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    "Talking Turkey with Steve Johnson" - Episode 23 - 11/27/15
    Happy Thanksgiving Everybody (In the US). We have a special treat for you this holiday weekend - a brand new CreatureGeek! We welcome back Mr. Steve Johnson, one of our favorite guests on the show and also one of the most colorful and interesting people working in the effects industry today. Steve's resume includes Ghostbusters, Predator, Big Trouble in Little China and so much more. On this episode, Steve talks about his upcoming book, enjoying sobriety and working with some of the most iconic creators in effects. Thanks for spending time with us with holiday weekend and enjoy this new episode of CreatureGeek!
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    Building The Worlds of SyFy's "The Expanse"

    This past Monday, SyFy network released the first episode of The Expanse online, with the rest of the season airing in mid-December. It's an ambitious show--an adaptation of a popular novel series that's already on its fifth book. One of the reasons for the books' success is its realistic depiction of space travel 200 years from now. Given the conceit that mankind has invented a spacefaring technology that allows for regular travel between Earth, Mars, and the Asteroid belt, the story is about the relationships between the cultures that have formed on Mars and asteroid colonies, and their relationship with Earth. What happens when you have generations of humans living on a mining Asteroid, and Martians who are more invested in the development of their planet than the interests of Earth? Thoughtful world building makes for compelling science fiction.

    The production values of the show are impressive as well, with the need to tell an intertwining story from three very different types of environments. I got on the phone with Seth Reed, the production designer of The Expanse, to learn a bit about how set and production design contributed to that world-building.

    Thanks for chatting with us, Seth! To start things off, can you talk about the role of a production designer and what your responsibilities were in the production of The Expanse?

    Seth Reed: As the production designer, my responsibilities included designing everything that was behind or around the actors. That included all of the set decoration, scenery that we built, all the colors and fabrics and textures--pretty much the world. The props were within my department--the propmakers were pretty independent, and always are, but it all happens through the production design department. We provided all the graphics and everything that appears on those props as well.

    (Photo by: Rafy/Syfy)

    The show is set around three basic areas as we switch between the three main characters. There's Earth, Ceres Station, and outer space on board different ships. Can you talk about how you and your team built out the look of each of those locations?

    Well for Earth, we haven't really seen much of it [in the first episode]. We saw Avasarala's place, her office, but not that much. You see a few visual effects shots, which I was involved in, for setting up the look of Earth [200 years from now]. Earth is a more crowded place, with tall buildings designed with soft and geometric edges--a lot of times with points or simple spires at the top.

    Getting Character Eyes Right in Movies

    This story originally appeared on the Cinefex blog on 3/25/2014 and is republished here with permission. Learn more about Cinefex magazine here.

    When a character appears on a movie screen, which part of their face do you look at first? The eyes, of course.

    You can't help it. As a human being, you're programmed to make eye contact, whether the person in front of you is flesh and blood, or just a fiction of jostling pixels. Like the proverb says: "The eyes are the mirror of the soul." I reckon that's true, but the quote I really want to share comes from the writer G K Chesterton: "There is a road from the eye to heart that does not go through the intellect."

    Chesterton's words feel right for the movies, don't you think? At its very best, cinema is an art form that bypasses the brain altogether and engages directly with the emotions. And how do we read emotions in other people? You guessed it: through their eyes.

    For a visual effects supervisor, creating a synthetic character with believable eyes is a monumental challenge. I'm sure you can think of a few movies where they pulled it off. And even more where they didn't. Below is a still from a film in the former category: an animated short featuring some truly incredible eyes. The film is called Madame Tutli-Putliand, if you're anything like me, your two responses upon seeing the title character will be (1) "Wow, look at those eyes" and (2) "Uh, hold on … what exactly am I looking at here?"

    Have you worked out how they did it yet? Don't worry, I'll put you out of your misery a little further down the page. Before then, let's take a closer look at a few visual effects that have left me, well, wide-eyed.

    The Practical Effects of James Bond Films

    This story originally appeared on the Cinefex blog on 12/9/2014 and is republished here with permission. Learn more about Cinefex magazine here.

    The James Bond movies comprise the longest continually-running film series ever, beginning with the release of Dr. No in 1962 and continuing all the way up to the present day… and beyond. While the Bond films aren't exactly effects-driven, they still require the services of a crack team of illusion-wielding agents both on-set and in post. The output of these SFX and VFX mission specialists typically includes spectacular chase sequences, a big reveal of the evil mastermind's hidden lair and, almost certainly, lots of inordinately large explosions.

    The first Bond film of all, Dr. No, features just such an explosion during its climactic scene, when Bond causes a nuclear reactor to blow up, destroying the bad guy's island base. Later films delivered more big bangs, from the airplane crash at the end of Goldfinger through to the pageant of pyrotechnics that closed You Only Live Twice, when agent 007 infiltrates the volcano-crater headquarters of arch-villain Ernst Blofeld and sparks off – you guessed it – a giant explosion.

