GOT and the future of small screen vfx

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Game of thrones is undisputedly the best show on TV right now and arguably of all times. Most of it is because of the brilliant writing and incredible imagination of George R.R. Martin in his books and the talented directors that have worked on it over the years, but it is also important to note that GOT has won every Emmy Award for Best vfx in a TV Show since its first season, 6 years ago. And will probably win in the next two years too. This is possible because the show creators and the vfx team are devoted fans of the Song of Ice and Fire books. Passion is a powerful thing that leads to success. They have a separate team working on the dragons. This team has been creating small scale CGI dragons since a decade before the pilot episode premiered, so there is experience too. There is probably no popular show currently running that is not using vfx. It has become a necessity but GOT has always been a step ahead. With the dragons this season, GOT has set a new high for the small screen. GRR Martin is a lucky man to have seen his imagination come to life in his lifetime.

Another reason I think CGI characters are more suited for tv is because TV is long term. The rigging, modeling and texturing of CGI characters are done first and they are 70% of the cost. Use in a scene is just animation, lighting and compositing. And that is made cheaper by cheating on compositing by setting the characters against black or bright backgrounds like open fields or clear skies. When movies like Hobbit spend so much budget on a dragon and then only use it for 3 movies at most, the digital models go to waste afterwards. TV shows can keep using the same computer puppets with comparatively less expenses for many episodes. So the cost is divided upon multiple seasons. The animation and lighting cost is already low for TV because of the smaller screen size, producing reasonable quality with lesser detail. Still this does not mean vfx are cheap. Far from it. What it does mean is that TV cgi costs much less than movies but we also have to look at TV budgets that are very small compared to movies. So it is still a huge chunk of their total budget. Not every show has a GOT like budget but with every passing year, the technology is getting cheaper and TV budgets are increasing while episodes per season are decreasing. This is a great news for the TV industry. With the popularization of Remote Rendering Platforms, graphic artists can render scenes in their laptop’s web browser. Although these services are extremely expensive now, they will be more easily accessible in a few years. The line between real and CGI has greatly blurred in the last couple of years. Now only imagination is the limit. We only need actors in a studio and all the sets can be computer generated. Maybe not even studios, since cameras like Lytro Cinema allow everything to be turned into a green screen. Soon online content creators like Youtubers will have dragon in their videos. That will be the day. (Although it will probably take another decade till we see a CGI fox in a Pakistani drama, but who give a fox about Pakistani drama.)

This power means freedom. Finally, we can explore some truly imaginative sci-fi. As fan of the sci-fi and fantasy genre, there can be no better time. For a long time, these two genres have been diluted, mixed with action movies and turned into summer blockbusters. There have been some truly great movies series like Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter or stand-alone movies like Blade Runner etc, but sci-fi concepts are more suited for TV as it is the best platform to show character study and growth. There have been a lot of blended fantasy, but no serious sci-fi shows. Stars Wars and Star Trek in truth are fantasy or Sci-fantasy at best. Dr,Who tries, sometimes, but fails. The only show that I think is truly sci-fi is Westworld (also Black Mirror). Sci-fi is often considered predictions about the future or any tv or movie show with futuristic looking stuff with glowing lights. But in its heart sci-fi is a study of humanity and the impact of technology on human behavior. Westworld gets it and I hope with development and increased availability of CGI technology, we will be seeing more original sci-fi TV shows very soon.

This does not mean I dislike fantasy. Fantasy expands people’s minds and widens their imagination. Only free minds can enjoy fantasy and we need fantasy to free the minds of our people. Seeing Malazan the Book of Fallen – possibly the most imaginative books ever written – come to life in my lifetime will be a dream come true. Even if not Malazan, we need something similar fast. Game of Thrones is ending soon and there needs to be some sci-fi and fantasy show to take its place or this will end as a onetime thing, a single victory for fantasy. Vikings is also ending soon. Star Terk Discovery is starting next year but I have low hopes for it. We need shows based on books like Dune and the Foundation series, emphasizing the human element while supported with stunning imagery. These would have been impossible to imagine being made for TV a few years ago, but now there is hope.

