Wrapping Marwen and String City

String City by Graham Edwards - Coming Soon

I always have mixed feelings when I come to the end of a writing project. When things have gone well, there’s satisfaction at finishing the job, but there’s also sadness that it’s come to an end … plus a dusting of fear that I maybe I didn’t do as well as I could have done.

Welcome to Marwen posterThis week it’s a double whammy. Firstly, I’ve just submitted the final draft of my latest Cinefex article – a comprehensive behind-the-scenes story on Welcome to Marwen. Directed by Robert Zemeckis, the film is based on the true story of Mark Hogancamp, who facilitated his own recovery from a brutal beating by constructing an entire miniature town and populating it with dolls. His dramatic photographs of his one-sixth scale world went on to gain recognition in the art world, proving the power of art therapy and the indomitability of the human spirit.

It’s a powerful story, and Zemeckis’s take on it is extraordinary – just as you’d expect from the visionary director of Back to the Future, Forrest Gump and Cast Away. A huge swathe of the film is set inside the miniature world, following the adventures of living, breathing doll characters, each of whom has a counterpart in the real world.  The backbone of my article is the story of how the filmmakers brought that miniature world to life, from set design and cinematography, to the physical construction of miniature sets and dolls, to virtual production and motion capture, to the painstaking art of visual effects. Of all the articles I’ve written for Cinefex, this may be the one of which I’m most proud.

You’ll be able to read my Welcome to Marwen article in Cinefex 162, out mid-December 2018, and available to pre-order now. I’m extra-excited because, as part of my research, I interviewed Robert Zemeckis himself. Rather than include that interview material within the main story, we’ve decided to pull it out as a standalone Q&A. So, two ‘Marwen’ articles for the price of one!

String City by Graham Edwards - draft cover. Illustration by Vince HaigThe second wrap of the week has seen me doing the final edit on my new novel String City, out January 2019. Actually, I’m not quite there – I still have one last copy edit to do, hopefully before the weekend. But, to all intents and purposes, my work on this book is done.

The novel is a hardboiled detective tale set in an otherworldly metropolis where the usual laws of physics don’t always apply. It’s fantasy, it’s noir, and it whisks its wisecracking interdimensional gumshoe hero to some pretty weird locations, as he tries to solve a mystery that threatens not only the neon-lit city in which he lives, but the entire surrounding cosmos.

Endings lead inevitably to new beginnings, and the two acts of closure I’ve engaged in this week are no exception. I’m already lining up my next Cinefex assignment, for an article that will appear in our February 2019 issue. I’ve also made a start on my next novel, which I’ll be working on through next year.

As for what these two new projects are about … you’ll just have to watch this space.

Cinefex Diaries – Venom and Alpha

Cinefex 161

The new Cinefex is just out, with Joe Fordham’s epic story on First Man gracing the cover. This issue, two of the five articles are mine, and they couldn’t have been more different.

First up is Alpha, which I actually finished writing in December 2017, ready for our February 2018 issue. When the film’s release date got bumped to the autumn, we rescheduled the story for inclusion in Cinefex 161. To cover this Ice Age tale of a young hunter’s friendship with a lone wolf, I spoke not only with visual effects supervisor Jeffrey A. Okun and the many artists under his direction, but also archaeological consultant Dr. Jill Cook from the British Museum, and animal trainer Mark Forbes. It’s fascinating where the research takes you sometimes and, in my quest to tell the story of how a team of talented filmmakers brought a wolf called Alpha to the screen, I ended up going to some pretty interesting places.

I worked frantically on my Venom assignment all the way through the summer, arranging interviews with visual effects co-supervisors Paul Franklin and Sheena Duggal, the team of artists at DNEG, director Ruben Fleischer, and a ton of other people, all while they were working frantically on getting the film finished for its October release. It’s a tough gig trying to join the dots on a story like this, when you’re interviewing people who haven’t necessarily drawn all the dots yet! The upside of all that hair-tearing is that the Cinefex story on Venom hit newsstands barely a week after the film was released. It doesn’t get more timely than that!

As always, I had fun putting together the promo video for Cinefex 161, which goes from historic first steps to shark-infested depths with its stories on First Man, Venom, Alpha, The Meg and A.X.L. Here it is:

Cinefex 160 is on newsstands now, and available to order at our online store. If you’re a subscriber, your copy will soon be touching down in your mailbox. And don’t forget our iPad edition, which features tons more photographs and exclusive video content.

Cinefex Diaries – VIEW Conference 2018

VIEW Conference 2018

Last year, I remember looking wistfully at the programme for VIEW Conference 2017 and thinking what a great lineup it was. At the time, our hectic publishing schedule made it impossible for any of the Cinefex editorial team to attend, but this year is different. The stars have aligned and I’ll be heading out to Turin in October for VIEW Conference 2018, ready to report back on the proceedings via the Cinefex blog.

