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Avatar Pushes Limits of Visual Effects        Video

YouTube > Added by wired 14 December 2009

















2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (1968)

Trailer    Warner Bros Pictures






Video        Trailer        Warner Bros Pictures


"For the first time since the original release,

this 70mm print was struck from new printing elements

made from the original camera negative.


This is a true photochemical film recreation.


There are no digital tricks,

remastered effects, or revisionist edits.


This is the unrestored film

- that recreates the cinematic event

that audiences experienced fifty years ago."

- Christopher Nolan




























special effects        UK / USA

































special effects    SFX        UK










special photographic effects        USA










special-effects designer        USA










visual effects        UK










 animatronic effects        UK










digital actors        USA










computer-generated imagery in film and on TV /

computer art and animation        USA


Kenneth Charles Knowlton    1931-2022


engineer, computer scientist and artist

who helped pioneer

the science and art of computer graphics

and made many of the first

computer-generated pictures,

portraits and movies









 Kenneth Charles Knowlton    1931-2022


first computer programming language for computer animation,

called BEFLIX (short for “Bell Labs Flicks”).


























USA > Douglas Trumbull    1942-2022        UK / USA


pioneering visual effects artist


best known for his work on

2001: A Space Odyssey

and Close Encounters of the Third Kind




























Raymond Frederick Harryhausen    1920-2013


animator and special-effects wizard

who found ways to breathe cinematic life

into the gargantuan, the mythical

and the extinct














Petro Vlahos    1916-2013


special-effects pioneer

who developed the blue-screen

and green-screen process

that allowed Dick Van Dyke

to dance with penguins

in “Mary Poppins,”

the blue-skinned Na’vi

to live among floating mountains

in “Avatar,”

and TV weather reporters

to point at sun and rain symbols

that only their viewers can see










Eileen Mary Moran    1952-2012


visual effects producer who helped create

the look of a bevy of blockbuster movies

— from the ethereal world of “Avatar”

down to King Kong’s 460 billion strands

of wind-rustled specially lighted fur —










title sequence










3D        UK / USA


























3D animated feature        UK










1935 > USA > three-dimensional pictures and stereopticon films










makeup artist        USA












Corpus of news articles


Arts > Film / Movies > Special effects




Eileen Moran,

Special Effects Wizard,

Dies at 60


December 4, 2012

The New York Times



Eileen Moran, a visual effects producer who helped create the look of a bevy of blockbuster movies — from the ethereal world of “Avatar” down to King Kong’s 460 billion strands of wind-rustled specially lighted fur, — died on Sunday in Wellington, New Zealand. She was 60.

The cause was cancer, her sister Janet Hamill said.

Ms. Moran worked closely with the director James Cameron on “Avatar” and with the director Peter Jackson on the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy and “The Hobbit,” which is to be released in American theaters this month.

She had set out to be an actress, but that brought her only nonpaying jobs in Off Off Broadway plays. So she became an assistant on a commercial, then moved up to production manager for commercials. She found her way to Hollywood, where she was hired by Digital Domain, a special effects house partly owned by Mr. Cameron. There she worked on award-winning Budweiser ads, including the one in which an army of ants lug a bottle of Bud down an ant hole.

In 2001 she joined Weta Digital, a visual effects company partly owned by Mr. Jackson. She was a leader of the team that won an Academy Award for best achievement in visual effects in 2010, for Mr. Cameron’s “Avatar.”

In a statement on Tuesday, Mr. Cameron said Ms. Moran had “shepherded some of the milestone films of her generation to completion.”

Ms. Moran was a co-producer of “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey,” the first of three planned films based on J. R. R. Tolkien’s book “The Hobbit.” Illness prevented her from attending the film’s world premiere on Nov. 28 in New Zealand.

She helped ride herd on the team of hundreds that did the visual effects for Mr. Jackson’s “Lord of the Rings” trilogy: “The Fellowship of the Ring” (2001), “The Two Towers” (2002) and “The Return of the King” (2003). Among the other films to which she contributed are “The Adventures of Tintin” (2011), “Fight Club” (1999), “I, Robot” (2004), “X-Men: The Last Stand” (2006), “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” (2011) and Mr. Jackson’s “King Kong” (2005).

