Cinefex 153 – High Octane Aliens

Cinefex 153

Ridley Scott’s 1979 sci-fi horror flick Alien is probably my favourite film of all time. So imagine how thrilled I was to get the gig covering Alien: Covenant for the new issue of Cinefex. Since the average Cinefex article runs to about 26 pages (yes, we really do dig deep with our stories), that’s a big gig.

As I discovered during my interviews, Sir Ridley likes to capture as much as possible in camera – even when he knows it will ultimately be digitally replaced. So the creature team led by Conor O’Sullivan and Adam Johansen spent a lot of time building alien puppets of all shapes and sizes, and operating them while covered in fake blood and KY jelly. Visual effects supervisor Charley Henley led teams at MPC, Framestore, Animal Logic, Luma, Rising Sun Pictures, Atomic Fiction and Peerless Camera Company to take the cosmic critters to the next level, and surround them with alien environments and supersized spaceships.

My second article this issue is on The Fate of the Furious, the eighth film in the hugely successful Fast & Furious franchise. Confession: before I started work on my story, I hadn’t seen a single one of the previous movies. My first step therefore was to binge watch all seven films back to back – which was a lot more fun than I’d anticipated. Researching and writing the article was more enjoyable still. I spoke with visual effects supervisor Michael Wassel and the teams at Digital Domain, Double Negative, Pixomondo, Rodeo FX, Cantina Creative, Trixter and RISE, but the highlight was undoubtedly my two-and-a-half-hour chat with special effects supervisor J.D. Schwalm, who enlightened me on all the ridiculously over-the-top practical gags and stunts he staged for the film, from chucking one bunch of cars out of a high-rise garage, to smashing another lot to pieces with a giant wrecking ball, to blowing up a frozen Icelandic lake.

My stories aren’t even the half of it, of course. Our cover boy this issue is Rocket Raccoon, so no prize for guessing that Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is our lead article, written by the inestimable Joe Fordham, who also donned his thermoptic suit to cover the new live-action version of Ghost in the Shell. Neatly bookending Alien: Covenant is Jody Duncan’s spine-tingling story on Life, which rounds out Cinefex 153 with an extra dose of orbital terror.

Cinefex 153 is on newsstands now, and available to order at the Cinefex online store. The enhanced iPad edition features tons more photographs – many of them exclusive to Cinefex – and stunning video content.

Animated Insanity With “Mad God (Part 3)”

Phil Tippett animates a scene from "Mad God"

If you’re a fan of stop-motion animation, icky underworlds and slavering monsters, you’ll want to jump on board the Mad God express.

Mad God (Part 3), the third instalment in a series of nightmarish short films by legendary animator and visual effects supervisor Phil Tippett, is now looking for backers on Kickstarter. Not that it’s likely to have any trouble hitting its funding target – less than two days into the campaign it’s already over the halfway mark.

The Mad God series takes its audience on a dreamlike descent through a Miltonian underworld filled with bizarre and horrifying creatures. In Phil’s own words, “It’s bringing you to that moment just after waking up from a dream, frozen, exploring fragments of your feral mind before they fade back into the shadows.”

 

“Alien: Covenant” Crew Remembers “Alien”

The xenomorph returns in Alien: Covenant

While researching my upcoming Cinefex article on Alien: Covenant, I spoke at length with supervisors in the visual effects, creature effects, and special effects departments. At the end of each interview, I asked everyone the same question:

“What are your memories of seeing the original Alien for the first time?”

As a long-time fan of the film, I had a hunch that most people just can’t shake off the effects of early exposure to Ridley Scott’s seminal sci-fi horror movie. We never forget what we see in the shadows as a kid, right? As for those darned facehuggers … they do have a tendency to cling.

Was my hunch right? Head over to the Cinefex blog now and wallow in the reminiscences of visual effects supervisor Charley Henley, creature effects designer Conor O’Sullivan, special effects supervisor Chris Corbould and many, many more.

A Kingdom Rises This Month

Crown of Three - A Kingdom Rises

It’s always a good day when a new author’s comp drops into my mailbox. Here’s the latest: A Kingdom Rises, the final instalment of my fantasy trilogy for middle grade readers, with yours truly writing under the pseudonym J.D. Rinehart. It’s out in hardback on May 30, 2017, so if you haven’t read the first two volumes now is the perfect time to catch up.

Here’s the blurb from the inside jacket cover:

An ancient prophecy says that when three stars appear in the sky, triplets will take the throne and peace will come to the land. The stars have appeared, and the triplets are Gulph, Tarlan and Elodie. But the prophecy has failed.

Tarlan saw Gulph die during a final confrontation with their undead father. Gulph fell from a burning tower, and there’s no way he could have survived … even with Gulph’s special abilities.

As for his sister, Elodie, Tarlan is convinced that she’s a traitor who betrayed the rebellion and her family just so she could have the throne to herself.

With nothing left to believe in, Tarlan is abandoning both the cause and his pack of wild animals and is heading north.

