Welcome to Peter Plantec’s Entirely Biased Golden Pixie Awards

Welcome to Peter Plantec's Entirely Biased Golden Pixie Awards. Yes, I started awarding Pixies almost 20 years ago at Animation Magazine. They are unique because I am beholden to no one. I tell it like it is, and and I pick hardware, software and people based on my personal experience. I've been doing this for decades, so my opinions are based on experience, and some of the winners are suggested by friends in the industry. My realm of interest is fairly broad, incorporating all of digital entertainment—my association with Mundos Digitales in Spain and FMX in Germany has sparked my interest in gaming and digital architecture.

Sometimes I have a hard time picking between two similar products. For example, I'm having a very hard time selecting one 3D material system. Quixel and Allegorithmic are both very powerful and highly effective, but they are quite different. Since I can be biased, I might just award each with a Pixie. I'm still pondering it.

Of course, this all goes to my head and I pretend to be a god giving out golden halos. I figure after more than three decades in the industry, I should have a little fun.

Note: Some years after I started awarding Golden Pixies, another outfit started awarding “Pixies,” which are gold in color. To avoid confusion, my awards are officially called “Peter Plantec's Entirely Biased Golden Pixie Awards.” Awkward, but distinct.

How I Go About Selecting Awardees
First, I spend a lot of time reviewing software and hardware at my secret studio high in the Rocky Mountains. I maintain a really nice test-bed computer for testing software. For example, I sculpted the Golden Pixie by moving back and forth between ZBrush and DAZ Studio. I experimented with texturing her in Marmoset Toolbag 2, Vue and 3ds Max. I played with lighting as well. I'm still not quite happy with her, but I'm getting there. To achieve the look I'm going for, I need to spend time learning and experimenting in DAZ, Photoshop, Vue, 3ds Max and ZBrush. These projects give me insight into the software and their interfaces and how they work for me. That is a biggie. If the user interface makes a lot of intuitive sense, it gets high marks from me.

People and Companies
I decided to change things up. In addition to software and hardware, I have discovered that certain companies and individuals are worthy of special recognition. I particularly like small companies, but when a big company does exceptional work, I have to recognize it. In fact, the very first Golden Pixie is being awarded to a whole company for outstanding work.

Honorable Mentions
Okay, sometimes I run across serious contenders but for some reason, usually having to do with cost/utility ratio, I don't feel comfortable giving them a Golden Pixie. Since they usually do one thing and do it very well, I may give them an honorable mention.

Software Interfaces
Interface design has many aspects, not the least of which is that one's cognitive style semi-dictates one's preferences. Engineers tend to design interfaces that artists don't like. Interface designers tend to design interfaces that make sense and are easy to learn. Engineers tend to create interfaces by their own esoteric methods, often making things overly complex. Blender, a great 3D application, has an interface that requires unnecessarily complex operations to do simple things. It is also inconsistent because for some procedures, that isn't true. That doesn't mean Blender won't get a Pixie. It is under consideration for other reasons.

Designing interfaces for software like Autodesk or Adobe applications is an enormously complex task. Getting it right takes luck, brilliance and insight. Some of the most amazing software out there has poor interface design.

Cleverness
I really appreciate cleverness. I am happy to say I'm seeing a lot of it lately. Such things as spray-on particle-driven texturing, textures that are UV-savvy and analyze surfaces and deposit layers accordingly, tickle the heck out of me. So cleverness counts.

Functionality
Functionality in software is key. It's one reason I'm considering Blender. The function per dollar invested is through the roof. But expensive apps have to have a lot of functionality to be considered.

In hardware, it just has to do it better than anyone else. This would bias me toward Intel over AMD because Intel's CPUs simply have more performance per cubic nanometer. On the other hand, AMD represents one hell of a value, generally providing more performance per dollar than Intel. So you can see my quandary.

Sex Appeal
This one is hard to define, but if I find an application very exciting, it gets extra points. For example, when you go to SIGGRAPH and a software or hardware demonstration blows your mind? That is sex appeal. I remember the first time I saw the very first beta of Bryce demonstrated at SIGGRAPH it captivated me completely. It was slow and limited—not for animation at that time—but the images were stunning. The first time I saw Eyeon's Digital Fusion demonstrated, with its modular interface design, it got instant sex-appeal points and eventually won a Golden Pixie. It won because It worked well and was intuitive to use. Today, almost all applications offer a modular interface option. Connecting processes up with wires makes sense to just about everyone. After Effects is flat-out sexy to me.

