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Exclusive VFX interview: A PERFECT STORM, TWISTER, STAR TREK films and much more…

Exclusive VFX interview: A PERFECT STORM, TWISTER, STAR TREK films and much more…

The eye of the storm: in the second of our series of VFX interviews, VFX expert Habib Zargarpour reveals how his teams achieved such awesome effects in A PERFECT STORM, TWISTER, STAR TREK: GENERATIONS, STAR WARS EPISODE I (THE PHANTOM MENACE) and many other films.

In the second of our series of VFX interviews, Habib tells our Ian Kennedy how to achieve natural disasters and why yogurt holds the key to VFX. His credits include two STAR TREK movies, STAR WARS EPISODE 1 (THE PHANTOM MENACE), THE BOURNE IDENTITY, JUMANJI, THE MASK, SPAWN and lots more so he must be onto something!

HABIB: I’ve had the chance to work on a lot of disaster films, especially natural disasters. For those we would work with storyboards but also with tons of real-world reference, which was difficult. People have seen on TV what tornados look like, stormy seas look like, how water looks, what fire looks like, things that we had very difficult but precise things to match to. There were other projects where we had much more creative freedom in the effect, for example on Star Trek, there would be maybe one concept art of the energy ribbon nexus effect in STAR TREK: GENERATIONS, then we would come up with what that would look like in 3 dimensions, how that would move, and what the colours would be, so that there’s a nice range there. Other times we would take, let’s say the tornado effect in Twister, turn it upside down, turn it around and that would be the rocket flow, you know? I equate it to making yogurt – you always need a little bit of [older] yogurt that helps to get the new one going, it saves you a bit of time, you know? And so for example, for A PERFECT STORM we had to do sprays and splashes of water, but we already had a particle system from TWISTER and we were able to do different things with it. How to we take things that are meant to simulate a dust storm and something that looks dusty and thick, and make it look like water vapor, make it look like a splash. There’s the physics of how all that moves, but when it comes to the look of it, there’s actually a lot of similarities between dust in the air and spray and water mist in the air, you study the difference. We added in light penetrating deeper which was able to scatter more, and that gives you the water splash. We had real water splashes to match to on set, and references of stormy seas – that kind of stuff’s really tough.

A still from one of Habib’s films, A PERFECT STORM.

Things have come a long way in 17 years since A PERFECT STORM. Software is able to simulate all the different components of water, it still takes a huge amount of time to run those things, but at least some of it’s more achievable all in one place, whereas back then we had to divide things up into elements separately so the machines could deal with it, and the artists, actually. We learned a lot from meteorologists and people who study oceans and storms, I don’t know whether they gained anything from us other than enjoying it visually. It’s amazing watching on TV these days, it’s a strange combination of things going on at the same time, like earthquakes and watching these hurricanes going on through all the time. At the time I was working on TWISTER I had trouble driving, because I would get distracted by cloud formations in the skies, sometimes I’d have to pull over and take pictures of it. That could be dangerous!

IAN: I bet! So – if all the directors and DPs and VFX people you’d worked with all separately asked you to work on their different projects at exactly the same time, who would you choose?

HABIB: Oh God! (laughs) That’s a really tough question. I think it’d be a tie between Denis [Villeneuve] and John Nelson. Denis is a really great visionary director, and I know whatever John Nelson does next is gonna be maybe perfect!

© WriteMovies 2017. Exclusive to WriteMovies – To syndicate this content for your own publication, contact ian (at) writemovies dot-com.

Meet our Summer 2017 Screenwriting Contest Special TV Script Award Winner

Meet our Summer 2017 Screenwriting Contest Special TV Script Award Winner

Meet our Summer 2017 Screenwriting Contest Special TV Script Award Winner – INSURRECTION by Simon Bowler.

Learn all about our very first winner of the brand new “Best Teleplay or Pilot Award” Simon Bowler, and his script INSURRECTION. Simon is the first winner of the award we introduced to the Summer 2017 Contest and here’s your chance to learn more about him and why his script won him this accolade.

The fact we created these awards tells you something about the quality of the submissions we’ve been receiving in those categories lately – and now you can learn more about our TV winner Simon and his script… For winning Simon recevies free Development Notes, as well as a free re-entry to our Winter 2018 Contest.

Here’s some background on Simon:

“Originally from London, where he produced documentary films for the BBC and Channel 4, Simon has spent over twenty years in Los Angeles producing, writing and directing television docs and reality shows. Simon recently switched to drama and besides the multiple award-winning “Insurrection” mini-series (of which he’s written three episodes), he has written two award-winning plays (both at this year’s Austin Film Fest), a feature film, and is developing a classic horror anthology TV series.”

And here is a short introduction to the script:

INSURRECTION tells the interwoven stories of three men[ – a farmer, a slave and a senator – ]whose dangerous battles against slavery led to the American Civil War. [: farmer John Brown, slave Frederick Douglass, and Senator Stephen A. Douglas].

