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Thursday, 07 April 2011 16:57

Andy Serkis goes from Gollum to Director on The Hobbit prequels

Congratulations are in order for Andy Serkis, he's been made Peter Jackson's second unit director on the eagerly anticipated The Hobbit prequels.

Serkis who pioneered motion capture technology with his memorable performance as Gollum in The Lord of the Rings trilogy will oversee select location work on Jackson's two upcoming films where he will once again play Gollum. He said "There was this email out of the blue. It was a fantastic surprise."

It is believed that Jackson chose Serkis because he undersands the material and the director's vision and the new role is sure to give the actor's directing career a big boost - he hopes to take charge of his first feature film after wrapping work on The Hobbit films.



Serkis will take on the role of Captain Haddock in Steven Spielberg's The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn which is due in cinemas on October 26.

not mocap related but important
Wednesday, 06 April 2011 22:55

Of the 1%, by the 1%, for the 1%

Americans have been watching protests against oppressive regimes that concentrate massive wealth in the hands of an elite few. Yet in our own democracy, 1 percent of the people take nearly a quarter of the nation’s income—an inequality even the wealthy will come to regret.

Illustration by Stephen Doyle

THE FAT AND THE FURIOUS The top 1 percent may have the best houses, educations, and lifestyles, says the author, but “their fate is bound up with how the other 99 percent live.”

It’s no use pretending that what has obviously happened has not in fact happened. The upper 1 percent of Americans are now taking in nearly a quarter of the nation’s income every year. In terms of wealth rather than income, the top 1 percent control 40 percent. Their lot in life has improved considerably. Twenty-five years ago, the corresponding figures were 12 percent and 33 percent. One response might be to celebrate the ingenuity and drive that brought good fortune to these people, and to contend that a rising tide lifts all boats. That response would be misguided. While the top 1 percent have seen their incomes rise 18 percent over the past decade, those in the middle have actually seen their incomes fall. For men with only high-school degrees, the decline has been precipitous—12 percent in the last quarter-century alone. All the growth in recent decades—and more—has gone to those at the top. In terms of income equality, America lags behind any country in the old, ossified Europe that President George W. Bush used to deride. Among our closest counterparts are Russia with its oligarchs and Iran. While many of the old centers of inequality in Latin America, such as Brazil, have been striving in recent years, rather successfully, to improve the plight of the poor and reduce gaps in income, America has allowed inequality to grow.

Economists long ago tried to justify the vast inequalities that seemed so troubling in the mid-19th century—inequalities that are but a pale shadow of what we are seeing in America today. The justification they came up with was called “marginal-productivity theory.” In a nutshell, this theory associated higher incomes with higher productivity and a greater contribution to society. It is a theory that has always been cherished by the rich. Evidence for its validity, however, remains thin. The corporate executives who helped bring on the recession of the past three years—whose contribution to our society, and to their own companies, has been massively negative—went on to receive large bonuses. In some cases, companies were so embarrassed about calling such rewards “performance bonuses” that they felt compelled to change the name to “retention bonuses” (even if the only thing being retained was bad performance). Those who have contributed great positive innovations to our society, from the pioneers of genetic understanding to the pioneers of the Information Age, have received a pittance compared with those responsible for the financial innovations that brought our global economy to the brink of ruin.

Some people look at income inequality and shrug their shoulders. So what if this person gains and that person loses? What matters, they argue, is not how the pie is divided but the size of the pie. That argument is fundamentally wrong. An economy in which most citizens are doing worse year after year—an economy like America’s—is not likely to do well over the long haul. There are several reasons for this.

First, growing inequality is the flip side of something else: shrinking opportunity. Whenever we diminish equality of opportunity, it means that we are not using some of our most valuable assets—our people—in the most productive way possible. Second, many of the distortions that lead to inequality—such as those associated with monopoly power and preferential tax treatment for special interests—undermine the efficiency of the economy. This new inequality goes on to create new distortions, undermining efficiency even further. To give just one example, far too many of our most talented young people, seeing the astronomical rewards, have gone into finance rather than into fields that would lead to a more productive and healthy economy.