But appearances can be deceiving. And in a world of magic and deceit, mistaking lies for truth can be deadly.

There’s a Big Ape On My Desk

Cinefex 152

I don’t actually remember the first time I saw Merian C. Cooper’s classic 1933 monster movie King Kong. It was probably late at night when I was a spotty teenager, and I was probably watching on the little black and white telly in my bedroom – grateful that for once I was missing out on all the colours.

However, I do know that I watched King Kong again on VHS tape not long after I’d developed an unhealthy passion for animation and visual effects –specifically, after viewing a documentary on the making of The Empire Strikes Back. As I recall, this early version of the now-familiar “Special Features” section of your average Blu-ray contained a bunch of clips from old-school sci-fi features,  including Them, The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms and – of course – King Kong. Most of those old films were already familiar to me. But as soon as I realised how much those clever fellows at Industrial Light & Magic loved them, I knew I had to watch them all over again.

After rediscovering King Kong, I bought The Making of King Kong by Orville Goldner and George E. Turner, along with issue 7 of an imported American magazine called Cinefex – an issue devoted entirely to a long article by Don Shay on the life of King Kong animator and special effects technician Willis O’Brien. The more I read, the more I began to appreciate the esoteric intricacies of stop-motion animation, glass paintings and traveling mattes. I put my faith in that big old ape, and he’s never let me down since.

Imagine my delight when, nearly forty years later, I got to write a lengthy article for the 152nd issue of Cinefex on Kong: Skull Island, the latest adventure for Cooper’s prodigiously proportioned primate – with animation and visual effects by, you guessed it, Industrial Light & Magic (ably supported by Hybride Technologies and Rodeo FX, I should add). I was especially pleased to score an interview with the new film’s director, Jordan Vogt-Roberts, an enthusiastic fellow with a big personality and an even bigger beard.

Cinefex 152 also contains my story on Logan, the last outing for Hugh Jackman as the grumpy mutant slasher Wolverine. One of the best bits about writing this article was hearing the glee in the voices of my interviewees as they described the various ways they’d embraced the film’s R-rating. From the makeup department’s stash of silicone severed limbs to the visual effects department’s gory research into ballistic dummy weapon testing (Google it, if you’ve got the stomach), the whole assignment was a blood-splattered treat from start to finish.

Cinefex 152 is on newsstands now, and available to order at the Cinefex online store. The enhanced iPad edition features tons more photographs – many of them exclusive to Cinefex – and stunning video content.

The Dreamsmiths Unleashed

The Dreamsmiths Unleashed - virtual reality in Cinefex 151

My Cinefex assignments usually require me to peek behind the scenes on the latest feature films. This issue, my task was a little different. Inspired by the recent boom in virtual reality, the editorial team decided it was high time we took a look at the brave new world of immersive entertainment.

As a VR virgin, I had a basic working knowledge of virtual reality, but little more. Still, it’s sometimes better to go in baggage-free than laden with preconceptions. But where to start?

A quick round of research confirmed what I already suspected – VR hardware and software are developing so fast that even the online technology sites are having a hard time keeping up. Published every two months, Cinefex has a long-lead production schedule, meaning any attempt to make this a tech-based article was doomed to failure.

That was fine by me. While I knew I’d be talking tech to a degree, what really interested me were the creative challenges faced by industry professionals as they explored new ways of working in a largely untried medium. As I began to contact potential interviewees, it soon became clear that a surprisingly large number of people working in virtual reality come from the world of visual effects – Cinefex’s specialist subject.

I ended up with 22 interviewees, and after hours of conversation found that I’d amassed around 80,000 words of transcript. Topics ranged from shooting methodologies to camera tech, creative philosophies to nuts-and-bolts issues like how do you edit a 360-degree film? In an immersive experience should you acknowledge the presence of the viewer? When the camera sees everything, where the heck do you hide the crew?

With so much material, it took me a long time and many drafts to find structure in the chaos. It was my visual effects contacts who came to the rescue, when I realised that through their many and varied experiences I could track all the aspects of virtual reality that I wanted to cover – they effectively became my guides.

Among those who helped steer me along my path were: Ben Grossmann – visual effects supervisor of Hugo and now boss of VR specialists Magnopus; Robert Stromberg – production designer on Avatar, director of Maleficent and now head of The Virtual Reality Company; John Gaeta – visual effects supervisor of the Matrix movies, now creating VR experiences in the Star Wars universe at ILMxLAB; Saschka Unseld, director of Pixar’s The Blue Umbrella and creative director at Oculus Story Studio … the list goes on, and I’m grateful to each and every one of the people who gave me their time.

Cinefex 151If you want to get clued up on everything that’s fizzing right now in virtual reality, you can read my article, The Dreamsmiths Unleashed, in Cinefex 151. Picking up a copy means you also get to enjoy in-depth coverage of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, Westworld, Passengers and A Monster Calls.

