Ducks are pictured at the home of Dominique Douthe, whose neighbours took her to court over her ducksÕ loud quacking, in Soustons, France, November 18, 2019. REUTERS/Regis DuvignaŸ
DAX, France (Reuters) – The ducks on a small French smallholding may carry on quacking, a French court ruled on Tuesday, rejecting a neighbor’s complaint that the birds’ racket was making their life a misery.
The court in the town of Dax ruled that the noise from the flock of around 60 ducks and geese kept by retired farmer Dominique Douthe in the foothills of the Pyrenees, southwestern France, was within acceptable limits, broadcaster France 3 said.
“The ducks have won,” Douthe told Reuters after the court decision. “I’m very happy because I didn’t want to slaughter my ducks.”
The complaint was brought by Douthe’s neighbor who moved from the city around a year ago into a property about 50 meters (yards) away from the enclosure in the Soustons district where Douthe keeps her flock.
The dispute is the latest in a series of court cases that have pitted the traditional way of life in rural France against modern values which, country-dwellers say, are creeping in from the city.
In a court ruling in September, a rooster named Maurice was allowed to continue his dawn crowing, despite complaints from neighbors who had also moved in from the city.
The neighbor in Soustons, about 700 km (430 miles) south-west of Paris, who filed the complaint about the quacking has not been publicly identified.
The neighbor’s lawyer said the noise exceeded permissible levels, and prevented the plaintiff enjoying their garden or sleeping with their house windows open.
The neighbor had asked for immediate steps to reduce the noise, and for 3,500 euros in damages, according to French media reports.
Reporting by Regis Duvignau; Writing by Christian Lowe; Editing by Gareth Jones
***This article originally appeared in the August ‘19 issue of Animation Magazine (No. 292)***
One of the more surreal moments experienced by animation supervisor Andy Jones over the two-plus years he spent heading up the character animation work on Jon Favreau’s new version of The Lion King occurred following a screening of clips from the movie this summer. Jones ran into the film’s cinematographer, Caleb Deschanel, ASC, who introduced him to his companion — famed actor Warren Beatty.
“Caleb introduced me and said, ‘This is Andy Jones, the animation supervisor on the show, and he was responsible for the performances you saw,’” Jones recalls. “Warren shook my hand and said he had never been that involved watching an animated film, that the performances were so compelling, and that he felt more for these characters than he has ever felt in an animated movie. That was such a huge compliment for our animation team.”
It won’t be the last compliment for the animation group at MPC, London. The project is a faithful retelling of the story from the 1994 cel-animated classic (directed by Roger Allers and Rob Minkoff) — a coming-of-age tale of a young lion forced to fight for his royal birthright after he is betrayed, deep in the heart of an African jungle. However, the conceit of the project was to make the entire Lion King world and every character in it stunningly photoreal. But, of course, it isn’t. In fact, every shot in the movie is key-frame animated. The achievement was built on the backbone of various virtual production and animation techniques largely the same group of filmmakers pioneered for 2016’s The Jungle Book, also directed by Favreau.
Moving to the Next Level
“This movie does not have a single live-action component in any shots,” explains Adam Valdez, the movie’s VFX supervisor. “For MPC, this is the first time that we have created every shot of an entire movie, every pixel, from beginning to end. However, every technique we used was more in line with how we would work on live-action movies. You might call it a new kind of movie in that sense, a kind of hybrid style.”
Favreau, Deschanel, and co-vfx supervisor Rob Legato, ASC, headed the lengthy “virtual shoot” for the movie at the facility in Playa Vista, California, where the virtual production process took place on a specially configured stage. In their shooting area, called the OptiTrack volume after the OptiTrack Active Tracking motion-capture system used to record real-world camera movement, they wore VR goggles from an off-shelf version of the HTC Vive VR system, and first “scouted” their locations. Then, they chose angles, lights, lenses, camera positions and movement while interacting with sophisticated previs animation built by MPC and processed in near-real time by a Unity Game Engine. They then had real cameramen, using real camera interfaces like pan-and-tilt wheels, dollies, cranes and more, “shoot” sequences while OptiTrack sensors recorded data for every aspect of their movement. Later, MPC animators applied that data while constructing final shots in post, resulting in Deschanel’s creative camera choices being organically wedded with some of the world’s most sophisticated animation.
But MPC’s two-phase animation work—creating and evolving previs material for the production to use during virtual production, and then transforming the results into stunningly realistic animation—was, in essence, the straw that stirred the entire drink. It was a process that relied on up to 110 animators at times, mainly in London but also employing MPC’s Bangalore and Los Angeles crews, over the course of 2017 (previs) and 2018 (final animation). The look of everything was based on a two-week reference trip key department heads made to Kenya in March of 2017 to scout locations and make a plan for recording, scanning, photographing, and filming reams of detailed reference material, from rocks to mounds of dirt, hills, trees, watering holes, mountains, and of course, Kenya’s teeming wildlife.
Previz of the Pride
The movie’s set supervisor, Audrey Ferrara, suggests “previs for this movie was really something unique. At the time we started this process, I don’t think anyone else in the world was using this methodology. Basically, we had to create a VR environment into which we could bring the filmmakers—a virtual world they could shoot in. It was almost like creating a videogame and the game was ‘shoot your movie.’ So we had to build tools for cameras, cranes, lenses, all the stuff [traditional] filmmakers would be comfortable with. Therefore, there was a need for something a bit more elaborate than traditional previs. In a sense, it was almost version zero of the movie.”