Follow in Simon’s footsteps and enter in our current main international contest. We’ll have even more winner bios from our Summer Contest coming shortly…

Exclusive BLADE RUNNER 2049 VFX Interview!

Exclusive BLADE RUNNER 2049 VFX Interview!

The bleeding edge of BLADE RUNNER 2049: VFX expert Habib Zargarpour talks about his work on a sequel that’s been 35 years in the making!

In the first part of our interview series in the run-up to the release of BLADE RUNNER 2049, Ian Kennedy asked Habib about the most long-awaited sequel we could think of, building on the most influential visual effects of the 1980s, and why he thinks 3D Laser IMAX is the best way to watch it…

Habib at the Visual Effects Society (VES) Summit.

Habib at the Visual Effects Society (VES) Summit.

IAN: The original BLADE RUNNER had maybe the most influential visual effects of the 1980s – making the new one must be a dream VFX job, but a lot to live up to!

HABIB: The original BLADE RUNNER is the reason I got into the industry, it made me want to do what I’m doing, it was the inspiration – similar to a lot of other people, I’m sure. It’s been also my favorite film of all time, I caught on to it late after it had already released, I saw it on video and on a director’s cut at an ArtCenter screening in Pasadena. I found out about Ridley Scott but also discovered Syd Meade, the designer originally hired to do the vehicle designs but who ended up filling his paintings with these amazing backgrounds of futuristic art-deco dark-future LA. A lot of his designs are infused in the movie, and I heard that he’d attended ArtCenter College of Design, so I made it my mission to go there. I was really happy to be accepted there, and I was able to attend this pretty rigorous program of training. I joined the Industrial Design curriculum, which includes transportation and product design. After graduating I kind of tripped into film by accident by just taking a summer job designing for a film, and the rest is history. I ended up going to Industrial Light and Magic [Lucasfilm’s awesome VFX and animation studio]. After a few years, there was an ArtCenter alumni dinner, and I got to meet Syd Meade, and Michael Bay who is another alumnus. We met when Michael Bay was doing Armageddon, I also got to meet him on set through Alex McDowell, the production designer.

John Nelson and I first met when I was nominated for A PERFECT STORM and he was nominated for GLADIATOR, we were competing against each other, I was able to win the BAFTA for A PERFECT STORM but he won the Oscar for GLADIATOR so it was an interesting year! We’ve been great friends ever since, sharing stories – we’ve always wanted to work together and this was a great opportunity. Being able to work on the new BLADE RUNNER was coming full circle for me, because it ties me straight back to what got me into the field in the first place. I was extremely happy when John gave me a call about it – we’d actually been talking before last summer [2016], and I was going to be joining him on the project earlier but for various reasons that didn’t work out. But then I got to join them in postproduction [as VFX Consultant] to help them out because they had tons of work to do and the schedule had been pulled in.

I think the greatest thing about working on the project with John Nelson is to work directly with Denis Villeneuve, the director [also of ARRIVAL, SICARIO and others], and collaborating with him. He’s a great visionary, one of the best directors that I know in terms of knowing exactly what he’s looking for and having a vision and sticking to that. Between him and the DP [Director of Photography] Roger Deakins, both of them were very steadfast in sticking to the plan and making sure everything aligns to that. The film had 7 visual effects houses working on it from around the globe, which is a lot! And so John Nelson and I were splitting the work of overseeing all of that. I was brought in as a consultant, we split the reviewing of individual shots, we would also do a ‘shot triage’, looking at various shots that we thought could have been better and analyzing them together, pulling up Photoshop and trying painting over certain things and adjusting certain things, just seeing what our intuition said would work. It was a great collaborative thing to do, we did something like 500 shots of paintovers for alterations to send to the vendors. The schedule was really compressed. We would get feedback from the director and DP, it takes time for a complicated shot to be turned around with the notes, in terms of the things that have to happen to it, because it’s so complex. So we would use the paintovers as a way to get input from the direction [team], so when they had a comment on a certain element, let’s say the sky, we would iterate with them until they were happy, and then send it to the vendor for them to change it. This technique proved to be really efficient, it also helped John and I see what would help and what wouldn’t help on a certain situation, it became a useful technique for adjusting things. There was a very particular direction and style for how the sky should look and how the world would look, and all of those things needed adjusting over time – how the atmosphere feels, how the lighting in general would feel. All these things we would adjust, the DP and director would have comments or revisions on them. Sometimes if something wasn’t looking quite realistic, this would go through the paintover triage too. John had some great tricks up his sleeve that he would try, and I would chip in with some other ideas, so the collaborative side of it was what worked well…

Habib and John Nelson during their time working on BLADERUNNER 2049.

