Crown of Three – Epic Collection

Crown of Three Epic CollectionIt’s publication day for the Crown of Three Epic Collection, a box set of the complete fantasy trilogy for younger readers that I’ve been working on for the past couple of years. Publishers Simon and Schuster call it “a Game of Thrones for a younger audience” and I’m cool with that.

The series kicks off with Crown of Three, continues with The Lost Realm, and concludes with A Kingdom Rises. Here’s the blurb:

Family secrets combine with fantasy in this epic tale of battle, magic, strange creatures, power, and fate. Separated at birth, triplets Tarlan, Elodie, and Gulph have grown up knowing nothing about each other. However, an ancient prophecy says that the three will one day be reunited, overthrow the king, and bring peace to the land.

Each of the triplets has a special power that sets him or her apart from other people. Tarlan can speak to animals. Elodie can hear the voices of ghosts. And Gulph can become invisible. But what use are these abilities if they can’t stay alive long enough to claim the throne?

As three new stars shine in the nighttime sky, events are driving them together, but will the triplets live? Let alone rule?

I wrote the series under the pseudonym J.D. Rinehart. Why? Because my contribution as author is just part of a massive effort by a team of editors and storyline writers. It was an rewarding gig and, now that the project’s complete, it’s a real treat to see the whole trilogy packaged up like this.

Cinefex Diaries – Rush and Spectre

Unbelievably, I’ve been working at Cinefex for nearly five years. That’s three years in my current role as full-time senior staff writer, which was preceded by two years as part-time blog editor. Time sure does fly when you’re having fun.

Big anniversary years make you nostalgic, right? So I’ve been delving back through all the magazine articles I’ve written during that time. The first of these was my article on Ron Howard’s Formula 1 biopic Rush, published in Cinefex 136, January 2014.

At the time, I was as green as they come. Despite many years as a novelist and short story writer, this was my first serious non-fiction assignment, and my first experience conducting interviews as a research journalist. Looking back, I’m not entirely sure how I muddled through, but muddle through I did, and I’m still pretty pleased with how the article turned out. Check out the blogs I wrote as I went through the process:

As an aside, there’s a nice circularity here. I recently completed my article on Solo: A Star Wars Story, for which I finally got to chat with the very director I wasn’t able to interview for Rush. More about Ron Howard, the Kessel Run and the Millennium Falcon when Cinefex 160 launches a few weeks from now.

After Rush, it was all about the blog for two years, until November 2015 when I joined Cinefex on a full-time basis, writing articles for the magazine (while still keeping the blog romping along). My first assignment as senior staff writer was Spectre, published in Cinefex 145, February 2016. This was a very different kettle of fish to Rush, where my interviews were largely confined to the film’s sole visual effects vendor, DNEG. With Spectre, I found myself talking with the world and his wife – Industrial Light & Magic, MPC, Cinesite, DNEG (again), Framestore, Peerless, Propshop, IO Entertainment, special effects supervisor Chris Corbould … the list went on. No surpise that the interviews yielded over 50,000 words of transcript – twice what I’d had for Rush. Here’s the blog I wrote at the time:

My favourite Spectre interview was with production visual effects supervisor Steve Begg, who spoke to me on the phone for over an hour while he was strolling through the streets of Edinburgh. Partway through our conversation, he found the optimum spot in the city for 4G reception – the interior of an old church. Steve’s obvious delight at the carvings he found in there was so beguiling that I almost wished I didn’t have to return his attention to James Bond and his latest exploits.

For the next issue, I took on not one article but two. Jody Duncan, Joe Fordham and I have a give-and-take way of sharing the workload, you see – if one of us has a couple of heavy assignments on one issue, the others will give them a break next time around. As the new boy, I only had to tackle one film on my maiden voyage. Next issue in, things ramped up. In fact, they ramped up more than any of us had anticipated so that, for various reasons, I actually ended up writing three articles for Cinefex 146.

But I’ll save that story for next time.

String City – Coming Soon

"String City" by Graham Edwards - draft cover. Illustration by Vince Haig.

January 24, 2019 – put the date in your diary. Why? Because it’s the publication date of my new novel, String City. Huzzah!

Yes, I know, it’s months away, but the darn thing’s just popped up on Amazon, which means you can preorder it right now. Or, at the very least, admire the first draft cover design, which features a rather gorgeous illustration by the deeply talented Vince Haig. Can’t wait to see the finished thing in all its glory.