“King Kong” involved more than attention to each strand of fur. To replicate the New York City of more than 70 years earlier, all buildings built after 1933 had to be removed by means of advanced computer trickery and replaced with three-dimensional images of the buildings that stood at the time. In a 2005 interview with The Gold Coast Bulletin, an Australian newspaper, Ms. Moran said, “We had great aerial reference photographs taken in the 1930s, and we matched our 3-D city exactly to the photographs.”

Each of more than 90,000 buildings was unique, down to smoking chimneys, fire escapes and door knobs. The varying effects of weather on buildings of different ages was noted.

Ms. Moran’s role in all this was broad. “I oversee the visual effects production of the film,” she said in an interview with The Daily News in New York in 2006. “I oversee the crew, review the work with the director and visual effects supervisor, oversee recruiting, attend the visual effects reviews with the team, review assignments and work, troubleshoot, communicate with each department, ensure delivery, manage the budget.”

Eileen Mary Moran was born in Queens on Jan. 23, 1952, and grew up in Lindenhurst, on Long Island. After studying drama at the State University of New York at New Paltz, she returned to New York City to try acting before switching to commercial production. Her sister said Ms. Moran had delighted in the Budweiser creatures she helped create: beer-loving ants; three frogs who croaked, in turn, “Bud,” “Weis,” and “Er”; and, of course, Larry the Lizard.

When a friend e-mailed her about a possible job on “Lord of the Rings,” she traveled to New Zealand for an interview and, she later said, was surprised to be offered a job. She quickly became essential in necessary tasks like ensuring that trolls had credible dirt beneath their fingernails and that the eyes of Gollum were appropriately bloodshot, Mr. Jackson told Onfilm, a New Zealand magazine, in 2003.

In the Daily News interview, Ms. Moran described the moment that Gollum sprang to computer-generated life: “It was hit or miss for a while, and then one day he was there on screen and you just knew we finally had him and everything was going to be O.K.”

Ms. Moran, a single mother, lived with her two children, Jack and Ava, in a Victorian house in Wellington overlooking the Pacific. They survive her, as do her father, John G. Moran, and three sisters: Ms. Hamill, Patty Mathes and Jackie Meyer.

Of all the commercials she worked on, Mr. Moran said, her favorite was one made for Guinness in 1996 and was based on the feminist slogan “A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle.” Her team scanned a real fish into the computer to get the scaly texture right.

“Afterwards,” she said, “we made a great meal from the trout.”



This article has been revised

to reflect the following correction:

Correction: December 4, 2012

An earlier version of this article misspelled

the name of the “Lord of the Rings” character Gollum

as Golum.

Eileen Moran, Special Effects Wizard, Dies at 60,

December 4, 2012,






He Doth Surpass Himself:

‘Avatar’ Outperforms ‘Titanic’


January 27, 2010
The New York Times


LOS ANGELES — James Cameron’s science-fiction epic “Avatar” has passed his “Titanic” to become history’s highest-grossing film, with a sizable boost from higher-priced tickets for 3-D and Imax showings.

“Avatar,” like other contemporary films, has also benefited from the steady inflation of ticket prices —today’s average is $7.46, up from $4.69 in 1998 when “Titanic” was in theaters — meaning that “Titanic” had to sell many more tickets to reach box-office totals like “Avatar’s.” But “Avatar” remains poised to keep going for weeks if not months.

Through Monday its ticket sales around the world reached $1.86 billion, edging past the $1.84 billion in sales posted by “Titanic,” which came out in December 1997, according to figures released Tuesday by 20th Century Fox.

Fox released “Avatar” around the world; it split the distribution of “Titanic” with Paramount Pictures.

Through Monday “Avatar” took in about $554.9 million in domestic theaters, placing it just behind “Titanic,” with sales of $600.8 million, in the domestic box-office rankings, and just ahead of “The Dark Knight,” a Warner Brothers film from 2008, which took in $533.3 million.

The performance of “Avatar” is particularly striking because the film — a leading contender in this year’s Oscar race — reached its summit so quickly.