Habib and John Nelson during their time working on BLADERUNNER 2049.

The VFX crew we were working with, all the various vendors we were collaborating with, were all really top-notch, they were doing really bleeding-edge work, and so that was another great aspect of it for me, was to be able to collaborate directly with those supervisors and crew, every facility was bringing their top people to the crew, everyone was really passionate about this project. There are also miniatures mixed in with CG on some situations, that was a bit of a homage to the original, to keep a foot in that world, a tangible item, things that could have a certain look to it, and then also many digital shots as well.

I think it takes the feeling of the original and takes it even further, especially in terms of how it impacts the audience emotionally, with how the city felt, how the world felt, and what it would feel like 30 years later. I think it not only picks up from there [the original BLADE RUNNER] but I think takes it to a great place that’s very plausible. And that’s a lot to do with how Denis and Roger really stuck to their vision, and getting that oppressive feeling into all the shots and sticking to it.

IAN: So I’ve gotta ask. Is Deckard a replicant? Are we finally gonna get the answer to questions like that?

I definitely can’t say! The trailers are interesting, I was initially afraid they’d be giving too much away, but I think the film has enough intrigue, and I’m hoping audiences will go see it regardless and enjoy it. It’s truly a great story and I think that having screened it a few times in 3D screenings, Denis has done an amazing job to pull all these elements together to really create something that takes the original above and beyond, and pulls you back into that world, and gives you a lot to chew on. It’s definitely the sort of film you’re gonna want to watch more than once – figure it out and figure out amazing things. The visual and audio treats are gonna make you want to do that anyway because of seeing all that come together in the film, with an unbelievable soundtrack and music. I hope the film brings new fans to see the original if they haven’t already, once they’ve seen this. Also I think fans are gonna love how that original vibe and sense of being in that world is not only kept and continued but also accentuated, it really does a great job of that and that’s thanks to the discipline from Denis and Roger to stick to the plan and vision.

IAN: Were there any differences between Ridley Scott [now a producer not director on this one] and Denis about what direction to take it in?

I was brought in in postproduction, from what I’ve seen I think Ridley Scott and Denis were very aligned, I think everyone’s very happy with how it’s turned out.

IAN: The great thing of the original is how it divides opinions between people who love it. I’m guessing there’s things here that’ll keep the flames burning another 35 years!

HABIB: Hopefully if they’re gonna make another one it’ll be sooner, it’s a long time to wait!

IAN: I can’t think of a longer-awaited sequel, can you?

HABIB: No, no. And for me it was just such an amazing experience on many levels, including finally getting to work with John Nelson who’s just an amazing visual effects producer who’s worked on GLADIATOR and IRON MAN, massive projects. He’s got an amazing eye for detail and really understands how to take what we’re making and do what’s necessary to make it work. That was really rewarding for me to learn from him, how his approach would solve things. I hope me working with him was helpful and ended up making things better. My official title on this film is VFX Consultant (Post-Production).

Well I can’t wait for you to see BLADE RUNNER 2049, it’s a huge treat, I’ve seen both [the] 2D and 3D [versions]. I’ve always been a proponent of 3D, but for many movies I’d always prefer the 2D. For this one, I was surprised, I thought I’d like the 2D better, but the 3D team’s done a great job with how they’ve done this, there’s nothing in your face, it just draws you into that world. The best version I’ve seen is the 3D Laser IMAX, it’s unbelievable clarity and brightness, it really pulled me in. There’s something about being drawn into film. When you put on the 3D glasses they have the effect of isolating the room away in an interesting way, so you forget where you’re sitting, and that for me enhanced the film even more. You’re dealing with the imagery – the way the world’s moving – to have the next step there and get pulled into it. The regular IMAX 3D was good too! Let’s touch base when you’ve seen the film, I want to know what you think!

IAN: That’d be great, thanks!

 In the next part… Habib reveals how his teams achieved such awesome effects in A PERFECT STORM, TWISTER, STAR TREK: GENERATIONS and many other films!

Find out what Ian thought about the movie in our First Look here

© WriteMovies 2017. Exclusive to WriteMovies – To syndicate this content for your own publication, contact ian (at) writemovies dot-com.

Summer 2017 Screenwriting Contest Final Results

Summer 2017 Screenwriting Contest Final Results

The Summer 2017 Screenwriting Contest Final Results… And the Winner is…!

Put your hands together and cheer for our Summer 2017 Screenwriting Contest Grand Prize Winner… SPOON FED by Scott LaFortune! Huge congratulations to our new Grand Prize winner Scott – in what was one of the most fiercely fought recent contests, Scott has come out on top to prove he has the hottest script of Summer 2017.

Scott provided us with a well-written, commercially strong project with clear potential to become even stronger. So, Scott wins the $2000 cash prize, a year of free script development, guaranteed pitching to industry and exclusive script and logline listings from InkTip.

