‘War for the Planet of the Apes’ Deserves to Win the VFX Oscar


The time has come for the Academy to finally give the VFX Oscar to “War for the Planet of the Apes.” Twice denied for “Rise” and “Dawn,” Weta Digital’s remarkable work on Caesar (Andy Serkis) culminated with a Shakespearean finale. It’s undeniably the best of the field. And coinciding with the 50th anniversary of the original “Planet of the Apes” would make it even sweeter. The Visual Effects Society obviously got the importance of the work, honoring the entire Caesar trilogy, now we’ll see if the Academy makes amends with “War.”

However, “Apes” has been denied before (with the acting branch, in particular, having a bias against Serkis and performance capture) and there is other noteworthy character animation to choose from, including the stunning CG Rachael from “Blade Runner 2049,” the creepy Snoke (Serkis) from “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” Ego and the de-aged Kurt Russell from “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2,” and the latest incarnation of King Kong from “Kong: Skull Island.”

Read more about these nominees, ranked in order of their likelihood to win:

“War for the Planet of the Apes”

It’s been a unique experience for Serkis to play the sentient simian from birth to death, and Weta rose to the challenge of capturing and animating his performance. In “War,” though, Caesar rose to Moses-like stature, grappling with his darkest demons before freeing himself and his tribe. For Weta, the challenge was capturing Caesar’s final arc with on-set performance capture in both snow and rain. On “War,” they achieved greater interpolation and more nuanced animation.

“War for the Planet of the Apes”

Courtesy of Twentieth Century Fo

Caesar was grayer and walked more slowly, carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders. Weta also deepened his wrinkles and added more creases. His model and facial rig were adjusted, too, given the complex emotional range. At the same time, they added a new character, Bad Ape (Steve Zahn), nervous and funny, with a lot more dialogue requiring special care to the rigging and his big, bug eyes.

“”For me, the key to the whole movie is empathy,” said Matt Reeves (who directed both “Dawn” and “War”). “I saw ‘Rise’ and for the first time I had an emotional connection with a CG character. This film was pushed into the realm of the mythic. It’s a Darwinian, biblical, ape epic.”

“Blade Runner 2049”

The great VFX suprise was a stunning CG recreation of the Rachael replicant played by Sean Young in the original movie. the two-minute sequence brought an emotionally stirring reunion with Harrison Ford’s Deckard, requiring technical virtuosity and subtle performance.

“Blade Runner 2049”

Body double Loren Peta played the young Rachael (in costume, makeup, and with dotted face) and performed on set with Ford and Jared Leto (as replicant manufacturer Wallace). She was directed by Denis Villeneuve, with Young on set as well for reference. The goal was to merge the two into a perfect replica.

Oscar-winning MPC (“The Jungle Book”) was tasked with animating the 20-year-old Rachael. However, Villeneuve wanted a three-beat character arc for the new replicant when she encounters Deckard. First, she displays confidence and then longing before feeling rejected when realizing that she doesn’t measure up. The result was a major step in digital human animation.

“Star Wars: The Last Jedi”

For the first actual appearance of Supreme Leader Snoke, director Rian Johnson worked with Industrial Light & Magic on a complete redesign. He looked too ghoulish and zombie-like as the hologram in “The Last Jedi.” ILM got data capture of Serkis on set with Daisy Ridley (Rey) and Andy Driver (Kylo Ren).

"Star Wars: The Last Jedi"

“Star Wars: The Last Jedi”

However, the initial concept looked too frail and didn’t match the power of Serkis’ voice. So they resculpted the model, referencing Michael Fassbender and Steven Berkoff, and Ben Kingsley from ‘Sexy Beast.’” ILM made Snoke’s shoulders broader, straightened his back, and restructured his face. They also raised him from seven to eight-feet-tall.

“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2”

First, there was Baby Groot (Framestore made him softer, more alien-like, and quite the athletic dancer), but the other new wrinkle was Ego (Russell), a living planet that takes on human form. Weta Digital was challenged with creating the interior look of Ego, along with the various transformations during his climactic fight with son Peter Quill (Chris Pratt).

Baby Groot

“Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2”

This involved complicated mathematical patterns known as fractals (inspired by artist Hal Tenny, who served as a consultant). However, not only did Weta have difficulty controlling the fractals, but it also had to make them pliable in short order. To avoid an R rating for gore, Weta came up with particulate sand.