If you want to know what the book’s about, you’re in luck. My splendid publisher, Solaris Books, has prepared this tantalising blurb:

String City is a hard-boiled, interdimensional detective romp of high suspense and action. China Mieville meets Dashiell Hammett.

In an interdimensional city full of gods, living concepts and weirder things, a gumshoe – a “stringwalker,” who can travel between realities – is hired to investigate an explosion at a casino. He ends up on a frantic chase to track down and retrieve an unimaginable power source, while staying one step ahead of the ancient Greek Titans, an interdimensional spider god and the mysterious creature known as the Fool. If he fails, all things – in all realities – could be destroyed.

Just another day in String City.

If you’re a regular reader you’ll know a little bit about the strange metropolis of String City already. It first appeared in my series of novelettes known collectively as The String City Mysteries, which chronicle some of my dimension-hopping detective’s earliest cases. If you’ve never read those original stories, don’t worry. The novel stands alone.

I’ll have lots more to say about String City over the coming months. Stay tuned.

Cinefex Diaries – Going Solo

Cinefex 159 - Pacific Rim Uprising

My latest Cinefex story is Heft and Jank, an in-depth article on Pacific Rim Uprising, hot off the press in our June 2018 issue, Cinefex 159. I described the work that went into it in an earlier blog post – check it out here. Even while I was wrapping up the robots and monsters, however, I was gearing up for my next two articles, which have taken up all my time since then.

Deadpool 2First up was Deadpool 2. I was looking forward to this one, having written the Cinefex story on the original Deadpool back in 2016. It didn’t disappoint.

My interview list for Deadpool 2 covered a lot of ground, from production visual effects supervisor Dan Glass through all the many VFX vendors who worked on the show, namely DNEG, Framestore, Method Studios, Weta Digital, Soho VFX, Crafty Apes and Digital Makeup Group.

I also chatted with special effects supervisor Mike Vézina, makeup designer Bill Corso, aviation effects supervisor Doug Scroggins, and the previs supervisors at Unit Eleven, Image Engine and The Third Floor. Last and definitely not least came the film’s director, the supremely talented David Leitch.

Deadpool 2 took a lot of wrangling, but it was nothing compared to my second assignment – Solo: A Star Wars Story, the final draft of which I delivered just a couple of hours ago. This is the first time I’ve covered a Star Wars movie for Cinefex, so I was determined to get it right.

I ended up with another long list of interviewees, kicking off with production visual effects supervisor Rob Bredow, plus the visual effects teams at Industrial Light & Magic – who led the project – Hybride Technologies and Tippett Studio.

Then there were the guys at BLIND LTD, creature supervisor Neal Scanlan, special effects supervisor Dominic Tuohy and costume designers David Crossman and Glyn Dillon. And yes, I did manage to pin down director Ron Howard for a telephone interview during which he proved that he really is one of the nicest men in the business. As a movie fan who grew up in the ’70s and ’80s, getting to chinwag with Ron was absolutely a bucket list moment.

I’ll tell you more about these two articles in a future blog post. Right now, all you need to know is that they’ll be appearing in Cinefex 160, which you can preorder from the website here.

Even as I was winding up Solo, was getting my ducks in a row for my next assignment, which looks set to start later this week. As for what film I’m covering, you’ll just have to wait and see …

Cinefex Diaries – Robots and Monsters

Pacific Rim Uprising posterThe visual effects industry is a global affair, which means that I conduct most of my interviews over the phone, desperately trying to remember which time zone the person on the other end is in. As I set out to cover Pacific Rim Uprising for Cinefex 159, however, I sniffed an opportunity.

The majority of the effects work on Pacific Rim Uprising was done by Double Negative, overseen from its London office, which is not too far from my home in the UK. When I asked the company’s charming PR team if I could visit for the day and conduct my interviews face to face, they graciously agreed. They even arranged for Peter Chiang, overall production visual effects supervisor on the show, to be there too.

As interview experiences go, it certainly beat sitting on the phone. I spent a delightful couple of hours with Peter Chiang and Double Negative visual effects supervisor Pete Bebb, sitting in a darkened screening room and discussing shot after shot as they played on the big screen. Next, I grilled a steady flow of artists and supervisors, discussing everything from city building and creature rigging to compositing and concept design. I covered a lot of ground. I was punch-drunk by the end, my brain filled up with everything I needed to know about how this talented team brought their remarkable images to the screen.