“In just 39 days it has eclipsed the worldwide record,” said Paul Dergarabedian, the president of Hollywood.com’s box-office division. “That’s extraordinarily impressive.”

Mr. Dergarabedian said he thought “Avatar” would pass the domestic box-office mark set by “Titanic” by the middle of next week, and that it is almost certain to pass $2 billion in worldwide sales before the end of its run.

Privately, some involved with the film are guessing that final ticket sales will go as high as $2.5 billion, though Fox has made no public projection. New Line Cinema’s “Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King,” No. 3 in the all-time worldwide rankings, had $1.1 billion in ticket sales, according to Boxofficemojo.com.

Fox said 72 percent of worldwide sales for “Avatar” came from 3-D screens. If Mr. Dergarabedian’s estimates are correct, the movie has accounted for roughly 56 million admissions in domestic theaters to date.

That is about the same number of tickets that “Titanic” had sold at this point in its theatrical run, he said.

But “Titanic” played and played, remaining in theaters until September 1998 and racking up about 128 million admissions. “Avatar” still needs a very long tail to surpass the number of viewers who saw “Titanic.”

To calculate the number of “Avatar” viewers around the world is impossible without taking into account exchange rates and a patchwork of ticket prices and viewing habits in dozens of countries in which the film has been showing.

Large-format Imax theaters have accounted for about $137.1 million of “Avatar” ticket sales around the world, said Greg Foster, president and chairman of Imax Filmed Entertainment. “There’s been only the most minimal drop-off,” he said. Imax theaters are scheduled to continue showing “Avatar” until “Alice in Wonderland,” another 3-D film, from Walt Disney, opens on March 5.

The world record is sweet vindication, both for Mr. Cameron and for Fox. Skeptics had questioned whether Mr. Cameron could deliver on his promise of a revolutionary visual experience, and whether Fox and its financial partners would profit from a film that cost nearly a half-billion dollars to make and release.

While those questions are now settled — the film will make a profit and the critics have been kind — the Academy Awards, scheduled for March 7, remain a hurdle. On Sunday the Producers Guild of America gave its highest movie award, sometimes a harbinger of success at the Oscars, to “The Hurt Locker.” A small, independent drama about the Iraq war, it was directed by Kathryn Bigelow, who is Mr. Cameron’s ex-wife.

On Tuesday Tom Rothman, a chairman of the Fox film operation, said the global success of “Avatar” carried a lesson beyond economics. “It tells you all of us on the planet have more things in common than we have dividing us,” Mr. Rothman said.

He Doth Surpass Himself: ‘Avatar’ Outperforms ‘Titanic’,






Camera System

Creates Sophisticated 3-D Effects


July 31, 2006

The New York Times



PALO ALTO, Calif. — In a darkened garage here, Steve Perlman is giving digital actors a whole new face.

A former Apple Computer engineer who previously co-founded WebTV Networks and the set-top box firm Moxi, Mr. Perlman is now putting the finishing touches on Contour, a futuristic camera system that will add photorealistic three-dimensional effects to digital entertainment. The new system will be introduced today at the Siggraph computer graphics conference in Boston, and effects created with it could start appearing as early as next year.

The system could change the nature of cinematography in several ways, according to leading Hollywood producers and technologists who are planning to use the system. For example, it will make it possible to create compellingly realistic synthetic actors by capturing the facial movements of real actors in much greater detail than is currently possible.

David Fincher, who directed the films “Fight Club” and “Panic Room,” is planning to use Contour next year when he begins filming “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” a movie based on a short story by F. Scott Fitzgerald in which Brad Pitt will play a character who ages in reverse.

“Instead of grabbing points on a face, you will be able to capture the entire skin,” Mr. Fincher said. “You’re going to get all of the enormous detail and the quirks of human expression that you can’t plan for.”

The technology will let filmmakers transform the appearance of actors in the computer, raising the possibility of a new form of digital video in which the viewer can control the point of view — what is being described in Hollywood as “navigable entertainment.”