Of course, we’ve got two more overall winners to announce… in second place is FOR LOVE OF COUNTRY by Tony and Ron Basso – another strong and compelling entry that came close. And coming in Third is CHARMER by David Kurtz! Tony, Ron and David will also receive the year of free script development, guaranteed pitching to industry and exclusive InkTip prizes. We look forward to revealing more about the scripts and writers in the coming weeks!

Meanwhile, several other writers have won an Honorable Mention – check below to see if you’re one of them – another top accolade to boast about to your friends and colleagues!

To reward a greater diversity of writing than we’ve been able to before, don’t forget that we’ve also given awards to Simon Bowler and Richard Guimond for the Best Teleplay, and Book with the Best Screen Potential awards, respectively – two more ways that we’ve been reaching out to help reward and develop more writers and different kinds of submission. The fact we’ve created these awards tells you something about the quality of the submissions we’ve been receiving in those categories lately – well done to all the writers who entered and made our judging so difficult! So many of the submissions we read had significant potential – we hope that you’ll keep us in mind as you develop them further. Look closely and you’ll see that among our winners this time are submissions that have improved since entering one of our previous contests – hopefully a strong message to you all to keep going and keep us a part of your writing journey! Enter our Winter contest here


SPOON FED, Scott LaFortune
FOR LOVE OF COUNTRY, Tony Basso and Ron Basso CHARMER, David Kurtz
 A BOY NAMED JUNE, Steven Bryson INSURRECTION, Simon Bowler BLACK JACK, Stephen Charles Curran
SEA FEVER, Richard Guimond NAPOLEON, Kevin Karp MY SPACE LOVE, Christophe Lourenço
FINAL STATUS, Timothy Jay Smith
First Look: THOR: RAGNAROK Review

First Look: THOR: RAGNAROK Review

Disney. Marvel. Superheroes. Every time I feel like I’m done with the genre, Marvel seems to release a film that draws me back in… well, a little bit. This year that film was not THOR: RAGNAROK, it was SPIDERMAN: HOMECOMING. But without Spidey’s refreshing re-introduction I wouldn’t have even thought about watching the third THOR installment.

Before the SPIDERMAN reboot, my interest in the MCU had fallen so low.

I have no strong feelings, one way or the other about these films. I didn’t care for CIVIL WAR, which I still haven’t watched, and to be honest, I don’t think I’ve missed anything from it. But there is no doubt that Marvel still produce some solid and entertaining films, even if they have no massive impact on my life.

THOR was a very nice mix of superhero, steampunk sci-fi, and comedy – a real good dose of comedy. I was impressed with how the film and director, Taika Waititi, balanced the odd blend of tone and genre. The comedy certainly had the New Zealand subtle, monotone style which Waititi employed brilliantly in one of his previous films, EAGLE VS SHARK. The comedy came naturally within the story and characters and hit all the right beats. Hell, this film might be the confirmation that Chris Hemsworth is more of a comic actor.

MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD… The story had a solid premise – with the death of Odin, Thor’s evil and power-hungry sister (Cate Blanchett, who is her usual brilliant self) was released from an other-worldly prison, and she was set on taking her throne back. The film takes Thor to unique and interesting places, but as with most superhero films, you don’t ever feel he’s in any danger.

THOR: RAGNAROK represents my biggest issue with the Marvel films, though. Yes, it’s solid, it’s funny, it has decent action, it keeps your attention but… it doesn’t do anything else. This is the type of movie you put on TV if there’s nothing else to watch – you don’t hate that you’re gonna watch it, but there’s better things out there. For me, that is every single Marvel film. There is no film in the entire roster, from IRON MAN to THOR: RAGNAROK where I would go “Oh man, I gotta watch this again!”

These Marvel films just don’t do anything spectacular – not really. They aim to grab and maintain the attention of most of its main demographic, and hey, they do that super well, but at some point, we (and by we, I mean me) need something a bit more different. There was some variety here, in HOMECOMING and even in ANT-MAN, but each of these felt like there were two hands on the wheel – the director and Marvel. As much as I could see Waititi’s style on THOR, or Edgar Wright’s on ANT-MAN, I could feel Marvel’s influence just as much.

THOR: RAGNAROK was a fine film, I enjoyed it, but that’s it. Each Marvel film is a solid 7 out of 10 now – they’ve got their formula and it works. But there’s no WOW factor. Sooner or later there needs to be some change, some variation in these films and the genre as a whole… otherwise, I might think about watching some DC films… OK maybe not, but you get my point!

What did you think of THOR: RAGNAROK? Was it another home run for Marvel, or just another superhero flick? Let us know on our Twitter and Facebook pages.

© WriteMovies 2017. Exclusive to WriteMovies – To syndicate this content for your own publication, contact ian (at) writemovies dot-com.