 

 

3rd Strike Reviews “Crown of Three”

Crown of Three: The Lost Realm - Dutch EditionHaving devoured Crown of Three, my fantasy novel for younger readers, review site 3rd Strike has tucked into its sequel, The Lost Realm. Here’s an extract from the online review of the Dutch edition:

“J. D. Rinehart (Graham Edwards) shows he can come up with an interesting plot that still runs very strongly in this second installment of the series … The Lost Realm is an exciting continuation of the story that was slowly being laid out in the first issue. In this book you’ll see how the powers of the [triplets] evolve and how their arduous quest truly kicks off. If you were into the first book, this one will surely push you to the edge of your seat in this constant struggle to finally liberate Toronia from the evil that runs amok.”

I would be failing in my duty, however, if I did not share this warning from the reviewer:

“Before you know it, the casualties are piling up, again invoking that Game of Thrones for teenagers vibe, which actually works quite well for this series. That being said, perhaps for some ten-year olds this series might be a bit too violent, as some gory scenes are described in detail.”

You have been warned!

The Lost Realm Cover Choice

 

The Lost Realm - German and Czech editions

I’m spoiled for choice. Having just received the German and Czech editions of The Lost Realm, my fantasy novel for young readers, I just can’t decide which cover I prefer. Do you have a favourite?

The Lost Realm is the second volume in the ongoing Crown of Three series, written under the pseudonym J.D. Rinehart. The final volume in the saga, A Kingdom Rises, will be published by Simon & Schuster on May 30, 2017.

Cinefex 150 – Arrival and Allied

Cinefex 150

Looking for an extra stocking filler this Christmas? Then try the latest issue of Cinefex. It’s packed with meaty behind-the-scenes articles on four of this season’s biggest movies – Doctor Strange, Arrival, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, and Allied.

As soon as Arrival landed on my assignment list for this issue, I went straight out and bought Ted Chiang’s short story collection Stories of Your Life and Others, which contains the novella from which the movie is adapted. The story blew me away, and set me up nicely to interview visual effects supervisor Louis Morin and a bunch of talented artists from Hybride Technologies, Oblique FX, Rodeo FX, Raynault VFX, Framestore, Fly Studio and MELS VFX.

Arrival PosterI also got the lowdown on the design of Arrival, speaking with production designer Patrice Vermette – who together with his wife, artist Martine Bertrand, conceived the extraordinary graphic appearance of the alien ‘logograms’ – and with concept artist Carlos Huante, who developed the look of the alien visitors themselves. My only regret is that, despite my best efforts, I never managed to pin down director Denis Villeneuve for an interview. Mind you, at the time he was hard at work on the set of Blade Runner 2049, so I suppose I can forgive him …

My other assignment for Cinefex 150 was the wartime romance Allied, directed by Robert Zemeckis. Visual effects supervisor Kevin Baillie guided me through the movie’s re-creation of 1940s Casablanca and a bomb-torn London, with visuals brought to the screen by Atomic Fiction, UPP and Raynault VFX. Having spent a fair chunk of my boyhood avidly building Airfix construction kits, I also enjoyed speaking with an engaging fellow called Dave Hobson, whose company Gateguards UK built a full-scale replica Westland Lysander aircraft for the film.

As for what’s coming up, well, I’ve already submitted my single assignment for issue 151 – an in-depth look at the fast-emerging VR industry, primarily from the perspective of the many visual effects professionals who have made the move into the virtual realm. Despite putting that one to bed, I’m not ready to wind down for Christmas yet – as I write this blog, I’m deep into interviews for my next pair of articles in Cinefex 152, out next April. I won’t reveal what movies I’m covering just yet, except to tell you one of them looks set to be my most monstrous assignment to date!

 

Sledge-Lit 2016

Sledge-Lit 2016If you want to hear me blathering on about dark tales, fantasy moviemaking, and many of the strange things that fill up my head, book yourself a place at Sledge-Lit 2016.

This one-day convention is the Christmas special edition of the ever-popular Edge-Lit, Derby’s ongoing celebration of science fiction, fantasy and horror fiction. Guests of honour include science fiction author Justina Robson, novelist and screenwriter Stephen Volk, and British Fantasy Award-winning writer Sarah Pinborough.

You’ll find a host of other literary guests lurking on a wide range of panels throughout the day. If all that’s not enough, you can take part in workshops, attend book launches, visit the dealers’ room, and generally hang out with a bunch of like-minded folk eager to kick off the Christmas festivities early with a healthy dollop of speculative storytelling.

As for yours truly, you’ll find me on Shadows Lengthen, the first panel of the day, where I’ll be debating the topic “Has fantasy becoming darker been good for the genre?” with my fellow panellists KT Davies, Mark Latham and Freda Warrington.

Sledge-Lit 2016 takes place on Saturday 26 December, from 10:00am–6:00pm, at the Derby QUAD, Market Place, Cathedral Quarter, Derby DE1 3AS, United Kingdom. Your £25 ticket will earn you a goodie bag and access to all events on the day.

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