The Contour system requires actors to cover their faces and clothes with makeup containing phosphorescent powder that is not visible under normal lighting. In a light-sealed room, the actors face two arrays of inexpensive video cameras that are synchronized to simultaneously record their appearance and shape. Scenes are lit by rapidly flashing fluorescent lights, and the cameras capture light from the glowing powder during intervals of darkness that are too short for humans to perceive.

The captured images are transmitted to an array of computers that reassemble the three-dimensional shapes of the glowing areas. These can then be manipulated and edited into larger digital scenes using sophisticated software tools like Autodesk’s Maya or Softimage’s Face Robot.

“Steve is really on to something here,” said Ed Ulbrich, vice president of Digital Domain, a Hollywood special-effects company in Venice, Calif. “The holy grail of digital effects is to be able to create a photorealistic human being.”

Until now, realistic digital actors have required significant amounts of computing power, at great expense.

“It’s been used in stunts and big special-effects scenes,” Mr. Ulbrich said. “Now you can use it for two actors sitting at a table and talking. You have the ability to tell stories and have close-up scenes that make you laugh and cry.”

Mr. Perlman’s system is a leap forward for a technology known as motion capture, now widely used in video games and in movies like “The Polar Express,” which starred Tom Hanks in various digital guises.

Motion capture cuts the costs of computer animation while creating more natural movement. Today’s motion-capture systems work by tracking the locations of hundreds of reflective balls attached to a human actor. This permits the actor’s movements to be sampled by a camera many times per second. But the digital record is limited to movement, and does not include the actual appearance of the actor.

The difference offered by Mr. Perlman’s technology is in the detail. Standard motion-capture systems are generally limited in resolution to several hundred points on a human face, while the Contour system can recreate facial images at a resolution of 200,000 pixels. The digital video images produced by the system are startlingly realistic.

Mr. Perlman, who helped develop Apple’s QuickTime video technology, said the computer-generated animation techniques pioneered by Pixar Studios were reaching a visual plateau and, as a result, losing some of their audience appeal.

But an important hurdle to commercial success for the Contour system is whether it will be the first low-cost technology to cross what film and robot specialists refer to as the “uncanny valley.”

That phrase was coined in the 1970’s by Masahiro Mori, the Japanese robotics specialist, as he sought to describe the emotional response of humans to robots and other nonhuman entities. He theorized that as a robot became more lifelike, the emotional response of humans became increasingly positive and empathetic — until a certain point at which the robot took on a zombie-like quality, and the human response turned to repulsion. Then, as the robot becomes indistinguishable from a human, the response turns positive again. Critics were quick to point out the eerie look of the characters in “Polar Express.”

“We are programmed from birth to recognize human faces,” Mr. Perlman said.

There are some limits to the new technology. For example, the Contour system can capture eyebrows, mustaches and short beards, but it is not able to capture freely moving strands. It is also not able to capture areas where makeup cannot be applied, like the eyes or the inside of the mouth. The Contour developers are now experimenting with plastic teeth molds with embedded phosphor powder.

If the Contour system can be commercialized, it will allow digital film directors to easily and inexpensively control camera angles and generate elaborate visual fly-throughs in movies. It will also lower the cost of creating fantasy characters like Gollum in the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy.

In addition to films, the new system will be valuable in creating more realistic video games, Mr. Perlman said. A major video-game development company has committed to use the system in future games, he said, adding that he could not give its name at this time.

The Contour system has been developed by a small team of software and hardware engineers that Mr. Perlman has assembled in the garage of his home in Palo Alto, Calif., over the last three years. He rewired the garage to handle the power requirements of the lighting system and a small graphics supercomputer that was built from scratch. Contour will be distributed by Mova, one of a group of start-up firms that Mr. Perlman has assembled since he left WebTV in 1999, after it was purchased by Microsoft.

Contour is not the only attempt to develop more advanced digital cinematography techniques, said Richard Doherty, a digital media consultant who is president of Envisioneering Inc., in Seaford, N.Y.

“There are some upstarts in Los Angeles, but none have achieved the demonstrated scale and performance that Steve has shown,” Mr. Doherty said. “This is the kind of technology that is celebrated, and it is on the scale of the invention of the Steadicam. He’s going to give that kind of freedom to actors and directors.”

Camera System Creates Sophisticated 3-D Effects,










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