I Only Have a Limited Ability to Look at Things
Yes, there are other great applications out there that I wish I had the time to learn and evaluate. Houdini? Amazing application. Cinema 4D? Absolutely a contender, but I haven't spent time with it lately. Corel has some very cost-effective products that are high quality. I hope I get time to spend with them. The Foundry has great apps like Mari and Nuke, an industry standard, along with Katana and Modo. My problem is that I don't have the time or energy to learn them all. Modo, for example, has a non-standard interface with a steep learning curve, and I don't have the time I need. Friends who have worked on Modo and others who use it have let me know it is a great application. But I can't give it a Pixie because I don't know it well enough. I could go on all day mentioning great hardware and software that I haven't learned in depth, but it would be futile.

Behold: Peter Plantec's Entirely Biased Golden Pixie Awards!

And the first Entirely Biased Golden Pixie goes to …

Nvidia

Hot professional Video Card

Nvidia's K5000 is serious hardware. It scores high on a host of performance indices that game cards score poorly on.

I am biased because I reviewed the very first chip that Nvidia ever successfully released. We go back. But more than that, over and over I have found that the people who work at Nvidia are helpful and often brilliant. Their GPU architectures are exceptional, and their products have become industry standards. In fact, their fast gaming products perform so well they are often used by VFX houses on individual workstations where performance is key.

Let me talk about the chunk of hardware that I have been testing. It's the Nvidia Quadro K5000 Professional Graphics engine. Based on the Kepler graphics architecture, this unit is designed specifically for heavy-duty professional power users, especially in graphics, animation, VFX and CAD/CAM. Nvidia dominates this sector of the graphics engine industry. AMD's professional FirePro series is quite good, but they just do not have the market share and I haven't reviewed them in several years.

Based on the well-tested GK104 chip, the K5000 has 3.5 billion transistors in it! I remember when my first transistor was released by Raytheon, the CK722. It cost almost $4. At that rate. the K5000 would cost the GNP of a small country! They can fit so many junctions on the chip because they are using the 28nm scale production process. This is actually nano-engineering in play. The actual number of parallel streaming processors is a mere 1536 CUDA cores. Talk about supercomputers—the K5000 is a true supercomputer in itself. Its internal memory bus has a bandwidth of just over 170GB/s!

It actually uses the same GPU as the gaming version, Nvidia's GeForce 680. Nvidia has unlocked the K5000 but it runs standard quite a bit slower than their high-end gaming cards. That means it is quieter and you get better energy efficiency, and pro cards have to be totally reliable. Nevertheless, overclocking fans can turbo this card unti their head spins, given extra cooling power and the proper settings.

As I understand it, the Quadro cards do not cost that much more to manufacture than the GeForce 680, but what you get is more direct customer service and reliability. More importantly, the pro cards from Nvidia are optimized for professional work in our industries. They massively outperform the game cards because the K5000 is much better at handling dense OpenGL-based models, anti-aliasing, and texture solutions. In fact, on some benchmarks the Quadro K5000 performs dozens of times better than the GTX 680. It's all about optimization.

I choose to give the Golden Pixie to Nvidia because they never rest on past performance and are always pushing the boundaries of what is possible. Their GPU cores are used in the fastest supercomputers, they provide the best optimized drivers for your particular use, and their customer service on professional graphics cards is exemplary.

I awarded a Golden Pixie to the K5000 graphics card because its performance in all my professional and personal applications driving a dual monitor display blows my mind. The way its GPU accelerates video transcoding and other tasks in 3D design and animation is just flat-out sexy.

Digital-Tutors

I stay on up to date on a number of applications by taking video courses at www.digital-tutors.com. Keeping up on what I write about is no easy task these days. Back in 2004, about when Digital-Tutors started, there were just a few key applications that were fairly universally accepted. Back then I would get DVDs to keep on top of various 3D software applications.

At that time I got DVDs wherever I could, and many were reasonably unprofessional, often with dogs barking or babies crying in the background. One famous set I still have has belches all through it. It was about then I discovered Digital-Tutors. They were very helpful and have continued to be as they grow more sophisticated in how they teach each subject.