Andy Jones explains that “a typical previs would have a team of previs animators, we would divvy up storyboards, and say you do that shot and you do this shot, everybody taking on a different shot, each one three or four seconds long. And then, the next shot is a fresh start, depending on where you are cutting, and your continuity, at that stage, is less important. But here, it was more of a master scene previs situation, which means it worked as a one-er, a single camera for a minute covering an entire scene. Or it worked as all sorts of coverage closeups, but every shot was continuous and so it felt like there was perfect continuity along the way, because the animation is doing the same thing every time we play it back and shoot it from a different angle or try a different camera move. This approach made it ‘feel’ a little more live action. Caleb was able to witness the previs animation in the VR space with goggles on and then decide what type of camera coverage he wanted.”
Along the way, crucial to this process, MPC created a workflow tool which facilitated the virtual production pipeline by allowing the company to export and import models and animation assets from Maya at MPC London to the Unity game engine on the stage at Playa Vista, and back again. It also tracked all changes that were made to sets in VR space, so that they could be recreated in Maya, and tracked camera data and takes.
Realistic Animals in Motion
On the question of photorealism, Jones emphasizes that the company “took lots of leaps forward in fur rendering on this show. We did a lot of work on fur shading to make it react with light in a more realistic manner. And the amount of fur we were rendering, the total hairs per character and the fineness of the fur, we pushed it much closer to what happens in real life.”
Indeed, in addition to extensive reliance on Maya (animation and character deformations), Nuke (compositing), Houdini (fur dynamics), Katana (lighting and lookdev), RenderMan (rendering) and other popular tools, the project also required MPC to write new software to address a wide range of issues. Among those was a radical improvement of the company’s muscle/flesh simulation technology, built upon MPC’s core C++ libraries for math/geometry, which the company calls “Muggins.”
Likewise, for fur, hair and feathers, the company used MPC’s in-house fur tool, Furtility, which MPC character supervisor Ben Jones refers to as “a procedural grooming system where multiple different operations are layered up to achieve the final look of complex fur.”
The Lion King
The key obstacle in selling realism for the animation team was the fact that the animals sing and talk in the movie — the one thing real animals obviously can’t do. Jones points out that “clearly, these animals are not supposed to talk or sing. But we learned from Jungle Book how far to push or not push it, and to show a lot of restraint, to make lip synch work by making sure the mouths could not move in any way a real animal’s mouth could not move. For us, the mantra was, try to keep the movement of the lips and mouth more like real animals, and don’t try to push phonemes so much that they are doing weird funnelers or rolling their lips around in ways real animals can’t.”
One of the biggest challenges was the portrayal of Zazu, the red-billed hornbill bird voiced by actor John Oliver. By their nature, bird facial and beak movements are not typically conducive to emotive performances, Jones emphasizes.
“But Jon made it clear we could not do anything with Zazu that a real bird’s beak couldn’t do,” Jones adds. “We’ve all seen parrots talk, and you can see their beaks don’t do anything funny. They kind of form sounds with their throats. So we took that approach of using the beak more like a jaw, but with most of the sounds coming out of the throat. So we built sophisticated throat controls for Zazu, while having him move like a real bird, moving his head back-and-forth, quite frenetic, with fast starts and stops to the motion.”
The Lion King
One of the subtlest challenges involved the film’s villain, Scar, who evolves during the film. He starts out as something of an outcast, and later adopts a more regal bearing.
“With Scar, we did a lot with posture,” Jones says. “We gave him a bit of an arc, where in the beginning, he is depressed about his situation, and wishes he was king with more power. So, he holds his head lower and has a kind of saunter. By the middle of the film, once he has taken power, he carries his head higher, walking with more pride. And then [at the climax], when the power is taken away from him, he kind of goes back to the Scar we met in the beginning.”
The Lion King
Out of Africa
On this film, Audrey Ferrara was double-tasked with both working closely with production designer James Chinlund to visualize and build the entire virtual world of The Lion King for use during production, and then the final version of that world in post-production.
“I was brought in really early in the process to work with the art department and production designer specifically to put in place all the rules of those environments, collect artwork from the production designer — building a green library appropriate for different locations in the movie — and put in place an organization and a plan to shoot references [in Kenya] in order to create all the CG libraries, and then basically take all of this into post-production,” she says.
The Lion King
Ferrara emphasizes that the reference trip to Kenya was crucial to her work, because “it allowed me to put in place a reference shoot itinerary and then have an MPC team go back and shoot all of those elements, ranging from trees to rocks, rivers, and mountains. We collected a huge panel of material, shooting panoramas, HDRI [high dynamic range still photos], doing some photogrammetry, going around objects or rocks or trees in order to photograph every angle so we could produce scans of those elements. We also did a texture shoot for leaves and trees.”
One of the challenges she highlights is the fact that many locations in the film are iconic, easily recognizable from the original animated film. “You can’t really change too much the design because, otherwise, the audience won’t respond to it, since they have a profound memory of it,” she explains. “That was the case with Pride Rock, certainly. James Chinlund chose one specific place in Kenya for that and we had to modify it slightly to make it [reminiscent of the location from the original film]. And in other cases, like the Elephant Graveyard, James used pieces of Kenya environments and other references to create something similar to what we saw over there, but not 100 percent similar, so they would work for this story. And then, in other cases, we have places and elements that directly replicate references from Kenya. For instance, James really liked a place nicknamed Challenge Beach, a little bend of river. He used that location to create the watering hole scene, where the ‘Can’t Wait to be King’ musical number happens.”
The mystical Cloud Forest is another example. That location was directly inspired by a spot on the side of Mt. Kenya where the environment is very similar to what the story calls for. In fact, Ferrara adds, using helicopters and state-of-the-art scanning tools, filmmakers scanned the shape of Mt. Kenya and also Mt. Kilimanjaro, which is seen in the background in certain scenes.