Well, not quite everything. I followed up my visit with the inevitable round of telephone interviews, catching up with those people I’d missed. One highlight was an entertaining Skype call with Double Negative animation director Aaron Gilman. In keeping with his role, Aaron was highly animated, and spent nearly as much time physically demonstrating his ideas for Jaeger and Kaiju movement as he did talking about them!

I also spoke with visual effects supervisors at the other companies working on the film – Atomic Fiction, Territory Studio and BLIND Ltd, plus previs specialists The Third Floor, Halon and Day for Nite. Production designer Stefan Dechant gave me a dazzling overview of the film’s design, and special effects supervisor Dan Oliver delivered nuts-and-bolts breakdowns of the extraordinary physical rigs that he and his team built. Rounding out the practical picture, I learned all about specialty costumes and props from Legacy Effects, Weta Workshop and Odd Studio.

Putting the icing on the cake, my final telephone interview was with the director of Pacific Rim Uprising, Steven S. DeKnight, who talked to me about his fondness for Guillermo del Toro’s original film, and the creative approach he took with the sequel. He even made a point of telling me he was a fan of Cinefex!

Cinefex 159 contents

You can read my article on Pacific Rim Uprising in Cinefex 159, which also contains in-depth articles on Avengers: Infinity War, Ready Player One and Annihilation. It’s out in June and available to preorder now.

In the meantime, you’ll want to get your teeth into our brand new April edition, a special tribute issue celebrating the 10-year anniversary of Marvel Studios. More about that very soon!

Book Trailer Tease


Book Trailer Test-1Anticipating the publication of my next novel – out at the end of the year – I’ve started work on a book trailer. All right, I’ll confess, it’s really just an excuse for me to fool around with some new animation techniques – well, new to me, anyway. Before you ask, no, I still can’t reveal what the book is. The best I can offer at this early stage is the above enigmatic video clip that represents my latest animation test. It’s just four second long, so blink and you’ll miss it.

Annihilation

Left to right: Natalie Portman and Tessa Thompson in ANNIHILATION, from Paramount Pictures and Skydance.

Left to right: Natalie Portman and Tessa Thompson in ANNIHILATION, from Paramount Pictures and Skydance.

“It’s making something new.” So says biologist Lena (Natalie Portman) about the alien infestation occupying an area of coastal swampland in Annihilation. ‘Something new’ is exactly what writer-director Alex Garland has delivered, in his adaptation of the acclaimed science fiction novel by Jeff Vandermeer.

I read the novel a few years ago, shortly after it won the 2014 Nebula Award and some time before it was announced that a film was in the offing. In his strange tale about a party of unnamed scientists exploring Area X, a restricted zone that may or may not have been contaminated by an otherworldly presence, Vandermeer serves up a banquet in which every dish is full of extraordinary flavours, yet somehow you’re never quite sure about what it is you’re eating. You’re grasping, constantly, for a meaning that always eludes you, yet somehow this is never frustrating. Quite the opposite, actually. It’s the only meal I’ve ever eaten where I’ve ended full to bursting, yet hungry for more.

Annihilation posterIf you’d asked me then, I’d probably have said the novel was unfilmable. To my delight, Alex Garland has no truck with that notion. Structuring the human stories in  way that’s accessible to a movie audience, he’s mapped a narrative course that provides the sense of resolution that the novel deliberately avoids, without losing any of the tantalising weirdness. Right at the end, there’s even a suggestion this film is but one facet of the growing body of work that Garland began with his cautionary tale about artificial intelligence, Ex Machina.

Portman leads magnificently, but her co-stars Jennifer Jason Leigh, Tessa Thompson, Gina Rodriguez, Tuva Novotny and Oscar Isaac are as immersed in their roles as their characters are immersed in Area X. However, it’s with its visuals that the film shine – often quite literally. I frequently couldn’t tell where Rob Hardy’s caustic cinematography left off and Andrew Whitehurst’s visual effects took over. From the soap bubble glare of the ‘shimmer’ – a kind of barrier that conceals Area X from the outside world – to the bizarre flora and fauna beyond, Annihilation brings you the very best kind of sights: those you’ve never seen before.

Best of all, Alex Garland isn’t afraid to celebrate the strange. The film’s climax builds around a decidedly peculiar encounter with something that almost makes sense, yet which you know is just a tantalising glimpse of something ineffable. Throughout, Garland allows his camera to linger on some of the most intriguing images I’ve ever seen in cinema. Even after just one viewing, I’m convinced Annihilation belongs among the sci-fi greats. Am I overstating it? I don’t think so.