Third, and perhaps most important, a modern economy requires “collective action”—it needs government to invest in infrastructure, education, and technology. The United States and the world have benefited greatly from government-sponsored research that led to the Internet, to advances in public health, and so on. But America has long suffered from an under-investment in infrastructure (look at the condition of our highways and bridges, our railroads and airports), in basic research, and in education at all levels. Further cutbacks in these areas lie ahead.

None of this should come as a surprise—it is simply what happens when a society’s wealth distribution becomes lopsided. The more divided a society becomes in terms of wealth, the more reluctant the wealthy become to spend money on common needs. The rich don’t need to rely on government for parks or education or medical care or personal security—they can buy all these things for themselves. In the process, they become more distant from ordinary people, losing whatever empathy they may once have had. They also worry about strong government—one that could use its powers to adjust the balance, take some of their wealth, and invest it for the common good. The top 1 percent may complain about the kind of government we have in America, but in truth they like it just fine: too gridlocked to re-distribute, too divided to do anything but lower taxes.

Economists are not sure how to fully explain the growing inequality in America. The ordinary dynamics of supply and demand have certainly played a role: laborsaving technologies have reduced the demand for many “good” middle-class, blue-collar jobs. Globalization has created a worldwide marketplace, pitting expensive unskilled workers in America against cheap unskilled workers overseas. Social changes have also played a role—for instance, the decline of unions, which once represented a third of American workers and now represent about 12 percent.

But one big part of the reason we have so much inequality is that the top 1 percent want it that way. The most obvious example involves tax policy. Lowering tax rates on capital gains, which is how the rich receive a large portion of their income, has given the wealthiest Americans close to a free ride. Monopolies and near monopolies have always been a source of economic power—from John D. Rockefeller at the beginning of the last century to Bill Gates at the end. Lax enforcement of anti-trust laws, especially during Republican administrations, has been a godsend to the top 1 percent. Much of today’s inequality is due to manipulation of the financial system, enabled by changes in the rules that have been bought and paid for by the financial industry itself—one of its best investments ever. The government lent money to financial institutions at close to 0 percent interest and provided generous bailouts on favorable terms when all else failed. Regulators turned a blind eye to a lack of transparency and to conflicts of interest.

When you look at the sheer volume of wealth controlled by the top 1 percent in this country, it’s tempting to see our growing inequality as a quintessentially American achievement—we started way behind the pack, but now we’re doing inequality on a world-class level. And it looks as if we’ll be building on this achievement for years to come, because what made it possible is self-reinforcing. Wealth begets power, which begets more wealth. During the savings-and-loan scandal of the 1980s—a scandal whose dimensions, by today’s standards, seem almost quaint—the banker Charles Keating was asked by a congressional committee whether the $1.5 million he had spread among a few key elected officials could actually buy influence. “I certainly hope so,” he replied. The Supreme Court, in its recent Citizens United case, has enshrined the right of corporations to buy government, by removing limitations on campaign spending. The personal and the political are today in perfect alignment. Virtually all U.S. senators, and most of the representatives in the House, are members of the top 1 percent when they arrive, are kept in office by money from the top 1 percent, and know that if they serve the top 1 percent well they will be rewarded by the top 1 percent when they leave office. By and large, the key executive-branch policymakers on trade and economic policy also come from the top 1 percent. When pharmaceutical companies receive a trillion-dollar gift—through legislation prohibiting the government, the largest buyer of drugs, from bargaining over price—it should not come as cause for wonder. It should not make jaws drop that a tax bill cannot emerge from Congress unless big tax cuts are put in place for the wealthy. Given the power of the top 1 percent, this is the way you would expect the system to work.