The Lion King
Mufasa’s Spirit and Other VFX Highlights
Adam Valdez’s role was, in his words, “to kind of bracket the whole thing, with one foot in the [MPC] facility and one foot on the production side. So I helped set up a lot of the virtual production workflow in the beginning, then I went to Africa with everyone and then spent a year in Los Angeles helping to create virtual production shots before the post-production work started in London.”
But along the way, he also had to take charge of “the high complexity and naturalism” that numerous visual effects sequences required, particularly the final battle while a giant fire rages; the rampaging of a herd of wildebeest through a canyon; and the mystical appearance of Mufasa in the clouds to pass the torch to his son, in a direct homage to a key sequence in the original film.
“That moment when Mufasa comes to visit Simba from beyond the grave, he is sort of a spirit form up in the clouds,” Valdez explains. “That is a pivotal moment from the original film. So it took us months to try out lots of ideas and figure out exactly the right balance between fantastical imagery and realism. I had to routinely drill into cracking those kinds of little nuts.”
He adds that MPC’s painstaking work to improve its physics simulation tools was crucial for scenes like the wildebeest rampage.
“It’s an entire world built in three-dimensional space, which is very complicated,” he says. “But the good thing about it is that you can get fairly true to how the animals stampede, and the effects that surround them when that is happening — dust flying off them, or when they crash to the ground, and so on. Our simulations let us know how the physics should work. So the simulations we used to create fire, water, dust and other things all have a good, solid foundation, and are in a completely legitimate space. That, in turn, makes it easier for us to light them and ultimately composite them and craft the final look.”
For instance, Valdez says that to build “a good foundation” for the fire sequence, MPC conducted “a variety of little test shoots to understand things like heat ripple on the horizon. Our guys shot real heat ripples over grids, and then built systems for creating optical heat ripples that were very natural, based on real-world references.”
Disney’s The Lion King begins its theatrical run on July 19 and is expected to break records at the box office.
Michael Goldman in the author of The Art and Making of The Lion King (Disney Editions, $ 50) which is available in bookstores and amazon.com this month.
Donald Glover (Simba) and Beyoncé Knowles-Carter (Nala) lead a pride of talented voice actors, including Chiwetel Ejiofor (Scar), John Oliver (Zazu), John Kani (Rafiki), Alfre Woodard (Sarabi), Seth Rogan (Pumbaa), Billy Eichner (Timon) and James Earl Jones reprising the role of Mufasa.
Donald Glover (Simba) and Beyoncé Knowles-Carter (Nala) lead a pride of talented voice actors, including Chiwetel Ejiofor (Scar), John Oliver (Zazu), John Kani (Rafiki), Alfre Woodard (Sarabi), Seth Rogan (Pumbaa), Billy Eichner (Timon) and James Earl Jones reprising the role of Mufasa.
Leading mobile, PC, console and web game publisher Kongregate has teamed up with No. 1 U.S. TV animation destination Cartoon Network and game developer Juicy Beast to unleash The Powerpuff Girls: Monkey Mania. A fun-filled launcher game, the title combines the polish and style of Juicy Beast games (the indie devs behind Burrito Bison: Launcha Libre) with the adorable charm of The Powerpuff Girls.
Synopsis: Mojo Jojo is up to no good again, this time harnessing his wicked Chemical-Xtractor to steal The Powerpuff Girls’ powers and use them to generate a massive army of evil gummy monkeys. Despite losing their powers, The Powerpuff Girls must fight back against this new gummy menace in addition to the villains that are now wreaking havoc in Townsville.
“The Powerpuff Girls: Monkey Mania is such an incredible pairing of characters, gameplay, and developer,” said Kongregate’s director of publishing, Peter Eykemans. “Juicy Beast has a way with creating whimsical and funny worlds that pairs incredibly well with The Powerpuff Girls universe. Giving them the keys to the kingdom allowed them to really bring the girls and the villains to life. We’re very happy with how The Powerpuff Girls: Monkey Mania is coming together and are excited to get it in the hands of fans.”
Monkey Mania builds on Juicy Beast’s previous games to deliver an action-packed and simply delightful experience. Players will find themselves encountering characters spanning the entirety of Cartoon Network’s popular series, with plenty of deep cuts for diehard fans of the show. With four playable characters, dozens of upgrades, a host of insidious villains to smash, and thousands of monkey minions to stomp, The Powerpuff Girls: Monkey Mania has no shortage of exciting things to do.
“The Powerpuff Girls universe has been a real playground for us,” said Juicy Beast co-founder Yowan Langlais. “We’ve had a lot of fun digging deep into the lore, imagining fun new roles for a wide variety of characters.”
Follow game announcements on Facebook and Twitter @juicybeast.
***This article originally appeared in the June/July ‘19 issue of Animation Magazine (No. 291)***
Five years ago, the team at Illumination Entertainment, led by producers Janet Healy and Chris Meledandri, and directors Chris Renaud and Yarrow Cheney hit animation gold with their exploration into The Secret Life of Pets. The movie received great reviews and went on to gross over $ 875 million worldwide, becoming the animation studio’s biggest blockbuster to date.
This summer, Meledandri, Healy, Renaud and new co-director Jonathan del Val (animation director for the first Pets and The Grinch) offer fans another peek into the lives of Max the terrier, Duke the mutt, Snowball the rabbit and all the other animals they come to meet in a colorful new sequel.
The Secret Life of Pets 2
The new chapter of the animals’ adventures finds Max (now voiced by Patton Oswalt, replacing Louis C.K.) facing empty nest anxieties as his owner’s child gets ready for preschool. Meanwhile, Gidget (Jenny Slate) tries to rescue Max’s favorite toy, and Snowball (Kevin Hart) attempts to free a white tiger (Nick Kroll) from a circus.
