Unfolding the World of Bunraku

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Mon, 01/30/2012 - 19:00 -- Nick Dager

Bunraku the second film from director Guy Moshe is a blend of computer graphics and choreographed live action comic book and video game styles gritty reality and fantasy and samurai and spaghetti western genres. Crime boss Nicola the Woodcutter (Ron Perlman) commands an army of thugs headed by nine deadly assassins in a post-war future without guns. Citizens of the small town terrorized by Nicola’s regime wait in hope of a hero to save them. A mysterious drifter (Josh Hartnett) and young samurai (Japanese star Gackt) soon cross paths and with guidance from the local bartender (Woody Harrelson) join forces in a quest to overthrow Nicola’s tyrannical reign. At Nicola’s side are Alexandra (Demi Moore) the femme fatale and Killer No. 2 (Kevin McKidd) Nicola’s lethal right-hand man. The film which debuted last September in a limited release had a production budget of only $25 million. Bunraku was written and directed by Moshe based on a story by Boaz Davidson. Moshe’s Picturesque Films Ram Bergman Productions and Snoot Entertainment—all in Los Angeles—partnered to produce the film and bring Moshe’s vision to cinematic life. To realize the visual style envisioned for Bunraku the production team elicited the help of Oliver Hotz owner and visual effects supervisor at Origami Digital in Los Angeles. Moshe decided early on that he would tell the story of Bunraku by filming entirely on a green-screen stage and using a wealth of VFX and computer graphic imagery. The crew filmed the live action over a 12-week period and on roughly 30 sets at MediaPro Studios in Romania. Even though Bunraku was shot entirely inside of sound stages the director (Moshe) envisioned a massively expansive world Hotz explains. Origami Digital was initially contracted to deliver approximately 90 of the more difficult VFX shots in the production while Snoot Entertainment’s Snoot FX division were assigned roughly 300 A over B set extensions. The project’s VFX work soon grew in both quantity and complexity so the decision was made to reassign all work to Origami Digital. The Origami Digital VFX team was responsible for creating virtually everything that wasn’t in the immediate set including a view through the City Square’s main archway a flyover from a Mob Office over the city and past several landmarks and a colorful paper-lantern sky. In all Origami Digital artists delivered more than 1000 shots which can be seen over roughly 83 minutes of Bunraku’s running time. Given the volume of VFX the team had to deliver for the movie Hotz elected to farm out preparation tasks to other facilities and enable artists to devote more time to the look and design of the shots. RotoFactory together with Origami Digital’s in-house rotoscope/paint team delivered mattes for several green-screen sequences. Pixel Magic completed speed changes that were introduced in the edit stage. Algous Studios delivered the type of blood Moshe wanted in the movie as well as provided elements for Origami Digital’s comps and finished blood only shots that didn’t require any other VFX elements. Lastly Imaginary Forces handled a montage sequence because we had really liked the style of some of its other work and it fit perfectly into this movie Hotz says. The visual style of the work in Bunraku was a departure for Hotz and his team at Origami Digital. Most of our prior work was of a photorealistic/invisible style. Achieving the stylized look that [Moshe] wanted took a lot of trial and error so we came up with a work flow that allowed for experimentation without incurring overages or getting into a major time crunch he says. Another challenge was the length of the more intricate transition shots that at 2000-plus frames each included a lot of geometry and passes to allow for control later during compositing. Perhaps our biggest challenge was doing this all with a small team. At our largest we had 25 artists Hotz says but we had a very good crew and a streamlined work flow that allowed us on average to get 40 to 60 shots out per week—including all the exploration time that the director needed. Hotz entrusted his Bunraku workflow to NewTek’s LightWave 3D which he chose as the primary 3D application for all the modeling texturing and rendering. Artists also used LightWave to do all the setups for the shots. We used [Autodesk’s] Maya to create a majority of the transition sequences where buildings had to fold and unfold and then transferred the animation back to LightWave for texturing lighting and rendering. Not having to think about licensing the LightWave renderer on our render farm was a huge relief he says. We then used LightWave to create all the passes that we needed and then passed those off to compositing. A smooth tightly integrated production pipeline was a prerequisite for Origami Digital artists to produce a wealth of scenes combining live action CG with high polygon counts and striking VFX—all on a deadline. The integration of LightWave and Maya on the 3D side as well as getting camera and geometry information from LightWave into our compositing software (Eyeon Fusion) was key to the speed in which we were able to crank out iterations of work Hotz says. Having this seamless integration allowed me to make certain calls that would allow the artists to work more effectively. Sometimes we would choose to use the geometry in the compositor rather than a 3D package because we could make interactive changes while sitting there with the director. Origami Digital also enjoyed tight integration with its internal job tools. The artists did not need to create render folders or passes folders Hotz says. We automated things like z depth or matte passes and submissions to the render farm—all to make it easier on the artist who could concentrate more on the creative work. The integration