America’s inequality distorts our society in every conceivable way. There is, for one thing, a well-documented lifestyle effect—people outside the top 1 percent increasingly live beyond their means. Trickle-down economics may be a chimera, but trickle-down behaviorism is very real. Inequality massively distorts our foreign policy. The top 1 percent rarely serve in the military—the reality is that the “all-volunteer” army does not pay enough to attract their sons and daughters, and patriotism goes only so far. Plus, the wealthiest class feels no pinch from higher taxes when the nation goes to war: borrowed money will pay for all that. Foreign policy, by definition, is about the balancing of national interests and national resources. With the top 1 percent in charge, and paying no price, the notion of balance and restraint goes out the window. There is no limit to the adventures we can undertake; corporations and contractors stand only to gain. The rules of economic globalization are likewise designed to benefit the rich: they encourage competition among countries for business, which drives down taxes on corporations, weakens health and environmental protections, and undermines what used to be viewed as the “core” labor rights, which include the right to collective bargaining. Imagine what the world might look like if the rules were designed instead to encourage competition among countries for workers. Governments would compete in providing economic security, low taxes on ordinary wage earners, good education, and a clean environment—things workers care about. But the top 1 percent don’t need to care.

Or, more accurately, they think they don’t. Of all the costs imposed on our society by the top 1 percent, perhaps the greatest is this: the erosion of our sense of identity, in which fair play, equality of opportunity, and a sense of community are so important. America has long prided itself on being a fair society, where everyone has an equal chance of getting ahead, but the statistics suggest otherwise: the chances of a poor citizen, or even a middle-class citizen, making it to the top in America are smaller than in many countries of Europe. The cards are stacked against them. It is this sense of an unjust system without opportunity that has given rise to the conflagrations in the Middle East: rising food prices and growing and persistent youth unemployment simply served as kindling. With youth unemployment in America at around 20 percent (and in some locations, and among some socio-demographic groups, at twice that); with one out of six Americans desiring a full-time job not able to get one; with one out of seven Americans on food stamps (and about the same number suffering from “food insecurity”)—given all this, there is ample evidence that something has blocked the vaunted “trickling down” from the top 1 percent to everyone else. All of this is having the predictable effect of creating alienation—voter turnout among those in their 20s in the last election stood at 21 percent, comparable to the unemployment rate.

Disney Mocap
Wednesday, 06 April 2011 16:25

New Haunted Mansion animated Hitchhiking Ghost mirror uses head tracking to amp up the scary fun

First Look: New Haunted Mansion animated Hitchhiking Ghost mirror  scene effects materialize at Walt Disney World playing pranks on guests

This morning Walt Disney Imagineering unveiled its most impressive and interactive effect to date, adding playful new versions of the famous Hitchhiking Ghosts in The Haunted Mansion who take delight in pranking unsuspecting guests. The classic dark ride has always featured ghosts “who follow you home,” appearing sitting next to guests by way of mirrors in the attraction’s final scenes. The with new technological advances, Disney’s Imagineers have created more lifelike and fun ghosts than ever before seen in the ride.

Ezra, Phineas, and Gus are certainly prankish spooks as they climb in, on, and around Doom Buggies, toying with guests who I witnessed today laughing their heads off in the new scene -- quite literally.

Video cannot do this new ghostly mirror effect justice, as it needs to be seen and enjoyed in person for the full interactive appeal. But if you can’t make to the Magic Kingdom any time soon, watch the video below, with several passes through the enhanced scene:

In my four rides through The Haunted Mansion today, I saw Ezra pull my head off my shoulders and replace it with his own, Gus take his beard off of his face and put it on mine, and Phineas blow my head up in a Disney-style balloon, only to let it deflate in the air, landing back on my neck. Nearby, guests riding with two people in a Doom Buggy had their heads swapped or found any of these Hitchhiking Ghosts sitting on top of their carriages, sometimes shining a lantern on them.