“We started working on concepts for the sequel to Pets while we were finishing the first film,” recalls Renaud, an Illumination studio veteran, who directed the first two Despicable Me movies and The Lorax and exec produced the two Minion movies and The Grinch. “Everyone involved loved the characters and felt there was more story to tell. Very early in the process we began focusing on pets and kids.”
Renaud says a sequel is always a bit daunting, because as a director you want to deliver what people liked about the first film but within a completely new and unexpected package. “This means new characters, sets and situations,” he adds. “As filmmakers, creating these new elements becomes the fun part of developing a sequel.”
The Secret Life of Pets 2
One of The Secret Life of Pets 2’s cool visual elements is the introduction of a farm. Renaud says this new environment allowed the team to create a whole new world with new characters. “Additionally, animals on a farm have a very different perspective on life than our pampered city pets,” he notes. “We used this to create some great comedic and dramatic conflict.”
The sequel, which is penned by Brian Lynch (Minions), brings back Duke (Eric Stonestreet), Gidget (Jenny Slate) and Chloe (Lake Bell), and also welcomes new cast members Rooster the farm dog (Harrison Ford in his first animated role!) and Daisy the Shih Tzu (Tiffany Haddish).
The Secret Life of Pets 2
Janet Healy (Despicable Me movies, Sing), who also produced the first movie, adds “All the characters in The Secret Life of Pets 2 are in some way familiar, they represent the personalities and behaviors we see in our beloved pets every day. Just like we humans, these pets have close friendships, deep loyalties, big problems to solve and heroic deeds to accomplish. The pets in our franchise are a familiar and dear part of our families, and now they are a wonderful part of our film experience.”
According to Renaud, the movie utilized over 200 people in both France (at Illumination Mac Guff in Paris) and the U.S. Besides the Illumination team in Santa Monica, the writer and storyboard artists were based in the U.S. Everyone else on the production, from layout up through animation and final rendering, was located in Paris.
The Secret Life of Pets 2
Weaving It All Together
One of the most challenging aspects of the production was the moment when the creative team had to tie all three storylines back together. “Through the course of the film, Max, Gidget and Snowball are operating somewhat independently within their own narrative,” notes Renaud. “But, to make the movie work and create a satisfying ending, we had to figure out how to connect these disparate elements and provide a catalyst into the third act action.”
Renaud admits, “Sometimes you can get trapped into worrying about logic, but you usually find that you need less than you think. It’s the emotion and character stakes that carry the day.”
One of the director’s favorite sequences of the movie arrives in the end. “I don’t want to give anything away, but it truly turned out the way I had originally hoped,” he says. “The whole movie is really a metaphor for modern parenting, and I think this scene captured the genuine emotion of what parents go through as they recognize they can’t control or safeguard every aspect of their children’s lives.”
The Secret Life of Pets 2
Renaud points out that the first Pets movie clearly struck a chord with audiences around the world purely because it was about pets. “We really tried to capture animals as they are, in both attitude and animated performance,” he explains. “I also feel that the question about what your pets do when you’re not home was so simple and compelling, people couldn’t resist watching a movie that attempted to answer that conundrum.”
When asked to compare the sequel to the original, Renaud says the second movie may have a stronger, more nuanced and layered story. “In the first film, we found that we had to tell a very simple story just to have the space to introduce our huge cast of pets,” he says. “In this one, we can forgo the introductions and get right into storytelling.
The Secret Life of Pets 2
In Pursuit of Perfect Fur
In the five years since the first movie came out, CG animation technology has obviously improved. However, according to Renaud, no new tools were used to produce the animation. It’s just that the old tools kept improving. “For instance, we now review our animation hardware renders with fur on the characters. This is important because a character like Duke can have his whole facial expression wiped out by all of that shaggy fur!”
Since The Secret Life of Pets 2 comes out in the middle of a very jam-packed family movie season — sandwiched between UglyDolls, Pokémon: Detective Pikachu, Toy Story 4, The Lion King and The Angry Birds Movie 2 — we asked Renaud how he feels about the growing competition. “In reality, every movie made right now seems to be an ‘all audience four quadrant’ family film,” he replies. “This used to be where animated films were unique. However, those days have passed since most parents are happy bringing their young children to the latest superhero movie, science-fiction fantasy or animated reboot. In my view, we have to strive to retain our distinction through unique visual stylization and strong comedy that can only be achieved through broader character animation.”
Snowball vs. Monkey pic
As Healy sees it, the Pets franchise has lasting appeal and will hopefully continue to capture the hearts of moviegoers. “We think this franchise is unique and special because it connects us to our beloved pets in an intriguing and humorous way,” she says. “People in every part of the world adore their pets and wonder what really goes on in their pets’ minds. When they see The Secret Life of Pets films they get a magical, fun insight. The Secret Life of Pets is far more thrilling and busy than we ever could have imagined!”
Renaud says he also hopes moviegoers will relish reconnecting with these lovable, hilarious characters. “I hope the audience will leave the movie theater glad that they had another chance to spend some time with these characters,” says the director. “I know we had a great time working with these guys again, and I’m hoping that joy and fun comes across in this movie!”
Universal/Illumination’s The Secret Life of Pets 2 begins its U.S. theatrical run on June 10.
Chris Meledandri’s Illumination Entertainment empire is showing no signs of slowing down.