Meanwhile, Lola VFX handled the young Russell for the prologue, a 36-year journey back in time. Despite claims that it was achieved with special effects makeup, Lola, the masters of digital de-aging (“The Social Network”), once again handled it with nifty 2D compositing and 3D tracking, with the actor wearing a wig and the aid of a younger stand-in.

“Kong: Skull Island”

ILM went back to the 1933 original “King Kong” in designing the 100-foot gorilla for Jordan Vogt-Roberts’ “Apocalypse Now” riff. However, Kong was a hybrid of man and gorilla, and so ILM came up with the idea of a movie monster. He doesn’t walk on all fours and they had to find the right cadence and movement style to make it work.

“Kong: Skull Island”

The animation was entirely keyframed, using ILM’s Oscar-winning facial-capture and BlockParty procedural rigging systems. But, not surprisingly, fur posed the biggest challenge. Kong required a dedicated two-person team for thicker and more-realistic grooming, which also demanded a battle-weary look. That’s 19 million hairs, complicated by water interaction on the fur, achieved with the help of the water simulation team on a variety of looks. For ILM, it was the badass Kong.

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‘The Cloverfield Paradox’ Surprise Premiere Didn’t Make Much Of An Impact on Super Bowl Night


Nielsen has released its latest Netflix numbers, offering a snapshot of how the stealth launch of “The Cloverfield Paradox” performed — and it was no “Bright.”

“Cloverfield” averaged 784,579 viewers per minute on Sunday, February 4, premiering immediately after the Super Bowl ended. Netflix earned plenty of attention for the surprise launch — particularly for the fact that it used NBC’s airwaves to promote a show that might steer viewers away from the Peacock network immediately after the game.

Ultimately, NBC wasn’t hurt by the stunt, as the post-Super Bowl episode of “This Is Us” posted big numbers: The initial airing of the show’s “Super Bowl Sunday” episode averaged 26,987,000 viewers; after three days of DVR and VOD usage, that number went up to 32,702,000.

“Cloverfield” was ultimately watched by 2.8 million viewers in the first three days. That pales to the much heavier promoted “Bright,” which averaged 11 million viewers in the same timeframe. Granted, “Bright” benefited from a big-name star in Will Smith; but both “Cloverfield” and “Bright” were hit with negative reviews.

As always, Nielsen’s Netflix ratings are unofficial, and usually disputed by the streaming service as inaccurate. Nonetheless, here are the numbers Nielsen released for “The Cloverfield Paradox”:

  • Within the first three days of its availability (2/4-2/6), the film received an average minute audience of over 2.8 million U.S. viewers P2+.
  • Within the first seven days of its availability (2/4-2/10), the film received an average minute audience of over 5 million U.S. viewers P2+.
  • On its first day of availability (Sunday, 2/4), the film received an average minute audience of 784,579 U.S. viewers P2+.
  • On its second day of availability (Monday, 2/5), the film received an average minute audience of nearly 1.3 million U.S. viewers P2+.

And for “Altered Carbon”:

  • Within the first three days of its availability (2/2-2/4), the show received an average minute audience of over 1.2 million U.S. viewers P2+.
  • Within the first seven days of its availability (2/2-2/8), the show received an average minute audience of nearly 2.5 million U.S. viewers P2+.

“The Cloverfield Paradox” was a unique case in that its existence wasn’t officially confirmed until the Super Bowl, when the film’s first trailer announced its title and the fact that it would be released mere hours later.

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‘Transparent’ Drops Jeffrey Tambor — Why That May or May Not Put the Show in Jeopardy


Jeffrey Tambor is now officially out of “Transparent,” and he’s not happy about it.

“I am profoundly disappointed in Amazon’s handling of these false accusations against me,” Tambor said in a statement. “I am even more disappointed in Jill Soloway’s unfair characterization of me as someone who would ever cause harm to any of my fellow cast mates. In our four-year history of working together on this incredible show, these accusations have NEVER been revealed or discussed directly with me or anyone at Amazon. Therefore, I can only surmise that the investigation against me was deeply flawed and biased toward the toxic politicized atmosphere that afflicted our set. As I have consistently stated, I deeply regret if any action of mine was ever misinterpreted by anyone and I will continue to vehemently defend myself. I also deeply regret that this ground-breaking show, which changed so many lives, is now in jeopardy. That, to me, is the biggest heartbreak.”

