) and you’ll be far less likely to fall into the common trap of thinking “why doesn’t AE work like my editing software?”

3) Know just enough of the AE keyboard shortcuts to be dangerous – and realize that this does not mean that many. While certain shortcuts are essential to AE, most are simply there to save you from a deep dive into the pull down menus and an extra click or two. Do not feel that you need to know a hundred of these to be an AE editor. By learning 10-20 of these clever little guys, you’ll soon adapt to a new way of editing – and find yourself having a much better time. To get you going, here are 10 shortcuts that I particularly like (and that took a while to discover):

 

When getting started:

With a new project, import a video clip, and drag it to the comp timeline. This is often preferable to creating a composition first because it auto-creates a new composition that matches the chosen video clip’s duration, scale, frame rate, and pixel ratio.

 

When making edits in the composition timeline:

Page Down moves the current time one frame forward

Page Up moves the current time one frame backward

; toggles the view to a full zoom in or out at your current time.

Ctrl + [ trims the “in” point(s) of the selected layer(s) to the current time - and as you might expect it has a twin . . .

Ctrl + ] trims the “out” point(s) of the selected layer(s) to the current time.

Ctrl +D duplicates selected layers or effects

Ctrl + Shift + D duplicates and cuts a layer at the current time. It’s as close to a razor tool as you will find in AE.

 

When animating/keyframing:

U shows only the keyframed attributes of a selected layer.

Alt + Drag selected keyframes stretches (or squeezes) the distribution of selected keyframe groups uniformly. This can save a ton of time when retiming a complex multi-layered effect.

4) Start simple, and I mean super simple. With all that you can do in AE, it’s tempting to try to make first project something colossal. So while making an HD sequel to the movie “300” (green screen and all) is certainly do-able in AE, it would lead to more than a little frustration for a newcomer. (Not that I’m speaking from experience . . . ahem). Try experimenting in a standard definition project with a few foundational elements – 3d space, keyframing, text animation, camera moves, etc. and you will have a much easier (and more fulfilling) sense of what can eventually be done on the grand scale.

5) Take a class (and yes, this is a shameless plug . . . but hear me out). The incredible range of AE means that its structure has a corresponding range of complexity – which can be tricky to figure out. To this end, I am all for books, web tutorials, DVDs, etc., but there is simply nothing like project-based, hands on training. Moreover, having learned differing approaches from so many AE experts over the years, I have worked hard to come up with a streamlined approach to learning AE that is enjoyable, easy, and avoids the mistakes that so many of us have made when first starting out.

Looking back, I’ve come a long way from my initial day of After Shock, but I am proud to say that After Effects is now my favorite application to use – and to teach. Even though I took the long way to get there, I am now proud to have clients pleased with AE results - and students creating with some of those the same special effects I first fell in love with on the big screen.

Hope to see you at DMA this summer,
Kevin McMahon

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posted by Instructor in News Blog and have No Comments

Film Camp for Kids. Cool stop motion video made between film projects at summer camp!

Kids learn how to make a movie at summer camp!

This is a project the Digital Media Adventures film class (movie making and special effects) made in between movie projects this past summer at DMA summer camp in Michigan. Somehow they managed to shoot these hundreds of photos and stitch them together in Final Cut Pro as a fun project in between the two other short films they made in one week!  This is truly a great film camp experience for kids.

httpvh://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Lo8BW0MMPc

Learn more about DMA’s Film and Computer Camps for Kids

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posted by Philip Harding in News Blog and have No Comments