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Great promos from BUG 19

Every other month Adam Buxton (of Adam and Joe fame) hosts BUG at BFI on the South Bank. BUG showcases the best creative work in music videos and sells out very quickly to an audience of promo directors, designers, producers and a sprinkling of general public.

The format is simple – Adam sits on stage with his laptop and rambles on about great pop promos, screens a batch of them and then browses through a load of inane YouTube comments about the videos, rinsing them for full comedy value.

He does this twice a month (for the month it’s on), with one of the nights featuring an on-stage interview with a promo director and the other BUG night (the director’s cut) the same but without the director interview.

Anyway, it’s a great night (co-organised by Promo News's David Knight) and, for those who missed out on last night’s BUG 19 Director’s Cut, here are a few of what, for me, were the highlights...

Probably the most impressive of all the videos was Paris production company One More Production’s director Patrick Jean’s Pixels. It’s a spectacular piece of work, which is listed under the ‘inhouse’ section of One More Production’s website so was clearly made for love not money. Having said that, this morning a press release went out from US production company Mothership to say Jean has been added to its roster for commercials work in the US, following the viral success of Pixels.

Furthermore, Jean is joining up with Adam Sandler's Happy Madison Productions to create a “big-screen version” of Pixels, with the plan to make a "Ghostbusters-style action comedy” where characters come out of a video game to wreak havoc in the real world.

Next up is Factory’s promo for New York singer-songwriter Diane Birch’s Valentino, directed by Dennis Liu. This meticulously planned one-shot video is super impressive and one of those ones that begs the question, 'How did they do that?' Fortunately, that mystery is solved in the behind the scenes video Factory has also handily put on YouTube.

Here’s the finished video.....

And here’s the behind the scenes reveal...

Adam Buxton was particularly proud to present the next highlight, Radical Media’s ever-changing interactive experiment for Johnny Cash's Ain’t No Grave. The reason for his excitement is one of his digital drawings features in the promo. The concept
is for visitors to the Johnny Cash Project website to choose a frame of the video and draw their own portrait of the scene.

All the submitted user artwork is then pieced together to form the finished video, and because new artwork is continually being submitted, the promo is never the same twice. Each piece of work has to be approved before it becomes part of the video, so while Buxton’s fairly convincing sketch of Cash made the cut, one of his other efforts from another frame of the video, which in all honesty was a bit rubbish, was rejected. He wasn’t at all bitter about the rejection either!

Click the image below to find out more and view the current Ain't No Grave video...

There were plenty of other inspiring videos shown last night, including Max Hattler’s art-inspired loops 1923 (aka Heaven) and 1925 (aka Hell) – see my earlier blog for more on these.

But the final one I’m going to finish with is the one Buxton finished the night with last night. It's a blast from the past from the Adam and Joe archives and a cheeky little warmer for the World Cup. Originally made way back in 1998, here's (click the image below) Adam and Joe’s ridiculous football video, the Footy Song. Enjoy!

For more on BUG, head to - the next two BUG nights will be at the BFI on 15 and 23 July. Thanks to Locomotion for getting me in last night, and well done on your consistently high quality title sequences for the event.

Posted 28 May 2010 by Jake Bickerton

Weta reveals Avatar vfx process

At an Autodesk-organised talk at BAFTA last week, Weta Digital’s head of layout and animation technologies Shawn Dunn spoke in detail about how the facility created the widely admired cg/vfx on Avatar.

On Dunn’s laptop was a treasure trove of goodies to get any Avatar fan hot under the collar. As well as a dozen or so hi-res scans of the original concept paintings of both the Avatars and Pandora, we were treated to footage of Sam Worthington and Zoe Saldana covered in markers, acting out scenes during the motion/performance capture shoot.

But much of the talk focused on a series of ‘template’ visualisation video clips created by James Cameron’s Lightstorm Entertainment facility.

