ComicCon: The Benefit To Below-The-Line

M. Galas

Where can one view an LED glove worn by Michael Jackson and a model spaceship used on the film “Alien,” catch a sneak peak of disaster movie “2012” and obtain signatures from movie stars, directors, writers, and artists of all kinds?  ComicCon is that one stop shopping experience for fans of all things television, movies, gaming and comic book inspired.
 
To think of ComicCon only as a destination for science fiction fans dressed in costume presents a disservice to an educational experience for the below-the-line entrepreneur.  With sessions such as “Production Designers” featuring Stuart Blart, Scott Chambliss and Alex McDowell, “Costume Designers: Designing for Television Production” featuring Phillip Boutte Jr., Audrey Fisher, and Roland Sanchez, a how-to session on visual effects and character design presented by Bryan Tilman, and a zombie make-up session, those willing to learn have wide access to an accomplished group of professionals and experts.

ComicCon also offers an Art Show, were classic comic drawings from Tin Tin (Herge) and BIP Comix (R. Crumb) are on display alongside works by Chester Gould (Spencer Tracy) and William Gains (Mad Magazine).  Jewelry, models, and painted illustrations were also on display.

.Not to be forgotten are the extended screenings.  The crowd’s enthusiasm was evident for “Avitar,” “Iron Man 2” “New Moon”, as well as television highlights from “True Blood,”  “The Cleveland Show,” and many others.

ComicCon began with a preview night on July 22 and concluded on July 26th.  411 Publishing spent a few days at “The Con” to sample its offerings.  Below are some highlights from the show:

Panels: The Visionaries: James Cameron and Peter Jackson
Presented by Entertainment Weekly, Cameron and Jackson shared their opinions on the use of visual effects and 3D filmmaking to enhance a movie’s storytelling. 

Cameron stressed that effects such as motion capture were tools that replicated the actor’s performance and shouldn’t be thought of strictly as effects.  Piggybacking on this sentiment, Jackson expressed his dissatisfaction over actors who are overlooked because their physical presence is modified through motion capture.  He lamented the fact that Andy Serkis, who played Golum/Smeagol in the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, wasn’t properly recognized for his turn as Golum, because the character was seen as a special effect, not as an acting performance. 

Cameron feels the 3D elements help immerse the viewer in the story.  He feels what will open the market to the experience of 3D would be to convert movies such as “Titanic” or “Lord of the Rings” to 3D.  Once people see the experience in a blockbuster that has been loved and respected, they will embrace the technology more.

Film: “Angel of Death”
Sony Pictures Home Entertainment developed an interesting spin with its creation penned by Ed Brubaker, the comic writer of fare including “Captain America” and “Daredevil.”  The movie began as a series of episodes that were shown on Crackle.com.
 

“Sony was very hands-off because this was a new frontier,” said first-time director Paul Etheredge.  “Making the web series first allowed us to experiment with the characters more and to really jump right into the experience.”

“Angel of Death” was shot on the Red One.  Etheredge and producer John Norris observed side by side format comparisons and noticed the Red had the best color resolution.
   

“We really liked the ability we had to play with color,” said Etheredge.  “We were able to create a nice red stain finish on the film.  The Red cam also allowed us to tighten our shots for the web then expand them for the wide screen without compromising the image quality.”

Producer John Norris liked the production’s quick turn around.  “We spent three weeks in pre-production,” said Norris.  “We had some very quick turn-around, partly due to limited resources.”

“Angel of Death” marked stunt woman Zoe Bell’s first featured role as strictly an actress.
 

“I loved developing a character, and coming up with a back-story,” said Bell.  “Stunts have been my trade, but I would love to move more into acting roles.” For actor Doug Jones who’s appeared under heavy makeup and prosthetics in movies such as “Hell Boy,” “Pan’s Labyrinth,” and “Spider Man,” he “enjoyed having my own face.  It’s one of my few roles performed without makeup.” 
 

Television: “The Simpson’s” 20th Anniversary Special
To celebrate the 20th anniversary of "The Simpsons," which was inducted into the Guinness Book of World Records during ComicCon, a special audition was held.  Supposedly, everyone would audition before documentary director Morgan Spurlock to fill a guest role on a January 2010 episode.  After being auditioned by a few casting assistants who asked what impressions you could do, what your favorite line was (“Going cold turkey isn’t as delicious as it sounds” was my top pick), what character you identify with and why you thought "The Simpsons" were still on the air, I anxiously waited for my audition.  After a few hours, I learned Mr. Spurlock hadn’t arrived and I’d be called in when he was ready.  Although I thought I had a tight hook by saying “My name is Marge but I’m really Homer.  My life is run by food and clumsy mishaps,” I never got a callback.  Mr. Spurlock, if you’re reading, I’m still available!
 
The Comic Book: Level 26
“Level 26” is much more than a comic book.  Throughout the story, readers will find embedded codes that, when entered into the Level 26 website,  will provide videos corresponding to the story.  Developed by “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation’s” writer/producer Anthony Zuiker and produced in association with EQAL, an online provider behind internet sensations including “LonelyGirl 15” and “Harper’s Globe,” “Level 26” intends to bring the comic book reader into a multi-platform world.

“The incentive for the reader is having an outlet that provides a high quality production value, and brings the experience of what they are reading to life in three minute segments,” said Zuiker.  “It’s about heightening the experience of the writing.” 

Multiple camera formats are utilized in the online production; Red One, 8 mm, and the Fischer Price PixelVision.  Scenes are shot in either black and white or color.

“We have a high shooting standard with little waste of money or time,” said Zuiker.  “We shoot on location.  The first series of episodes were shot over ten fourteen-hour days for a budget of around $200,000.”

The comic comes out on September 8th and the website launched July 24th.  Within hours of the site’s introduction, 10,000 people logged on, and there were over 100 comments posted.
 

The DVD Release:  "The Watchmen" Director’s Cut
Zack Snyder was in good spirits as his hotel room filled with reporters looking for tidbits on a “300” sequel (“I could duplicate the process of making 300, but I won’t make a movie until a graphic novel is written.”) or whether Vanessa Hudgins will appear naked in Snyder’s upcoming “Sucker Punch.”  (“No.”)

Snyder was especially interested in speaking about the extended DVD edition of “The Watchmen. “

“I didn’t delete scenes in this movie, I had to make the film shorter,” explained Snyder.  “The length of the movie I wanted to present wasn’t practical for the market place.  The super deluxe extended edition comes with the Black Freighter footage restored.  It’s a little experimental, and will present an entirely different experience to the viewer.”

After a very short ten minutes, we were asked to leave.  Before heading out, Snyder responded to a question about conforming “The Watchmen” to a 3D format.

“Plasmas now are built with 3D capacity, so sure, why not.” said Snyder.  “That decision is ultimately the studios.”

The Software: Anime Studio
Out on the show floor, the makers of Anime Studio provided a demonstration of their software.  Creating a simple starfish, “bones” were added into the legs at flex points.  The legs were bent in synchronized patterns, and with each bend, a frame was exported into a timeline. In less than three minutes, a ten second looped animated video was created.  For anyone who was taught traditional animation, this is truly amazing.

The program consisted of full palettes, brush strokes, fill effects, backgrounds and basically everything one would need to fully develop animation.  The program is used by animation artists at Nickelodeon, FX and Cartoon Network and comes in a beginner and advanced version.