While a bit grainy in the video above, the effect in real life is flawless. The mirrors are as clear as ever, with the ghosts looking just as good. The effect is convincing, as if the ghosts are truly sitting in and around the Doom Buggies, with great depth given to the ghosts. The animation is smooth and guests around me seemed to love the latest bit of “plussing” added to The Haunted Mansion. The technology used to track guests’ movements, enabling ghosts to interact, is completely hidden, leaving nothing but pure Disney magic.

Here are a few video screen captures from the antics of the ghosts:


This latest round of new effects in The Haunted Mansion continues and ongoing effort to enhance the attraction that included new scenes being added four years ago. But it seems, for now, the dark ride’s additions are complete, with the new interactive queue open and inside effects and animatronics all in place. After a anticipation-filled few weeks of the Hitchhiking Ghosts being temporarily covered by flat projections, Imagineers have now shown off what they’re capable of creating with the stunning new fun that ends a ride through The Haunted Mansion.

All Haunted Mansion fans should immediately find their way to the Magic Kingdom to witness these new effects for themselves, as they are truly incredible to see in person.

green lantern
Saturday, 02 April 2011 23:59

Watch the Green Lantern footage that tore the roof off Wondercon!

Charlie Jane AndersWatch the Green Lantern footage that tore the roof off  Wondercon! Green Lantern won over a skeptical crowd with hot new footage of superhero space opera action last night. And now you can see for yourself!

Warner Bros. uploaded four minutes of new scenes, a condensed and edited version of what we saw yesterday. Does it wow you as much as it did the crowds at the Moscone Center? Also, we've got some screencaps below.

Watch the footage in HD over at Apple. Meanwhile, here are some quick and dirty screencaps. Click to enlarge:

Hal Jordan surrounded by alien Green Lanterns. To his right is Tomar-Re, to his left is M'Dahna, plus one other alien GL that I don't recognize off the top of my head.
More alien Green Lanterns. I see Isamot Kol and what looks like Salakk.
Morro, Kilowog, Boodikka and maybe Bzzd?
The rocky fellow is Hannu, and I'm blanking out on who the other folks are right now. Suggestions?
They all turn and look at us, giving us a better view.
Everybody shoots his/her/its power ring skywards.
A nice aerial view of some of those alien lanterns.
A pretty good look at Parallax in action.
Hal Jordan's machine gun.

One last look at all those alien Lanterns.One last look at all those alien Lanterns.


Charlie Jane AndersGreen Lantern isn't a comedy, Ryan  Reynolds promises. And intense new footage proves it!Warner Bros.' Green Lantern had a lot to prove going into Wondercon, after a bit of a fan backlash against the movie's first trailer and some lackluster promo images. So did the emerald champion win some cred tonight?

Judging from the reaction of the capacity crowd in the Moscone Center's ballroom, it seemed like the answer was yes. We saw some footage, we got to talk to stars Ryan Reynolds and Blake Lively, and we discovered that Green Lantern may not be as much of a zany comedy as the first trailer made it appear.

(Oh, and these images are screencaps from the earlier trailer. Sorry we don't have any images from the new footage.)

Green Lantern isn't a comedy, Ryan  Reynolds promises. And intense new footage proves it!First, the footage: It was the same stuff shown at Cinemacon the other day in Las Vegas. It starts with the caption "Sector 2814." And we see the Green Lantern warrior Abin Sur in his spaceship, controlling a GUI the same as Microsoft's Zune. And Abin Sur talks to Sinestro about his mission to the planet Ventara – but Sinestro tells him the mission is cancelled, because Ventara has been destroyed. Abin Sur is shocked: "Ventara's dead? The planet's inhabitants?" It's just like that other planet, Sinestro says. Sinestro has demanded an audience with the Guardians, the Lanterns' alien masters.

A second later, the conference is interrupted – there's an alarm and the wall of Abin Sur's spaceship blows up. He's being attacked by a scowling yellow mouth. Abin Sur shoots energy from his ring, in a sort of pew-pew-pew fashion, but he's forced to beat a retreat and get into an escape pod. He's mortally injured, and he sends a last message saying he's heading for the nearest planet and launching the selection process for his replacement.

