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.

iTunes & iTunes Extras: A viable alternative to physical media – at last!

One thing I love about buying movies and TV shows on physical media: the extras.  You usually get audio commentaries from the filmmakers along with little featurettes (and occasionally feature-length documentaries) about the making of the film.

But the problem with physical media is having to store it somewhere.  All those cases all add up.  And if higher definition versions come out later, you’ll have to replace the disk, packaging, etc.

Until recently, I had been put off of iTunes movies because I’ve a reasonable fear that the movie studios may pull the movie off the service at any time and remove my access to the movie.  After all, this DOES happen with iTunes music – if you buy a track or album and it’s no longer sold on iTunes, you won’t be able to download it again if you’ve removed the files to make room on your computer or device.

However, I think Apple (and the movie studios) treat movies & TV shows differently.  Given the size of HD movies, they can take up an enormous amount of space on a device.  And the Apple TV has limited storage (we’re talking about the 4th generation here).  So it makes sense that purchases remain in the cloud.   Thus I’m pretty certain that movies & TV shows bought on iTunes will remain a permanent fixture – and even if they don’t, I’m sure Apple would refund accordingly (although I shall bring this up again in another blog post about iTunes in-app subscriptions – what a mess THAT is!).

Anyway, one thing I have come to love with iTunes movies is iTunes Extras.  When movies first started being released with Extras, the offerings were not brilliant.  But more and more movies are being released with DVD/Blu-Ray quality features – and with audio commentaries.  The audio commentary thing is a HUGE deal.  Something that’s traditionally been limited to physical media is now being made available online (or offline if you download the movie to your computer or device).

Even Amazon Prime Video has jumped on the audio commentary bandwagon – offering a few of their TV shows with audio commentary.  It’s essentially a different title because the Amazon Prime Video platform doesn’t appear to offer multiple audio streams.  But it’s a start.  Netflix doesn’t offer ANY audio commentaries for any of their shows yet – so they’ve got some catching up to to.

But there is a downside to iTunes Extras.  They’re not available on iTunes TV shows.  If you buy a series or individual episodes, there are absolutely no extras whatsoever.  None.  Nada.  Kaput.  I hope Apple and the respective studios will put that right.  It’s essential, I think, to do this if Apple has any ambitions to make Apple TV a viable platform.

As for making backups of all the iTunes things – I use one of these, a Drobo.  Lovely device (on loan from work) – it offers full redundancy – up to two disks can fail at once and the data is okay.  But it’s a seriously noisy thing – and one of the disks (the second one from the bottom) is humming like mad.  So it’s on to take backups of my systems, then shut off.

Coming up next on my blog: iTunes subscriptions – is Apple passing the buck? and What movies to watch on iTunes, Netflix and Amazon Prime Video in 2017.

The soundtrack to Marvel’s Doctor Strange is wonderful!

As a HUGE soundtrack fan & collector, I was so pleased when Marvel Entertainment released a track from the forthcoming movie, Doctor Strange.

I’m not familiar with the character or comic, but given the music I am so very much looking forward to going to see the film AND buying the soundtrack.  One of Michael Giacchino’s finest tracks.  Heck, one of the finest film soundtracks in ages.

Back when Stardust was filming, I cheekily asked Jane Goldman if it were possible to sit in on a recording session of the film’s soundtrack (composed by the excellent Ilan Eshkeri), but alas, wasn’t possible.  Having seen films being made firsthand, the one thing that keeps eluding me is that of watching a film score come together in front of my eyes (and ears, and shoulders, knees and toes – knees and toes).  Maybe one day..

Why do I have sweater subtitles?

I was watching A Very Long Engagement via iTunes on the Apple TV, and was trying to get Siri to disable the second set of subtitles (since it’s a French film, it comes with English subtitles embedded within the film itself and cannot be disabled – but despite this, apparently a separate subtitles track exists and displayed).

This was the result:

ohsiri

I highly recommend going to Settings -> Audio & Video -> Subtitle Language = Off.  It’s set to Auto by default.  Don’t bother asking Siri, she lies.  After the above failure, she eventually understood what I said and told me that subtitles were off.  She lied!  So I disabled subtitles in the Settings menu and all was well.

Weekend Roundup: Samsung’s a tad busy – The Jungle Book may be the best VFX movie ever

Samsung’s going to be a bit busy for the next couple fo weeks

Now that the cat’s out the bag, I’ve been in touch with Carphone Warehouse (where I purhcased my Note 7) to try and clarify what I need to do to get a new, non-exploding Note 7.  They’ve said:

I’m really sorry to hear you’ve been affected by the recent news about the Samsung Galaxy Note 7.