These were handed over to Weta as a meticulously detailed reference for each of the scenes and look surprisingly similar to what ended up in the movie, albeit in much lower res and without anything like the elaborate detail, lighting and finishing touches.

Weta’s task was to take the many different elements of these ‘template’ videos and recreate them in the photo-real detail seen in the finished movie.

Dunn, who spent three and a half years working on the film, revealed Weta had a team of 900 working on the vfx/cg of Avatar at any one time. The company ended up creating 170 minutes of mostly fully-cg shots, and worked on 53 different characters.

Weta built a 4,300-machine render farm to handle the work
on Avatar, and created 10TB of data every day. There was a network of water pipes running around the render farm to try to keep it all cool, yet at one point Weta had to shut it down, concerned the place would catch fire after a big bit of metal somewhere in the render farm started smouldering under the pressure of the work.

Over the time it worked on the film, Weta built up a library of elements such as plants, trees, leaves, moss, insects, and so on, so the first step whenever it received a new ‘template’ from Lightstorm was to use proprietary-developed software to auto-scan through each scene and work out which elements it already had in its library and which needed to be created from scratch.

During the talk, Dunn confirmed Cameron was a real stickler for detail, to the point where he had very strict instructions as to the direction individual flies should move in scenes where there are hundreds of barely visible flies hovering around in the fog. Dunn said that most days Cameron would be on the phone for three to six hours to catch up on progress and talk through the next batch of work.

Posted 17 May 2010 by Jake Bickerton

Could this be your TV's new remote?

The humble TV remote’s days look to be numbered with manufacturers falling over themselves to come up with new, uncluttered pointing devices more able to cope with navigating the onslaught of new channels and video-on-demand content soon to be cluttering up programme guides once internet-delivered TV becomes the norm.

I was recently invited to have a go of a prototype of one such device; the Philips uWand. The first thing that strikes you is it has very few buttons and looks not unlike a Nintendo Wii controller. It works in a similar way too, being controlled by gestures, so when you tilt the uWand left or right the on-screen cursor whizzes off in that direction.

To select a programme, you point the uWand at the screen and rotate it to move the programme guide in that direction to locate the one you’re after, then click to select. You can add programmes to be recorded by just dragging and dropping them onto the on-screen ‘record’ box. It’s also possible to navigate around the Z axis of a 3d screen by moving the uWand forward and backwards.

Here's a slightly cheesy demo video of the uWand in action....

I initially found it quite fiddly and frustrating to make the uWand do what I wanted it to do. As with anything, though, after a bit of practice it gets easier to get a handle on. What makes things easier still is the ability to adapt the speed of the on-screen cursor to suit your needs.

Philips has user trialled the prototype uWand, and (naturally) reports back encouraging results. It gave 200 families in Amsterdam a Philips net TV along with a standard remote control. After a month, they were given the uWand instead of the standard remote and 75% preferred it. Their satisfaction ratings for the net TV also increasing from ‘fair’ to ‘good’.

The company is now looking to license the uWand technology to TV and set-top-box manufacturers.

Posted 12 May 2010 by Jake Bickerton

Uninterrupted panoramic London views from new TV studios

Are these the best views from any of London's many TV studios? These are the really rather impressive backdrops to the five high definition studios making up the Associated Press's new complex at The Penthouse, New Zealand House, 80 Haymarket, London.

The five HD studios, two of which are multi-camera setups, were unveiled at a launch party at the end of April. They have been built by AP Global Media Services, the video newsgathering facilities wing of the Associated Press.

The views from the different studios take in many of London's best-known landmarks, including Big Ben and the Houses of Parliament, Trafalgar Square, the West End, the City, London Eye and Buckingham Palace.

The studio complex includes editing facilities and high-speed fibre transmission links to the Associated Press's global satellite network.

The Associated Press hopes to attract production companies after recognisable London backdrops and believes the studios will become the "premier live shoot facility in London".

Posted 07 May 2010 by Jake Bickerton
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