After unleashing The Secret Life of Pets 2 in theaters this month, the studio will release Minions 2 in July 2020 and Sing 2 in December 2020. Here’s a look at the studio’s amazing box office record to date:
Tyler, The Creator and Lionel Boyce’s tentacular adult toon comedy The Jellies! returns to Adult Swim this month, with the second season premiere scheduled for Sunday, May 19 at midnight ET/PT.
Season 2 takes viewers deeper into the lives of the Jelly family and their roles in the community of Walla Walla, Washington. Throughout the new episodes, jellyfish family Debbie, Barry, KY and adopted human son Cornell each face their own, sometimes very personal, challenges. Depending on each other and fellow townspeople for support is not always the best option.
The show’s musical score and original composition are created by Tyler, who also lends his voice alongside co-creator Boyce, Phil LaMarr, Earl Skakel, AJ Johnson, Kevin Michael Richardson, Kilo Kish, and many more to the show’s great cast of characters. The show is executive produced by Tyler, Boyce, Kelly Sato Clancy, Aaron Augenblick, Chris Clancy and Carl Jones.
The 18th Annual Tribeca Film Festival (www.tribecafilm.com/festival), presented by AT&T, announced the winners in its competition categories at this year’s awards ceremony May 2 at the Stella Artois Theatre at BMCC TPAC. The top honors went to Burning Cane by 19-year-old director Phillip Youmans for the Founders Award for Best U.S. Narrative Feature, House of Hummingbird (Beol-sae) for Best International Narrative Feature, and Scheme Birds for Best Documentary Feature. The Festival awarded $ 165,000 in cash prizes. The 2019 Tribeca Film Festival — presenting 113 feature-length films, 63 short films and 33 immersive storytelling projects representing 44 countries — runs through May 5.
Rania Attieh won the Nora Ephron Award and a $ 25,000 prize for Initials S.G. The award, created seven years ago, honors excellence in storytelling by a female writer or director embodying the spirit and boldness of the late filmmaker.
Tribeca honored innovation in storytelling with its Storyscapes Award, which went to The Key, created by Celine Tricart.
“I’m so proud to see our juries reward a group of winners that is truly representative of the diversity of story and accomplishment in craft at this year’s Festival. We are particularly excited for the many first-time filmmakers the jury chose to recognize, and feel like this year’s winners signal a bright future ahead for independent film,” said Festival Director Cara Cusumano.
The jurors for the 2019 Narrative Short Competition and Animated sections were Maureen Dowd, Topher Grace, Rosalind Lichter, Hamish Linklater, Lily Rabe, Phoebe Robinson, and Jeff Scher.
Shorts Animation Award – My Mother’s Eyes(U.K.) directed and written by Jenny Wright. The winner receives $ 5,000 sponsored by Bulleit Frontier Whiskey, and the art award “Balloon Dog, Magneta” by Jeff Koons.
Jury comment: “For its delicate, elegantly simple, breathtakingly imaginative animation and its ability to hold the heart of anyone who has a mother — whether beating in grief or in celebration. To this indelible portrait of immeasurable love, we are thrilled to give this award to My Mother’s Eyes.”
Making its New York Premiere at Tribeca, My Mother’s Eyes is a story about motherhood and loss in the abstracted world of childhood memory.
The 2019 Storyscapes Award, presented by AT&T, which recognizes groundbreaking approaches in storytelling and technology, jurors were Lisa Osborne, Paul Smalera, and Adaora Udoji.
Storyscapes Award – The Key (U.S.A., Iraq), created by Celine Tricart. The winner receives $ 10,000, presented by AT&T.
Jury comment: “This piece was the full package. Emotionally resonant, the winner demonstrates a seamless fusion of technology and narrative. The experience combines a real actor with fantastical, immersive visuals and achieves a rarity in VR storytelling with its use of metaphor to represent an ongoing, real-world crisis. Of particular note are the superbly executed virtual reality technical details, including character design, use of color, and sound design.”
The Key is an interactive VR experience taking the viewer on a journey through memories. Will they be able to unlock the mystery behind the mysterious Key without sacrificing too much?
Among the many intriguing projects charting a course to the Tribeca Film Festival this month is official selection The Shipment, a million-dollar science-fiction adventure written, executive produced and directed by VFX artist/3D animator Bobby Bala. The live-action project, which also stars the director’s daughter, relies on high-quality CG work to create a galaxy of environments and effects, populated by humanoids and stranger creatures created with FX makeup.
The 27-minute film tells the story of a widowed cargo hauler — played by Aleks Paunovic (War for the Planet of the Apes, Battlestar Galactica, SyFy’s Van Helsing) who finds himself stranded with his daughter Zohra (Ishana Bala) on a wretched spaceport after their old ship breaks down. Faced with an unscrupulous offer to escape, he faces a difficult dilemma that puts his morality to the ultimate test as he tries to provide a better life for his family.
Ahead of the Tribeca fest, the short has made official selection lists at Fantasporto, Bermuda, Miami, Sarasota, Berlin Sci-Fi and other film festivals, and picked up Best of Fest, Best Child Actor (Ishana Bala) and Best Foreign Featurette at California’s Idyllwild International Festival of Cinema.
The Shipment is the culmination of two decades of Bala dreaming of directing his own film — making ends meet in San Francisco as a VFX artist didn’t leave many funds to launch a filmmaking career, though. Bala later found more financial freedom after operating a successful theater seating business.
“After scrimping and saving for many years, I finally had enough money set aside to pursue this dream. I was undecided if I should make a simple feature film with no VFX, or a 30 minute sci-fi featurette with advanced VFX which would better showcase my abilities,” says Bala. “Since indie features can’t always guarantee a financial return, I thought it would be a wiser investment to make a high quality proof-of-concept featurette that would stand out, rather than a feature which would have little to no VFX at all. My thinking was, If I’m going to most likely lose money, I might as well tell the story I want to tell and have fun while doing it.”
