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Fall 2012 Animation and VFX Movie Preview

James Gartler walks us through the big films still waiting to hit theatres in 2012.

As autumn leaves begin to fall, audiences will finally be able to see some of the most anticipated movies of 2012.  Among them, two remakes of films first seen in 1984 and four entries in popular film franchises.  Whether animated or live action, there looks to be an awful lot of eye-candy to take in, so let’s examine the various contenders.

Frankenweenie. Image ©2012 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Photo by: Leah Gallo.

Frankenweenie – October 5th 2012

You wouldn’t be wrong to call this one a passion project.  Decades after being fired from the Disney company for creating an odd black & white live action short film about a boy bringing his pooch back from the dead, Tim Burton has teamed up with his former employers to re-imagine the tale as a feature-length stop-motion extravaganza.  Frankenweenie – the first stop-motion flick to be released in IMAX 3D – features the vocal talents of Winona Ryder, Catherine O’Hara, Martin Landau and Martin Short with long-time collaborator Danny Elfman supplying the score.  Having recently seen many of the puppets and sets first-hand at the Toronto Fan Expo, I can attest to the level of detail present in the suburban town of New Holland, from the vintage records stacked in the Frankenstein family home to the tiny butterflies mounted on the wall of young Victor’s classroom.  Many are calling the film a return to form for Burton, whose recent live action efforts have met with mixed reviews.  According to a friend who caught a preview screening of the film, “it’s just as good, if not better than ParaNorman!”  I’ll definitely have to see it to believe it.

Taken 2. Image © 2012 Europacorp – M6 Films – Grive Productions. All rights reserved.

Taken 2 – October 5th 2012

This follow-up to the 2008 hit thriller sees Liam Neeson, Maggie Grace and Famke Janssen reprise their roles as a family caught up in the midst of another abduction, this time while vacationing in Istanbul.  Written and produced by Luc Besson, Taken 2 is directed by Olivier Megaton (taking over for Pierre Morel) with Philippe Hubin as special effects supervisor (taking over for Georges Demetrau).  Hubin has worked on some serious action adventures, like Transporter 3, The Da Vinci Code and The Bourne Identity, so it seems a safe bet this one will be equally slick.  Factor in some beautiful scenery, a couple of chase scenes and plenty of gunfire and you’ve got yourself another cautionary tale about spending too much time with a father who works for the FBI.

Cloud Atlas. Distributed domestically by Warner Bros. Pictures and in select international territories.

Cloud Atlas – October 26th 2012

Adapted from David Mitchell’s 2004 novel, this epic fantasy written and directed by Andy and Lana Wachowski (of Matrix fame) and Tom Tykwer (Run Lola Run) already has the distinction of being the most expensive independent film ever made, with a budget of $100 million.  Judging by the trailers, much of that money ended up on-screen.  Berlin-based RISE Visual Effects Studios had the challenge of helping to realize a variety of locales in different eras, including 1930s Belgium, California circa 1975 and a Korea of the not-so-distant future.  Though one reviewer has unfavorably likened that last environment to a “cartoon world…straight out of a video game”, most are hailing the effects in the picture as a bold step beyond the achievements of Avatar.  Toronto International Film Festival audiences even gave the picture a ten-minute standing ovation after it premiered last month.  Whether or not the 164-minute opus with six interweaving storylines will be considered more spectacle than substance in the eyes of the general public, however, remains to be seen.

Wreck-It Ralph. Image ©2012 Disney. All rights reserved.

Wreck-It Ralph – November 2nd 2012

Making his directorial debut, Rich Moore jumps head first into the world of video games with Disney’s Wreck-It Ralph, the story of an 8-bit bad guy who decides he’s sick of being the heavy.  As John C. Reilly’s Ralph makes his escape into other arcade games, he encounters a variety of new characters, like Sarah Silverman’s Vanellope von Schweetz and Jane Lynch’s Sergeant Calhoun, while bumping into familiar faces from classic fare like Street Fighter, Sonic the Hedgehog and Pac-Man.  Of all the environments glimpsed in the trailer, however, the world of Sugar Rush looks to be the most eye-popping.  It’s hard to imagine a better visual playground for animators than a cross between the high-octane action of Mario Kart and the sweetness of Candy land.  Should be quiet the rush. 

