Sunday, February 22, 2015

Outer Space Imagery

Micros help California-based special effects filmmakers create images of outer space.


A microcomputer-based solid modeling system played a major supporting role in Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer/United Artist Co,'s (MGM/UA) motion picture 2010, which opened late last year in the U.S.

The Cubicomp Corp. Polycad/10 system, which generates three-dimensional shaded images, was used with an IBM Personal Computer and proprietary software, plus software designed by John Wash and Richard Hollander of Video Image, the production company responsible for the video display images. Wash said the system produced nearly all the video display images that filled the interior of the film's major set - the Leonov space ship on its voyage to a rendezvous near Jupiter.

Video Image used the system to develop an hour of computer animation at its shop near the MGM/UA soundstage where much of 2010, the sequel to the 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey, was filmed, Wash said. The company later fed those images to CRT displays on the set of both the Leonov and its mission target, the Discovery.

Video Image chose the Polycad/10 system about 1½ years ago, Wash said. "We did not want to support a VAX or something that big," he said. The system's 512- by 512-pixel resolution was adequate for what the company wanted, and other systems the company looked at did not have as much software support, he said.

Images on the system can be rotated, rescaled and repositioned interactively using the keyboard and graphics tablet with no programming knowledge required, Wash said.

Computer-generated image of
the Leonov spaceship in flight.
The system produces three-dimensional solid models on a microcomputer, creating a skeletal system that costs about $20,000, but the skeletal system is not nearly adequate for movie-making, Wash said. "We developed our own package of software for purposes of color mapping automations and some facilities to help us animate the Cubicomp data bases," he said.

Video Image combined the Polycad/10 system with Cubicomp's two-dimensional computer paint program and its own animation master-control package, aptly named HAL after the HAL9000 computer that "starred" in both films, Wash said.

The system's chief benefit to Video Image, according to Wash, is that the company can create data bases for the spacecraft, planets and other structures used in a movie and then use the data bases a number of times and from different angels to animate the objects. Wash said he is pleased with the ease of making changes.

Because Video Image bought one of the first systems delivered, it had to work around limitations in the available software, Wash said. The system's software does not allow for changing camera viewpoints, he said. It has a fixed viewpoint that Video Image has to work around, he added.

2001: A Space Odyssey used only a couple of computer-generated sequences, produced on a pen plotter and photographed on a display screen.

"If you want to fly around an object and see it from the viewer's point of view, you can't do it," he said.

Wash and Hollander, an engineer and programmer with Video Image, created sequences that were integral to the plot of 2010, as well as generic material shown in the background, Wash said. Among the more spectacular footage was a sequence depicting a computer flyby of Europa, one of the moons of Jupiter, which duplicates film taken of a model of the moon's surface using single-frame animation, he said.

Background sequences ran the gamut of what might be expected on an interplanetary space flight: navigation readouts, status reports, radar sweeps, crew schedules and medical reports, Wash said. Video Image performed its own art direction for these sequences, working directly with Peter Hyams, director and producer of the film.

Wash said that 2001: A Space Odyssey used only a couple of computer-generated sequences, produced on a pen plotter and photographed on a display screen. The remainder were created using traditional animation techniques with no computer involvement, he said.

By comparison, Video Image produced virtually all its display sequences on its computer system, Wash said. Hence, the computerized images were generated by a computer and displayed on actual video monitors, rather than being projected from the rear of the set.

(First published in Computerworld, March 4, 1985. Copyright © 1985 Computerworld.)

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Roy Scheider

After fighting police corruption, gas giants, and killer sharks the beloved actor lost his final battle, a several-years-long fight against blood cancer. Roy Richard Scheider died February 10th, 2008.

To many movie goers, Roy Scheider will eternally be Police Chief Martin C. Brody. Scheider was, somehow, always able to portray his characters in ways that made it impossible for audiences not to feel connected to them, despite their flaws and errors in judgement. Even as a bewildered Police Chief trying to make sense of a outlandish situation, he managed to draw us all in.

However Roy Scheider was of course much more than that.


Born and raised in Orange, New Jersey, Scheider's hard-to-pinpoint persona manifested very early on in his life. Already in high school - and later on in college - he was focusing on two diametrically opposing challenges: boxing and acting. His memorable, angular face that was much to his advantage in the latter pursuit was obviously the result of the former. Boxing broke his nose not once, but twice, first in 1947 and later in 1950. No palooka, after years of boxing in the amateur cirquits Scheider had earned quite a reputation for himself, and was well-respected in the ring. After his first nose-breaking loss in 1947, he proceeded to win every single bout he ever fought, all by KO and most in the first round. In 1953 he unexpectedly hung up his gloves, and in his uncharacteristically characteristical fashion enlisted.