The film ended up taking four years to create, surpassing the $ 1 million budget mark to become one of the most expensive live-action shorts on record. “After three years into the production, the budget was completely depleted and to get us over the finish line I had no choice but to sell my home. It was a very difficult decision to make, but a necessary sacrifice to save the film. Too many people around the world had already put so much into this project. I couldn’t let them down,” Bala concludes.
The Shipment was shot almost entirely on green screen (95% of 350 shots). Bala gathered a large crew of VFX wizards, CG artists, and FX make-up artists who contributed to enhance the live action performances recorded in an empty food warehouse in Vancouver, BC. While this less than ideal set caused many unforeseen challenges, Bala was able to tap his experience in CG visuals to smooth the process.
“With a background in computer animation, I was able to create a full previz animation of the film complete with music and dialogue before we started shooting the film. This was an invaluable tool which I was able to show the crew so they could visualize all the shots and the story we would be telling,” Bala explains. “The previz also allowed me to edit and visualize the film so that I could see if the story and the various cuts were working. It’s also a great way for people to get excited about the project. I feel that every filmmaker should use some form of previz no matter the genre.”
One of the CG creatures featured in the film is a sort of sci-fi answer to the psychedelic toad. “The creature is called a Skyck (pronounced skik) and it’s a snake-like alien creature that wraps itself around the arm of the user and injects its addictive venom,” the director reveals. “The venom does not kill the user, but instead produces a drug-like high. There are many variants of Skycks which produce different types of highs.”
Amid the fantastical sci-fi imagery of The Shipment, the film is concerned with the weight of real-world human relationships — both the strength and challenge of a father-daughter bond, as well as the big social questions of the day.
“The migration of people and border crossings are urgent issues right now. There are people crossing borders for survival and there are people working as human smugglers. Their lives are complicated and often subjected to negative stereotypes,” says Bala. “The protagonist of this film is in the moral dilemma of transporting alien slaves in order to save his daughter. He is a flawed but noble character who is driven by the desire to protect his family and serve the greater good. His story needs to be told because it challenges the idea that human migration is a clear-cut issue. Right or wrong is not always easy to define.”
See screening times for The Shipment at Tribeca Film Festival here.
Netflix original animated series The Dragon Prince has been renewed for a third season, it was announced during the break-out fantasy adventure’s panel at WonderCon in Anaheim. Season 3 will deliver nine new episodes; premiere date TBA. The series is the first franchise from “story and play” media studio Wonderstorm.
S3 of The Dragon Prince will find Rayla and Callum finally at the cusp of entering Xadia, while young Ezran returns home to take his place on the throne. Meanwhile, Lord Viren begins to realize the influence and power of his new ally – the mysterious startouch elf, Aaravos. As several storylines unfold in big ways, this season will be massively epic!
Season 1 premiered on Netflix in September 2018 and was recently followed by Season 2. Since its debut, The Dragon Prince has been a top 10 digital original and has captivated a large and passionate fan community. Both seasons have a 100% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Watch the first two seasons on Netflix.
The series is produced by Wonderstorm and led by co-creators Aaron Ehasz (head writer of Avatar: The Last Airbender) and Justin Richmond (game director of Uncharted 3).
The team at Quebec animation studio 10th Ave Productions is celebrating the U.S. digital release of its third feature film, The Yeti Adventures (a.k.a. Mission Kathmandu: The Adventures of Nelly & Simon), through Universal. The film is available through no fewer than 25 American video-on-demand services, including Amazon, Apple, AT&T U-verse, Google, Microsoft and Verizon. The Yeti Adventures is also available on various digital platforms through numerous retail outlets, including Walmart, Amazon and Alliance Entertainment, starting this week.
Directed by Pierre Greco and Nancy Florence Savard, and based on an original idea by writers Greco and André Morency, the film recounts the adventures of Nelly Maloye, a novice private eye, and Simon Picard, a research scientist at the local university, who meet unexpectedly. Bankrolled by an ambitious client, the impulsive and headstrong Maloye joins the methodical and pragmatic Picard in a dubious quest to prove the existence of the elusive Yeti.
The Yeti Adventures has been selected for more than 20 international festivals to date, including Zlín, Namur, Valladolid, Amsterdam, Mumbai, Melbourne, Dublin, Palm Springs, Shanghai, Meknes, Tallinn, Kosice and Tehran. The film won the award for Best Animated Feature at the International Film Festival for Children and Youth in Isfahan, Iran. Closer to home, it won the Best Direction award at the Family Film Festival in Quebec City. It is now in distribution in more than 65 countries around the world.
Mission Kathmandu: The Adventures of Nelly & Simon
Good news, pranksters and toon fans: the second season of DreamWorks Animation Television’s The Epic Tales of Captain Underpants is set to premiere in a mere fortnight. The new episodes will premiere exclusively on Netflix on Friday, February 8.
Synopsis: The Epic Tales of Captain Underpants is back for a second season with more adventures for George Beard and Harold Hutchins, two best friends who’ve bonded through their love of pranking, comic books and being the thorns in Principal Krupp’s side. In Season 2, George and Harold must try to keep their grades up in order to go to summer camp! But with Principal Krupp sent away, will they come out on top in a school run by Melvin and a Cyborg Melvin from the future?
From Peabody Award and Emmy-winning executive producer Peter Hastings, the Annie Award-nominated series is based on the novels by Dav Pilkey which have sold more than 80 million copies worldwide. The main cast includes the voice of Sean Astin (Lord of the Rings, Stranger Things) as the series’ narrator, Nat Faxon (Ben and Kate, Married) as Captain Underpants/Mr. Krupp, Jay Gragnani (Bubble Guppies) as George Beard and Ramone Hamilton (Will & Grace) as Harold Hutchins.