The sexual harassment scandal surrounding Tambor’s exit, and Tambor’s counter allegations that he was railroaded by Amazon and Soloway, will cast a pall over the next season of “Transparent,” no matter what the series now does. Nonetheless, there is plenty of precedent for series continuing without their top star (Netflix’s “House of Cards” is undergoing similar adjustments). But what will that mean to the series and its fans? IndieWire’s TV team discussed where “Transparent” might go from here.

LIZ SHANNON MILLER: The news that “Transparent” has officially parted ways with its Emmy-winning star isn’t a huge shock, given that the allegations of sexual harassment regarding Jeffrey Tambor have circulated long enough without being disproved, and that creator Jill Soloway doesn’t seem like the type to tolerate that sort of behavior. But it does mean that the Amazon dramedy has a massive hurdle in front of it, as so much of “Transparent” was built around the personal journey of Maura.

Of course, the show has a strong ensemble behind it, featuring amazing performances from folks like Gaby Hoffman, Jay Duplass, Amy Landecker, Judith Light, and Kathryn Hahn. But Tambor competed in the Lead Actor in a Comedy category for a reason, and so many shows that have lost their default star have struggled to recover. From your perspective, Jude, if “Transparent” chooses not to move on and recast Maura, will the show survive?

JUDE DRY: I think the show has a loyal fan base that is eager to see if Soloway can rise to the challenge. Even though Season 4 did not rake in as many Emmy nods as previous seasons, Amazon still renewed the show, which means the viewership must be significant enough. Maura is the heart and soul of the show, and Tambor was excellent in the role, but fans have become equally as attached to the other characters. Maura is the backbone, but Ali (Gaby Hoffman) has been exploring gender fluidity throughout the last two seasons, wearing suits and beginning to use “they/them” pronouns.

Ali could easily take over as the show’s central trans character, although that still leaves the problem of Hoffman being cisgender. At this stage of the show’s life and the evolution of trans storytelling, there are far fewer genderfluid characters on TV, making it a ripe subject to explore. “Transparent” always took flak for the fact that Tambor is cis, and in a bittersweet way his departure may help the show with audiences who were critical for this very reason. If nothing else, audiences will be curious to see how the world of the show takes shape without Maura — at least enough to tune in.

"Transparent" - actress Gaby Hoffmann

MICHAEL SCHNEIDER: Looking at this from a strategic perspective, the departure of Tambor should at the very least conjure up some fresh interest in a show that had fallen out of the pop culture zeitgeist (much similar to what Netflix is about to experience with the final season of “House of Cards,” now that Robin Wright is the lead and Kevin Spacey is out of the picture). “Transparent” was an early critical and awards success for Amazon Prime, making it a valuable property in that sense — but it wasn’t believed to be a heavily viewed show, especially in its later seasons.

Amazon is moving somewhat away from character study shows like “Transparent” as it chases broader audiences with splashier franchises like “The Lord of the Rings.” That means series similar in scope like Tig Notaro’s “One Mississippi” and Soloway’s “I Love Dick” have already been canceled by the service, and “Transparent,” once the darling of Amazon Prime, is now more of a legacy show than a priority. But at least this now gives Soloway a chance to conjure up fresh interest in “Transparent” by seeing what comes next, and with it, more media attention.

Still, in the history of TV, these curiosity bumps are usually temporary. Series that lose the No. 1 on their call sheet mid-run can continue to carry on for some time after a switch in direction, but it’s often times never the same. (Usually it’s a death — like John Ritter in “8 Simple Rules” — or a contractural dispute, like Valerie Harper in “Valerie,” that forces such a change.) “Transparent” needed to mix things up, so this could be a blessing for the show — but the pressure’s on to come up with something big. (I personally liked Ben Travers’ idea of keeping Maura as a character, but replacing Tambor with an actual trans performer — not only would that make an important statement, but it would be a great opportunity to cultivate a new star.)

HANH NGUYEN: Approaching this purely from a recasting perspective, this is not the first time a main character has needed to be replaced in recent history. Recasting can be done, just as long as everyone else is in place and the story is strong enough. As Ben Travers had outlined, Maura could be recast with a transgender actress, which would be a win for representation. Another option could be to write out Maura and refocus on another, new transgender parent’s story. In particular, we can look to broadcast for successful ways to plug a new person into the ensemble.