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GOT s8 Predictions

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Although the season 7 finale of Game of Thrones is still 10 days away, the second last episode is leaked along with the plot of the last episode. So, this is basically the end of this season and now it is time to make predictions about the next and final season. Here are a few things I think need to happen on the show:

  • The Hound needs to overcome his fear of fire, defeat The Mountain and later die a heroic death. There is no way he can live till the end.
  • As Bron uses his power, he is losing his human connection with the world. Meera can help his stay human rather than becoming a part of a tree.
  • Theon needs to redeem himself, maybe by killing Euron and then die.
  • Yara will be freed by Theon and represent the Iron Islands.
  • Since we need to see a mad queen, maybe Cersei will lose his shit after Jamie leaves her and she miscarries.
  • Sansa will die as confirmed by the writers. Apparently, they had a secret bet that whoever wins will write how she dies. Let’s hope it early in the season.
  • Grey Worm will die protecting Missandei. As he is taught in training since childhood that love makes you weak but he dies in her arms and say something poetic like love made me strong and blah blah. He can’t be a father and will be a terrible husband because he is a soldier and soldiers who have seen war don’t fit well in times of peace. There is no other possible end to their love story.
  • Same goes for Jorah. He needs to die serving Daenerys. It will be wrong to let Jorah live till end to keep looking at Daenerys with the googly eyes. This friendzoning needs to end. Same goes for Dario Naharis, he is also an ex-lover and loyal to her.
  • Bronn was supposed to die early in the show but was kept because the actor is very talented and fans loved him. His death will be really heart-breaking in continuation with the GOT way.
  • Samwell needs his glory moment. He had played the awkward fool for too long. But he will not die. Maybe he will become a maester after all.
  • There needs to be a flashback scene establishing Jon as son of Lyanna and Rhaegar. They have to show that he did not rape her, rather they were in love. This will establish as Jon more ‘pure-blooded’.
  • Brienne and Tormund is meant to be.
  • Gendy needs wear his helmet, ride a stallion and smack some dead heads with his hammer as a shout out to his father, Robert’s days of glory. He will live as the representative of house Baratheon and Davos too as his fatherly figure because he sees his son in him.
  • Varys and Tyrion will live till the end because the destroyed world after the walkers will need wise men like them more than ever. Also like Tyrion says himself, he is not a hero or a fighter. The theory of 3 heads of dragon died with Viserion, so he is not likely to be at the fighting end.
  • Arya needs at-least one encounter with Jaqen H’ghar because of the way she left. There won’t be anything related to her list as most of them are already dead. Cersie should better be killed by Jamie. He has killed a mad king first, he can kill a mad queen now. Plus, Arya already had her list/revenge moment with the Freys this season. Nymeria needs to return to Arya but she is not a pet anymore. She will join the fight against walkers along with her new wolf pack.

Ending: White Walkers need to win – at first at least. We need to see what was all the fuss about the long night or the winter that is coming since the first episode. A good way to do this will be to let walkers take over Westeros. Main characters can flee to Essos and the free cities. As for common folk, there are three ways to do this. First is the Marvel formula, the PG-13 way in which whole continent is magically evacuated before being destroyed. Second way is to let them all die. This sounds too much but if any show can do this, it’s GOT. Another way is to tell the people about the walkers and the fall of the wall. Those who believe will flee on ships to free cities and those who don’t will die. So, people will be choosing their own fate. This will probably be the best way to go. But what is stopping the walkers from going to the free cities? They can freeze oceans and now they have a dragon too. The show has shown them reluctant to use their freezing ability in the latest episode, Beyond the Wall as they kept watching their army of dead fall and drown due to thin ice. This reluctance may stop them from coming to islands or will at least slow them down. Taking the game to free cities will unite all our favorite characters from both sides and when the walkers do come, it will make the final battle against them in true sense a fight for humanity’s survival. In the very end, walkers will be defeated, but how? There needs to be a solution to end them once and for all but destroying the mother ship formula is already overdone and does not match the gritty realism way of storytelling in A song of Ice and Fire. However, with only 6 episodes left, the show may end up doing exactly this with Melisandre’s magic as it is the quick and easy way out. Or they can show in an end credits scene a back-up-plan-walker-baby opening his eyes in the ring of stone slabs in the far north. Thus, setting up a Legend of Korra. This is just a silly though but who knows.

Since Jon and Daenerys are already a thing, they will marry and carry on the Targaryen bloodline. In the end, it will not matter who sits on the Iron Throne. Whoever rules will be a ruler of ashes. Still it will be better if Jon becomes king and Daenerys Queen, because Jon cannot be the king in the north nor lord of Winterfell because he is not a Stark and they have established it already that he is a better leader than Daenerys. Also with Bran being the 3-eyed raven and Sansa dead, Arya will be the lady of Winterfell.