Now there are hundreds of useful applications used in various processes needed to create VFX, games and animation. I noticed Digital-Tutors has at least 80 different subjects with close to 1700 courses available. Within these courses you will find more than 32,000 individual video lessons!

At Digital-Tutors, I simply go to the specific product training and watch the series of videos as needed. For anyone who wants to learn a new tool, this is most likely your best place to find what you need. Programs like Maya and ZBrush and Photoshop all have a range of subjects to be learned, allowing you to focus on various aspects. They also provide individual introduction series, where the teachers go through the tedious step-by-steps of learning the basics of each program. Also useful is the release of a New Features video for each new release of key software products. In all, Digital-Tutors offers training in 80 different subjects. The training is virtually all well thought out and presented in a professional way. Not all are perfect, but the bulk of training is well presented. I now depend on Digital-Tutors to keep me on top of my selected applications.

I particularly like their asset library, which they fill with models and rigs and other things that will let you jump into a set of training sessions without having to build your own assets. This saves me a lot of time when learning new things.

Recently merged with PluralSight, Digital-Tutors is staying reasonably independent and, so far, up to date. Lastly, I find many of the courses offer fun projects. Some of them are even kind of sexy.

I also like www.lynda.com, where I also take some training videos, but from my perspective Digital-Tutors has more content that is more current in the areas where I need it. Lynda.com is an honorable mention because they have a very wide range of mostly excellent courses, though in my experience they can take longer to get a course up on a brand new release. Check them out anyway. Their range is pretty amazing.

Arnold

SolidAngle

No, it's not a person. Arnold has been a Hollywood best-kept-secret render monster until the creators, Solid Angle, recently came out with commercial versions adapted for Maya, Softimage and Houdini. For some time, the studios have had access to Arnold and have been using it on many feature films. It was reported to be very fast and efficient.

I had heard buzz about it, and I met the creator of Arnold, Marcos Fajarodo, at Mundos Digitales in Spain. He's an interesting, brilliant guy that I have to admit I like. For a very long time I had no access to the renderer, but I've long been curious because a number of my friends in VFX were singing its praises. Finally I got my hands on a demo and tried it out in Maya. I was impressed. The learning curve is less steep for me than other renderers I've had to learn.

In a word, you don't have to be a PhD and spend many hours setting up excellent shots, because Arnold works with the artist to simplify the process.
Looking at my resource consumption during renders, my conclusion is that Arnold is exceptionally frugal with resources. The controls seem to make sense and I believe artists will be comfortable with them. It is more intuitive than most, especially in the realm of lighting.

I think one of the reasons I like Arnold so much is its cleverness. My interpretation of how Arnold works would be that it is an adaptable tracing engine that attempts to solve optimized ray trajectories on the fly. Lots of little things add up to a very efficient render solution. For example, there seems to be a psycho-perceptual element going on. Ray-tracing really is a virtually endless process that is arbitrarily halted at some level of acceptability. That level is determined by eye when it looks “right.” I suspect that Arnold “knows” how to efficiently determine the number of rays to trace along cleverly optimized pathways to get the kind of image that we humans find acceptable. It does so in a way that reduces both time and render resource consumption, helping to keep production costs down. 

Pixie Herself

Golden Pixie
Golden Pixie is a work in progress. I'm not yet happy with her. The wings are far from finished, and her pose is not where I want it to be. I'm slow at sculpting and design, so bear with me. I've created anime-style clothing for her in ZBrush. So accept her as the prototype and I'll try to have her finished by next time. Also, anyone who wins a Golden Pixie may use that Pixie in advertising or on product packaging. Contact me for a Pixie logo package.

Wrap
This is just the beginning. I get exposed to a lot of good and marginal software, hardware and people. Instead of pointing out the bad, I point out the good. I hope this is helpful. I know most of you know your stuff, but often I will find something you could use and didn't know about. I'll post my next installment shortly, and it will have quite a few more awards in it.

So stay tuned for more of Peter Plantec's Entirely Biased Golden Pixie Awards. There will be a few surprises.