    The visual and special effects in these early years were the province of industry stalwarts such as Roy Field, Frank George, John Stears and Wally Veevers. There was even a brief contribution by legendary matte artist Albert Whitlock, who provided some essential scene-setting spectacle for Diamonds Are Forever, and whose paintings are showcased on Peter Cook's ever-reliable Matte Shot blog.

    Artist Albert Whitlock contributed a number of matte paintings to "Diamonds Are Forever".

    When Live and Let Die came along in 1973, the 007 team recruited Derek Meddings, whose modelmaking background with Gerry Anderson on shows such as Fireball XL5 and Thunderbirds allowed the "big set" visions of production designer Ken Adam to be realised in miniature form.

    "War Stories with Brian Wade" - Episode 22 - 11/13/15
    Happy Friday the 13th everyone! On this brand new episode of CreatureGeek, we welcome Brian Wade. Brian's resume spans 30 years and features an incredible array of classic films including The Terminator, Tales From the Darkside, Starman, The Last Starfighter and only the best horror film ever made (in our opinion at least) John Carpenter's The Thing. We also talk a little about his uncredited work on one of the greatest TV shows of all time Mystery Science Theatre 3000. Watch your back today and listen to the latest CreatureGeek!
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    An Exploration of Vertical Cinema

    This story originally appeared on the Cinefex blog on 4/7/2015 and is republished here with permission. Learn more about Cinefex magazine here.

    Widescreen! Cinemascope! Panavision! Since the early days of cinema, movie screens have been getting steadily wider. From the squat 4:3 aspect ratio of early 20th century silent movies, through the explosion of sprawling widescreen film formats that began in the 1950s, to today's ever-expanding domestic TV screens, the trend is clear: bigger is better … but only if you stretch things in the horizontal dimension.

    But what happens if you turn this thinking on its head? Or rather, on its side?

    That's the question posed by Vertical Cinema, a Sonic Acts art project comprising ten specially commissioned films made by experimental filmmakers and audiovisual artists. Vertical Cinema presentations have been held since 2013 at locations across Europe and in the USA, with the films frequently being projected in churches. The movies are projected using a custom-built 35mm film projector in vertical Cinemascope. No landscape images here. In Vertical Cinema, everything is portrait.

    Here's what Vertical Cinema has to say about this unusual twist on traditional cinematic conventions:

    For the Vertical Cinema project, we "abandoned" traditional cinema formats, opting instead for cinematic experiments that are designed for projection in a tall, narrow space. It is not an invitation to leave cinemas – which have been radically transformed over the past decade according to the diktat of the commercial film market – but a provocation to expand the image onto a new axis. This project re-thinks the actual projection space and returns it to the filmmakers. It proposes a future for filmmaking rather than a pessimistic debate over the alleged death of film.

    With its mission to challenge established conventions, Vertical Cinema wears its experimental heart firmly on its sleeve. But what's to stop someone making a full-blown narrative feature film in this unusual vertical format? On the face of it, the challenges seem considerable. The entire movie industry is built around the landscape image. Even if you could get such a film made at a technical level, would the vertical format clip your storytelling wings? And would audiences actually want to see it?

    To answer these questions and more, Cinefex spoke with six filmmakers and visual effects experts: Douglas Trumbull (filmmaker and VFX innovator), Tim Webber (creative director and VFX supervisor, Framestore), Rajat Roy (global technical supervisor, Prime Focus World), Paul Mowbray (head of NSC Creative), Marc Weigert (president and VFX supervisor, Method Studios) and Charles Rose (CG supervisor, Tippett Studio).

    Photo Gallery: Highlights from D23 Expo 2015

    Disney, Pixar, and Marvel Studios didn't have a massive presence at this year's Comic-Con, partly due to the fact that Disney has its own fan convention in the bi-annual D23 Expo. I drove down to Anaheim this weekend to spend a day at the show (my first D23), and found it an interesting mix of Disney fan culture, consumer product previews, and vintage collectible bazaar. While I didn't get to attend the massive panel presentations, here are some of my favorite sights from the show floor. A Disney Archives exhibit, animation maquettes, and John Lasseter's hawaiian shirt collection were standouts. Also, an up-close look at the upcoming LEGO Wall-E set!

    In Brief: Recapping a Deluge of Star Wars News

    This past weekend was D23 Expo, Disney's bi-annual fan convention that's on track to become the company's own Comic-Con. Along with tons of news related to Disney's animated and live-action films, the company unleashed announcements for the next few years of Star Wars. Let's see if I can sum up all the good stuff here. First, Jurassic World director Colin Trevorrow has signed on to direct Episode IX. Gareth Edwards' Rogue One had its main cast revealed in its first publicity photo (Donnie Yen!). Disney CEO Bob Iger also announced that 14-acre Star Wars-themed lands would be coming to Disneyland and Disney World--you can spot some Ralph McQuarrie influence in the concept art. Painter Drew Struzan showed off his Force Awakens poster art, given away at D23. And attendees got to get up close to costumes from the film, including the incredible Captain Phasma chrome armor. And on a D23-unrelated note, here's a fun story about the hunt for the original theatrical release of Star Wars. Phiew!

