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    Game of Thrones star Michelle Fairley has joined the cast of the currently-in-production 24: Live Another Day miniseries, where she's set to take over "a major role" as the British widow of a notorious terrorist after Judy Davis (A Passage to India) was forced to pull out for personal reasons.

    24: Live Another Day sees Jack Bauer trying to prevent a terrorist attack on the streets of London, with Kiefer Sutherland joined in the cast by returning stars Mary Lynn Rajskub (Chloe O'Brian), Kim Raver (Audrey Raines) and William Devane (James Heller) and new additions Yvonne Strahovski (Dexter), Benjamin Bratt (Law & Order), Giles Matthew (Jobs), Michael Wincott (The Crow), Stephen Fry (The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug), Tate Donovan (Damages), Gbenga Akinnagbe (Graceland), Giles Matthey (True Blood) and Colin Salmon (Arrow).

    24: Live Another Day is set to get underway on May 5th. Watch the first teasers and trailer here.

    Why not head on over to our newly-launched Flickering Myth Forum to discuss this story, or anything else that takes your fancy...

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    Ben Kingsley "wasn't worried" about The Mandarin twist
    Iron Man 3 might have kicked off Phase Two of the Marvel Cinematic Universe with a bang last year, but one aspect of the film that split fans was 'The Mandarin Twist', whereby - SPOILERS - Ben Kingsley's villain was actually revealed to be a drunken British actor portraying a role at the behest of Guy Pearce's Aldrich Killian. Obviously this was a huge departure from the source material, but star Ben Kingsley has revealed that he "wasn't worried" about how fans might react to the big reveal.

    "I wasn't worried. I truly wasn't worried," Kingsley told The Huffington Post during a promotional interview for the Thor: The Dark World One-Shot All Hail the King. "When I worked a lot in the theater before I became heavily involved in movies, which I love, I was privileged to play a lot of Shakespearian roles that most people in the audience were familiar with and everyone has their preconception of ... so, it had to be my Mandarin. It had to be my Trevor. I think that what I'm saying is that I tend to take on the character and not be concerned too much about the audience's reaction to how I'm portraying it and which direction I'm going. So, I didn't even think of the twist. I thought f it as one whole balanced acting exercise. So, if it's naive of me, I apologize. But, it didn't worry me that, 'Ooh, this might be rejected.'"

    Kingsley then went on to discuss the reaction to the twist, stating that: "I can only respond by congratulating Kevin Feige, Drew Pearce and Shane Black on holding their nerve -- on holding their nerve right through the shoot. When I came back to do some little tidy up reshoots, I thought, Oh, they're still holding their nerve. This is still Trevor and the Mandarin. And to hold your nerve as a Marvel Comics filmmaker is great. They did. If they would have wobbled, I would have been dead in the water. They held their nerve. Terrific. And I think you're right -- I don't get too heavily involved with feedback; I express and then I'm done. I paint my portrait and then I put my brushes down and I walk away. But it has filtered through to me in a gentle way that very, very, very few people indeed were upset by that twist. Even avid Marvel fans, they went along with it."

    Were you a fan of the Mandarin Twist, or should Marvel have stuck to the source material? Let us know your thoughts...

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    Chris Evans is set to return for his third outing (or fourth, if you're including cameos) as Captain America in the upcoming solo sequel Captain America: The Winter Soldier this Spring, and speaking to SFX, co-director Joe Russo has spoken about the decision to revamp Steve Rogers' uniform with a take on the recent Captain Rogers outfit...

    "It was about a real world grounding approach to the character, in the spirit of Ed Brubaker’s book, which is postmodern and deconstructionist and a grounded thriller. We wanted to put Cap in a space where he’s a special forces operative for S.H.I.E.L.D. who goes on missions around the world that are clandestine and sometimes require a certain level of anonymity or stealth. We wanted to use his Super Soldier outfit from the comic books as a way to represent, thematically, his place in the world of S.H.I.E.L.D. and the difference between working for S.H.I.E.L.D. and being Captain America. That’s something that gets explored on a very concrete level in terms of what outfits are used in the film. We didn’t feel like we were messing with the icon. People can say that they’re fans of the books if they’re only loyal to the ‘60s and ‘70s version of the character – well, then you’re a fan of that version of the character, but if you’ve been reading the books till the current runs then this is a journey that the character goes on and it’s a pretty explicit journey. We just felt like we were being faithful to the more recent issues of the books. The movie has a very thematic component in terms of the use of costumes. When you come to see the film I think you’ll understand why we made the choice we made."

     Be sure to pick up the latest issue of SFX for an exclusive look at the Captain America sequel.

    Captain America: The Winter Soldier also stars Scarlett Johansson (Black Widow), Sebastian Stan (Bucky Barnes / The Winter Soldier), Samuel L. Jackson (Nick Fury), Cobie Smulders (Agent Maria Hill), Hayley Atwell (Peggy Carter), Toby Jones (Arnim Zola) and Maximiliano Hernandez (Agent Jasper Sitwell) alongside franchise newcomers Anthony Mackie (The Hurt Locker) as Sam Wilson / Falcon, Emily VanCamp (Revenge) as Sharon Carter / Agent 13, Frank Grillo (Zero Dark Thirty) as Brock Rumlow / Crossbones, George St-Pierre (Death Warrior) as Georges Batroc / Batroc the Leaper, and Robert Redford (All Is Lost) as Alexander Pierce. The film opens in the UK on March 26th and in North America on April 4th.