These are all predictions but with no books and little guidance from GRR Martin the show has become very predictable lately. We can only wait and see how many of these predications turn out to be true. Last season is just a year away.

Educating a casual Pakistani film goer

I have heard some of my friends saying ‘Pakistani movies are getting better, some are actually good.’ I disagree. There can’t be any move towards betterment without fixing the fundamentals. Also I don’t think if anyone who haven’t watched around 500 different movies has a scale developed enough to distinguish a good movie from a bad one. Unfortunately our casual Pakistani film goer may have a bachelors degree but is still as illiterate as an ‘angootha-chaap’ when it comes to films. Like in school, movie knowledge also comes from watching and studying movies. Lots of them. There is no short cut to this, but here are a few parameters that one need to check in a movie and are worth studying even if one has watched a lot of movies.

What needs to be in a movie? The 7 basic elements of a movie:

  1. Literary Design (Script is the heart of a movie and probably the hardest part. Without a good script everything else is pointless. It’s complicated what to call a good script but in short it should have an interesting idea, captivating story, good dialogue and dynamic character that show growth.)
  2. Visual Design (Set design, costumes, use of colors, blocking, lighting and, hair and makeup.)
  3. Sound Design (Music composition, Audio quality, Sound effects and songs)
  4. Cinematography (It is defined as the art of photography and camerawork like camera placement and shot sizes but to really understand what it means you will have to watch a few Youtube videos about the cinematography style of different directors especially David Fincher, Edgar Wright and Quentin Tarantino)
  5. Editing (Establishes tone of the movie with transition, cuts and audio-video syncing)
  6. Acting (Casting, actors’ performances and chemistry on camera and with each other)
  7. Marketing (ad campaign and trailer) may not be a direct parts of a movie but it makes a big difference in establishing the context in which a movie is perceived. Along with attracting viewers to watch the film obviously.)

Another important aspect without which a movie is not complete is the truth test. How the movie is perceived, what does it makes people feel and how true is it to the message or idea the filmmaker wants to convey. This is a test of how good all other elements of film go with each other and also marketing. An movie released without taking this aspect into account is an still an incomplete movie bound to flop. This is what you call a premature release. This step includes countless rewrites of script before shooting and limited releases for test audience during and after that may lead to some re-shoots. It’s like the experimentation and conclusion phase of the scientific method.

Here are a few of many good film-education channels that you can follow if you want to understand movies better. First of all the essentials, Lessons from the Screenplay, Every Frame a Painting, WiseCrack and Cinefix (their movie lists), then Film Courage, Ryan Hollinger is good and NerdWriter1 although he covers many other topics other than film too, then TheFilmGuy also HoustonProduction has some good videos, Cracked for the harsh truths or over criticism, CrashCourse for Film History, and finally Rocket Jump Film School if you want to know what goes behind the scenes and how it’s done. Twitter me if you know any other good movie making/film education related channels I need to be following. Laters 🙂

Thor Ragnarok teaser

Thor Ragnarok teaser is already the most viewed trailer on YouTube in 24 hours. It is well deserved because the amount of money shots here are insane even for a trailer and its a teaser. Here is how this trailer promises to fix issues and hint bigger things form Marvel:

  • Finally a good Thor movie, hopefully. The last two were not particularly good.
  • Hulk’s previous movies were plain bad and since Hulk is not getting another one, this might be the best chance for him to shine and it looks like he will smash.
  • Color Grading. Many have criticized Marvel for its washed out grey color grading. This trailer shows a world full of bright colors and design reminiscent of Guardians of the Galaxy, which is a step in the right direction. (DC movies has it worse as it’s hard to see anything with all the darkness. Wonder Woman trailers show they are addressing this problem but at the same time the JL trailer still looks a little too dark.)
  • New Genera. Thor Ragnarok looks fresh because it is more like a buddy road trip interplanetary space adventure story.
  • 2 birds with one stone. Hela resolves Marvel’s villain problem and strong female character issue at the same time. One can’t get any stronger than Hela when Thanos, the most powerful being in MCU rn, is destroying half the universe just to impress her. Also she can’t be killed so I think by they end of Thor 3 she will probably leave Asgard or go back to her domain, hell for a short time because she has a big role to play in the infinity war movies. I am still not over how Cate Blanchett says ‘Asgard is dead”. She was made for this role.
  • Music is better. Marvel is blamed for not having music memorable enough. GotG vol.1 sound track had a big part in it’s success and looks like Thor 3 is following the footsteps. Electronic media worldwide has learned the art of using nostalgia to it’s maximum effect from TV ads to trailers but Marvel just does it better. As the demand is high, soon there will be a new job of song scouts, people who find the right nostalgic song for your ad campaign.
  • A good trailer. James Gunn has already called it the best MCU trailer when all his GotG trailers are just as good. MCU have had many amazing ones but so far DCEU had better with all Suicide Squad, Batman vs Superman and Wonder Woman trailers. This however might be the best comic book trailer yet. Hope the movie is just as good because I am not very confident about its writers. They have a bad record. Fingers crossed.