Scheider in The Curse of the Living Corpse (1964).

His military career as an Air Force officer lasted all of 3 years, but then he returned to his acting pursuit anew. Not one to be easily pigeonholed, he returned to the boxing ring in 1958, but the one-off match was to be his final bout in the ring.

Needless to say, he won by KO in the first round.

"We're Gonna need a Bigger Boat"

Throughout the '70s it seemed Scheider could do not much wrong. In 1971 he got his first Academy Award nomination for his role in The French Connection. In 1975 he starred in the low-budget film that he is perhaps best remembered for: Jaws. He capped off the decade in 1979 with his second Academy Award nomination for his role in All That Jazz.

The '80s were not as kind to Scheider as the previous decade was. Due to somewhat murky contractual obligations he was forced to star in the very much lesser movie Jaws 2, instead of being the star in The Deer Hunter, a role Scheider had focused his efforts on and had lobbied very hard to get. The role in The Deer Hunter went to Robert De Niro, and Scheider's luck began changing. Jaws 2 was panned by audiences and critics alike, rightly so and due to issues beyond Scheider's control, but his career took a severe beating from which it never really recovered.


In the '80s Scheider took on enormously varied roles. Sometimes he was overshadowed by the special effects and the technology, such as in Blue Thunder and why not 2010. In every movie, however, he always portrayed the characters with his professional 'everyman' authority. Described by his colleagues as endearing, honest, and 'a delight to work with' (in 2010 director Peter Hyams' words), Scheider could always bring the audience inside the movie. The way he approached the characters and the stories let the audiences see the events through the character's eyes, and ultimately of course his.

After remarrying in 1989 and starting a family he took on fewer and fewer roles, instead devoting his time to his family, spending time with his wife and raising their kids.

A peace activist and engaged in environmental issues, Scheider's everyman was not just his job persona, it was very much who he was. Eschewing the Hollywood ivory towers he was just one amongst many, the neighbor guy, the ordinary man protesting the Vietnam War or the Iraq War. And yes, Scheider protested both. In fact he became more vocal about his country's involvement in Iraq the older he got.

In February of 2008, after several years battling multiple myeloma, Roy Scheider passed through the veil. The next day would have been his wedding anniversary.

Roy Scheider was 75.

Image copyright ©1964 20th Century Fox.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Cheryl Carter - the Singing Actress

Cheryl Carter was the East Coast girl who was torn between being an actress and being a musician. She solved the conundrum, like so many other things she faced in her life, by tackling it head on: she became both.

Actress and singer Cheryl Lynn Carter was born July 29, 1948 in Baltimore, Maryland, the home of Martinet Opera School and Baltimore Jazz.

Carter in 2005.
A singer at heart, she always found inspiration in music. "I always had my mind, my energies and my heart," she said, "deeply rooted in music."

Heading to New York from her native Maryland, and from thereon westwards to Los Angeles and ultimately Hollywood, the first time she stepped in front of the movie camera, at the age of 32, was in 1981, for the film Hard Country. After that initial inroad many, many roles followed.

Among her other movie credits are her roles as the titular character’s mother in Black Dynamite, and as Sandy in the television movie The Choice. Throughout her acting career she had numerous smaller parts on television, in series such as Moonlighting, ER, Dexter, The Practice, The Bold and the Beautiful, and as Congresswoman Haas in The West Wing.

Weaving her career both as a singer and an actress in equal parts, she managed to combine them both into a very personal and expressive career.

Very much at home on the theater stage, she portrayed Lena Horne in the fantastical "musical murder mystery" Dark Legends in Blood. Carter received acclaim for her role as Leone in the opera Burning Dreams, as well as for her role as Aldonza in Man of La Mancha. Interestingly she repeated her role as Lena Horne - in addition to also playing the role of Marian Anderson - in the Embassy Theater musical anthology Voices.

Carter in 2010.
Ms. Carter also did radio and TV voice-overs, commercials, music videos, and voice acted as Marsha Carmichael in the animated series Rugrats, as Justice Department attorney Christina Brannon in the game Law & Order, and as the character Storm in the game X-Men. Her final foray into gaming was in 2011 when she did incidental voices for the game L.A. Noire.

The movies and roles she thought of as her favorites were Ron Howard’s movie Night Shift, her role as Marcia Heller in Sam Peckinpah's film Osterman Weekend, and - perhaps surprisingly - her short but important role in 2010: The Year We Make Contact.

Since she was a Leo, Carter's 'destiny planet' was, of course, Jupiter.

A polished professional and a warmhearted person, she is dearly missed by all people she worked with.

Cheryl Lynn Carter sadly passed away on February 3, 2013 after a long battle with cancer.

She was 64.

Images copyright ©1984 MGM, ©2005 J.P.Productions.