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    Jack Black (Kung Fu Panda, Bernie) and James Marsden (X-Men, Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues) look set to team up for comedy The D-Train.

    Black will star as a high school reunion committee chairman still searching for acceptance who has to do whatever it takes to get the most popular guy from high school (Marsden) to show up to the 20 year reunion. Screenwriter Mike White will also star alongside Nat Faxon (The Way Way Back).

    Mike White and Jack Black collaborated on the endlessly brilliant School of Rock and hopefully The D-Train carries the charm of their previous works.

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    Christoph Waltz to star in Tulip Fever
    Two-time Oscar winner Christoph Waltz (Inglourious Basterds, Django Unchained) is set to star in Tulip Fever, a love story set in 17th century Holland at a time in which a single bunch of tulips would sell for as much as 10 times the average annual salary. According to The Hollywood Reporter, the film "details the story of love affair between a man and a woman at a time when Dutch painters were creating paintings that would go on to become dubbed masterpieces."

    Tulip Fever is based on the novel by Deborah Moggach and is to be directed by Justin Chadwick (Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom). Waltz set to star alongside BAFTA Rising Star nominee Dane DeHaan (The Amazing Spider-Man 2) and Anna Karenina star Alicia Vikander. Pre-production is set to begin this April.

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    With The Hunger Games series coming to a close next year, Lionsgate have signalled towards Jeanne Ryan's novel Nerve as the latest promising YA property, with Catfish directors Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman signing on to direct. The synopsis for Nerve is as follows:

    "When Vee is picked to be a player in NERVE, an anonymous game of dares broadcast live online, she discovers that the game knows her. They tempt her with prizes taken from her ThisIsMe page and team her up with the perfect boy, sizzling-hot Ian. At first it’s exhilarating–Vee and Ian’s fans cheer them on to riskier dares with higher stakes. But the game takes a twisted turn when they’re directed to a secret location with five other players for the Grand Prize round. Suddenly they’re playing all or nothing, with their lives on the line. Just how far will Vee go before she loses NERVE?"

    Joost and Schulman are currently in pre-production on an untitled thriller for Blumhouse, so it can be expected that Nerve will be their next film.

    Why not head on over to our newly-launched Flickering Myth Forum to discuss this story, or anything else that takes your fancy...

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    After dropping an international trailer and new poster earlier this week, Warner Bros. has now debuted a brand new full-length trailer for Transcendence, the directorial debut of regular Christopher Nolan cinematographer Wally Pfister (The Dark Knight Trilogy, Inception), and you can check it out here after the official synopsis...

    Dr. Will Caster (Johnny Depp; The Lone Ranger) is the foremost researcher in the field of Artificial Intelligence, working to create a sentient machine that combines the collective intelligence of everything ever known with the full range of human emotions. His highly controversial experiments have made him famous, but they have also made him the prime target of anti-technology extremists who will do whatever it takes to stop him.

    However, in their attempt to destroy Will, they inadvertently become the catalyst for him to succeed—to be a participant in his own transcendence. For his wife Evelyn (Rebecca Hall; Iron Man 3) and best friend Max Waters (Paul Bettany;
    Iron Man 3), both fellow researchers, the question is not if they can...but if they should.

    Their worst fears are realized as Will's thirst for knowledge evolves into a seemingly omnipresent quest for power, to what end is unknown. The only thing that is becoming terrifyingly clear is there may be no way to stop him.

    Featuring in the cast alongside Depp, Hall and Bettany are Morgan Freeman (The LEGO Movie), Kate Mara (House of Cards), Cillian Murphy (The Dark Knight Rises), Clifton Collins Jr. (Star Trek) and Cole Hauser (A Good Day to Die Hard).

    Transcendence is set to open on April 17th.

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    Disney and Lucasfilm have given us our first look at another new character set to feature in the upcoming animated series Star Wars Rebels, revealing a first look image and featurette via USA Today that's centred around the 'Cowboy Jedi' Kanan, voiced by Freddie Prinze Jr. (Scooby-Doo, 24)...

    "He's been forced to shove a massive part of his life under the bed, so to speak," says Prinze, discussing his character's position after the events of Order 66 in Revenge of the Sith. "Is he living a lie? At a certain point, the lie kind of becomes the reality. And to suddenly be forced back into your Jedi ways, it'd be a bit of a challenge for him. And pretty awesome, too, when you can see what a Jedi can actually do. He definitely has seen more than what a young man should see. And what he had to see was pretty much the worst thing you would have to witness."

    Star Wars Rebels is set to air on Disney XD later this year, with a voice cast that also includes David Oyelowo (Lee Daniels' The Butler), Vanessa Marshall (Justice League: The Flashpoint Paradox), Taylor Gray (Bucket and Skinner's Epic Adventures) and Steve Blum (The Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes). 

    Why not head on over to our newly-launched Flickering Myth Forum to discuss this story, or anything else that takes your fancy...