with Maya was also key in moving elements to and from LightWave Hotz says. We used our own tools for that integration and it was a very smooth process. We have a very tight integration of LightWave with the rest of our tools including our entire motion-capture pipeline. Artists need to be able to iterate to improve work says Hotz. LightWave allows us to do that he says. I find shading and texturing in LightWave so intuitive that we didn’t run into any slowdowns on that end giving us the opportunity to explore many different looks in a very short amount of time. It has an extremely fast renderer and where you usually shudder to use motion blur with [other] renderers I don’t even have to think twice with LightWave Hotz says. We render with 3D motion blur. LightWave also proved to be highly effective with scenes having large polygon counts. We had millions of polys for our transition shots and we had a much easier time dealing with the geometry in LightWave Hotz says. Bunraku’s visuals are being compared to those of Sin City and 300 both of which commanded much larger budgets than Bunraku’s modest $25 million price tag. I am extremely proud of the work we have achieved Hotz says. I’m equally proud of the way in which we were able to manage this project. Typically a project with 1000-plus shots would only go to a large facility working six- and seven-day weeks to finish; or it would be broken up into smaller sequence-sized chunks and distributed to companies all over the globe Hotz says. Due to our pipeline tools and management we were able to deliver this project in the time allotted with a small crew in Los Angeles without overtime or weekend work. What Hotz hopes independent movie producers take away from Bunraku is that high-quality VFX work is available to projects of all sizes and budgets. Going forward LightWave will continue to be our primary 3D application and package of choice for modeling texturing and rendering. Its speed robustness and support for custom scripting are all key to our success as a provider of 3D content to the entertainment industry he says. We will definitely continue to use LightWave 3D for future work. NewTek www.newtek.com ,3048
Alchemist Agenda,2012-01-31,The Hive has completed an Amazon Studios winning production The Alchemist Agenda based upon an original script by Marty Weiss. The motion comic is the first full-length motion comic created from original artwork and was produced by Marty Weiss and The Hive’s Yesenia Higuera and Benjamin Price. The Hive created the artwork animation and post-production services on the feature. The Alchemist Agenda is the story of a nautical treasure hunter who discovers a WWII U-boat off the coast of New York; he sets out on an international pursuit to discover the formula to alchemy with a beautiful professor who has a secret agenda of her own. A Motion Comic is an animated Comic Book. All artwork for “The Alchemist Agenda” has been created specifically for the project. Motion Comics are a unique medium in which to tell the story and create a specific style for the film. “The complete 90 minute motion comic was started from scratch and finished within three months. It was an exciting challenge finding the right style of artwork and complete full post on the project in such a short amount of time” says Higuera producer editor and post supervisor on the project.   “As far as we know there has never been another full length motion comic feature that was created from original artwork ” says producer Price. “The goal of the motion comic was to create a blueprint for the film version. Everything from the sound design to the final edit was carefully crafted.” The newly formed Amazon Studios is looking to make commercial motion pictures based on scripts and movies submitted by budding screenwriters and filmmakers. They have a first look deal with Warner Brothers. “We are excited to introduce writers filmmakers and movie lovers to Amazon Studios ” Roy Price director of digital product development for Amazon Studios said in a statement. “Full-length test movies will show stories up on their feet and attract helpful feedback at an early stage. We hope that Amazon Studios will help filmmakers experiment and collaborate and we look forward to developing hit movies.” The winning scripts and movies will be chosen based on commercial viability according to Amazon and judged by a panel of people in the business including Bryan Singer The Usual Suspects; Ivan Reitman Ghostbusters; Jack Epps Jr. Top Gun and Dick Tracy; Mark Gill former head of Miramax; Mike Werb The Mask and Lara Croft: Tomb Raider; Michael Taylor Bottle Rocket and The Pursuit of D.B. Cooper. The top prize which will be awarded at the end of the year is $1 million. The Alchemist Agenda was written by Marty Weiss who won Amazon Studios first scriptwriting competition in November 2010. Weiss became known for creating comedic and highly visual commercials directing hundreds of national and international image campaigns for major Blue Chip brands and TV Networks before segueing into longer form projects. The motion comic version of the script is a test film that was judged by Amazon Studios and won the Best Test Movie Award of $100 000. In additional to winning the cash prize the project has the potential be made into a live action feature by Warner Brothers. The Hive was founded in 2009 and specializes in creative film editing motion comic animation and transmedia content for multiple new media distribution options. The Hive has provided post services for Deacon Entertainment in conjunction with the Department of Education and Laureate International University. Founding partner Higuera previously edited The History Channel’s documentary The People Speak. The Hive www.hivedoes.com ,3051