What’s so great about VIEW? For me, personally, it’s a chance to rub shoulders with people I’ve admired for years, among them Dennis Muren. Creative director at Industrial Light & Magic and a true legend in the field of visual effects, Dennis has been conjuring movie magic since the days of The Empire Strikes Back through Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Jurassic Park and beyond. Then there’s Hans Zimmer, whose epic film scores seem hellbent on filling up my iTunes library. Both Dennis and Hans are delivering keynote speeches at VIEW this year, and I can’t wait.

On top of that, VIEW will give me the chance to meet up with a bunch of visual effects supervisors I interviewed for Cinefex earlier this year, but have never actually met in person – like Rob Bredow (Solo: A Star Wars Story), Dan Glass (Deadpool 2) and Geoffrey Baumann (Black Panther). I’ll also get to prowl the conference hall in search of new victims – sorry, interviewees – watch the many presentations and, best of all, report back to our readers.

Here’s a tiny selection of highlights from the conference programme, which you can view in full at the official VIEW Conference 2018 website:

TUESDAY 23 OCTOBER

  • “Creatively Driven – The VFX For Solo: A Star Wars Story” – Rob Bredow, overall visual effects supervisor, senior vice president, executive creative director, head of ILM
  • “Step into my Music – Hans Zimmer
  • Black Panther” – Geoffrey Baumann, overall visual effects supervisor, Marvel Studios

WEDNESDAY 24 OCTOBER

  • Westworld” – Jay Worth, overall visual effects supervisor, HBO
  • Venom” – Troy Saliba, animation director, DNEG
  • Adrift” – Dadi Einarsson, visual effects supervisor, co-founder, RVX
  • Avengers: Infinity War” – Matt Aitken, visual effects supervisor, Weta Digital

THURSDAY 25 OCTOBER

  • “From Puppets to Pixels: Bringing the Dinosaurs of Fallen Kingdom to Life” – Glen McIntosh, animation supervisor Jurassic World, and animation co-supervisor Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom
  • “Next-Gen Virtual Reality” – Dr. Don Greenberg, Jacob Gould Schurman Professor of Computer Graphics, Cornell University
  • Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” – David Vickery, overall visual effects supervisor, creative director, ILM

FRIDAY 26 OCTOBER

  • “Breathing Life into the Alien Robot of Lost in Space” – Joao Sita, visual effects supervisor, Image Engine
  • “What is the Magicverse?” – John Gaeta, senior vice president, Magic Leap
  • “Deadpool 2” – Dan Glass, overall visual effects supervisor, second unit director
  • “Visual Effects: Defining that Critical, Elusive and Final 5%” – Dennis Muren, senior visual effects supervisor, creative director, ILM

VIEW Conference 2018 takes place 22-26 October 2018, at OGR (Officine Grandi Riparazioni), Turin, Italy. Reserve your place at the official VIEW website. See you there!

Cinefex Diaries – Kessel Runner

Cinefex 160 - Solo: A Star Wars Story

The August edition of Cinefex is out, and I’m chuffed to have the cover with my article on Solo: A Star Wars Story. I had a whale of a time researching and writing this one, interviewing the visual effects team at Industrial Light & Magic, creature designer Neal Scanlan, special effects supervisor Dominic Tuohy and many others.

I also checked off a personal bucket list item by chatting with director Ron Howard. Here’s a snippet from my interview with him:

“This isn’t a war movie with an ensemble cast. It’s about young Han’s rite of passage, running this gauntlet on his quest for freedom. I wanted to make it first-person and put the audience right alongside Han throughout the adventure, to give it an urgency and excitement … There are always elements of the American Western and Kurosawa’s samurai films in Star Wars and I wanted to add a kind of ‘70s energy to all that — which was already there in the mind’s eye of Larry and Jon Kasdan, who wrote with kind of a rock‘n’roll vibe. In addition, I always remembered that A New Hope had a very unpretentious attitude about the spaceships, the worlds. George Lucas always said you have to throw all that stuff away. Don’t go for beauty shots. Don’t linger.”

You’ll hear more from Ron in the complete article, along with a ton of juicy behind-the-scenes stories explaining exactly how the design and effects teams made their movie magic.

With the Millennium Falcon on the front cover on Cinefex 160, I naturally went all sci-fi with this issue’s accompanying promo video. It’s a mere minnow compared to the whale-sized visual effects feast that is Solo: A Star Wars Story, but I had a heap of fun putting it together.