The Man With the Iron Fists. Image © 2012 Universal Studios. All rights reserved.

The Man With the Iron Fists – November 2nd 2012

Grammy Award-winning hip-hop producer RZA (aka Robert Fitzgerald Diggs) makes the leap into martial arts movie-making with this homage to the work of Hong Kong’s Shaw Brothers Studio.  Serving as writer, director and star, RZA tells the story of a blacksmith in feudal China who is forced to protect his community by literally punching his adversaries’ heads off.  The film co-stars Lucy Liu, Russell Crowe and Pam Grier, but the real draw is sure to be the Kill Bill-style action, imaginative weaponry and visual effects by Gradient FX and Post Matters.  With plenty of blood splattering and slo-mo battle scenes, Fists is sure to pack a punch in more ways than one.

Skyfall. Image © 2012 Danjaq, LLC, United Artists Corporation, Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc. All rights reserved.

Skyfall – November 8th in IMAX, 9th elsewhere

Bond films are known for their special effects sequences, whether hokey (a helicopter with a huge dangling buzz saw blades, anyone?) or harrowing (a sinking Venetian home).  Director Sam Mendes, however, seems eager to keep the drama in this latest installment focused on the relationship between Bond (Daniel Craig) and M (Dame Judy Dench), which is tested when one of her decisions inadvertently leaves him dead to the world.   For all the trademark train accidents and motorcycle chases one expects from a Bond film, Mendes has called in some special forces of his own, namely Cinesite, Lola Visual Effects, Double Negative, MPC and BlueBolt.  Fans will get to decide for themselves how their work measures up to previous spectacles in the history of James Bond’s adventures when Skyfall hits the big-screen – and for the first time, IMAX as well – next month.

Red Dawn. Image © 2009 Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Studios, Inc. All rights reserved.

Red Dawn – November 21st 2012

Dan Bradley, stunt coordinator on The Bourne Legacy and The Bourne Ultimatum, takes the director’s chair for this remake about a group of American teens defending their town from overseas invaders.  The original 1984 film starring Patrick Swayze was considered the most violent film at the time by the Guinness Book of World Records, and was the first US release to be given a PG-13 rating.  This one looks to have just as much gunfire and chaos.  While the ‘80s version featured Americans fighting off Soviet forces, however, this update had the Chinese pegged as the enemy until controversy grew to the point where it seemed likely to impact ticket sales in an important market.  In post-production, the enemy forces were altered to be Korean instead, resulting in what producer Trip Vinson calls “a scarier, smarter and more dangerous Red Dawn that we believes improves the movie.”

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn-Part 2. Photo: Andrew Cooper, SMPSP. © 2011 Summit Entertainment, LLC. All rights reserved.

The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn 2 – November 16th 2012

When Bella (Kristen Stewart), Edward (Robert Pattinson) and Jacob (Taylor Lautner) join forces in the final installment of the Twilight franchise, there’s bound to be hordes of fans both cheering and mourning the end of the romantic fantasy franchise begun in 2008.  The final chapter boasts a serious showdown between supernatural forces over the fate of Bella and Edward’s child, Renesmee (Mackenzie Foy), who the Volturi fear is an “immortal child” with dangerous powers.  Director Bill Condon says the girl’s abilities, however, won’t manifest themselves in quite the way audiences might expect.  “There are some visual things, but a lot of that is done through Carter Burwell’s score,” he explains.  To bring all the werewolves and vampires to life, however, Condon is relying on various effects houses, like Spin VFX, Tippett Studios, Hydraulx and Lola Visual Effects.

