The VFX of The Jungle Book

Update: The Jungle Book won the 2017 BAFTA for Best Special Visual Effects.

In the run up to the various film awards, here’s a look at the VFX of The Jungle Book with Adam Valdez, a VFX Supervisor at The Moving Picture Company (for whom I used to work).

The Jungle Book took a plethora of trophies at the recent Visual Effects Society Awards, so I reckon they stand a good chance at this year’s BAFTAs and Oscars.  I sincerely hope MPC win – it would be another major award for them, and deservedly so.  I’m also betting on Kubo and the Two Strings, a beautiful animated film from independent studio Laika that also deserves to win for their technical and creative achievements.

MPC are currently working on Jon Favreau’s “live” adaptation of The Lion King.

Don’t like the new Top Gear?  Here’s a solution..

.. turn off your TV.  Or change channels.  Or read a book.   Or listen to music.  And never tune into the thing again.  Because you’ll just keep having a moan.

Anything but the repetitive droning on about Chris Evans shouting; that it’s boring; that they using canned laughter (they’re not – and indeed, it seems that people and newspapers are obsessed over the BBC using canned laughter – what flipping century are you living in?); that this is the same; that it’s too different; insert all manner of swear words and insults because people seem to think THEY own Top Gear.

A last bite of the Apple pie..

Well.  I’ve decided.

Given that innovations in laptop, tablet and smartphone technology aren’t going to get much better over the next three years, I figure that Apple are pretty much done and dusted for a while.  They used to be a company you could trust – with a secure and tight ecosystem between hardware and software that put the customer first.  It was stable.  It was well developed.  It was decent.

But over the past 6-8 years, things have taken a turn for the worse.  We’ve now got multiple generations of iPads, iPhones, MacBooks, MacBook Pros, iMacs and everything in between.  Keeping these machines up to date with the latest OS is almost – but not quite – up to Windows standards.  Each generation and model use different components and that means that multiple drivers have to be included.  My almost 4 year old MacBook Air at work has been experiencing some random weird driver related issues over the past few releases of OS X (but with .5 release of El Capitain, things look to have settled down).

We now have four distinct operation systems: OS X, iOS, tvOS, and watchOS.  Maintaining each and every one of them must be a pain.  And for developers of these platforms, doubly-so.  My fourth generation Apple TV hasn’t been used very much because it seems that outside the US, little work has been made by UK TV broadcasters to put their on-demand services on there.  There is no All 4.  There is no ITV Hub.  And we can pretty much say bye bye to Amazon Prime given Jeff Bezos’ recent comments.

I’ve not found watchOS to be particularly brilliant if I’m honest.  Apps never operate standalone, and opening any app takes an age.  With my recent visit back home to North West London, it took two or three attempts to check in and out of TfL’s contactless barriers.  Almost all the time, “Seek Assistance” popped up.   I had to wait for somebody else to go through to try again – when I was then let through.  So Apple Pay is becoming a pain.

iPad Pro development is slow – all the recent comments I’ve made about the lack of higher resolution support still stands.  We then have the firmware bricking issue with the small iPad Pro.  There’s still no fix other than to have the hardware physically replaced.

Apple Music went TITSUP (Total Inability To Support Usual Performance) yesterday (so I hear – at least for some people), with playlists vanishing and even the ability to download purchased music.

I try to show a work colleague some photos from my iCloud Photo Library, and Photos on OS X went mental – showing other pictures instead.

Apple have lost the plot.  And I’ve figured that as Apple can’t be as bad as Android or Windows, I’m replacing my gadgets accordingly.  I’m still keeping the iPads – they still have their uses while they work – but everything else is being replaced.  I’m not going to have a smart watch anymore.  The smartest it’ll be is having the time adjusted automatically via radio signal.  My laptop will be Windows.  My phone will be Android.  I will accept these will be a pain in the arse on the odd occasion, but I’m willing to accept that given their development cycle.

Besides, I think I’ve become far too Apple-fied over the years.  I struggle to answer Windows related questions at work from time to time because I have never used it on a daily basis.  So I think I need to change that.  Plus it’ll help me fix family PC problems too.  And I miss the olden days of getting stuck under the hood – something you can’t do with Apple products now because they’re all pretty much solded to the motherboard.

I’ll post my experiences of switching as and when they happen.  But the first step is the Android migration which should take place over the weekend.  I’ve gone for a Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge – one of the highest rating Android phones on the market.  The downside to it, however, is that Samsung is not known for rolling out timely security or major OS updates.  That’s one downside to Android – but Google are preparing to kick Android partners’ bottoms to try and rectify this.  We’ll see how well that goes….

X-Men: Apocalypse – Silly, but great fun

Empire Magazine rated X-Men: Apocalypse just two stars, but if I paid attention to all movie reviews, I’d never go and see any.  But last night I utilised my Odeon Limitless pass to watch the latest installment in the X-Men franchise.

I’ve been fond of the X-Men movies since the first film was released in 2000.  Heck, I even managed to get to work on one of the films (X-Men: The Last Stand) – but that’s pretty much universally acknowledged as being the worst out the whole series – old and new.  I wholeheartedly agree (at least plot-wise – the VFX were, of course, phenomenal, but then again I’m biased).  Sigh.  But after Matthew Vaughn and Jane Goldman released X-Men First Class, the franchise was back to its good old self.