Five Ways Jean-Luc Godard Breaks the 3D Rules in Farewell to Language

The most physically uncomfortable viewing experience at the New York Film Festival, which runs through October 12, is almost certainly Farewell to Language, the new film by the 83-year-old Jean-Luc Godard, one of the directors who revolutionized world cinema in the 1960s as a leader of the French New Wave. Godard's later work is polarizing, with many viewers either praising the unconventional films for what they appreciate as Godard's intellectual passion and eye for beauty or condemning him for a perceived stubbornness and didacticism. "Farewell to Language is chaotic and mad, with longeurs," writes critic Peter Bradshaw in The Guardian. "But it has its own baffling integrity and an arresting, impassioned pessimism."

What it also has is 3D. And that's where the discomfort comes in. Godard is not content to use 3D technology as intended, simply to create a convincing illusion of depth. No, he wants to experiment with the technology, draw attention to it, test its boundaries, and see what happens when the image falls apart completely. In Farewell to Language, he uses it as one more way to help tell a story dense with literary, historical, and cinematic allusions, 

It's sometimes said of daring filmmakers that they break all the rules. Well, in this case, Godard really does. Farewell to Language does things with 3D that would get a Hollywood stereographer fired a dozen times over. He yanks your eyeballs around. It's a challenging and exhausting experience. And yet film professor David Bordwell gushes, "Godard's Adieu au langage is the best new film I've seen this year, and the best 3D film I've ever seen." Watch the trailer, below (in 2D only, unfortunately), to get a sense for the film's aesthetic, then read on for a quick look at what Godard gets "wrong" in 3D — and what his disregard for the rules ends up revealing about how stereo really works.

1) He does not keep a clean frame. By common stereographic standards, Godard's frame is a mess, with window violations galore — objects cluttering the edge of the picture, appearing in front of the screen plane even though they're cut off by the edge of the stereo window. These edge violations create a visual paradox that's difficult for the eye to process. What's more, the awkward placement of objects in the foreground of some 3D shots means that significant portions of the background are occluded differently between the left eye and the right eye, making for uncomfortable viewing. (I kept having the impulse to move my head slightly to one side in order to see around an object.) These shots show how incredibly important it is to keep your frame clear of extraneous objects, especially in the foreground, to avoid annoying viewers and drawing attention to the stereo process. (At the press screening I saw, there was also a pronounced red shift between the left and right eyes that added to my sense of disparity between the stereo views, but I'm assuming that was a problem with projection and not a conscious decision.)

2) He embraces low-quality cameras. Some of the shots are quite clean and clear. Godard used pro cameras from Canon and other companies (Canon Europe set up a whole minisite dedicated to the project) that are capable of delivering a very serviceable cinematic picture. But those shots are some of the least evocative images in the film. He also employed consumer and prosumer cameras (the credits list cameras from GoPro and Panasonic's Lumix line among others I was too slow to jot down) that deliver rougher edges, smearier colors, and generally a more lo-fi stereo effect. In some cases the colors have been quite obviously tweaked, to surreal effect, drawing even more attention to the harsher video-y edge of the pixels. The 3D effect is less precise but still quite pronounced; the resulting images take on a dreamlike quality.

3) He gravitates toward deep focus. Stereo films often use depth of field effects to create cues telling the audience where its eyes should be looking in the frame. If the background is completely out of focus, a viewer will tend to look at foreground objects that are in sharp focus (and generally converged near the screen plane) and vice versa. But many shots in Godard's film have extended depth of field—probably owing in part to the use of cameras with small-format sensors—and his camera is often placed so that it peers through windows or panes of glass, emphasizing the multi-layered quality of the already expansive scenes. One shot is photographed through a car windshield as raindrops hit it and the wipers swish back and forth. You can clearly see the trees, clouds and sky outside the car, but you can also converge the drops and splashes of water hitting and smearing against the glass in the foreground of the scene if you cross your eyes strenuously enough. It's not exactly easy to watch, but the pronounced stereo effects across the full depth of the image, from the car's interior to the wide exterior outside, give the shot a hyper-realistic quality.