Then we see Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds) being swept in a green energy bubble over to where Abin Sur's spaceship is crashed at the water's edge. Hal is freaked out to find a pink alien in a see-through spaceship, especially when he finds out that the alien is dying. He wants to get the alien to a hospital where they can give him a transfusion of "purple blood." Abin Sur asks Hal his name and says the lantern has chosen him. Abin tells Hal to take his ring and the lantern in his ship, and say the oath and touch the ring to the lantern. Hal keeps begging Abin Sur to breathe, but Abin Sur dies and his chest light goes out. "Aw, come on," Hal says.

Green Lantern isn't a comedy, Ryan  Reynolds promises. And intense new footage proves it!Then we see Hal in his apartment, looking at the lantern and trying to figure out the mysterious oath he's supposed to say. "Because everybody knows the oath, we used to sing it in camp," he quips. He tries: "I, Hal Jordan, do solemnly swear to pledge allegiance to a lantern, from a dying purple alien in a swamp." The lantern zaps him with a green energy beam and he's thrown backwards. Then suddenly he knows the oath – looking into the green light, he says the oath super intensely.

Then Hal is flying through space in a ball of green energy, past the International Space Station and two astonished astronauts. He goes through a wormhole and then he's approaching the planet Oa, where green energy beams are zapping out into space. Now he has the uniform and the mask on, and he starts posing and preening, until the fish-headed alien Tomar-Re asks him if he's done showing off. The mask disappears, because Hal doesn't need to protect his identity here.

Green Lantern isn't a comedy, Ryan  Reynolds promises. And intense new footage proves it!Hal is astonished that he can understand alien languages, and he also knows all about Tomar-Re's race, because the ring gives him a working knowledge base. "In truth, we were curious. The process has never been attempted on a species as young as humans before," says Tomar-Re. "You are the first to be chosen. I've been sent to welcome you here."

Next, there's a huge sweeping vista of Oa and we see the power battery and a huge green beam shooting into the sky. Sinestro is addressing a huge crowd of alien Green Lantern Corps. Members, including many fan favorites. (We only got a glimpse of them and it was too quick to make note of exactly ones which showed up.)

Green Lantern isn't a comedy, Ryan  Reynolds promises. And intense new footage proves it!Sinestro makes a speech:

Lanterns, I've called you here to this unprecedented gathering, because we face an unprecedented danger. An enemy called Parallax that we don't fully understand. We do know it's powerful enough to destroy entire civilizations. Powerful enough to defeat even Abin Sur, our finest warrior. Alone, we are vulnerable. United, we are still invincible. We have never been been defeated. Will we be defeated now? It was for this moment that we were created. I don't need to tell you your duty. I don't need to tell you who we are.

And everybody chants: "We are the Corps! We are the Corps! We are the Corps!" And they all shoot their green energy beams up into space as one.

Green Lantern isn't a comedy, Ryan  Reynolds promises. And intense new footage proves it!Then we saw a few snippets of the new trailer, including a few scenes that weren't in the earlier trailer – like Hal Jordan being zapped by yellow energy, to the point where he's almost crucified. And supervillain Hector Hammond, with his grossly swollen head, puts on Hal Jordan's ring! And we see Hal Jordan shooting a machine gun made by his ring.

During the question-and-answer session after the footage, Blake Lively (Carol Ferris) talked a bit about whether she'll get to play the villain Star Sapphire in a sequel. "The only thing that's a little more daunting is the outfit," said Lively. "Maybe they could put a little more material on, it's pretty daunting."

Lively also clarified the relationship between Hal Jordan and Carol Ferris:

Hal and Carol are rivals, they're both fighter pilots. In the air, they go neck and neck. He works for her in this aviation company and he's completely irresponsible, he crashes millions of dollars of hardware.