Apocalypse’s 144 minutes crams a lot in – just like Captain America: Civil War.  We’re dealing with an ancient mutant, Magneto and his family, the introduction to Jean Grey (played by Game of Thrones Sansa Stark herself, Sophie Turner), Nightcrawler, Quicksilver and Cyclops.  We’re seeing the first proper formation of Charles Xavier’s X-Men.  It’s a big family drama that just happens to feature an extraordinarily large amount of digital visual effects.  My former employers, MPC, are the lead facility on this film and they do a grand job.  But be warned: some of the effects go a bit cartoony at times.  Especially comical was Quicksilver’s rescue of the students after Apocalypse turns up to wreck havoc.  But I did love the pizza eating pug.

And then there’s the ending.  The CG VFX is cranked up to 11. At one point we’re treated to a game of punch tennis, with Apocalypse as the tennis ball.  Very surreal, very silly, very cartoony, and quite frankly hilarious.  But I actually liked it!  It was different.  Completely off the wall stuff.   There was one plot point that didn’t make sense given the circumstances, and it’s perhaps a little too early to discuss it here because of spoilers, but I’m sure the filmmakers have a reasonable explanation prepared.

Yes, by all means X-Men: Apocalypse is not without its flaws, but at the same time it’s by no means bad.  Just switch off one’s brain, enjoy the visuals, the explosions, the madness.  It’s not a bad way of spending 144 minutes.

Apple turnover: Replacing a bricked 9.7″ iPad Pro due to 9.3.2 firmware

Yesterday I popped up to London to get my recently bricked (thanks to the latest 9.3.2 firmware update) 9.7″ iPad Pro fixed.  Having arranged what I think must be my first ever Genius appointment in the 12+ years I’ve been using Apple products, I took a leisurely poot on the 139 bus from Waterloo Station up to Regent’s Street/Oxford Circus.

The Regent Street Apple Store is currently under refurbishment at the moment, so you have to walk down (or take a lift) downstairs to a temporary area full of tables, people and Apple Store staff in green shirts.  I’ve always had problems with the Apple Store layouts in that they never put up any signs pointing you to where things are, or what they do.  You wouldn’t go shopping in a supermarket and have to figure out where the canned soup is, so why should a high end technlology store be any different?  For example, I joined a smallish queue with an Apple Store staff member at the end dealing with queries.  I had naturally assumed this is where I had to check in for my appointment.

Not so.

Apparently I could have flagged anybody down and be shephearded over to empty desks to wait for somebody to come and see me about my problem.  And this is what happened.  After a wait of about 5 minutes, a chap came over and I described the problem: upgrading the iPad Pro OTA (over the air) to 9.3.2 , which worked fine for the large iPad Pro and iPhone 6S Plus, bricked the smaller iPad Pro.  I attempted numerous restores – even downloading the 9.3.1 update and attempting to apply that.  I attempted a full wipe and restore.  No dice.  Error 56 every single time.

So the Apple Store Genius chap brought out his MacBook Air and attempted to do the same.  No dice on every occasion.  Error 56 (hardware problem).  Whatever Apple did with the 9.3.2 update should never do that sort of thing.  I occasionally get very nervous flash updating hardware RAID controller firmware at work, but I should never have to face complete and total hardware replacement if I update my iOS device’s OS and firmware.

Anyway, it was determined that the iPad Pro was a very dead iPad Pro and was not pining for the Fjords as Apple suspected.  The Genius staff member took away the iPad because with the lights in the store was making it very difficult to read the etched serial number on the back of the unit.  He also attempted to locate replacement stock, but it turns out the Regent Street store was completely out.  For at least 7 days.  But thankfully the Covent Garden store did have some available and he made a reservation for me to go and pick it up immediately (I had 45 minutes to get there – the store closes at 8pm).  It was that, or wait until Apple release some form of update that undoes everything – but as there is no timescale for this, and we don’t know WHAT the 9.3.2 firmware actually did, it was too much of a gamble.

So I Ubered over to the Covent Garden store.  That was a mistake.  I forgot just how busy London traffic is.  But we got there with 15 minutes to spare.  Upon entering the store, I was passed around 4-5 different Apple Store staff members – going forwards and backwards before I was about to lose my temper.  Again, no signs in the store to indicate where I should be going.  But thankfully I helpful chap took my details and walked back with me to the right place to get hold of the reserved replacement unit.  Within 10 minutes we swapped out the SIM and was getting going with restoring from the last iCloud backup.  About 10 minutes after the store closed I had a working iPad Pro 9.7″ again.

I am not updating from 9.3 until the next release of iOS (which should be 9.3.3) and that I have seen people update successfully first.  This entire little adventure has cost me £40 including train, bus and Uber fares.  All because Apple mucked up a firmware update.  And because Apple made it impossible to restore from a backup.

I will be writing to Apple about this, and enclosing my reasonable invoice to reclaim the fees paid to get the unit replaced.  Interestingly, I was made to sign something electronically which I managed to muck up.  The Apple Store staff appear to use older iPads that don’t support Apple Pencil, so I was expected to use my finger to sign.  Which I didn’t – I just clicked Done.  Does that still tie me to the T&Cs?  I don’t know.  We’ll see what Apple says when I write to them.