Thursday, November 03, 2005

It's a Chicken Little weekend


Exhibs, studios have eye on 'Chicken' rollout
After four months of scrambling to secure deals and install the technology, Disney Digital 3-D is finally ready for its close-up.

As "Chicken Little" -- Walt Disney Studios' first home-grown CGI animated feature -- hits theaters this weekend, Disney, along with its partners Industrial Light + Magic EDITOR'S NOTE: UNCLE G ROCKS! , Dolby Labs and Real D, will bow a souped-up 3-D edition of the G-rated film in 84 screens throughout North America. EDITOR'S NOTE: PROBABLY NOT IN HOUSTON, RIGHT? (SNIFFLE)

The industry will be watching closely, since Disney's experiment could affect both the installation of digital cinema and the future of 3-D movies.

Last year, Imax proved with its 3-D version of Warner Bros. Pictures' "The Polar Express" that consumers will show up to theaters, even at a higher price point, to see something that can't be replicated in the home. But Disney's 3-D operation will determine whether consumers are interested in the 3-D experience in a traditional theater, whether they will pay more for it and whether they will make repeat visits. EDITOR'S NOTE: IF YOU LIKE IT, AND IF YOU GO, THEY WILL GIVE US "STAR WARS" IN 3-D IN A COUPLE OF YEARS. SO GO. LIKE IT. (YOUR QOTD COMMANDS YOU)!

'Chicken' release set on more than a wing and prayer
By Sheigh Crabtree
As the Walt Disney Studios breaks open its digital 3-D version of "Chicken Little" on 84 screens this weekend, behind the scenes a veritable army of technologists is poised to ensure that the world's first digital 3-D theatrical release arrives sunny side up. EDITOR'S NOTE: SO MANY CHICKEN PUNS, SO LITTLE TIME.....
To help exhibitors through this crucial weekend, one d-cinema engineer is assigned to each 3-D screen for the first run of the film. No fewer than three toll-free numbers have been set up for exhibitors, and new d-cinema projectors have magnets stuck to them with help lines clearly displayed.
For the past week, key studio and d-cinema executives involved with the 3-D release have been holed up in a war room known as "the chicken coop"EDITOR'S NOTE: SEE WHAT I MEAN?! on the Disney lot, overseeing the deployment of the 84 new digital 3-D projection systems. A few execs will remain stationed in "the coop" over the weekend to deploy response teams to any exhibition sites in peril.
"Exhibitors are counting on us for reliability, and there is a lot of fear associated with new digital equipment," said Tim Partridge, Dolby senior vp and general manager of the professional division. "In terms of a technology transition, the move to digital cinema is enormous, but we believe we can provide assurance"

When Disney first announced in June that it would debut "Chicken Little" in 3-D, it set in motion several frenzied months that saw the build-out of multiple Dolby digital cinema screens; the roll-out of Real D, an as-yet unproved 3-D projection technology; the creation of a newly engineered digital postproduction process at Industrial Light + Magic; and the mass production of four acres worth of cute green polarized glasses. EDITOR'S NOTE: WITH LITTLE CHICKENS ON THEM?
At stake this weekend is the viability of digital cinema, digital 3-D and the promise of a new out-of-home experience.
"We're all tied together in this: Disney, ILM, Real D and exhibitors," said Michael Lewis, Real D co-founder and chairman. "The audience is going to tell us how we do very shortly."
Although all involved hope audiences will lose themselves in the immersive 3-D experience, plenty of drama lies behind bringing the re-outfitted animated film to the screen.
The first bump in the road arrived the day that Disney publicly announced its 3-D plan in June. Exhibitors were caught largely unaware that they would be asked to commit to the new digital cinema equipment. Disney's distribution team fanned out across the country to present roadshows explaining the concept to exhibitors.
In order to show the movie in 3-D, theater owners then had to haggle with Disney's two d-cinema partners, Dolby and Real D, over equipment deals. Each company negotiated separate long-term yearly contracts with exhibitors for their systems.
Along the way, Disney's initial goal of 100 screens fell to 84, due to a shortage of available digital projection systems, execs said.
"We had in excess of 100 exhibitors interested," said Real D CEO Josh Greer, "but we couldn't get the equipment. Digital projector suppliers are used to selling 5-10 units a month, and all of a sudden they had an order for 50."EDITOR'S NOTE: OOPS. (NO ONE THOUGHT TO CHECK BEFORE THEY WENT ON THE BIG SALES PUSH?)
Walt Disney Feature Animation faced a completely different challenge in turning its first in-house computer animated film into a 3-D experience.
"Our main 3-D production challenge was overcome when we found the gang at Industrial Light + Magic," said Lylle Breier, senior vp worldwide special events.
The Marin Country visual effects shop had not planned to convert 1,400 computer animated shots into 3-D in just over three months. It did not have a digital 3-D process in place, or 3-D conversion software, or a team to handle the task, according to Colum Slevin, senior director of computer graphics, Industrial Light + Magic. ILM also was in the middle of a company-wide move to San Francisco's Presidio.
"There's a white-knuckle element to this whole thing," Slevin said. "It's a quantum leap for us to suddenly cram 1,400 shots into a pipeline on a three-month schedule. Remember, 'Chicken Little' was never planned as 3-D movie. We had to crack open (Walt Disney Feature Animation) shots that have been in production for four years, and they changed their pipeline halfway through production."He further explained, "It's an archival challenge trying to find (the) right take; it's a gargantuan bookkeeping exercise, but it's also an amazing aesthetic exercise." EDITOR'S NOTE: SPOKEN LIKE SOMEONE WHO LOVES THEIR JOB SO MUCH THEY DON'T REALLY NEED TO BE PAID, AND PROBABLY HAVE BEEN WEARING THE SAME SHIRT FOR 4 OR 5 DAYS.
It also was an exercise that other computer animation houses, such as Pixar, DreamWorks/PDI, Blue Sky and others, have been closely watching, aware they may need to do 3-D conversions of their films currently in production, Slevin suggested.
The 3-D conversion process cost Disney about $8 million,EDITOR'S NOTE: THAT DOESN'T SEEM LIKE VERY MUCH, IN THE SCHEME OF THINGS. according to two sources close to the production. ILM delivered the 3-D digital master of "Chicken Little" on schedule to Disney on Sept. 19.
Although Disney had penciled in a screening of the film at the ShowEast exhibitors convention on Oct. 24, it opted instead to present just a short, 3-D clip from the movie.
Said Breier, "We did in 4 months something that normally would have taken over a year. We weren't finished, and we were not ready to show the whole movie at ShowEast. It's a gigantic process. Once ILM was finished, there was color-timing, testing. The movie was finished in postproduction at Disney."
Meanwhile, the projection booth and silver screen installations were coming down to the wire, as well.
"The end is near," said Michael Karagosian, president of MKPE Consulting. "We're hearing all kinds of stories from exhibitors. There are lots of problems installing new screens, equipment hasn't been showing up on time, security keys have been delayed; it's just a huge hurdle for everyone involved."
Partridge commented, "It's a really complex new system and radically new technology to those 40 (theater chains). So, yes, of course, we're seeing teething problems, and that's why we need to supply as much customer support as we are doing."
Added Breier, "You can't imagine. Every day there were things that came up with this movie. There was nothing easy about it, but being first isn't easy."