I called you today on [REDACTED] to discuss this further but I wasn’t able to reach you. As you’ve heard, there have been some reported faults with the battery on this particular phone. Because of this we have halted further handsets being ordered, and put a stop to any more handsets being dispatched as a precautionary measure.

Samsung have released the following status:

“Samsung is committed to producing the highest quality products and we take every incident report from our valued customers very seriously. In response to recently reported cases of the new Galaxy Note7, we conducted a thorough investigation and found a battery cell issue.

“To date (as of September 1) there have been 35 cases that have been reported globally and we are currently conducting a thorough inspection with our suppliers to identify possible affected batteries in the market. However, because our customers’ safety is an absolute priority at Samsung, we have stopped sales of the Galaxy Note7.

For customers who already have Galaxy Note7 devices, we will voluntarily replace their current device with a new one over the coming weeks. For more information, customers need to contact the customer service team on 0330 7261000.”

Alternatively, a replacement can be provided by ourselves directly as soon as we receive the stock. We don’t have a date at this point however as soon as we’ll know we’ll make an official announcement.

Please accept my sincere apologies for any upset or inconvenience that this matter may have caused you.

If you have any other questions please reply to this email or alternatively, you can call our Customer Support team on 0370 111 6565. Our lines are open Monday-Friday 8am-7pm, Saturday 9am-6pm and Sunday 10am-5pm.

I never received any notification that Carphone Warehouse tried to call.  I did get a text message from them to say that Samsung were definitely recalling the phone, but that’s it. Anyway, I’ve swapped back to the Galaxy S7 Edge for the time being and tried to call Samsung UK when their office opened on Saturday only to be kept on hold for nearly an hour before I gave up.  So I used their web site’s contact form to leave a message (along with serial number, etc.) to ask them what I need to do to get the phone swapped.

I’m giving Samsung until the end of the week to reply, otherwise I’ll just go through Carphone Warehouse (after all, that’s whom I paid and my contract is with them for the sale).  If all else fails within the next two weeks, I’ll just return the phone and get my money back.

While I don’t have plans to go back to Apple, I’ll be watching this Wednesday’s presentation with interest over the iPhone 7, which leads me to think that the biggest problem with technology at the moment is that with everybody releasing a new device every year, Quality Assurance is being compromised.  There’s not enough time to test the hardware and software: everything is being released too quickly.  While I appreciate these companies have got to keep making money, they’re also harming their own products and reputation at the same time.

The Jungle Book Made Me Weep With Joy

I’ve always enjoyed the 60’s Disney version of the Jungle Book, but was blown away by the most recent live action/animation blend.  Featuring complete artificial environments and creatures by my former employers MPC and Peter Jackson’s Weta Digital, this retelling of the Rudyard Kipling classic is much, much closer to the book than the cartoon.  In many ways this reminded me of the John August/Tim Burton version of Charlie & The Charlie Factory – a more faithful (at least in tone) adaptation against the book than the previous incarnation.

But what struck me about this version of the Jungle Book is just how brilliant the visual effects came out.  I’ve seen many films in which the effects, while pretty nifty, look more like an unplayable console game.  Getting photorealism into VFX produced on computers is very, very difficult.  But I do believe both MPC and Weta Digital have outdone Avatar in producing a very believable photorealistic environment, similarly populated with talking photorealistic animals.

The interaction between Mowgli and his wolf mother before Mowgli heads alone in the jungle made me shed a tear.  It made me believe in the characters rather than think that, other than the actor playing Mowgli, the entire scene was completely artificial.  THAT, my friends, is the sign of good VFX work.  Of course, all this  visual work is all helped along with great performances from the likes of Bill Murray as Balloo, Ben Kingsley as Bagheera, and Idris Elba as Shere Kahn.  Christopher Walken as the massive King Louie is just brilliant.

I am incredibly proud of my former colleagues (many names stand out in the credits of people I worked with over eight years ago) at MPC for their work on this film.  It’s by far the best work they’ve ever produced – more so than Prometheus which also blew me away with the quality of the visual effects work.

I’ll be buying the Blu-Ray as a keepsake.  Jon Favreau is to be heartily congratulated on producing a film that everybody can enjoy.  Including this soppy 40-year-old.  This is Kipling done right.