Cobb Theatres Screen Bruce Lee Documentary,2012-02-14, Cobb Theatres screened the highly anticipated documentary I Am Bruce Lee on February 9th and 15th at select theatres. Bruce Lee was born in the Year of Dragon and his stage name was Little Dragon so it's only appropriate that his return to the big screen debuts as the Dragon Year begins. Voted one of the most important people of the 20th century by Time Magazine and one of our Greatest Pop Culture Icons by People Magazine Bruce Lee continues to be honored and remembered for his enduring legacy. We are thrilled to offer this amazing film to our theatre guests. Bruce Lee was an iconic figure best known for his famous movie Enter the Dragon. What better way to celebrate 2012 and the Year of the Dragon than with a film that recounts his life story says Jeremy Welman chief operating officer Cobb Theatres. I Am Bruce Lee is the first documentary to truly tell Bruce Lee's story in his own words and actions as well as through the eyes of a diverse cast of international stars from the worlds of film television music and sports. The documentary was produced by award-winning studio Network Entertainment the producers of 2010's Academy Award shortlisted documentary Facing Ali. Directed by acclaimed filmmaker Pete McCormack the film is being distributed by D&E Entertainment. Participating Cobb Theatres included: in Florida Cobb Plaza Cinema Cafe 12 Orlando; Cobb Lakeside 18 & IMAX Lakeland; Cobb Dolphin 19 & IMAX Miami; Cobb Merritt Square 16 & IMAX Merritt Island; and Cobb Hollywood 16 & IMAX Tuscaloosa Alabama; and CineBistro at Peninsula Town Center Hampton Virginia. Bruce Lee Enterprises www.brucelee.com Cobb Theatres www.cobbtheatres.com ,3061
Can Drive-Ins Come Back?,2012-02-14, At the height of their popularity in the 1950s more than 4 000 drive-in theatres covered the American landscape. Changing movie-viewing habits and rising real estate prices saw their numbers dwindle but there are now signs that they’re making a comeback according to the United Drive-In Theatre Owners Association. The association notes that drive-in theatres not only remain a time honored American institution but in a battered economy they still offer one of the best values for family entertainment. And a growing number of drive-in owners are finding that converting to digital cinema makes good business sense.  But they face still several hurdles that their indoor counterparts do not and much was a stake when the association held its 12th annual convention last week in Kissimmee Florida. As Dan Doperalski reported in Variety the two biggest hurdles are the fact that neither the Digital Cinema Initiative tech specifications nor the virtual print fee business model were conceived with drive-ins in mind. He also said that some sort of waiver might be announced at the UDITOA meeting. “For drive-in operators an updated DCI is critical since theatres must meet DCI specs to get digital prints and must convert to digital to receive VPF ” Doperalski wrote. “Drive-ins can't meet the current version of the specs because they can't provide masking to change the aspect ratio of their screens and can't deliver 5.1 sound. Most drive-in sites have converted their sound system to FM transmission by which patrons receive the soundtrack through their car stereo. Only a few have maintained old-style window speakers for nostalgia.” He added “The update is also expected to waive or revise the requirement that outdoor theatres meet the same brightness standards as indoor theatres: 14 foot Lamberts. Faced with interference from ambient light and throw distances as long as 900 feet in some theatres even drive-ins with the most powerful projectors on the market get only about 10 Lamberts. Most drive-ins typically get 5-7 Lamberts. The enticement for drive-in operators is that digital projectors would provide more flexibility in theatrical programming as well as the ability to present 3D allowing exhibitors to screen alternative content including concerts sports and cultural performances. After the conference I spoke with UDITOA president John Vincent about the past present and future of drive-ins in North America. Vincent is the owner of Wellfleet Cinemas on Cape Cod Island in Massachusetts. His business is a growing model for drive-in owners moving forward because in addition to his drive-in he operates a four-screen indoor theatre. Both the indoor and outdoor facilities currently run 35mm film but Vincent hopes to convert the complex to digital this year ideally before the start of the summer season. Digital Cinema Report: What progress if any were you able to report at the conference regarding amendments for drive-ins of the DCI specs? John Vincent: To my knowledge there is no addendum to DCI proposed or in the works. Simply put there would be provisions in the contracts with the integrators and/or directly with exhibitors and distributors during the normal course of business that would make allowances for areas of DCI that are not practical in the outdoor environment. I will note that SMTPE recognized the difficulties with illumination in the Drive-In in the film world with SMTPE RP-12-1997.  We expect with the current line of series 2 projectors we will have a much improved image than was possible with 35mm and in many cases we will able to meet 14 foot Lamberts where we would have not with 35mm.
DCR: Is it true that an updated DCI is critical for drive-in operators specifically regarding the requirements for sound?
JV: True but I will note that those who still have window speakers like myself also do the FM for those who want the best sound. DCR: What progress can you report on VPF deals for drive-ins? JV: We have made positive progress on both DCI issues and VPF's that's all I am able to say
because of non-disclosure agreements a requirement of all integrators including Christie. Christie GDC and Barco were sponsors of the UDITOA conference and Barco also provided a digital cinema projector which attendees were able to set up out of the box.  