Our hero.

On November 4, Disney's "Chicken Little" will finally reveal the truth to a waiting world - is the sky falling?
Is the littlest guy on the block up to the challenge of saving the world?
And do chickens have rhythm?
The first fully computer-animated feature from Walt Disney Pictures, "Chicken Little" gives a classic tale a fresh and funky twist.
Chicken Little is the town laughingstock because of that whole "The Sky Is Falling" fiasco - no one, including his father, takes him seriously. And just when things begin to go right for Chicken Little, he's faced with a dilemma - raise the alarm again and risk becoming a laughingstock, or let the world face a skyborne menace without warning?
Zach Braff brings the voice of Chicken Little to life, with Garry Marshall as his baffled dad, and an illustrious cast of stars rounding out the bill. Keep an ear out for Joan Cusack, Amy Sedaris, Don Knotts, Patrick Stewart, and more!

The "Insider" was lucky enough to snag an exclusive interview with the guy who just might be Hollywood's hottest new star - Chicken Little himself.
How do you feel about your film debut?
I'm incredibly excited to finally have my story told. This project was being shopped around town (it was originally titled "Crazy Chicken") and I'm glad to see the folks at Disney decided to set the record straight - there's a lot that happened after the acorn incident.
Are you going to "Go Hollywood"?
I'm trying to stay grounded. Ever since I proclaimed that the sky was falling, I've received a massive amount of media attention. The movie star thing isn't without its perks - plus I'm being offered a ton of roles. I just turned down a role as the next Bond, and I'm considering an offer to be Captain Jack Sparrow's first mate in the PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN sequels. The producers are a little worried that my fame might upstage Johnny Depp, so we'll see how that pans out. EDITOR'S NOTE: AND A PLUG FOR ANOTHER DISNEY PROJECT. SHOCKING CROSS-PROMO. (SNICKER)
So, is the sky in fact falling?
Well, let me ask you this - is water wet? Is the sky blue? Is Darth Vader Luke's father? EDITOR'S NOTE: GIGGLE. SO....CHICKEN LITTLE IS A DWEEB! At the risk of sounding insane, let me just simply say that yes, the sky is in fact falling. It has been for centuries and according to experts (namely, me) we're expected to see a ton of sky falling activity on November 4.
We've heard rumors about you and Ugly Duckling. Is there a little romance brewing there?
Her name is Abby, and a gentlechicken never kisses and tells.
You've had quite an adventure. How are you recovering?
Yes, it's been quite a ride. Saving the world can be exhausting! But I haven't had much time to recover, because promoting a movie is even more exhausting!
Have you and Foxy Loxy reconciled your differences?
Yes. She's my personal assistant now, actually. Foxy has many important duties, like getting my morning cappuccino, answering my calls, taking care of the dry cleaning...
Is there a lesson you'd like us all to learn from your experiences?
The best lesson I learned was from Abby. She told me that "Teen Duck" magazine said that bottling up your feelings can lead to early molting. So in addition to learning to communicate with my dad (I'm already short, so I don't think I could handle being bald), I also discovered that it's important to trust my instincts and stick up for myself. If you're sure the sky is falling, don't let anyone - family, friends, the town mayor - tell you that you're crazy.
Your movie is very funny. Do you think of yourself as a comic kind of guy?
Thanks! I always felt I had a certain dry wit, but it's just great to have people laughing with me, instead of at me. Well, okay, I guess some people still laugh at me.
Some of the action in "Chicken Little" is pretty hair-raising! Did you do your own stunts?
Yes, but for insurance reasons please keep this off the record - I wasn't supposed to do them. Disney hired a stunt double for the movie, but I felt that since I had bulked up a bit for the role - I gained 3 ounces - I could tackle the film's incredible stunts. As for the others, Runt didn't do his own stunts, but he did do his own singing and dancing. That pig has a beautiful voice and boy can he move!
What are your plans for the future?
Currently I'm on a big promotional tour for "Chicken Little," and after that I don't know. I might go back to Oakey Oaks for a while and get out of the limelight, or I might join Runt and Abby in a national karaoke and dance competition. The future's wide open!


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