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    It's been a busy week for DC casting on the small screen; we've heard that Ben McKenzie (Southland), Sean Pertwee (Dog Soldiers), Robin Lord Taylor (Another Earth), Zabryna Guevara (The Guilt Trip) and Erin Richards (Being Human) have all joined Fox's Gotham pilot [see here and here], while The CW added Tom Cavanagh (Ed) to the cast of The Flash [see here]. And now we've got another addition to the upcoming Arrow spin-off, with John Wesley Shipp - star of the 90s Flash series - joining the pilot in an-as-yet unrevealed recurring role.

    Shipp becomes the latest name to join Grant Gustin's Barry Allen in The Flash pilot, with other names attached including Candice Patton (The Game) as Iris West, Jesse L. Martin (Law & Order) as Iris' father Detective West, Danielle Panabaker (Friday the 13th) as Caitlin Snow / Killer Frost, Rick Gosnett (The Vampire Diaries) as Eddie Thawne and Broadway star Carlos Valdes as Cisco Ramon / Vibe. Filming on the David Nutter-directed pilot is set to get underway at the end of March, so stay tuned to Flickering Myth for more updates as they come.

    Why not head on over to our newly-launched Flickering Myth Forum to discuss this story, or anything else that takes your fancy...

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    CBS have announced their first major casting for their upcoming spin-off of How I Met Your Mother, with Greta Gerwig (Frances Ha) set to play the lead role in How I Met Your Dad.

    The 30 year old has also been announced as a producer and in the event of the pilot being taken up for a full series will also be given some writing duties.

    Gerwig is set to portray Sally- described as a female Peter Pan, she has no clue where her life is going and discovers she has nothing really in common with her husband after less than a year of marriage.

    The show is due to use the same formula as in HIMYM and will take the story from Sally’s point of view, with a new set of characters some of whom are expected to appear in the 1 hour series finale of HIMYM on March 31st.

    What do you think of this casting? Can Gerwig help this spin-off be as successful as the predecessor? Let us know your thoughts....

    Why not head on over to our newly-launched Flickering Myth Forum to discuss this story, or anything else that takes your fancy...

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    Thursday 13th February at 2pm, the BFI is set to host an exciting European web event.

    Following the screening of BAFTA winning director Paul Wright’s debut feature For Those in Peril, The Guardian’s Danny Leigh will moderate a post-screening question and answer session with the film’s director and BAFTA EE Rising Star nominee George MacKay.

    FOR THOSE IN PERIL tells the story of Aaron (Mackay) who is the lone survivor of a fishing trip that claimed the lives of five men including his older brother, Michael (Jordan Young). Spurred on by sea-going folklore and local superstition the village blames Aaron for this tragedy, making him an outcast amongst his own people. Steadfastly refusing to believe that his brother Michael is dead, and possessed by grief, madness and magic, Aaron sets out to recover him. The feature was filmed on location in Gourdon, Scotland and alongside MacKay and Young, stars Kate Dickie (Red Road, Prometheus) and Nichola Burley (Donkey Punch).

    Whilst the event on the South Bank is not open to the general public, organisers are inviting the public to participate by logging into the event remotely at:

    London and Lisbon: 3:30pm
    Paris, Amsterdam and Stockholm: 4:30pm
    Warsaw: 5:30pm

    To tune into the event visit: and submit your questions via Twitter with the hashtag #FTIPLIVE

    Released in the Netherlands and Poland in January, For Those in Peril will receive its French theatrical release on 12th February following its earlier 22nd January VOD release. The UK DVD release is slated for 3rd March on DVD, which will be followed by a release in Italy on 6th March and Portugal 23rd March (TBC).

    FOR THOSE IN PERIL is part of the Tide Experiment, a grouping of companies within the film distribution chain who aim to release four films in five countries via both VOD and theatrical day-and-date. The objective is to ensure the best possible exposure for the film through multi-territories released across multi-platforms. Please see a link to the Tide Experiment website: and Facebook page:

    For more information on For Those in Peril visit: or visit the film’s Facebook page:

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    There's less than three weeks to go before Bates Motel reopens its doors for its second season, and A&E has released a new trailer for the hit series, which you can check out after the official synopsis....

    "In season two of “Bates Motel,” executive producers Carlton Cuse (“Lost”) and Kerry Ehrin (“Friday Night Lights”) dig deeper into the twisted world of the Bates family. Picking up from last season, Norman (Freddie Highmore) is fixating on Miss Watson’s death while Norma’s mysterious past starts to haunt the family with the introduction of her brother. Meanwhile, Norman’s brother Dylan, (Max Thieriot), gets more entrenched in the familial drug war that fuels White Pine Bay and finds himself right in the middle of the danger as Bradley (Nicola Peltz), who remains on the hunt to uncover her father’s killer, is driven to precarious extremes. Sheriff Romero (Nestor Carbonell), is caught up on all fronts as everything in town escalates and Emma (Olivia Cooke) complicates her relationship with Norman as the duo explore new love interests, bringing new and old characters along for the ride."

    Bates Motel season 2 gets underway on March 3rd on A&E.