DCR: How realistic is it to believe that drive-ins can make a comeback in North America? JV: If you're referring to drive-In attendance per site drive-Ins have been in a comeback mode for close to 20 years.  If you’re referring to screen count we are worried about the effect of the ultimate discontinuation of 35mm film on the drive-In industry. 

 DCR: How many drive-ins are there today in United States? How does that compare with a year ago? JV: There are 443 known drive-ins with 734 screens worldwide.  In the US the screen count from last year is down 12 to 606 screens.

 DCR: How many North American drive-ins are digital today and how does that compare with a year ago? JV: Many drive-ins are closed for the season.  Of the ones that are open or converted last summer there were fifteen screens at seven sites. More are in the conversion process. 

DCR: What’s next for the UDITOA? JV: Since drive-ins are getting a later start nearly all our new projectors will be capable of higher frame rates.  We are very excited to provide this improvement in the movie going experience.
 With moviegoers seeking to recapture the magical memories of their youth digital technology represents for drive-ins a distinctive competitive edge against the hard tops – what many drive-in owners call indoor theatres – by offering alternative content such as major sporting events musical and other cultural performances in a unique outdoor environment under the stars.  Sponsoring the conference was part of what Christie sees as its ongoing commitment to keep as many drive-ins open as possible. “No single institution in American cinema history offers the sense of nostalgia romance and freedom that drive-in theatres convey ” says Craig Sholder vice president of Christie’s entertainment solutions. “With more than 80 years serving the exhibition community Christie understands first-hand the challenges of running drive-ins and we are eager to bring them into the modern age preserving this important legacy of cinema history.” In the southern and Midwest states specifically he said Christie has joined forces with two of the country’s most renowned dealers – Sonic Equipment Company and Entertainment Supply and Technologies – to offer complete single-source digital cinema solutions. Design consultation installation and ongoing support are available from Christie and its partners. As well Christie’s Network Operating Center can provide 24/7 technical support and ongoing maintenance.   

 For more than 60 years the Silver Moon Drive-In Theatre has been a landmark in central Florida where it was the first of its kind to open in Lakeland. Today the Silver Moon continues to operate successfully offering a double feature of first-run movies on two screens. “We are the last drive-in theatre in Polk County but we are here to stay ” says owner Harold T. Spears. ES&T recently completed the digitization of Silver Moon. ES&T chose the Solaria Series Christie CP2230 digital projectors as the most effective for lighting up the two massive screens of 55-feet and 70-feet.
“Audiences have remarked how much brighter and sharper the images on the screen are now ” says Bruce Schneiter vice-president technical services at ES&T.  “Christie was our first choice because they have always provided top-level products and service and they stand behind everything they offer. They are unparalleled for their technical expertise and industry experience.”
  Recognized by the National Association of Theatre Owners as one of the oldest family-owned circuits in the Midwest B&B Theatres have seen the coming of sound color widescreen digital 3D and countless other advances in stereo sound and projection technologies. Currently B&B Theatres operate in towns of all sizes opening multiplex theatres in many of the same places that once housed their old-time single-screen and twin theatres.  When B&B Theatres decided to replace its two aging downtown movie houses in Moberly Missouri with a new multi-million-dollar multiplex they built on their drive-in theatre lot – vacant since 1985 – and put the drive-in screen back to work as well. The new theatre complex opened in 1997 is called the Moberly Five and Drive. 

Sonic a Kansas-based digital cinema integrator and certified Christie partner installed a Christie CP2230 DLP Cinema projector with a 4 500-watt bulb for the drive-in’s large 64-foot-wide screen. According to Dan VanOrden circuit general manager of B&B Theatres “I was extremely impressed with the results. The audience too absolutely loved the bright new look. The drive-in is so bright now that Highway 63 is lit up in front of it.”
VanOrden says that the conversion to digital gave Moberly many more options for alternative content as well.  “We’ve been able to run DVD’s of classic movies for example and they actually look much better on that huge screen than their old 35mm prints did.” Sonic had previously installed Christie digital projectors in six drive-in screens in Texas including the Stars and Stripes in Lubbock as well as the Big Sky in Midland. 