4) He rips the 3D image apart and then restores it in a single shot. This is the big one. Godard starts with a stereo image—a two-shot of a couple. When one of the figures in the shot breaks off and moves away to screen right, one of the cameras in Godard's stereo rig simply pans sideways to follow the action while the other camera remains in place, fixed on the first figure. The audience sees two different images simultaneously; if you're in the mood for interaction, you can "edit" the shot as you watch. Simply close one eye at a time, so that you choose which of the two images you see. It's a truly interactive film, and all you need is your eyes. Eventually, the second figure returns to the side of the first, and the camera pivots back into place, making the stereo image whole again. It's a highly satisfying effect — it reminded me of the moment in a piece of music when an unresolved chord finally shimmers into consonance. This is said to be the only moment among all the films screened at the Cannes Film Festival this year that inspired a round of mid-film applause. Later, he uses the same effect with what may be a nudge and a wink in a scene featuring a nude man and a nude woman on screen, so that you see the man in one eye and the woman in the other—unless and until you close an eye to decide which one you want to watch.

5) He uses stereo to elevate the mundane. To date, 3D has been deployed mainly for spectacle filmmaking — rock concerts, horror movies, superhero sagas, and science fiction and fantasy tentpoles. In Farewell to Language, Godard looks to make the ordinary picture extraordinary through the application of stereo depth. One shot simply depicts the long shadows of two characters cast across a road. The image would be banal in 2D, but in 3D it's dynamic — you see the road stretching gently away from the camera, rendered in full 3D, but you simultaneously see the actors' two-dimensional shadows, little moving pictures, cast by sunlight against the three-dimensional road. Later, you can see the shadow of the camera crane itself cast on the ground in one brief shot. Godard holds the images just long enough that you get the point.

It won't exactly be a different film if you catch it on video, without the 3D effects. But it won't be the same, either. Godard turns 84 this year, but he's still on the lookout for legitimately new ways of seeing.

Farewell to Language opens October 29 in New York City.

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A Subjective Process Examined in The Chair

Ben Affleck and Matt Damon's Project Greenlight (2001-2005) was a window on what happens when first-time filmmakers are given the budget, support and time to make the movie of their dreams. Starz' new show The Chair, which premieres on September 6, turns it into a competition. The first season features one woman, one man, one screenplay and a roller-coaster of artistic interpretation as each contestant sets out to make two very different movies. 

There's actually a throughline between the two shows in executive producer Chris Moore, who originally worked with Affleck and Damon and this time teamed up with actor Zachary Quinto and his production company, Before the Door Pictures (All Is Lost, Margin Call), to support the two productions featured in the show.

Contestant Shane Dawson is a Los Angeles resident already comfortable in front of the camera after launching a successful YouTube channel with a following in the millions (he's a ringer for Australian comedian Chris Lilley, treading territory similar to Lilley's Ja'mie: Private School Girl). His competitor, Anna Martemucci, is also an actor/writer, the product of an NYU film school education and an East Coast familiarity with the independent film business.

Polished documentary-style interviews and straightforward production video are liberally mixed with zany POV cams in moments of crisis. There's also enough agita and self doubt to keep potential train wrecks looming around the next corner, though (SPOILER ALERT) IMDb-dependents can easily cut to the chase by looking up each contestant's recent production credits online. (Hint: start with screenwriter Dan Schoffer and connect the dots.)

Although the premise is predictable, pitting the YouTube generation against film-school purists, finishing a film of any kind has its own rewards. As Moore says, the real point of the show is to explain the process a filmmaker goes through to make something worthwhile.

The Chair's premiere on September 6 is at 11 pm — late enough for film-watching and filmmaking types to be back in front of their TV sets. Check out the trailer above.

Crowdfunding Film Projects: Is It for You?

Since recommending —  and regretting investing in — a Kickstarter project that hasn't turned out as advertised, I stopped recommending projects. I'll stick to that. But, as filmmakers, we must all be aware that things are changing. More and more films are being created outside the studio system, and some of them are very high quality.

I suppose Veronica Mars is the new iconic example, but there are many others (there are currently more than 1,000 "live projects" seeking funding on Kickstarter alone). You may be interested in helping fund worthy film projects, or you may well find yourself in the position of trying to market your own project to potential investors through Kickstarter or some other crowdfunding site, so here are some tips on what to look for and what to avoid in the world of crowdfunding.

You can never know what will happen when people actually get your money in hand, with virtually no external controls. If you're thinking of investing, here's what I've learned.

Get to know the people you're investing in. Check them out.
How do you get to know the principals? I go on Facebook and try to friend them. I tell them, honestly, that I'm a potential investor. Then I follow them for a while and see how I feel about what kind of people they are. I also use LinkedIn. I see who is vouching for them. You can find nearly anything online these days. Google them and find their work. Evaluate. When I looked, after the fact, at the previous work of the principals in one of my Kickstarter investments, I was amazed at how awful their work was. I was thinking, how in hell do they have any credibility?