It’s a shame the film didn’t get a theatrical release outside the U.S., where it was distributed by Paramount Pictures. Everywhere else it’s on Netflix. Don’t get me wrong, Netflix is fine, and my TV screen was big enough to give me a reasonable sense of what it might be like to venture into Area X. Still, given Garland’s penchant for holding the camera back and offering long, wide views of remarkable things, I’d love to see Annihilation on the big screen.

“A Kingdom Rises” – Czech Edition

A Kingdom Rises - Czech edition

I just got author comps for the Czech edition of A Kingdom Rises, the final novel in my Crown of Three fantasy trilogy for younger readers. Check out that gorgeous cover art!

Cinefex Diaries – Soup to Nuts

 

At Cinefex, we often use the term ‘soup to nuts’ to describe the way we cover motion picture visual effects. I must confess that, as a Brit, I hadn’t come across this term until I started working for the magazine. If you’re not familiar with it either, I can tell you it’s a dining metaphor that simply means ‘from start to finish.’

What does this mean for a Cinefex writer? Well, the main course of any Cinefex article is an in-depth analysis on a film’s visual and practical effects, but no meal is complete without entrée and dessert … wait, like I said, I’m a Brit, so let’s make that a tasty starter and great big dish of hot steamed pudding! While we’re at it, let’s throw in a little apéritif, and why not round things off with a sweet liqueur coffee?

You get the picture. While we love digging deep into all the creativity and technical innovation that goes into making movie magic, we’re also big on context. We don’t just want to learn how visual effects professionals do what they do – want to know why.

The why can come from many quarters. Frequently it comes from the production visual effects supervisors, who have the overview of a project. It can also come from the individual artists, who are usually smart cookies and as keen to understand the context of their work as we are.

In seeking the why, we’ll often seek interviews beyond the world of effects. In particular, we always try to speak to the director. That’s not always easy, but we hit more than we miss – out of my last 10 articles, I lost out on only three.

I don’t need to spell out the reasons why speaking with the director helps us to get that all-important context. These are the people steering the ship. If anybody know the why, it’s them, right? Oh, and here’s another confession – I get a buzz every time I secure a director interview. Why wouldn’t I? Over the past year, I got to chinwag with Guillermo del Toro about The Shape of Water and Luc Besson about Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets. Most recently, Disney hooked me up with Ryan Coogler to discuss Black Panther. Seriously, what’s not to like?

Sometimes we’ll cast the net even wider, bringing in production designers, specialty costume fabricators, props masters, even animal handlers – in short, anyone who might help us light up all the hidden corners of a project.

Why do we go to such lengths? The answer’s simple. Because our articles run to 20 pages or more, we have room to explore. That’s not to say we’re not heartbroken at all the stuff we have to leave out, because even 20 pages is never enough! Still, that’s a lot of printed real estate, and it’s our job to fill it up with the good stuff. We’re not serving up table scraps here. We like to treat our readers to a five-course meal.

What is it those Americans say? – Oh yes soup to nuts.

New Fiction Bubbling Under

Book trailer test frame

Yes, I know, you haven’t seen much new fiction from me recently. This year that’s going to change.

First up, in July 2018, Simon & Schuster will publish the Crown of Three Epic Collection. It’s a three-volume box set collecting together my trio of fantasy novels for young readers, written under the pseudonym J.D. Rinehart – Crown of Three, The Lost Realm and A Kingdom Rises. Okay, maybe these books don’t quite fall into the ‘new’ category, but it’s a thrill to see them all smartly packaged up like this.

The real ‘new’ comes at the end of the year, however, when you’ll be able to get your hands on my brand new novel. Call me a tease, but I’m holding off saying too much about it until a little nearer the publication date. So what can I tell you? Well, it’s a fantasy novel. It’s closely connected to some of my earlier fiction. It’s also a little strange.

Right now I’m looking forward to the imminent copy editing process with my publishers – a smashing bunch of people I’ve worked with before – while simultaneously having tremendous fun putting together a book trailer and accompanying website. With the publication date some way off, you might think it’s crazy to start such nonsense now, but with my animation render times going rapidly through the roof I figure it makes sense to get ahead of the game.

In fact, the image at the top of this post is one of the trailer test frames. If you’re familiar with my fiction, this sneaky peek may give you a clue as to what’s in store …

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