Rise of the Guardians. Image © 2012 DreamWorks Animation LLC. All rights reserved.

Rise of the Guardians – November 21st 2012

DreamWorks Animation has something special up its sleeve with this adaptation of William Joyce’s The Guardians of Childhood books.  For starters, they hired Hugh Jackman to voice a truly intimidating version of the Easter Bunny with his natural Aussie accent.  That alone seems reason enough to check this one out.  Pair him up with a silent Sandman, Alec Baldwin’s Russian-sounding Santa, Isla Fisher as the Tooth Fairy and Chris Pine as a young Jack Frost, and you’ve got the makings of a magical holiday crossover flick the likes of which we haven’t seen since The Nightmare Before Christmas.  Once again handling art direction duties is DreamWorks regular Max Boas (Kung Fu Panda, Shrek Forever After), with Peter Ramsey stepping into the role of director for the first time.  After spending two decades working his way up in the entertainment biz, Ramsey has the distinction of being the first African American to direct a big-budget CGI animated film.  Here’s hoping things go well for him on opening weekend. 

The Life of Pi. Image © 2012 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All rights reserved.

The Life of Pi – November 21st 2012

In this 3D feature based on Yann Martel’s award-winning novel, Ang Lee tells the story of a boy trapped at sea on a small boat with a Bengal tiger.  It’s hard to imagine how such a film would even be possible to make without the aid of state-of-the-art visual effects, and that’s reportedly exactly what Lee delivers.  After its debut at last month’s New York Film Festival, critics praised Pi’s “game-changing use of 3D” as the main reason why the picture is a serious contender in the Visual Effects category at next year’s Oscars.  Rhythm & Hues Studio, which has won that very award twice before for their work on 1998’s Babe and 2006’s The Golden Compass, would be wise to start setting aside some room on their trophy shelf.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. Image © 2012 Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. and Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Pictures, Inc.

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey – December 14th 2012

Anyone with even the slightest interest in fantasy and special effects is already counting down the days to the release of this first entry in the prequel trilogy to the Lord of the Rings films.  Though the project got off to a bit of a rough start in 2007, Peter Jackson eventually signed on to direct J. R. R. Tolkien’s tale of Bilbo Baggins, guaranteeing continuity with the previous movies.  Jackson’s Weta Digital (which has won no less than five Academy Awards for Best Visual Effects) will be bringing the magic of Middle Earth to life once again, and the motion capture technology famously used to transform Andy Serkis into Gollum will also turn Benedict Cumberbatch into the fearsome dragon, Smaug.  Shot using Epic cameras from the Red Digital Cinema Camera Company, the new 3D films will all run at 48 fps (frames per second) to allow for what the director calls, “hugely enhanced clarity and smoothness.”  Though this one’s sure to be a feast for the eyes, I’m just looking forward to seeing Sir Ian McKellen back in the robes of Gandalf the Grey.

Django Unchained. Image © 2012 The Weinstein Company.

Django Unchained – December 25th 2012

Quentin Tarantino is back with probably the most unlikely film to open on Christmas Day – a spaghetti western set in the pre-Civil War South about a slave who teams up with a Bounty Hunter to “kill white folks” in exchange for his freedom.  Jamie Foxx stars as the titular hero, alongside Christopher Waltz as Dr. King Schultz and host of others, notably Leonardo DiCaprio as a smug plantation owner.  Special effects artist Greg Nicotero, who has worked with Tarantino in the past, says that the director is sticking to his less-is-more approach with Django.  "There are not a lot of special effects. It's all about his actors and it's so cinematic for him. We don't shoot anything digital, he uses film, one camera, we don't have five cameras shooting. That's it. It's inspiring.”  It’s also certain to be a crowd-pleaser.

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James Gartler is a Canadian writer with a serious passion for animation in all its forms.  His work has appeared in the pages of Sci Fi Magazine, and at the websites EW.com and Newsarama.com.

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