Today, there are many online resources to check people out. If you are considering investing a fair amount, I recommend that you pay for a professional background check on the principals, or at least the head honcho. You may be surprised at what you find. But if you're investing more than $100, insist on meeting personally with the principal parties. Trust your gut. Hollywood is full of flim-flam artists who are all show and no go. I've been burned. I know. Often the producer knows way more about raising money and getting publicity than about making movies. He/she may not know a good performance if it bit him/her in the ass. The big studios are famous for having bean-counters make creative decisions to disastrous effect. Fortunately it costs them so much they eventually learn. Mostly. As for the director, there are a lot of out of work “directors” out there. Many of them know how to talk the talk but have no clue about walking the walk. Typically they will have some technical expertise, perhaps credentials as a former DP or AD. But when it comes to extracting credible performances from their usually excellent cast, they just don't get it. Lately I have seen co-directors working together successfully, one handling the technical stuff and the other handling the actors. But that kind of arrangement depends entirely on the talent and expertise of the people involved. So check them out.

Avoid the hype.
Avoid getting sucked in simply because they've got some name actors associated with the project. There are a lot of out-of-work actors out there looking for a project so they can keep working. “Faces” in the cast do not necessarily a great project make, whether they are true celebrities or simply faces that you know and like from some former TV series. Often they are supremely talented actors who are out of work. It happens all too often — they have bills to pay and these crowdfunded projects do attract them. I think everyone is excited about the concept of making movies outside the studio system, actors included. It could eventually mean a lot more work for them. So look out for the talented actors paired with not-so-talented producers and directors.

Read the script.
Sometimes these projects don't even have a script, or it is held as proprietary intellectual property. If you know the screenwriter has talent, you might consider investing under $100 without reading it, but any more and you have a right to know what you're investing in, no matter who wrote it. Often it is a first-time writer, and scripts are not an easy write. A great script is a rare thing. If you can't read the script, have it vetted by someone you trust. Way too many bad scripts are made into bad movies, and you don't want to be an investor in a bad movie.

Question whether they can monetize the project.
Way too many projects seem to be created with the same attitude: ”Make the movie, and the money will come.” That is a false premise. One project that I invested in has produced virtually nothing except clips, marketing material, hype and a Comic-Con panel. My guess is that no movie will ever be made, and if one is somehow produced, it will not be of sufficient quality to attract an audience, or distribution, or money. So if you are in it for more than a free video or your name in the credits as an associate co-executive producer, on a maybe never-to-be-produced film, check out the money plan carefully.

How do you check out the money? Ask. What you ask depends on how much you plan to invest, but if it's under a grand, ask questions, verify the answers you get and, for god's sake, research the questions you need to ask. If it's over a grand, due diligence must ensue. Many people where I live are extremely wealthy but have no business sense, making them perfect pigeons. So learn before you invest.

Get details on how they plan to distribute the film or series.
By the time I thought about distribution I had already invested. But I felt, as an investor, I had a right to be in on the distribution plan. I could not get the principals to answer my questions and eventually I found there was no actual plan. There was a vague thought of distributing on the web, with no plan to monetize it at all. I'm still getting the monthly reports and, as far as I can tell, there is still no real plan for distribution, just plans for raising more money. It is amazing how Hollywood razzamatazz can suck people in.

Know why you're investing.
You can back a movie for a tiny sum, for which you will possibly get a movie poster, DVD or even a signed script. That is all well and good. There are millions of Americans and people abroad who would just like to feel a part of the glamour of Hollywood. Bigger investors get ego trips like dinner with the stars, or a walk-on in the movie. Again. this is fun stuff that can make a someone feel important. Next comes screen credit. This is pure ego stuff and usually comes at a high price — perhaps in the thousands of dollars. As long as you know this is all you are getting for your money, so be it. Just be sure the film actually gets made and you actually get your credit. Get it on paper.

But the point is this: any money you invest in a Kickstarter campaign should be thought of as a donation, with your back-end being a CD or T shirt — unless you go big and get special consideration. If you have the means and interest and are willing to invest tens of thousands of dollars, you need to know what you'll be getting. Back-end participation is a tricky business and Hollywood accountants can see to it that you never see a cent, no matter how much profit the film makes. So if you are investing for a piece of the profit, make sure your lawyers and accountants approve the paper work. Never get caught up in all the razzle-dazzle and sign on impulse.