    Why not head on over to our newly-launched Flickering Myth Forum to discuss this story, or anything else that takes your fancy...

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    UK box office top ten and analysis for the weekend of Friday 7th January to Sunday 9th February 2014....

    DreamWorks Animation's Mr. Peabody & Sherman topped the UK box office in its opening weekend, fending off competition from RoboCop, Dallas Buyers Club and previews of The LEGO Movie to claim first place with a solid £3,916,559.

    Elsewhere, Jose Padilha's RoboCop claimed second, banking £2,410,948 to knock Martin Scorsese's The Wolf of Wall Street down into third after three weeks atop the chart. Meanwhile, Dallas Buyers Club opened in fourth place with £1,086,938, while a live stream of the opera Rusalka claimed tenth place with £277,460.

    Number one this time last year: Wreck-It Ralph

    1. Mr. Peabody & Sherman, £3,916,559 weekend (New)
    2. RoboCop, £2,410,948 weekend (New)
    3. The Wolf of Wall Street, £1,604,519 weekend; £17,762,017 total (4 weeks)
    4. Dallas Buyers Club, £1,086,938 weekend (New)
    5. 12 Years a Slave, £893,948 weekend; £15,452,193 total (5 weeks)
    6. Frozen, £518,352 weekend; £37,096,328 total (10 weeks)
    7. That Awkward Moment, £480,796  weekend; £1,883,463 total (2 weeks)
    8. Lone Survivor, £389,315  weekend; £1,633,087 total (2 weeks)
    9. American Hustle, £284,291 weekend; £12,786,173 total (6 weeks)
    10. Rusalka: Met Opera, £277,460 weekend (New)


    This week sees several wide releases arriving in UK cinemas, including the animated family comedy The LEGO Movie (cert. U) [read our review here], Nick Frost / Rashida Jones salsa-dancing rom-com Cuban Fury (cert. 15), George Clooney's latest directorial effort The Monuments Men (cert. 12A), Spike Jonze's Her (cert. 15), Disney animation Tinker Bell and the Pirate Fairy (cert. U), and romance Endless Love (cert. 12A) starring Alex Pettyfer and Gabriella Wilde.

    Why not head on over to our newly-launched Flickering Myth Forum to discuss this story, or anything else that takes your fancy...

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    Yesterday we brought you the first character posters for Noah featuring Russell Crowe (Man of Steel) and Jennifer Connelly (Requiem for a Dream) [see here], and now it's the turn of Ray Winstone (Snow White and the Huntsman) and Logan Lerman (Percy Jackson), who are the subjects of the latest one sheets for the Darren Aronofsky-helmed Biblical epic...

    "NOAH is a close adaptation of the Biblical story of Noah’s Ark. In a world ravaged by human sin, Noah is given a divine mission: to build an Ark to save creation from the coming flood."

    Noah is set for release on March 28th, with a cast that also includes Douglas Booth (Romeo and Juliet), Emma Watson (Harry Potter), Anthony Hopkins (Thor: The Dark World), Kevin Durand (Resident Evil: Retribution), Nick Nolte (Warrior), Frank Langella (Robot & Frank), Maddison Davenport (The Possession), Mark Margolis (Breaking Bad), Marton Csokas (Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter) and Dakota Goyo (Real Steel).

    Why not head on over to our newly-launched Flickering Myth Forum to discuss this story, or anything else that takes your fancy...

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    Trevor Hogg chats with Matt Aitken about a shape-shifter, Elves who live underground, and the awakening of a dragon named Smaug....

    Matt Aitken
    “We grew fast at the beginning of Weta Digital and by that stage there wasn’t the expertise within the country to grow the company as fast as we had to,” explains Weta Digital Visual Effects Supervisor Matt Aitken who was one of the native New Zealanders working for the company during the production of The Lord of the Ringstrilogy.  “But since the time of Rings we have been actively working recruiting local graduates.  We have our own in-house training program and the percentage of the crew that is Kiwi is growing all of the time.”  The opportunity to pursue visual effects as a career enabled the Oscar nominee to merge his different interests.  “I pursued Mathematics as my first degree and have always been interested in technology and early computer programming when I was in high school.  At the same time I was making movies in my spare time, and studied Fine Arts in high school and Art History in college.  Computer Graphics for film brought everything together for me in way that was incredibly exciting; I’ve found that to be grounding.  The last piece of production code I wrote was the foliage system for the Ent characters in the second Lord of the Rings [2002]film.  I’ve moved on but that knowledge informs everything we do here day-to-day.  For all of the artistry that we do here there is a technological input into it.  I find it incredibly useful.” Aitken worked as a Digital Model Supervisor for the initial visit to Middle-earth by filmmaker Peter Jackson (Heavenly Creatures).  “I remember a watershed moment for us was Dwarrowdelf and the environment around Balin’s tomb which was inside the mountain for the first Lord of the Rings film; it was the first entirely digital environment that we had created for a film.”

