The curse of the digital tiger!

When Life of Pi won the best visual effects Oscar back in 2013, it was a bittersweet victory.  Shortly after the win, the industry saw the collapse of the VFX studio, Rhythm and Hues.  Lots of people lost their jobs.

The following 30 minute documentary explains what happened, and why.

I was checking Twitter yesterday and came across the following tweets:

followed by:

.. which is incredibly disturbing if true. The tweets come from the VFX chapter of BECTU (which is the media & entertainment union here in the UK). I have no reason to disbelieve them as a result.  More information can be found here.

MPC have been fighting unionisation over the past couple of years, but it is nevertheless one of the few companies where employees are members of a union (via BECTU). The VFX sector is one area of the film industry where unionisation has been extremely difficult. Given the costs of VFX which is a highly labour intensive industry, many VFX companies operate to extremely small profit margins. Unionisation is highly unattractive to these companies, and to their clients.

I’ve been talking to a few VFX companies over the past couple of years and my view is that the picture remains bleak, with limited technical resources and staffing costs being a big concern. The smaller boutique companies have had to combine resources to be able to survive (Cinesite & Image Engine springs to mind). For those going alone, you’ll find one member of staff doing one or more jobs. Even the bigger companies have merged (Double Negative with India’s Prime Focus), or bought out (Framestore with China’s Cultural Investment Holdings Co.). And VFX continues to produce significant losses – whether through expansion/R&D (Digital Domain (now owned by a Hong Kong firm) losses double at $64 million) or other means.

Meanwhile, the big corporations that run the film studios continue to get free taxpayer money through the use of film credits for filming or utilising resources in a particular country. Both Britain and Canada are currently the winners in the tax credits game – the US, not so much. It seems the US is not able or willing to financially support its own industry for whatever reason. Just bizarre.

I love film & TV, but bloody hell, the whole industry is a mess. Heavily reliant on state handouts, if this continues we’ll likely to see massive redundancies across the creative industries as film companies go bust. What cost to the UK taxpayer to keep our film industry alive and well?

I am very disappointed with my former employers if the redundancies/replacing with less experienced workers issue is true. It’s bad for the client, bad for the taxpayer, and more so – super bad for those who are being replaced – who took the company an Oscar and BAFTA victory.

It seems to me that any VFX company that provides a CG tiger (Life of Pi & The Jungle Book) and wins a major award is likely to let people go afterwards – for whatever reason. The Walking Dead recently featured a CG tiger – let’s hope it doesn’t win award. If it does, pray for the VFX people on that show. Perhaps the bad luck has to be balanced out by creating two CG magpies? Or better yet – sort out the tax credits issues which is leading the industry to this sorry state, and start making these companies profitable again.

All this has lead to another documentary being made, “Hollywood’s Greatest Trick” in which artists tell of their experience within the VFX industry.

Movie review: Sully

Format: iTunes HD with iTunes Extras + Apple TV 4th Gen
Extras: Featurettes (~45 mins in total)

I’m no fan of flying, but I have to admit that 2009 emergency landing of United Airlines flight 1549 into the Hudson river was one of the most spectacular and miraculous stories to come out of aviation history.  It made you appreciate how much experience some pilots have, and their ability to make lifesaving decisions so quickly is just extraordinary.

This is the story of that incident, but in particular, it is the story of Captain Sullenberger and the subsequent NTSB investigation into how Sully and his co-pilot handled the situation.  This movie was a long time coming,  and it’s pretty decent.

Tom Hanks plays Captain “Sully” Sullenberger – a man with over 40 years flying experience.  Starting from flying a crop duster plane, to flying military aircraft, to a commercial airline pilot, Sully has spent a great deal of time in the air.  And he also ran his own air incident investigations too.

We get to see a recreation of the disaster (a bird strike which took out BOTH engines) with visual effects supplied by my former employers, MPC.  Unfortunately, I felt that MPC’s efforts weren’t up to their usual high standards – the aircraft model and environment felt far too much like Microsoft’s Flight Simulator.  That said, I will give MPC credit where it’s due to the actual recreation of the rescue in the Hudson river.  The invisible effects are better than the in-your-face effects.

Clint Eastwood – for it is he – directs well enough.  The performance from Tom Hanks and the rest of the cast is very good, though I did feel it was a little forced in some areas – that is to say, it feels a little too over melodramatic.  Sully feels a bit like a Movie of the Week rather than something that’s more solid. Nevertheless, you felt like cheering during the NTSB hearing in which Sully calmly takes down the investigators’ flight simulations – proving they were completely flawed.

All in all, Sully is a good 90-minute insight into what happened that fateful day.  A little overplayed, maybe, but still entertaining.