The print edition of Cinefex 160 is on newsstands now, and available to order at the online store. The iPad edition features tons more photographs and exclusive video content, including visual effects breakdown reels for Ant-Man and the Wasp and Solo: A Star Wars Story prepared especially for Cinefex by Marvel Studios and ILM respectively.

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.

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!

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.

Cinefex Diaries – Dragons and Porgs

Cinefex 157It’s a weird feeling holding my shiny new copies of Cinefex 157. Since I joined the magazine staff over two years ago, this is the first issue that doesn’t contain one of my articles.

That’s not because I’ve been slacking, I hasten to add. I spent a couple of months before Christmas researching and writing a soup-to-nuts article on the Ice Age drama Alpha, which was scheduled to appear in this very issue. Then, at the eleventh hour, Sony Pictures decided to shunt the film’s release date from March 2018 all the way down to 14 September. They politely asked us to delay publication until after that date – a reasonable request, since like most Cinefex articles the piece I wrote is not exactly free from spoilers.

The good news is that there are still four fantastic articles in the new issue. Jody Duncan went to town on a massive story covering Game of Thrones Season 7, followed by a jaunt through the jungle with Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle. Joe Fordham did a magnificent job covering the latest tale of a galaxy far, far away, with his story on Star Wars: The Last Jedi, and somehow still found time to dig into the pint-sized social satire Downsizing.

Cinefex 157 covers "Star Wars: The Last Jedi"

As for me, well, I’ve been busy writing a mammoth article on Black Panther – no question of that one getting delayed! You’ll be able to read it in Cinefex 158, out in April. Right now, I’m collating review feedback prior to locking the copy for production. At the same time, I’m interviewing for the first of two articles I’m writing for our June issue.

Not that I’ve turned my back on the current issue completely. I’ve just finished making a mini promo video for Cinefex 157, showcasing that Game of Thrones cover story. You can watch the video below – but you might want to put on your flameproof underpants first.

Cinefex Diaries – Black Panther

Cinefex Black Panther article tease

I’m excited to report that I’ve spent the first few weeks of 2018 in Wakanda.

Actually, my trip to the fabled African nation began just before Christmas, when I started interviewing for my upcoming article on Black Panther, due to be published in Cinefex 158, out April.

I have a confession. Before starting work on this article, my knowledge of the Black Panther character was limited to what I’d seen in Captain America: Civil War, which marked the superhero’s debut in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Having generated 55,000 words of transcript from over 20 interviews, I’m now considerably more informed!

Black Panther posterEarly in the process, I spoke at length with Marvel visual effects supervisor Geoff Baumann and the film’s production designer Hannah Beachler. My journey then took me on a tour of companies through the US, Canada, Scandinavia, Australia and all points between, chatting with the visual effects teams at Method Studios, Industrial Light & Magic, Scanline, Luma, Trixter, Rise, Double Negative, Ghost and Storm.

En route, I took in the previs department at Digital Domain, and the concept, animation and motion graphics teams at Perception and Cantina Creative. Having just spoken with Marvel stereo supervisor Evan Jacobs, I’m now mopping up all things 3D with Stereo D and Legend 3D. Oh, and not forgetting the ever-charming makeup department head, Joel Harlow. Phew!

Only one piece of the puzzle remains, as the Marvel team tries to hook me up with the film’s director, Ryan Coogler. He’s currently just about the busiest man on the planet as he springs from one Black Panther press junket to the next, but it looks like we’re homing in on a slot this weekend. Fingers crossed.

Towards the end of my chat with Hannah Beachler, she said something about the production design that stuck in my head: “[Ryan and I] wanted this to be something that people hadn’t seen before in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.” Almost every review I’ve read confirms that Black Panther does indeed look fresh and different, so I’d say they succeeded in that ambition. That’s a rare thing, especially in an industry ruled by franchises, and something to be celebrated.

Cinefex 158 - Marvel Special

Speaking of celebration, Cinefex 158 is exactly that – a special edition celebrating 10 years of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Not only will our April issue take you deep into Wakanda, but it will also bring you an overview of the creative and technological highlights of all 17 films released by the studio so far.

And that’s not all. This special issue will also contain Jody Duncan’s exclusive interview with Marvel Studios executive producer and head of physical production, Victoria Alonso, discussing the studio’s origins, its hits and misses, and its plans for the future. We’ll also have an interview Ryan Meinerding, Marvel’s head of visual development, plus key member of his team, in Joe Fordham’s in-depth article on the conceptual roots of all things Marvel.

As if that wasn’t enough, I’ve put together a roundtable discussion in which around 70 visual and practical effects professionals look back over the past decade, chew the fat on just what it’s like to work on a Marvel film, and share some of their favourite Marvel movie moments. If ever a Cinefex assignment was like herding cats, that was it!

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