    “I’m certainly an avid fan of The Hobbit and reread it to my daughter as preparation for working on this trilogy,” states Matt Aitken who served as a visual effects supervisor on The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug.  “Tolkien wrote The Hobbit initially as a story for his own daughter when she was quite young.  By the time he came to write The Lord of the Rings his children were older and he himself had developed.  Definitely The Lord of the Rings is for a more mature audience.  But then my understanding was that he was working on a revised version of The Hobbit for an adult audience.”  Details were also expanded by the creator of the fantasy tale in regards to the Necromancer who is briefly mentioned in The Hobbit.  “All of the backstory of when Gandalf goes off and leaves the company of Bilbo and the dwarfs; in the original book we never get to see where he goes but that was all fleshed out by Tolkien in the appendixes in order to connect it to the work he had done with The Lord of the Rings.  It was great source material for the version of The Hobbit that Peter wanted to make.”

     Assisting Peter Jackson in bringing the story which features a wizard, a hobbit, a company of dwarves, stolen treasure, and a greedy talking dragon to the big screen is Weta Digital which like with The Lord of the Rings is responsible for the visual effects for the trilogy.  “The only other case I can think of where a single visual effects house does all of the work on the show is ILM [Industrial Light & Magic] with the Star Wars movies,” notes Matt Aitken.  “Between these shows we do work on other projects. In 2013 we worked on Iron Man 3, Man of Steel, The Wolverine and The Hunger Games: Catching Fire.  Peter originally set-up Weta Digital to be available to him as a local, responsive and focused facility for the work he wanted to do.” Aitken adds, “We’ve worked with Peter on so many projects now that lot of it can go unspoken.  The workflow is well established.  We have daily reviews.  Peter has always pushed us to the highest level of quality and never for us to rest on our laurels and rely on past techniques to get us through.”

    Overseeing The Hobbittrilogy are the Weta Digital duo of Senior Visual Effects Supervisor Joe Letteri (Avatar) and Visual Effects Supervisor Eric Saindon (Fantastic 4: Rise of the Silver Surfer) who selected the different visual effects supervisors responsible for the various sequences.  “It’s a complex thing because a lot of that stuff was determined back in the day when The Hobbit was going to be two films,” explains Matt Aitken.  “We had a map of the broad expanse of the visual effects work and things were divided up to balance the workload.  When it went to being three films and some of the material that was in the latter part of film one became the first half of film two.  The work I was initially assigned at the end of film one which was the shape-changer Beorn and the sequences with Thranduil, the Elf King and his kingdom.   I had already done some work setting them up before the material went from being in film one to film two so I carried on.”

    “When Bilbo first sees Beorn he’s in his bear form chasing and harassing him and the dwarves but also protecting them from the Orcs,” states Matt Aitken.  “We do have one shot where Beorn walks into the house and Biblo sees him in his human form.   Typically werewolf transformations have been done in cinema as sequences where you stop the action of the film.  We didn’t feel like showing that again but still had to make the point that the guy you see is the bear in the human form.  It was a lot of creature rigging to make a version that could blend all the way from the bear to the human form.  That’s not just his shape but also includes everything like the fur has to be able to shrink away, the human hair grow out, and his eyes had to go from the bear to humans eyes.  Once we had all of that encapsulated into a creature rig that supported the transformation and a digital puppet which had a slider control with one end being the bear and the other end being the human, we gave those to our animation team.  They spent a lot of time refining the performance aspect and split up the parts of his body that transform so it’s not like an overall bear through to human transformation.  Parts of him go at different times so there’s a beat where Beorn lifts his head up to the sky and roars.  When Beorn drops his head back down he has transformed from the bear head to human head.  It’s carefully nuanced through the time of the transformation.  Once that performance was down we were able to apply the animation to the creature rig and the shot fell into place.  It helped that we were staging in an entirely digital environment.  We had initially had thought that we would judiciously place trees and bushes to glimpse the transformation but then at a certain point the animation was being reviewed with Peter and he said, ‘Lets stripe all of the foliage away.  Keep a couple of trees but lets see it clearly all the way through.  We’ll figure out what parts aren’t working we can add a bush or tree there.’  We worked out the animation and got to a point where he was happy with it.  We didn’t add anything back in.”

    “The Woodland Elves have their underground kingdom and it’s the part of Mirkwood that is insulated from this disease that turned the beautiful greenwood into a twisted corrupted, and unpleasant place,” remarks Matt Aitken when discussing the creation of Thranduil’s Realm.  “The elves had their lighting sources which are these amber oil filled lanterns which cast a nice warm flickering glow around the place but we had to augment it with a broader and more natural light to be able to read the expanse of the space.  The part of the realm where Thandruil has his throne is huge; it’s several hundred metres long.  The balance we tried to strike there was to have a sense of daylight filtering in without ever seeing the source of that daylight.  We never revealed places were the walls of the realm were open and exposed to the outside areas.  We never saw direct daylight or foliage.  We played it as if it was tucked around corners and further away.  It was a soft wash of light that played down from above and enabled us to reveal the expanse of the realm but still keep that being of being underground and away from the outside.  In a way it’s safe.  The Orcs are prowling outside and it was important that the place felt secure.”  A lot of water exists in Thranduil’s Realm.  “There were many custom water simulations we had to run for that environment from the current that is cascading underneath the bridge when the elves march the dwarves into the kingdom at the start to the streams that exist all the way through the environment.  It was important because Peter wanted to establish that there was water around so it wasn’t odd that this was an avenue of escape.  It’s the way the company escapes from the kingdom by jumping into the barrels and riding that river out of the kingdom.  That’s why he felt it was important to establish that there was water around the outside but also running through the kingdom.  It’s nice.  It provides you with a nice visual detail.  There are sound cues you can work off of."