Also in the Q&A during the panel, someone asked whether the villain Atrocitus might show up in this movie, and producer Geoff Johns, who's written a lot of the comics. Johns said Atrocitus is "not in this one," putting a lot of emphasis on the words "this one," and adding that that might be construed as a hint.

Ryan Reynolds joked that to prepare to look good in this film, he ate a diet of nothing but orphans and bench-pressed live pandas.

During the roundtable interviews after the panel, Reynolds said that he has some ring constructs that are his favorites in the film, but the machine-gun construct wasn't necessarily one of them. The coolest ring constructs, Reynolds hinted, are ones we haven't seen yet.

And Reynolds told reporters in the roundtable that if they are lucky enough to make another Green Lantern film, they'll have a huge advantage. They won't need to introduce Green Lantern from scratch and explain all about the ring and the Corps. And they won't need to do as much pre-production and spending as much time trying to figure out how to make these things look cool.

And if they do make a sequel, Reynolds says he already knows where the story will go. It's set in stone already. And once you've seen the end of this movie, you'll know where the story is going too.

A few other points that Reynolds stressed:

  • Hal Jordan is sort of a Han Solo character, mixed with Chuck Yeager
  • The technology to do Green Lantern right only recently existed, but Reynolds felt really confident that Warner Bros. would do this right, on the strength of Harry Potter and other films. A lot of the Lord of the Rings crew worked on the Lantern effects.
  • The big advantage of Green Lantern over other superhero origin stories is that the the story doesn't start in the third act, like the other films.
  • Reynolds spent a lot of time at an Air Force base in Louisiana, where they were filming the movie, and seeing what the culture of fighter pilots is like. "I come from a family of cops, there's an unspoken code there that's going on and these guys have it," says Reynolds.
  • The humor in the film comes out of the situation and isn't overwhelming – Reynolds said that you need a bit of levity here and there so that mainstream audiences can deal with the idea of a regular guy being zapped into another galaxy to an alien planet full of weird creatures. But most of the heavy comedy in the film is stuff we've already seen in the first trailer, because those were the Earthbound scenes that were done in time for that trailer. Once Hal is "humbled by the gift" of the power ring, he stops being so "arrogant and cocky," Reynolds told reporters, and that means less jokiness.

Also, Blake Lively told reporters that director Martin Campbell really took the responsibility of bringing this story to life seriously, without looking too goofy. "He's a guy with a magic ring and a magic lamp," she said. "You have to tell this story well."

New google technology
Friday, 01 April 2011 22:50

new Motion sensing technology from google



james cameron avatar news
Wednesday, 30 March 2011 16:26

James Cameron Vows to Prepare His Avatar 2 Cast By Making Them Go Method, Indigenous-Style

JamesCameronTribe300.jpgJames Cameron’s recent trip to Brazil wasn’t just about attending sustainability forums with Bill Clinton and posing for tribal photos with Arnold Schwarzenegger — it was about getting in the mindset for the Avatar sequel. For Cameron, this meant enjoying a restaurant dinner with the Caipo tribe, vowing to name a character in Avatar 2 after himself, and threatening to submerge the cast of his sequel into the indigenous lifestyle.

After dining with five members of the Caiapo tribe during his South American adventure, the Avatar director told reporters that the chief had baptized him “Krapremp-ti,” which translates to “man who is a friend of the jungle.” Cameron then vowed to not only name a character in his sequel “Krapremp-ti,” but to pack up his cast and take them to the far reaches of the Brazilian rain forest so that they could be inspired themselves.

Avatar is a film about the rain forest and its indigenous people,” Cameron told reporters. “Before I start to shoot the two films, I want to bring my actors here, so I can better tell this story. Actors could learn about the natives and what real life in the jungle is like.”

Additionally, Cameron was so impressed by the tribe that he admitted Avatar would have been even better had he visited the Caiapo beforehand.

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