Do not invest just because friends are doing it! I did that and got totally burned. My friends had invested based on hype and the quality of people attached to the project for the Kickstarter campaign. I didn't research the project well because I figured, if these credible friends invested, it was bound to be a great project. Right? It turns out we all got screwed. So do your own research. I have friends involved with a number of Kickstarter projects, and I'm sure most of them are legitimate. But I do my own research and no longer rely on my friends' advice except to get me interested in the first place. After that, I know I'm on my own.

Time to get serious?
Check out Junction. It is a high-end crowdfunding system. Investors need to be pre-qualified, and the projects are of high quality with solid backing. The movies will be made with or without you, but if you're ready to make a larger investment, you'll have an opportunity to invest along with the big boys. Their team is made up of lawers, film pros, and billionaires. For example, Steve Wynn of Wynn Resorts is on their advisory board, along with Jason Blum, head of Blumhouse Productions (Insidious, Sinister and the Paranormal Activity franchise.) Their films feature stars like Tom Hanks, for example, with Silver Reel providing major money for his film,  A Hologram For The King. It's just a more serious way to go.

Funding your own project? Many of the same rules apply.
Maybe you're interested in crowdfunding your own project? Read the above pointers carefully and perhaps you will think twice about how you present it. Being one of my readers, you are likely a legitimate filmmaker. Please think about the things I've outlined above and make sure you dedicate the proper thought and planning to your project before you start asking for financial backing. Find ways to assure your investors that the money will be used for the project, as advertised, and stick to that. You'll be helping others coming down the road by establishing your own credibility now.
 
Oh, and the latest thing? People will pay a fortune for movie props. They used to be cheap. Not any more. Put your props into your crowdfunding thinking as potential rewards for investors.
 
There are many reasons people might invest in a film project. Be aware that your "funding" is really considered a donation in exchange for whatever goodies are offered. But if it's a good project, you will find funders. 
 
Crowdfunding platforms
Consider the following platforms:
Kickstarter 
IndieGoGo
EquityNet
Fundanything (this is where Penn Jellette funded his horror film, Director's Cut)
Junction

Existing projects
Check out the following projects and vet them as I've suggested. In the comments below, please tell me which ones you think are legitimate and which — if any — seem like a scam. I'll give some opinions, but I'm not making recommendations. Remember, there are over 38,000 film related projects on Kickstarter alone! As I type, more are being added.

1. White Tiger Legend This first one is a fave of mine because I am an animation fan and I know the honcho is talented and insanely dedicated. Let me know what you think.

2. Director's Cut This is being honchod by Penn Jillette with Adam Rifkin directing. Big names…but do they have a viable property?

3. The “G” Show https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/322035442/the-g-show-is-a-show-that-talks-about-real-college?ref=discovery This is an interesting one…I know little about it.

4. Invisible – A film by Christian Jackson  This one is a bit of an inigma…is there enough info to invest in it?

5. Cardinal Matter  What do you think?

Special Case
Nobility, this is an ongoing, active film project that seems to be making headway. They canceled their Kickstarter campaign and went to indiegogo, where they didn't make their goal. Yet, the project has serious stars attached and appears to be moving along. They are being supported by private investors as far as I can tell. Start here to check them out and, if you're interested, you can get more detailed investor info by writing to maryjane@cowboyerrant.com. As I stated above, I uncover but do not recommend film projects. Let me know what you think.

If you're interested in crowdfunding, please take the time to make comments below. Questions and opinions are both welcome. (We are kind of a crowdopinioning forum.) Meanwhile, I am working on the Golden Pixie awards. I'm a bit overwhelmed there, with so much to look at and so little time. I used to award them once a year, but things have gotten so complex, I'm considering making awards throughout the year. I am currently looking for a Zbrush artist who is better than me, to sculpt my concept art into a 3D Golden Pixie statue. The pay? Just a brief profile in my blog, and full credit for the work.