    “There are sets that are extended but they’re often minimal,” reveals Matt Aitken.    “The throne area set consisted of a floor, a low wall and the throne itself.  The cells that the dwarves are locked up in there are practical sets for those but that’s within the vicinity of the cells themselves and everything beyond that is an entirely digital build.” The amount of green screen required is not a major topic of discussion.  “Dan Hennah [The Warrior's Way], who is the production designer on The Hobbit, and I have worked together on projects that predate The Lord of the Rings with Peter.  We have a workflow that has been established over the nearly 20 years we have worked with each other on sets.  We don’t need to do a lot of discussing about it which is a wonderful thing.  Dan builds the stuff that people lean up against or touch.  Everything else hands off to green screen.”  World building requires an intricate design process in order to make the environments believable.  “Getting a lot of detail into the geometry and textures so that it feels like it’s got all of the natural complexities of the real world,” observes Matt Aitken.  “You can’t shortcut that stuff.  Making sure that if you want a surface to look like rough rock then it has to have a lot of fine level sharp edge rocky detail.  You reference nature.  We have a huge library of photographs that the crew has taken of nature from all around the world.”

    Peter was keen to make Smaug huge and he’s twice the size of a 747 jumbo jet,” states Matt Aitken.  “Peter had a lot of fun revealing that scale in the film.  We had to build a creature that worked to sell the sense of that scale.  How his muscles were built, the scale of all of the surface details, and the way he moved.  Smaug couldn’t move like a puppy he had to lumber.  We drive the skins of our creatures by simulated biomechanical musculature and skeleton rigs.  The animators will key frame animate the skeleton and the movement of the skeleton will drive the simulation of the muscles.  The muscles will flex and bulge according to what the skeleton is doing and get the secondary dynamics in the movement of the skin.  What we found with a creature the size of Smaug it wasn’t enough to do it that way.  We had to show the muscles firing before the creature started to move so you would see the muscles in his legs bulge.  Then that bulging and tension translated itself into a moving form of the creature as he drove himself forward.”  Benedict Cumberbatch (Star Trek Into Darkness) was filmed while delivering the voiceover for Smaug.  “We also had him on the motion-capture stage doing some performance tests but we never used any of that directly.  We used it as visual reference to inform the character.”

    The biggest creative challenge for Matt Aitken was the process of finding the look of Beorn the creature.  “We have Beorn in the human form played Mikael Persbrandt [In a Better World] so we took a strong lead from that,” remarks Matt Aitken.  “We went through a long process designing Beorn the creature.  We started off with some concept art that had come out of the design team at Weta Workshop under Richard Taylor.  There were a couple of key images there that Peter responded really well to so we worked out a digital version of that creature.  We could tell that Peter was less than a hundred per cent enthusiastic about it; he felt that there was more we could do.  Our typical response there is to go nature and to do an extensive amount of research in terms of large grizzly bears which are terrifying creatures.  What Peter was looking for was a scary creature especially when you see Beorn chasing the company into his house; he had to be genuinely terrifying.  We got a lot of great reference from grizzly bears and worked a lot of detail into the creature making him more natural.  But he wasn’t quite monstrous enough.  John Howe at that point did for us a sketch of where we could take our natural bear into a slightly more monstrous form; that involved giving him a bit more of a hump, shortening his nose, making the button at the end of his nose a bit smaller, making his teeth more pronounced, making his fur darker and more massive and mangy, and making his eyes more manic.  We did that third revision on the creature and that’s one which ended up in the movie.”

    “All of the CG work that we do in 3D stereo is straightforward but where it gets complex is when you’re making sure that your compositing of live-action plates is clean,” states Matt Aitken.  “There’s a lot of extra detail that we had to do around that.  With the 48 frame rate we need to have a larger render wall to account for the extra processing.  The animators need to spend more time with key frame animation; they had to work to a higher degree of fidelity so that when they're doing key frame animation there are twice as many keys to set.  We certainly have our process in place but it does take longer which means the crew has to be bigger.  We had over a thousand people here working on The Desolation of Smaug so that’s a good size crew.”  Aitken remarks, “The crew did a fantastic job across the board.  We had one sequence which came in toward the end of production; it occurs between the Bilbo and Smaug scene and the forges where the big battle where the dwarves and Bilbo take Smaug on.   They’re tiptoeing around inside Erebor.  Smaug pops up and they play cat and mouse with him eventually leading him into what is the Forges Sequence.  We had to get that right the first time.  There are some beautiful shots and great digital lighting.  Most of those shots are entirely digital and I was pleased on how that stuff came together in short space of time.”  The final instalment of the trilogy arrives with The Hobbit: There and Back Again(2014).  "There’s going to be a battle.  That’s not too much of a surprise for people.  It’ll be spectacular.  Film one was the set-up, getting to know the characters and everyone up and on the way.   Film two was the consolidation of all of that and getting to know what drives Thorin for the quest of his homeland and what drives Bilbo.   Film three is going to be the payoff for all of that.”

