Game character gets real-life birthday parties

Though not quite as bonkers fantastical as tying the knot with a video game girl, it's suddenly fashionable to treat virtual avatars as the real deal. Including, in this case, holding a real birthday party complete with cake and presents that no one will eat or open, for a Nintendo DS dating sim character in Konami's Love Plus called Anegasaki Nene.

Her birth date's listed as April 20, though being just pixels, this senior high school student in her third year remains ageless, of course.

Love Plus, which you probably won't be surprised to hear is … Read more

Producer Jon Landau introduces 'Avatar' on Blu-ray

Jon Landau, executive producer of James Cameron's phenomenally successful film Avatar and Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment, recently hosted a press day introducing the April 22 release of Avatar on Blu-ray--participating in one-on-one interviews with selected members of the press, as well as roundtable discussions. Although, there wasn't much in the way of food, they did have a bar where the Avatar blue martini was the house special. The following is a snippet of the roundtable conversation as well as discussions I had with James Finn of Twentieth Century Fox.

Q: Do you think 3D is here to stay, and should everything be made in 3D? Landau: Moving forward, Jim (James Cameron) wants to do everything in 3D. Had digital 3D been available a dozen or so years ago when he shot Titanic, he'd have used it, but he didn't have it at the time. And now that we have the technology we intend to do Titanic in 3D. It will take one year to 18 months and Jim will be involved in it. We see in 3D everyday--we've always seen in 3D, we just never knew how to (theatrically) capture it until now.

And should everything be made in 3D? Depends. Remaking classics, we'll use Citizen Kane for example, I would not support that because Orson Wells isn't here. Now if you want to go and do ET and have Steven [Spielberg] involved in it. I think that would be great. I think if you want to do Star Wars and I think George [Lucas] is interested in doing it. Lord of the Rings... Again, to have someone come in and interpret what [the director] wants, I think that's where we get into trouble. It becomes exploitative and not creative. Right now the desire to make movies in 3D must come from the filmmaker and not the studios.

What can we expect to find on the Blu-ray release of Avatar on the 22? Landau:The way we've approached this initial release is all about the quality of the presentation. So there is no additional content on the disc. There are no trailers, no commercials, and no director's commentary because that takes away from the bit-rate that you can apply to the movie. We went with very simplistic menus again because [to elaborate on the menu] meant you have to do nine different versions and you have to do it in French, in Spanish, and do all this different branching. It [would have taken] up enough space that you'd have lost something off of the picture quality. Jim Cameron spent a week with our color timer, who did the movie doing a special color grading for the home entertainment release. Normally, the quote-encoding process takes two weeks. We spent five weeks doing it. We had people involved from Lightstorm throughout, where we made sure everything was right. We think the quality that we are going to present on the Blu-ray is pretty remarkable.

So this is just the movie with no frills. How much of the Blu-ray disc are you using then for the movie? Landau: Well, I wouldn't say "no frills" [chuckles]... We are actually using 100 percent of the disc.… Read more

Comparison: 'Avatar' across HD formats

Ah, Earth Day. Known for bicycling, recycling, and celebrating cycles of life. On Earth Day 2010 the cycle of the year's most anticipated home video release began with the availability of "Avatar" on Blu-ray and DVD, in addition to the major pay-per-view video services. Vudu and Sony's PlayStation Network are the only major streaming/download services to carry the HD version at launch (sorry, Amazon VOD and QRIOCITY), so if you want to watch "Avatar" in HD at home, you'll have to buy one of those two futuristic files or risk being branded a Luddite to actually get the physical Blu-ray.

We scoped all three HD versions of the film in our test lab with an eye toward picture quality. Better yet, since the Blu-ray won't be available in 3D until next year, we thought this would be a good chance to give the 2D-to-3D conversion system on Samsung's 3DTV another shot. Short of creating our own version post-production, it's the closest we'll come for now to seeing Neytiri leap off the screen and onto our laps.

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Biodegradable 3D glasses coming to theaters?

Though some moviegoers' powerful identification with "Avatar" may have inspired them to ponder the planet and rethink their carbon footprint, they likely missed the irony: millions of nonbiodegradable, plastic 3D glasses were reportedly distributed for the movie.

Luckily, cinemas may be on their way to adopting a more sustainable technology. Cereplast, an L.A.-based maker of bioplastics, has partnered with Oculus3D to create what appear to be the first biodegradable 3D glasses. Unlike current 3D glasses that are made using petroleum-based plastic, these will be manufactured with plastic derived from plant materials.

Cereplast and Oculus3D say they'… Read more

James Cameron: Innovation trumps digital piracy

LAS VEGAS- Oscar-winning director James Cameron says the key to combating digital piracy in the movie industry is to use technology to create an experience that is unmatched anywhere other than the theater.