Camera News: More Blackmagic Updates, ARRI Supports SxS Pro+, Red Dragon on The Knick, and More

Once upon a time, you bought a camera and made the most of the investment, putting up with any feature limitations until it made financial sense to invest in a more current model. But in the new camera landscape, you don't always have to buy new hardware to get new features — just download the latest firmware. (Sometimes it's even free!) Here's a look at new camera updates from Blackmagic Design, ARRI, and unofficial Canon EOS firmware provider Magic Lantern, plus a few more news briefs from the world of cinematography.

Blackmagic Firmware v1.9.3 Adds HUD to BMCC, Pocket Cinema Camera
Blackmagic brings a new histogram display, audio meters, and time-remaining indicators to the Blackmagic Cinema Camera and Pocket Cinema Camera with its latest firmware update. (The Blackmagic Production Camera 4K got the same upgrade last month.) The new display is accessed on the BMCC by swiping up from the bottom of the screen, or, if a manual lens is mounted, simply hitting the Iris button. On the Pocket Cinema Camera, the Up and Down buttons show and hide the display. Blackmagic has also added new options for white balance and shutter angle, and fixed a ProRes bug that affected in-camera playback.

ARRI Alexa Update to Support Sony SxS Pro+ Cards, Plus ProRes 4444 XQ
ARRI entered the second public beta phase with its new software update packet (SUP), v10.0. We don't recommend you go out and install beta software on your production camera, but this should mean a stable release is right around the corner. The latest feature to be added is support for Sony SxS Pro+ memory cards, which come in 64 GB and 128 GB versions. As promised, this update will support the new Apple ProRes 4444 XQ codec, but something had to go — ProRes 422 LT and ProRes 422 Proxy are being removed from all Alexa cameras, according to the official release notes [PDF]. Other added features include 180-degree image rotation for use on Steadicam as well as with ARRI's 9.5-18mm ultra-wide zoom lens, support for two independent HD-SDI outputs on a broader range of recording modes, and faster switching between regular and high-speed mode (now down to about 20 seconds).

Magic Lantern Says it Has Pushed Canon 5D Mark III to Shoot 1080p Raw at 40fps
At Planet5D, Barry Andersson noticed that Magic Lantern's custom firmware now claims to support shooting 1080p raw footage at 40fps on the Canon 5D Mark III. That's not exactly a game-changer, but it could come in handy for mild slo-mo effects — and, as Andersson notes, if you plan to fake real slow-motion in post, those extra frames will give your software a lot more information to work with. (If you haven't loaded Magic Lantern's code onto your Canon DSLR yet, be aware that it's unsupported by Canon and will void your warranty.)

Maxell Becomes Latest Maker of Camera Gear
Media storage specialist Maxell, still probably best-known for its run as a high-end audiocassette manufacturer in that formats 1980s heyday, is reinventing itself as a maker of pro camera accessories. It's debuting a line of power shoe adapters, a shoe clamp, power connectors, and a USB charge adapter that allows a smartphone or tablet to be charged using a camera battery. 

Writer Jack Amiel on The Knick, the Red Dragon Camera, and Why the Eyes Have It
Director Steven Soderbergh makes his Cinemax series The Knick look unlike anything else on television, and writer Jack Amiel, one of the show's creators, thinks it has a lot to do with the Red Dragon camera's low-light capabilities, and what that means for the actors on set. From an interview with NPR:

The dim lighting was Steven Soderbergh's brilliant choice and it was real. This was not an era when you had high-wattage light bulbs and everything was lit. It was an era when this was all new and not everything was wired for electricity and we wanted the reality of the darkness and the grit and what life really was like. Technology, ironically, helped with this because Steven uses the camera called the Red Dragon and it has such an incredibly sensitive light sensor that you can be in a room where two characters are only lit by one candle in the center of the table and you can shoot that scene. It can bring more light or less light. It is extraordinary. And so Steven really took advantage of that and allowed us to see what the darkness really was back then. And I think it's wonderful. I think it's something you don't see in anything else. Steven also mentioned something that I thought was really interesting, which is that he kept trying to figure out why there was a different quality to the show than anything he'd done before. And when he was editing it he kept looking at it. And what he noticed was that the actors' eyes were different, and it was because they weren't in bright light. So instead of dialing down their pupils, they were wide open. And it had a whole different effect and a sense of openness that I don't think many other productions have ever been able to capture.

New episodes of the current 10-episode season of The Knick premiere every Friday night on Cinemax.


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