    Production stills © 2013 New Line Productions, Inc. Courtesy of New Line Productions.

    Many thanks to Matt Aitken for taking the time for this interview.

    To learn more make sure to visit the official websites for The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug and Weta Digital as well read our filmmaker profile on Peter Jackson.

    Trevor Hogg is a freelance video editor and writer who currently resides in Canada.

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    Gavin Logan on why Leo deserves the Oscar this year, but probably won't get it....

    Oscar Opinions: Why Leo Deserves The Oscar But Probably Wont Get ItOkay, I think it's fair to say that this year's Oscars, especially the Acting and Picture categories are still pretty much up in the air. Although based on this year's previous awards ceremonies like the Golden Globes and the SAGs (which generally are the two best indicators) then I guess we can already just hand Matthew McConaughey the little gold statue right now and be done with it. However, as much as I loved him in Dallas Buyers Club and as much as I thoroughly agree that he would be a well deserved winner, I still think Leonardo DiCaprio deserves it just a little bit more.

    DiCaprio has stacked up some impressive performances since his star lit up all those years ago after Rose eventually did let go and he vanished into the deep, dark abyss of the Atlantic Ocean in Titanic. I'm not implying that he should take the Oscar based purely on his previous body of work, but it's always a small plus. By the same token I don't want to take anything away from McConaughey's performance in Dallas Buyers Club simply based on his seemingly endless years of awful rom-coms and 'phoned in' generic roles. He has had quite the year and a half (Killer Joe, Mud, Magic Mike) and as someone who hasn't spoken many kind words about him over the years, I really wish him all the best and hope he continues to smash out great performances in the future.

    For anyone who has yet to see The Wolf of Wall Street, it really is as insane as everybody is saying. Yes there's a lot of sex, a large pile of drug abuse and a record amount of F-bombs dropped but if you look past all that superficial, grandioso exterior, it's really quite similar to lots of Scorsese's movies. It follows a flawed young man trying to make it big while desperately clinging to the very fabric of his moral fibre. In fact, he completely ditches morality altogether for stacks upon stacks of money and never looks back.

    Despite the clear genius of the movie, it picked up it's fair share of bad reviews. Recently, DiCaprio felt the need to speak publicly about the negative outpouring from critics accusing the movie of glorifying the excessive lifestyle the movie depicts and defended Martin Scorsese's vision. The scathing and overly personal verbal attacks on Martin Scorsese have been pathetic and quite embarrassing. They're also highly unnecessary considering how much that man has given to the world of cinema over the years.  Martin Scorsese is one of the few men in Hollywood who can do absolutely anything he wants because put simply, he's earned that right.

    Oscar Opinions: Why Leo Deserves The Oscar But Probably Wont Get It
    Anyway, back to Leo. His performance as Jordan Belfort, the young, brash, egotistical wannabe who ends up leading the life of a hedonistic, millionaire monster on Wall Street, is nothing short of outstanding. DiCaprio's portrayal is a fine example of an actor giving 100% of everything he's got for the role. He doesn't just act with his eyes, or his mouth, he acts with every single inch of his whole body. Despite being addicted to Quaaludes and partaking in promiscuous sex behind his wife's back, Belfort is a character that we automatically cheer for. For the most part we want to see him succeed almost as much as he does himself and that's simply because of one reason, DiCaprio. His enigmatic charisma and instant magnetism helps make Belfort a likeable protagonist and also an unlikely hero from the second the movie begins. There are times in this movie when DiCaprio alone through his performance controls the timing and nature of the picture. One minute it's a goofball comedy, the next it's a meaty, dog-eat-dog drama, sometimes blending the two together in a single breath. Seriously, how many actors out there today are capable of doing that?

    DiCaprio can do just about anything he's asked to do and that's because he's one of the best actors alive right now. Quite a statement I know, but go back and watch some of his older movies like Catch Me If You Can or Basketball Diaries.

    So will he win the Oscar? No. It's highly unlikely that the Academy would award DiCaprio for his role considering all the controversy that surrounded the picture. McConaughey seems like the safe bet, with Chiwetel Ejiofor a decent shout too for his role as Solomon Northup in Steve McQueen's 12 Years A Slave. All of them would be worthy winners.

    Gavin Logan - Follow me on Twitter and A-Z Movie Challenge.

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    After adding five cast members yesterday [see here and here], Fox has now filled another key role in its upcoming Batman prequel series Gotham, with Donal Logue (Sons of Anarchy, Blade) signing on to play Detective Harvey Bullock. Logue had previously been identified by Latino-Review as a potential addition, although they assumed he'd be playing the role of Jim Gordon, which has now been filled by Ben McKenzie (Batman: Year One).

    Logue and McKenzie are set to be joined in the cast of the pilot by Sean Pertwee (Dog Soldiers) as Alfred Pennyworth, Robin Lord Taylor (Another Earth) as Oswald Cobblepot, Zabryna Guevara (The Guilt Trip) as Detective Essen and Erin Richards (Being Human) as Barbara Kean, the future Mrs. Gordon. The show has been created by Bruno Heller (The Mentalist), with Danny Cannon (Judge Dredd) set to executive produce, as well as directing the pilot.