Movie scenes I can’t get enough of

There is sometimes a scene in a movie that is just wow, but every so often there are scenes that never lose that wow element on repeated viewing. Here are some of my favorites:
Bar Break up scene, The Social Network
Hans Lander at Perrier LaPadite’s farm, Inglorious Bastards
Battle of Helm’s Deep (Hornburg), Lord of the Rings
Highway knife fight, Captain America The Winter Soldier
Shutting down HAL, 2001 A Space Odyssey
Party scene Scott meets Ramona, Scott Pilgrim vs the World
Tasty Burger to Bible verses, Pulp Fiction
These are some on the top of my head. Will probably keep updating this post.

Slow Movies

When someone says, this movie is slow, they actually mean that the movie’s first act does not promise any big pay off to come in the third and final act. We see that all the old classics and majority of the Oscar nominees even today have this thing in common. The problem with telling your audience to expect something big is that it raises their expectations. Sometimes the movie cannot deliver on these expectations simply because the audience has expected too much. All good movies from 12 Angry Men to 2001: A Space Odyssey to shows like Breaking Bad being labeled as ‘slow’ means the audience does not know where they are going and our mind questions if there will be a payoff. When it finally does, in the final act, it just wows our mind and the movies are considered amazing. This slow pace can also be used to trick someone into thinking a normal movie is better than it really it. These movies are Oscar bait, take Hell or High Water for example. It is a good movie but Oscar nomination? Also Drive. There is someone comparing Drive to The Taxi Driver. It too is a good movie but tTD is considered a classic and to say a movie is better than a classic needs that to be seriously jaw dropping good. But this is just a surface observation. The challenge of a slow movie is to make it engaging and grab people’s attention and feelings or the pay off won’t hit as hard. This is actually the hardest part and challenging for the ‘slow movies’ as they do not have the fast paced action of the summer blockbusters. This is where the brilliance of the director shines. Not anyone can pick a camera, make a movie with nothing interesting except one thing in the end, can trick into be considered a good move. The audience can just feel it. This is what sets apart Drive and Hell or High Water because they are done right. Anyway, the point is that most viewers are not cine-literate and slow paced movie have better chances of being considered good or become a classic than a fast pace one. Action movies in particular struggle with the third act and fight hard to keep the momentum till the end. Winter Soldier is a good one but it is not slow and thus not a classic. A better example would be No Country for Old Men, or Heat that finds the balance between slow pace and action. One just needs to be smart and not confuse an actual slow movie with good nor blame a good movie for being slow.

Film Finance Corporation of Pakistan

Once upon a time in a country far far away some young people got sick of the conventional form of similar stories being told again and again on television and film. but they were not artists or media people. They had no experience of such but they had a vision. So a few of them came together to make sci-fi and fantasy shows for a change and for that they talked to different up and coming writers and directors who were also passionate about these kind of projects. They tried different ways to get funding for their shows but no one in the industry was willing to take risk. So they started going to schools and colleges and since sites like Kickstarter were not a thing back then, they had to tour the whole country to raise some money. No luck. They did not give up though, they decided to expand the search and went to America and Europe. Finally they raised enough money for their ‘infotainment project’ to make sci-fi and educational shows for kids. At this time the country’s government stepped in and decided to make it official as a government funded organization. This agency was named FFC-Film Finance Corporation of Australia and it created shows like Round the Twist, Spellbinder and Mirror Mirror, that were aired internationally without any strings attached. Ptv was one of the channels that aired these and we grew up watching these shows. In fact our whole generation watched it in many countries around the world including India, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Australia, New Zealand, UK and Ireland. I owe my childhood creativity to these people who took a stand and tried to do something different. And also to channel three, the only channel with good kids shows other wise Ptv’s idea of kids’ show was kidnapping or child labor dramas and gaming or quiz shows which were educational but not fun to watch. Still at least the old Ptv tried. Who cares about making a kids’ show anymore. Continue reading “Film Finance Corporation of Pakistan”