“Speaking for The Big Sky our Christie Solaria projector gives us a gorgeous picture and our customers love it ” says Sam Kirkland owner of The Big Sky.  “When a drive-in goes to digital movies it’s a big difference from film and people see that difference immediately. The quality at drive-in theatres using Christie projectors is as good as the indoor theatres now.”

 Steve Zimmerman director of business development at Sonic agreed.  “Both Sonic and the theatre owners at these locations in Texas were extremely impressed with the end result allowing us to confidently recommend Christie to B&B Theatres ” he says. 

 “Christie is committed to ensuring that America’s drive-ins remain competitive for generations to come by providing them with the dazzling images of digital cinema and the expanded revenue streams of alternative content. As we have been for more than 80 years we are here for the long term to support them with superior customer service ” says Sholder. “Along with exceptional partners such as Sonic and ES&T we want movie goers everywhere to rediscover the pleasure of watching the big screen under ‘the big sky.’” The Big Sky Drive-In and the Stars and Stripes both feature outdoor screens up to 90 feet wide. 
Among the first drive-ins in the country to install digital technology Stars & Stripes and the Big Sky drive-ins were also the first multi-screen drive-ins in the country. Big Sky owner Sam Kirkland opened the drive-in in October 2005 with two screens both of which had 35mm projectors. He added a third screen in 2007. Two of Big Sky's three screens are 45 feet by 90 feet with parking spaces for 436 cars and 382 cars; the third screen at 35 feet by 70 feet can handle 198 cars.  Sonic did the conversion using Christie digital projectors.
  “When a drive-in goes to digital movies it’s a big difference from film and audiences see the difference immediately ” says Kirkland. “Our Christie projector gives us a gorgeous picture and our customers love it.”
 Lamont Furlow the 60-year old general manager of Big Sky whose parents managed a local drive-in theatre recalled that he was virtually born into the movie theatre business. 
Directly or indirectly I've been in the exhibition business all my life and have a special passion for the drive-in he says. I'm not real computer literate but when we had some initial challenges the first week we called our Christie representative and he talked us through the situation right over the phone. The show started on time and the entire system has worked beautifully every since.” 
 Most importantly Furlow says Now that we're digital lighting the screen is no longer an issue. Our patrons enjoy even the darkest scenes in a movie.” 
In the past Big Sky also had serious problems getting the picture focused when running 35mm projectors. With Christie digital projectors it's now in perfect focus he says.   “My immediate reaction when we showed our first movie in digital was that can't be my screen. We couldn't be more pleased with our new Christie projectors.”
Ryan Smith had fond childhood memories of working in his grandparents’ indoor theatre as well as nights spent at the local drive-in. In 2003 at the age of 24 he opened the Stars & Stripes Drive-In Theatre with two screens and two used 35mm projectors assisted by his parents. 
 Today with two screens that measured 35 feet by 70 feet and one measuring 45 feet by 90 feet the earliest lesson he learned about drive-in theatres says Smith was that you just can't get enough light on those big screens.
Smith selected Christie projectors financing the cost of the digital conversion himself. Sonic supervised the installation and helped to train Smith and his staff.
 The impact was instantaneous.   According to Smith in the first week they opened People noticed that something was different. They realized the picture was brighter.  And I was thrilled to provide my customers with ‘indoor-movie’ picture quality. 
Smith is now eager to explore the expansion of his business with new kinds of content such as sporting events concerts and cultural performances. We were always constrained by film he says. With digital there are no limitations. We are very pleased with our Christie projectors.” 
 “Our customers have all praised the outstanding image quality of Christie digital projectors and we love their ease of use and their low cost of operation ” says Sonic’s Zimmerman. “As a Christie certified partner we look forward to helping America’s drive-ins enter the digital age and bring a new level of entertainment to the next generation of moviegoers and beyond.” “Drive-in theatres have always been a romantic business venture that faced many technical challenges ” says Sholder. “The limited amount of light that can be projected on the screen from even the most powerful film projectors is not always sufficient to compete with the ambient light of the outdoors. This has often seriously affected the quality of the projected image and undermined the movie-viewing experience for many patrons. Christie projectors are ideally suited for the outdoor environment where ease of operation – especially to focus and scale images – and high brightness levels are critical.”