At a panel held as part of the Anime Los Angeles con on Saturday, the creators of Netflix animated series The Dragon Prince announced that season two will officially premiere on the streaming platform February 15. Fans can expect new characters, new adventures and new challenges for the show’s young heroes as they race to resolve a centuries-old conflict.
The nine-episode second season follows Rayla (voiced by Paula Burrows), Callum (Jack De Sena) and Ezran (Sasha Rojen) as they continue on their way to Xadia. But the journey won’t be easy, as the trio face challenges by new foes and old friends alike. Together they’ll struggle with trust and betrayal, face down vicious dragons, and be tempted by dark magic — all while protecting the newly-hatched Dragon Prince, Zym.
The Dragon Prince is produced by Wonderstorm and led by co-creators Aaron Ehasz (head writer of Avatar: The Last Airbender) and Justin Richmond (game director of Uncharted 3), with exec producer Giancarlo Volpe (director on Star vs. The Forces of Evil, Star Wars: The Clone Wars, Avatar: The Last Airbender).
Classic animation The Little Mermaid is marking its 30th anniversary with a new Walt Disney Signature Collection release, featuring all-new bonus features and a sing-along mode. The two-time Oscar nominated film (Best Original Score and Best Original Song, “Under the Sea”) will make a splash for the first time on Digital HD, 4K Ultra HD and Movies Anywhere on February 12, and 4K Ultra HD and Blu-ray disc on February 26.
Based on Hans Christian Andersen’s classic fairy tale about a beautiful mermaid princess who dreams of becoming human, The Little Mermaid was directed by John Musker and Ron Clements (Aladdin). It features the voice talents of Jodi Benson (Toy Story 2 & 3) as Ariel, Pat Carroll (Laverne & Shirley) as Ursula, Samuel E. Wright (Broadway’s The Lion King) as Sebastian, Christopher Daniel Barnes (The Brady Bunch Movie) as Eric, Kenneth Mars (Young Frankenstein) as Triton, Buddy Hackett (The Music Man) as Scuttle, Jason Marin (Back to the Future) as Flounder and René Auberjonois (The Patriot) as Chef Louis.
The film was originally released in theaters on Nov. 15, 1989 and is the 28th film from Walt Disney Animation Studios, and the first in what many described as a new Disney animation renaissance. It is the seventh title to join the Signature Collection.
New bonus features include…
BLU-RAY & DIGITAL
Sing-Along Mode – Sing along to the movie in this sing-along version of the film.
Alan Menken & the Leading Ladies Song – From the voice of a mermaid to the tunes of a muse, the music of Alan Menken has scored the soundtrack for some of Disney’s most iconic leading ladies. Join Alan, Jodi Benson (Ariel), Paige O’Hara (Belle), Judy Kuhn (Pocahontas Singing Voice), Lillias White (Calliope) and Donna Murphy (Mother Gothel) as we celebrate the music of their films in honor of the one that started it all … The Little Mermaid. In this discussion, the ladies will share their memories of musically creating their characters with Alan, discuss what it means to be part of the Disney Princess/leading lady legacy and create new memories as they sing with Alan around a baby grand piano.
“What I Want from You…Is YOUR VOICE” – Enter the recording studio and get an inside look at the cast of The Little Mermaid in their original recording sessions.
Stories From Walt’s Office – Gadgets & Gizmos – Like Ariel, Walt Disney was a collector of many different things from miniatures to early mechanical characters that inspired the invention of audio-animatronics. We take a look at some the collections that Walt kept in his office in the third episode of this series.
#TreasuresUntold – Join Ruby Rose Turner and Olivia Sanabia from the Disney Channel Original Series Coop and Cami Ask the World as they take a deep dive to explore some hidden treasures and fun facts about Disney’s The Little Mermaid.
DCapella “Part of Your World” Music Video
Classic Bonus Features – revisit four exciting bonus features from previous releases including: Deleted Character: Harold the Merman; Under the Scene: The Art of Live Action Reference; Howard’s Lecture; Audio Commentary with Ron Clements, John Musker and Alan Menken
“Part of Your World” – A 30-Year Retrospective – Songwriter Alan Menken and Jodi Benson, the acting and singing voice of Ariel, sing the epitome of Disney “I Want” songs “Part of Your World” and discuss its impact since it was first heard 30 years ago.
Classic Bonus Features – Over 3 additional hours of previously released classic bonus features including Deleted Scenes, Easter Eggs, Music Videos and more!
Netflix has announced the voice cast for its upcoming prequel series The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance, and released first-look character images. This new quest into the fantastic world of Jim Henson’s classic 1982 film, realized with traditional puppetry techniques and cutting-edge vfx, will launch globally on the streaming platform in 2019.
The world of Thra is dying. The Crystal of Truth is at the heart of Thra, a source of untold power. But it is damaged, corrupted by the evil Skeksis, and a sickness spreads across the land. When three Gelfling uncover the horrific truth behind the power of the Skeksis, an adventure unfolds as the fires of rebellion are lit and an epic battle for the planet begins.
Leading the voice cast are Taron Egerton (Kingsman), Anya Taylor-Joy (The Witch), and Nathalie Emmanuel (Game of Thrones) as Rian, Brea and Deet — the three Gelfling heroes.