While "Avatar," Cameron's blockbuster 3D-film, has made more money than any other movie in history topping $2.6 billion at the box office worldwide, it is also the most pirated movie. This is despite the fact that the movie was shot in bandwidth hungry high-definition 3D video and is more than three hours long, which should make it harder to distribute via the Net. … Read more

Don't laugh, Venuegen's virtual meetings can work

My co-workers will attest to the fact that when I started reading the materials about Venuegen's virtual-meeting-room service, I audibly groaned. I've had enough of companies trying to make meetings work in Second Life-ish virtual worlds. It's too cute an idea for too serious a need. Or so I've always thought.

A demo of the service, which is being unveiled at the Demo conference Monday, opened my eyes a bit. Built on a gaming platform but decidedly not a game or "virtual world," like Second Life or There, Venuegen is a world of 3D … Read more

Avatar to DVD, Blu-ray on Earth Day, but no 3D version this year

If industry scuttlebutt surrounding the home video release schedule of "Avatar" pans out, "3D" may as well stand for "third dip." The probable bestselling Blu-ray of all time will see at least three versions, and neither of the two coming this year will be in 3D.

Officially, Fox Home Video announced the initial, "bare-bones" release of the film on Blu-ray and DVD for April 22, 2010, which finally gives Earth Day the commercial sheen it has so sorely missed. Massive mounds of marketing will begin March 23, culminating in an anticlimactic "shelf price" of $19.99 for the DVD and $29.99 for the Blu-ray.

Unofficially, according to the Los Angeles Times, November will see a multidisc "ultimate version." We're sure it will include all of the commentaries, documentaries, deleted scenes, animation schematics, blue body paint, and alternate versions of the film fans could ever want--except a 3D version, says Fox.… Read more

Fashion guide for Na'vi wannabes

Those driven to depression by the hard reality that Pandora is not, in fact, a real planet might be comforted to know that several Na'vi-inspired fashions now allow them to at least dress the part while being forced to inhabit this sad-sack place called Earth.

Most recognizably Na'vi is the above leather mask that's supposed to make you look like a hot blue babe from the Omaticaya Clan. InventorSpot found the mask on crafts site Etsy, though sadly, it does not appear to be for sale there anymore. Given that Halloween's still a ways off, this … Read more

Robot avatar MeBot gives you wriggling bug body

In the future, all business meetings will be conducted by telepresence robots--on-site avatar machines that will take care of the boring business of earning a living while we sit back at home sipping lattes and generally enjoying our 300-year lifespans.

Even if you don't believe telepresence robots are going to eliminate the need to get out of bed in the morning, it's hard to dismiss them as a powerful new communication tool, especially if one is waving at you while perched on someone's shoulder.

MIT doctoral student Sigurdur Orn's MeBot is a mobile telepresence bot with richly expressive gestural abilities. It's part of what he terms "socially embodied communication," which is more immediate than an e-mail or phone call.

The robot--which was displayed this week at the Human-Robot Interaction conference in Osaka, Japan--has a small screen atop a three-axis neck that displays the remote user's face, as well as two moving arms. These moving parts help convey user expressions to the other party as the bot moves around on its wheeled base.

The arms seem to be controlled manually, but the moving screen automatically tracks user head movements like nodding or shaking. … Read more

Let's hear it for Oscar nominees for sound

There are two Oscar categories for best sound: best sound editing and best sound mixing. The sound editor designs and pre-plans the sound for the film. If it's a special-effects movie like "Avatar," the sound editor supervises the crew charged with creating the film's soundscape, including all of the sound effects.

Sound editors and mixers are the Rodney Dangerfields of the film biz; they don't get any respect. Look for their names at the very end of the credits, way, way down there with the caterers, hair stylists, and dog wranglers. Yet their mission is near impossible: create a seamless soundtrack that is, in fact, constructed from thousands of sonic fragments.

It's a colossal multichannel jigsaw puzzle, except a lot of the pieces don't fit. It's the mixers' soundtrack machinations that thrust the audience into the reality of the film they're experiencing--the subterfuge totally works--most viewers believe they're watching a literal record of what the camera "saw" and what the microphones "heard." Depending on the type of movie you're watching, most, sometimes 90 percent of the sound was recorded after the film was shot.

The mixers typically work on 15- to 20-second sections of a film, running the sequence over and over, constantly tweaking the balances. They might get hung up on a single music cue for 2 hours. Movies still run at 24 frames per second, and each frame of picture might have hundreds of sound elements. There are background tracks (traffic, wind noise, etc), specific effects tracks (gun shots, birds chirping, etc), foreground dialogue tracks, background dialog (for crowd scenes), plus lots and lots of music tracks.

Music mixing always requires finesse, moving the music in relationship to the picture as little as two frames can completely shift its impact on the scene. Moving a bar here, a downbeat there--it's all about how the music blends with the effects and dialogue--it's easy to lose it. Changes in the music's equalization, balance, and volume can change from picture cut to cut.

Mixing a film is a highly technical endeavor, but at the end of the day, it's not a nuts-and-bolts medium, the film has to feel right. Picture editing dictates the internal rhythms, but sound pushes the film; it has all the little engines that make things happen. It's what gets you caught up in the emotions of the story.… Read more