Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Super 8 Trailer of J.J. Abrams Has Hidden Image of a Face

Let's face it, director J.J. Abrams is fond of hidden and mysterious television and movie monsters. In the series, Lost, there's the smoke monster. In Cloverfield, there's the monster that wrecks havoc in New York. In Star Trek, there's that giant snapping monster that thought of having Captain Kirk for lunch. In most cases, Abrams teases viewers about these creatures, leaving much to the imagination (at least in the beginning) and revealing details like appearance, for later in the series or movie.

In the trailer of his sci-fi thriller, Super 8, the alien is shown attempting to escape after the train that's taking it to a secure place collides with a pickup truck. The alien monster punches its way through a steel door, but is not revealed and leaves people wondering about what it looks like. Of course, if you've already watched the movie, you won't be interested in this. But did you know that Abrams (left) inserted a hidden image in the teaser of Super 8? Well, it's not exactly hidden, but it is unnoticeable unless you slow things down. It's the image in the above picture. What is it? Is it the monster? Is it an alien? Is it a kid? Shhh. Don't tell if you already know. =)

What's obvious is that the image appears to be a face with large eyes! It shows up briefly near the end when the camera zooms out from the escaping-alien-scene to reveal the lens of a projector that appears (or is implied) to be playing a Super 8mm film roll. There also appears to be a message of some sort spelled out by the letters that appear in the lens (top; left). If played frame by frame, you will get the following:

Do what you want with it. It's part of the thrill! Anyway, we have to admit how sneaky Abrams is! He likes the kind of promotion that blurs reality with fiction. He did it with the Lost series, which did pull loyal viewers in, we have to admit. Anyway, I won't go into details regarding the hidden messages in the Super 8 trailer, but if you wish, you can do your own research and see where your efforts lead you, beginning with the clue above.

UFO releasing multiple orbs in the Philippines (2010)

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Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Revisiting Hand-drawn Cel Animation in Disney's The Princess and the Frog

Computer-generated animation came into the public knowledge of Disney fans with the movie Beauty and the Beast. The much-hyped ballroom dance sequence of Belle and the Beast prince delivered in that it gave something new in the way animation was done by Disney. It heralded a new age of cartoons when computers became the basic tool for drawing and animating. It also signaled the seeming end of hand-drawn cel animation.

Walt Disney (above, left) began with hand-drawn animation and when Disney began making feature-length films of beloved fairy tales like Snow White and Cinderella, cel animation was given a breakthrough advancement, which, in today's parlance is akin to motion-capture. Back then, film footages of real actors were used which were traced to produce the final animated sequence. That is the reason why the body movements of the main characters Cinderella are so lifelike, and it was this wow-factor that made those early Disney movies so endearing and appealing. The Princess and the Frog does not use this technique, but it still pays tribute to the past Disney masterpieces.

Now that it's so easy to use computers to do animation, manual drawings and tracings have become a thing of the past, or so it seemed. Disney has revisited the dying art of hand-drawn animation and given it new life in The Princess and the Frog. It was recognized as the Best Motion Picture of 2009 by TIME Magazine, and for a good reason. Producer John Lasseter said it was a way of bringing the animation of Walt Disney Studios into the future. He said that beloved storytelling, successful characters, and a musical opulence (gospel- and soul-jazz-inspired) are essential to The Princess and the Frog.

In 2006, John Lasseter and Ed Catmull (bearded; left) became the heads of Walt Disney Animation Studios. While they acknowledged the value of new technology, they still recognized the importance and relevance of hand-drawn animation. Lasseter himself was into this kind of artform and it didn't seem right to leave it behind when it was all that Walt Disney was about as an animator. People like director John Musker were invited to pitch movie ideas and the story of The Princess and the Frog was chosen to be produced.

Producer Peter Del Vecho has this to say about using traditional hand-drawn animation on The Princess and the Frog, "There's something really rewarding about watching the animator put down pencil to paper, and then when you're watching the film, you forget all about the individual pencil lines and those characters are really coming off the screen. You kind of take them home with you in your mind-each of the characters is rich and has a life of their own."

Hand-drawn animation productions has created hundreds of jobs for a lot of talented artists worldwide. With rising production costs, studios like Disney relocated production work to countries in Asia like the Philippines where numerous young people were given the break they were looking for to be a part of the magic of animation, particularly of Walt Disney. One of them is Filipino, Roland Mechael (or Michael) Ilagan, who became part of the animation team of Disney movies like Mulan and Brother Bear (left). With the rekindling of hand-drawn cel animation in The Princess and the Frog, history could repeat itself and kids who now dream of Disney cartoons may still get their chance to be a part of it all.

Watch The Princes and the Frog trailer.

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Monday, January 4, 2010

Illusions in Using Miniatures in Film

In this age of computer graphics and animation, there is a special effects art form that's quickly losing popularity and earning a place in film making history. What is this art form? It's only the use of miniatures in film making. Have you ever watched those Godzilla movies in the past that didn't use any computer graphics animation? The destruction scenes of Tokyo and other suburbs used miniatures. They may be crude, but they do a nice job in convincing the audience that Japan is being trampled on by a giant lizard - at least for the duration of the movie.

Of course, there are miniature effects that are more convincing. In James Cameron's Titanic, the director used a partial scale replica of the rear part of the ship as the background of a scene with survivors in the water. Movies like the old Sinbad movies also used miniatures to film stop-motion creatures. In Superman, the Movie, miniatures were used to show the effects of the shifting of the San Andreas fault. Indeed, for years, movie audiences were agape in fascination with these miniatures because they were very effective.

It may be old, but the technique of using miniatures for special effects is not dead. In fact, it is something that budding film makers can use quite effectively. They only need to know a few things about using miniatures to make the scenes more realistic. For example, since the laws of physics (like gravity) makes small objects behave differently, making them look small, film makers "overcrank" their cameras. In other words, they shoot the miniature scenes with a very high frame rate per second. This allows the motions of the scene to be slowed down, making it appear that a falling tiny Statue of Liberty is actually the real thing that's heavy and massive.

Overcranking usually solves motion problem, except for water shoots. In small-scale, a tiny waterfall or tidal wave would produce droplets that are too large for scale. This discrepacny does not escape the human eye. The solution would be to make associated scale models like ships bigger so that the water flow and clumping appear more natural. This was also done by director Cameron in Titanic. Ship models a fraction of the original size were made for ocean scenes.

Miniatures can be mixed or composited with normal scale live action scenes. They can be placed on the foreground and made to appear as if they are in the background at a distance from the subjects. This technique is called forced perspective and was often used to fake UFO photographs in the past. Another technique would be to use a mirror with the silver (reflective material) scratched out a section. The miniatures are filmed through this hole as the normal scale scene plays as a reflection in the mirror. It can be tricky, but it really works. A variation of this is to use a matte painting on glass with open spaces through which the miniature scene is filmed.

There are many ways to use miniatures in film. Just be creative and you may find use for it still in this age of computers!

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