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    Inside ILM's Virtual Reality Testing Lab

    The Verge recently visited the ILMxLab in San Francisco, where artists and developers experiment with cutting-edge VR and AR technologies for experimental film production and consumer entertainment research. From The Verge's report: "ILMxLab is the VR and augmented reality think-tank from Industrial Light & Magic. Their mission? Create the future of entertainment. And you'd better believe they're starting with Star Wars."

    Studio Scale Star Wars TIE Bomber Replica

    At the recent Replica Prop Forum project showcase, we met visual effects modelmaker Jonathan Faber, who brought his scratch-built studio scale TIE Bomber. This model is an exacting replica of the filming miniature used in The Empire Strikes Back, including the greeblies sourced from WWII and rocket kits like the ones used by ILM's modelmakers. Plus, Jonathan shows us his newest project, a cross-section miniature!

    2001: A Space Odyssey's Aries 1B Miniature

    This story originally appeared on the Cinefex blog on 3/31/2015 and is republished here with permission. Learn more about Cinefex magazine here.

    Deadline Hollywood broke the news: Academy Museum Buys Rare '2001: A Space Odyssey' Model For $344,000. Fans were stunned. As any Stanley Kubrick aficionado will tell you, it has long been legend that all the spaceship miniatures from Kubrick's landmark science fiction film were destroyed after filming at the filmmaker's request, to prevent recycling in cheap imitations. Could this be the real McCoy?

    Before the facts were known, a small studio in El Segundo, California, became mecca for a pilgrimage of visual effects professionals who arrived to gaze in awe at the Aries 1B – the spherical trans-lunar spaceship from 2001: A Space Odyssey – that, miraculously, had been found after 47 years in obscurity.

    The miniature was up for auction and the curator, Premiere Props, welcomed guests to verify the find. Facebook images began appearing of spectators posing with the ship — Dennis Muren, Greg Jein, Matthew Gratzner, Ian Hunter, Shannon Gans, Dave Jones, Bruce Logan, Pat McClung, Harrison Ellenshaw, Peter Anderson, Bill Taylor, André Bustanoby, Gene Kozicki, Rob McFarlane, Ted Rae, Dan Winters, John Goodson and Kim Smith (and guest appearances, by phone, from Douglas Trumbull and Steve Gawley). The general consensus: the miniature was real.

    The AMPAS Museum of Motion Pictures eventually acquired the ship for a princely sum. Prior to finalizing the sale, event organizer Dan Levin allowed Visual Effects Society Archive Committee co-chair Gene Kozicki and VFX artist André Bustanoby to a make detailed photographic record of the ship; and Gene shared the experience with Cinefex:

    Photo Gallery: Star Wars Costume Exhibit

    I've returned from vacation--two weeks of roadtripping to Canada and back and that took me through seven states and two provinces. Along the way, I tried to stop by as many interesting places as possible, including science museums and art galleries. During a lunch stop in Seattle, I made a point to visit the EMP Museum, where I had previously geeked out over its collection of sci-fi movie props. One current exhibit features costumes from the Star Wars films--the first stop in a 12-city nationwide tour. The exhibit was lovely, and a good complement to the recent Star Wars Costumes book by Brandon Alinger (bring the book along if you're going to visit). If you have the opportunity, I'd recommend going, even if you've seen the costumes before on previous Star Wars museum tours.

    HBO's Westworld Reboot Teaser

    I'm so freakin' excited for this upcoming HBO series. For one, this interpretation of Michael Crichton's film is being shepherded by J.J. Abrams and Jonathan Nolan, and stars some pretty amazing actors. And two, HBO's president recently revealed that this story would primarily be told from the perspective of the robots inhabiting the titular theme park. Ed Harris as the iconic gunslinger is almost perfect. 2016 feels so far away...

    Jurassic Park Jeep Conversion Project

    Steve Huszar of the Replica Prop Forum is one of many Jurassic Park fans who've converted their Jeeps and Ford Explorers to look like vehicles from the first film. Steve's JP88 conversion project takes a Jeep YJ Wrangler and modifies it to look like the 1992 Sahara used in production. We learn about how the JP fan community works together keep all their car projects consistent and as screen accurate as possible.

    A Thoughtful Treatise On the Pros and Cons of CG

    I'm as guilty of this as anyone. There's nothing I love to drag out more than bad ragdoll animations in Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings as an example of crap CG that dates a film. But, as the folks at RocketJumpFilmSchool point out, there's a lot of good CG in films that goes unnoticed and unloved.

    Back to the Future 2 Nike Air Mag Replicas

    Earlier this summer, we attended The RPF Prop Party and showcase, a gathering of replica prop builders in southern California to share their projects. One of those projects is a pair of Nike Air Mag shoes from Back to the Future Part II, created by RPF member Brad Fyfe. Brad shows us his shoe conversion project and a pair of official Air Mags that were auctioned off by Nike for charity. Still working on that power lacing!