    Why not head on over to our newly-launched Flickering Myth Forum to discuss this story, or anything else that takes your fancy...

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    Thanks to the latest issue of Total Film, we've got a couple of new images from the upcoming superhero sequel X-Men: Days of Future Past, which feature Wolverine (Hugh Jackman) bearing his bone-claws and Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) confronting Magneto (Michael Fassbender); take a look....

    The ultimate X-Men ensemble fights a war for the survival of the species across two time periods in X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST. The beloved characters from the original “X-Men” film trilogy join forces with their younger selves from “X-Men: First Class,” in an epic battle that must change the past – to save our future.

    X-Men: Days of Future Past is set for release on May 23rd with a cast that includes James McAvoy (Professor X), Nicholas Hoult (Beast), Patrick Stewart (Professor X), Ian McKellen (Magneto), Lucas Till (Havok), Halle Berry (Storm), Anna Paquin (Rogue), Ellen Page (Kitty Pryde), Daniel Cudmore (Colossus) and Shawn Ashmore (Iceman) alongside franchise newcomers Evan Peters (American Horror Story) as Quicksilver, Booboo Stewart (The Twilight Saga: Eclipse) as Warpath, Fan Binbing (Iron Man 3) as Blink, Adan Canto (The Following) as Sunspot, Josh Helman (Mad Max: Fury Road) as William Stryker, Evan Jonigkeit (Girls) as Toad and Peter Dinklage (Game of Thrones) as Bolivar Trask.

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    Every Wednesday, FM writers Simon Columb and Brogan Morris write two short reviews on Woody Allen films ... in the hope of watching all his films over the course of roughly 49 weeks. If you have been watching Woody's films and want to join in, feel free to comment with short reviews yourself! Next up is Stardust Memories and Match Point ...

    Simon Columb on Stardust Memories...

    This is Woody’s 8 ½. Explicitly, from the monochrome first moments as Sandy Bates (Allen) is trapped in a bus filling up with sand, it is clear Fellini is on his mind. Sandy is also a filmmaker challenging the studios to accept his latest art-house offering, opposed to his “early, funny” films that many expect (and often prefer). Crinkly faces at the start recall Bergman while studio-execs conversing in silhouette imitate Citizen Kane. Stardust Memories is open about its influence, blatantly “ripping off” scenes from Allen’s heroes. Of course, there is romance as we puzzle together three lovers: an ex-girlfriend Dorrie (Charlotte Rampling), a potential family with Isobel (Marie-Christine Barrault) and a young-lover in Daisy (Jessica Harper). It is his honesty that is inviting. We like Woody’s comedies – even Martians do – but he’s desperate to make something that matters. Stardust Memories aspires to be more, but remains a cine-literate celebration. 

    Simon Columb

    Brogan Morris on Match Point...

    To bring to life contrived morality thriller Match Point, Woody Allen makes two insane casting decisions. First, he casts Jonathan Rhys Meyers as Chris, the retired tennis pro set to marry the wealthy Chloe (Emily Mortimer). Second, in a move that may be either fatal or genius depending on your opinion, Allen casts Scarlett Johansson as the American woman Chris immediately falls for. With dialogue lifted from daytime soap operas and long, smouldering looks between his empty leads, Match Point could secretly be Woody Allen’s parody of the psychosexual thriller. It’s a completely unbelievable film, with the desperate path that Chris chooses to go down in the last act indicating Woody firmly believes the attitude of the UK upper classes towards scandal hasn’t changed since Victorian times, but it’s also undeniable entertainment, provided it’s watched as simple escapism and not much more. It’s sexy, soapy hogwash.

    Brogan Morris - Lover of film, writer of words, pretentious beyond belief. Thinks Scorsese and Kubrick are the kings of cinema, but PT Anderson and David Fincher are the young princes. Follow Brogan on Twitter if you can take shameless self-promotion.

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    Universal Pictures and Blumhouse Productions have released the first poster and trailer for The Purge: Anarchy, the sequel to last year's low-budget horror hit The Purge, which looks to shake things up by moving away from its predecessor's home-invasion angle and taking to the street's during America's annual Purge...

    "The New Founders of America invite you to celebrate your annual right to Purge in THE PURGE: ANARCHY. Returning alongside writer/director/producer James DeMonaco to produce the sequel to 2013’s sleeper hit are Blumhouse Productions’ Jason Blum (Paranormal Activity and Insidious series), alongside Sébastien K. Lemercier (Assault on Precinct 13, Four Lovers) and Platinum Dunes partners Michael Bay (Pain & Gain, Transformers), Brad Fuller (The Amityville Horror, A Nightmare on Elm Street) and Andrew Form (The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Friday the 13th)."

    The Purge: Anarchy is set for release on June 20th with a cast that includes Frank Grillo (Captain America: The First Avenger), Michael K. Williams (Boardwalk Empire), and Zach Gilford (Friday Night Lights).

    Why not head on over to our newly-launched Flickering Myth Forum to discuss this story, or anything else that takes your fancy...

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