Other Gelfling characters are voiced by Caitriona Balfe (Outlander), Helena Bonham-Carter (The King’s Speech), Harris Dickinson (forthcoming Maleficent 2), Natalie Dormer (Game of Thrones), Eddie Izzard (Ocean’s Thirteen), Theo James (Divergent series), Toby Jones (Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy), Shazad Latif (Star Trek: Discovery), Gugu Mbatha-Raw (The Cloverfield Paradox), Mark Strong (Kingsman) and Alicia Vikander (Tomb Raider).
The Skeksis & Mystics are voiced by Harvey Fierstein (Torch Song), Mark Hamill (Knightfall, Star Wars), Ralph Ineson (Game of Thrones), Jason Isaacs (The OA), Keegan-Michael Key (Key and Peele), Ólafur Darri Ólafsson (True Detective), Simon Pegg (Mission Impossible), Andy Samberg (Brooklyn Nine Nine).
Aughra will be voiced by Donna Kimball (The Happytime Murders).
Additional characters will also be voiced by puppeteers from the production, including Alice Dinnean, Louise Gold, Neil Sterenberg and Victor Yerrid. Further casting announcements will follow.
“It is humbling to see so many truly gifted actors join The Dark Crystal universe by adding their voices to Age of Resistance,” Lisa Henson, CEO of The Jim Henson Company. “As with the original film, we are now adding a voice cast of the highest caliber that will provide textures and range to the puppetry performances that are the heart of the series. It is thrilling to see this assembled team of artists, puppeteers and now voice actors, many inspired by my father’s original film, work together to realize this unique world – through performance and craft – at a scale that is rarely seen today.”
Channel 5’s Milkshake! preschool block is set to become the exclusive UK free-to-air home for Irish studio Wiggleywoo’s hit preschool series The Day Henry Met… The animation will premiere later this year on the country’s No. 1 commercial destination for kids 4-6.
In every episode, Henry meets something new — The day Henry met a whale! The day Henry met the moon! The day Henry met a Car! These charming adventures now run to four seasons, each 26 x 5’. The Day Henry Met… originally premiered on RTE in Ireland and then on Nick Jr. in 178 countries, prior to moving to Free TV and SVOD.
Existing Free TV partners include RAI (Italy), ABC (Australia), SVT (Sweden), YLE (Finland), TVO, TFO and Knowledge Network (Canada), TVP (Poland), Eesti (Estonia), LTV (Latvia) and RUV (Iceland). SVOD rights have sold to Amazon, Svensk (Scandinavia), TF1 (France), Telefonica (Spain), BT (Great Britain), Jetsen Huashi (China), Horng En Culture (Taiwan) and others.
The series has also sold to 20 airlines including Virgin Atlantic, Emirates, Qantas Airlines, Lufthansa, Air France, Norwegian Air and Cathay Pacific.
Commenting on the UK deal Louise Bucknole, VP of Programming at VIMN Kids said, “We’re delighted to be welcoming The Day Henry Met… to Milkshake!, which showcases the very best in British and Irish preschool content.”
The Day Henry Met… is distributed internationally by Monster Entertainment which has just made its first publishing deals with the O’Brien Press for the UK and Ireland and New Frontier in Australia and New Zealand.
The series continues to enjoy terrific ratings. In Italy, The Day Henry Met… is ranked fifth among the most viewed programs on free children’s channels in the 13:00-18:00 time slot, with a 13.32% share of viewers aged 4-7. The Day Henry Met… is performing similarly to Albero Azzurro and Peppa Pig and has also received a morning timeslot on RAI YoYo.
Netflix has just released a new UK-produced sci-fi drama series from New Pictures, titled The Innocents (8 x 60’) — a teen runaway tale with a dangerous skin-changing twist. Over the course of eight months, a 40-person team at VFX and animation studio Jellyfish Pictures handled more than 150 shots for the project, mainly focusing on the character shape-shifting elements.
The studio pitched and curated the whole creative approach to these shifts, with a brief to present two (sometimes up to six) different identities colliding together in one body, until one has taken over the other, in the most realistic way possible.
The Jellyfish team, led by Creative Director Tom Brass and COO Luke Dodd, came up with using turbulence in the characters’ faces to suggest that internal struggle. Working closely with the client and the director to gather a deep understanding of all the characters, Jellyfish carved out the four stages of a shift: eye flickers, skin ripples, actual shift and finally the sudden change. Each character reaction, both physically and emotionally, was unique.
Jellyfish and the show’s cast went to Ten24 in Sheffield to conduct 3D scans of all the actors’ heads, capturing both neutral and extreme facial expressions including grimaces, eye clenches and extensive mouth and teeth movement. (One actor had already started shooting another project in South Africa, so was scanned by a separate company there.) These scans were the basis for all shifts throughout the series. Jellyfish artists went into minute detail on the digital faces, creating entirely CG teeth as well as generating accurate pore and wrinkle replication.
VFX supervisor Matt McKinney and head of 3D Dave Cook led the lighting team in applying the ambient photography of each facial texture and to the scanned facial models to shade. The team then used Jellyfish’s skin shading tool set to bring the faces to life. The ambient textures allowed the artists to match shadowing and lighting to seamlessly integrate the faces in to the plates.
Also crucial to the success of these shots were camera and object tracking — painstakingly copied match moves of each actor’s head, neck and shoulders allowed for complete digital double replacement, amped up with a bespoke facial animation rig; high-velocity eye flickers made with highly detailed photoreal CG eyes and irises; and digital hair transformation.
Simulating hair was one of Jellyfish’s biggest technical and artistic challenges on the show. The hair had to be both groomed and animated to match the live-action movement in the most photorealistic way possible. And not just head hair, but eyelashes, eyebrows and facial hair (full beards and stubble included).
Additional work on The Innocents tackled by Jellyfish were set extensions, water simulation and character duplication. Season 1 is available now on Netflix streaming.