Flim Flam Film Spam

I am convinced somebody out there is putting themselves out there as a spammer-for-hire for a number of UK film distributors.  It’s all exceptionally dodgy because the spammer is utilising a number of domains (far too many) and super cheap web hosting outside the UK where dedicated servers are super cheap – the bandwidth doubly so.

There appears to be absolutely no logic to the spammers mailing list of spamees – it feels completely random.  You’d think they’d use a list of known investors with money to burn, but this feels like it’s targeting individuals, promising them many riches and rewards for investing in the UK film industry.

The latest spam originates from a Spanish server.  The Spanish web host/ISP doesn’t offer an abuse@ email address (which they should under the relevant published RFCs), plus the unsubscription URL is invalid – it doesn’t resolve.

I’ve been in contact with the distribution company mentioned in the spam, asking them if they’re aware of the email (it could be they not, and the whole spam thing is a massive scam – in which case, the distribution company had better be informed so they can take action against the spammers themselves).  I doubt I’ll hear back, but it’s better to let them know than not.

If you do want to invest in British film – ignore random spam.  Look towards the BFI whom I’m sure can advise accordingly.  And remember – there have been a number of high profile court cases filed by the HMRC about tax schemes regarding alleged tax avoidance.  So it’s vital to get the correct advice.

Stay safe.

Some updates..

Odeon Limitless – I’ve not been to the cinema in months, so this has become a money waster rather than a saver.  I’ve preferred to either watch movies on Sky Cinema, or buy movies on iTunes.

Virgin Media – The HomeWorks 300Mbs package has proven itself a most worthy purchase.  It’s quite amazing to watch things download over 200Mbs.  A 5Gb movie is downloaded in a matter of minutes.  Good Wi-Fi coverage throughout the house.

What’s less impressive is Virgin’s presentation of Sky Cinema.  There are titles that aren’t available in HD, and watching them on the Tivo V6 in SD is probably like watching a very badly pirated movie.  Additionally, Virgin doesn’t update their What’s New This Week movie section daily with each new movie Sky Cinema adds each day.  So I’ve removed Sky Cinema from my package, and upgraded my landline package to Talk More Anytime.

I’ve added Sky Cinema to my NOW TV subscription which costs half of what I’d be paying with Virgin.  The downside is that the LG app only offers 720p resolution, but upscales far better than Virgin’s offerings – and to be honest, you won’t see much difference in quality between 720 and 1080p.  In short – if you want the proper Sky Cinema experience, you’ll really need to take out a Sky satellite package.  But with Sky Q allegedly going broadband only next year, I’d be interested in checking out again then (but keeping the VM broadband).

BT8160 Call Filtering phones – Working like a treat.  VIP numbers won’t be filtered, but everybody else has to announce themselves before the phone even rings.  That’ll stop a lot of automated diallers for starters.   I do find the blue status light on the base station is a bit too bright at night on the handset I have in my bedroom.  Nothing a bit of gaffer tape can’t fix, though.

Downloading ALL the things! Switching from Sky to Virgin.. part one

For the past year, I’ve been pretty happy with Sky Fibre Broadband Pro with its static IP and IPv6 address.  But with anything that works well, I get restless. Actually, what I’m not so happy about is Sky Q, and Murdoch’s 21st Century Fox wanting to buy Sky.  But I can’t do anything about Sky Q until the end of August/early September.

So I’m intending to move to Virgin Media in small increments, starting with broadband and finishing with their TV service – albeit with a few changes.

The first is that I’m not going to have the Sky Cinema channels.  I find it’s better to rent (or in most cases, buy) movies on iTunes.  I’m also not as keen on the numerous TV channels out there – I barely watch more than 1% of them, so I don’t need the full TV package anymore.  My viewing mainly consists of Netflix, Amazon Prime, and YouTube (there are some surprisingly good vloggers out there).  So I’ll probably take out the basic Tivo 6 package come September.  For watching Sky Atlantic shows, I’ll probably just buy them on iTunes (Westworld, Game of Thrones) – cheaper than a subscription in most cases.

So I’ve ordered the Virgin Media HomeWorks package that delivers up to 300Mbs download and 20Mbs upload, with no traffic management.  The additional feature is that if things go wrong with the broadband connection, there’s next day engineer on-site call out available.  Plus a 24/7 helpline. Designed to cater for home workers, it seems the perfect package for my needs (I usually work from home at least once a month – plus there are all the times I’m on-call).

I’m switching my landline back to Virgin too (since Sky have increase line rental). While the vast majority of calls are made and received on my mobile phone, I find it’s still handy to have a landline.

So we’ll see how things go.  In particularly, I’ll be interested to see how well the Sky Q kit works with Virgin Media broadband.  I’ll write up my experiences, as always.