BEN TRAVERS: As always, it’s important to remember the past when discussing the future. “Transparent” began as a personal story based on Soloway’s own experience with a trans parent: To move away from that central figure would be to change the show entirely, which certainly factors into the argument for recasting Maura, preferably with a trans actor. While it’s exciting to think about what Soloway & Co. can do with a new creative challenge — especially coming off their weakest, though far from bad, season yet — Maura’s story demands closure, and that could be hard to pull off without Maura returning in some form.

One maybe-not-too-crazy idea: If Maura died, moved, or otherwise left the show, “Transparent” has had great success using flashbacks. Perhaps the writers could use them again to provide closure for Maura’s final fate, using the past to frame what happens to her in the present.

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‘Strong Island’: Yance Ford’s Journey To Find the Cinematic Voice Needed To Tell the Story of His Brother’s Murder – Toolkit Podcast


The story of director Yance Ford’s brother William’s homicide quickly disappeared from the public view soon after he was killed in 1992.  Long Island newspapers wrote less than a combined 3000 words about the violent confrontation and subsequent court case, while Ford’s parents dropped their pursuit for justice after his killer was acquitted.

“In order to bring a civil suit for wrongful death you have to assign a dollar value to somebody’s life and my parents refused to do that,” said Ford when he was a guest in IndieWire’s Filmmaker Toolkit Podcast. “So in the absence of any other due process, in the absence of any other recourse, the choice that I had was to make this film. My producer Joslyn Barnes says it really well, ‘personal filmmaking is the language of the dispossessed.’ When you are left with no other recourse this is the path that you take.”

It was through this lens that informed many of Ford’s choices of how to use the camera in telling the story. His shot compositions were design to give the perspective that his interview subjects – mostly William’s family and friends – were in control of the frame. “It was always my intention [to] give the characters in the film the kind of authority that black characters don’t typically get in documentary film, which is to take a step back to allow these characters to inhabit their space [and] to put them in particularly meaningful spaces,” said Ford.

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For example, Ford shot his mother in the middle of her kitchen – the center of the home – and from a slightly lower angle so that we are looking up at her almost with reference as Ford establishes her as a voice of moral authority. As for what Ford refers to as his “Yance character,” he went into the process far less clear about what his screen role would be in the film, but never did he imagine he would  address of the audience in the intense close-up that create for some of the film’s most gripping moments.

“I certainly wasn’t thinking we would begin the movie with, ‘I’m going to ask these questions and if you aren’t comfortable with them you can get up and go,'” said Ford. “[There was the] question of how do you make a story about a murder that happened twenty-five years ago dramatic. How do you bring tension, how do you bring suspense – all the things that are vital and necessary to filmmaking – how do you bring those elements to a film when you don’t have any archival material? You don’t have any surveillance footage, you don’t have any body-cam footage because none of that existed in 1992. This sort of direct camera engagement was the way to create the kind of tension that otherwise been made possible with different elements and material we just didn’t have.”

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While these moments weren’t designed to make the audience feel comfortable, they were filmed in a way that kept Ford off-balance as well, as he was put behind a wall of sound blankets isolated from the rest of the crew. “My lighting is a very contained cone, my focus is very tight, so [it] made it even difficult for me to move,” said Ford. “So I’m as uncomfortable as I physically can be. I’ve got two tape marks on the lens that is poking through the blankets and that’s all I see.”

Shooting "Strong Island"

Shooting “Strong Island

Joslyn Barnes

On the other side the blankets were Barnes and Robb Moss (credited with a Special Thanks), both of whom Ford refers to as master interviewers, asking questions designed to get Ford to reveal things he had never said out loud before.

“There’s this whole soundtrack that I’ve had my entire life of things that I’ve never said before, things that people don’t know – like my brother’s room being this sanctuary as a queer kid, reading his playboy magazines,” said Ford. “But getting to the place where you are willing to tell the truth like that, or getting to the place where you are willing to say, ‘but he looks like every white man I’ve ever seen,’ requires a level of provocation by the interviewers. It was real. When I’m mad in those interviews, I’m genuinely angry at Robb for asking me those questions, or I’m genuinely angry at Jocelyn for asking me the questions.”

“Strong Island” is available on Netflix.  

The Filmmaker Toolkit podcast is available on Apple Podcasts, OvercastStitcherSoundCloud and Google Play Music. Previous episodes include:

The music used in this podcast is from the “Marina Abramovic: The Artist is Present” score, courtesy of composer Nathan Halpern.

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