Ode to Zoic and District 9

I recently got a chance to see District 9 and I think it's worthwhile for BSG fans and sci-fi peeps in general to go out and see this. Yes, I was pleasantly and very enthusiastically surprised. I'm not going to get into a review of that, and don't want to give away any spoilers because it's really best to watch with fresh eyes.

It wasn't necessarily the story of District 9 that impressed me as much as the incredible visual style and effects that were employed throughout the film. This movie was filmed entirely in digital high-def with a Red camera (interestingly also in unmatted 16:9 format for theater projection, which will transfer superbly for "home video", i.e. DVD and Blu-Ray, for HDTV viewing) and relies heavily on computer generated imagery to make the movie work. I have to say it's the most impressive CGI melded to live action I have seen yet. It's a testament to the evolution of high-def digital technology that we have today. That of course, is thanks to the outstanding special effects work done largely by three Vancouver based FX houses. Image Engine held the main contract, followed by The Embassy and then the Zoic Studios Vancouver branch which opened in 2006. Peter Jackson's New Zealand company Weta Digital, who are credited for their work on Jackson's The Lord of the Rings trilogy, handled the remaining FX (close to a third). Check out this Vancouver Sun article for more details on the VFX production, but not if you don't want spoilers! Battlestar (the recent one) fans will surely recognize the CG work in District 9 to be in the same style and spirit that we see with the all CG Cylon Centurions of the series. It's inspired me to post a little about the history of Zoic with Battlestar Galactica here.

Way back around 2001, Tom DeSanto and Bryan Singer (who coincidentally is a hot news item right now as he has been confirmed to direct the Larson BSG theatrical movie - see previous post for more) had been approached by Studio USA (under the USA Television Production Group) to develop a reboot of the 1970's Battlestar Galactica TV series. Zoic Studios was reportedly indirectly associated with this project through one of it's owners, but largely due to the events of 9/11/01 the series came to a halt before production could get a real start and it's pilot could be aired, which was to be hosted by Fox Television (Phew! Thankfully *that* never happened). The project was awash, and just as the smoke began to clear Studio USA turned to David Eick, who reuptook the project on the premise that he could redesign Battlestar apart from what DeSanto and Singer had begun. For the longer version of this story, check out this article on battlestargalactica.com.

David brought in Ron Moore who was fresh off the Star Trek franchise, which Zoic Studios had done a considerable amount of work for. With that in consideration, Zoic was brought on to do the special effects for the Battlestar Galactica miniseries Eick and Moore were developing. Zoic's Emile Smith, who is a professed fan of the original Battlestar series from the 70's, worked on the pre-visualization of the miniseries, and helped develop the look that was retained throughout the series. Smith worked closely with Zoic's Gary Hutzel, Visual Effects Supervisor for BSG, co-supervising mainly for digital effects and remained involved in the series. Kristen Brenan, Head of Production for the Zoic team that worked on District 9, held the same position for Battlestar in 2004. The Zoic team earned the Visual Effects Society's 2004 award for Outstanding Visual Effects in a Television Miniseries, Movie or a Special for their work on the miniseries, along with several other nominations.

Previous to their work on Battlestar, and in addition to Star Trek, Zoic had also gained recognition for their work on two Joss Whedon series; Firefly and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Both earned them Emmy nominations for their VFX work, and Firefly also earned them a 2003 VES award for Best VFX in a TV Series as well as a 2003 Emmy for Best VFX in a TV Series. Buffy won them the 2004 VES Best VFX in a TV Series. Battlestar earned Zoic additional nominations for a VES and an Emmy in 2005, and in 2007 they received a Constellation Award for "Best Technical Accomplishment in a 2006 Science Fiction Film or Television Production for VFX in Battlestar Galactica".

Because of Zoic's earlier work on Star Trek and Firefly, a keen eye will spot both the USS Enterprise and a Firefly class ship (or perhaps serenity herself) in the Battlestar Galactica miniseries. To find out where they are, and for more tidbits on Zoic's work on Battlestar, see their entry here at Battlestar Wiki.

Sometime after the new Battlestar Galactica sailed through it's first season, VFX Supervisor Gary Hutzel decided to make the formal departure from Zoic to create an all in-house VFX team for the show, in order to save time and money. Even though Hutzel's (and Smith) team was no longer under the Zoic name, they still retained the style and look consistently throughout the series, and Zoic did step back in to the series at later points to help supplement the in-house team for heavier loads in some of the season premieres and finales as well as doing work on models and miniatures.

Aside from their involvement with District 9, Battlestar, and the other projects mentioned above, some of Zoic's other work includes Joss Whedon's Angel, The Day After Tomorrow, Spiderman 2, Van Helsing, Serenity, Jericho, Terminator: The Sarah Connor Chronicles (Hello Bear McCreary!), Fringe (already nominated for an Emmy for the pilot! - and I think they already took home a VES for this), Eureka ( More Bear! Zoic also nabbed a Leo award for this), Prison Break, Dr. Horrible's Sing Along Blog, True Blood, Dollhouse, and Chuck... just to name a few!

Edited 8/17/09


Singer confirmed for Larson's Battlestar movie

Yesterday, HitFix posted about the possibility of Bryan Singer getting signed on by Universal to direct the Battlestar Galactica feature film that producer and original series creator Gary Larson entered talks with the studio for earlier this year. Apparently today Variety confirmed from Universal that Singer is indeed going to direct the feature, and the next stage will be to find a writer.

Lots of questions are certainly going to get re-churned with this news, including what kind of effect if any a new-new take on Battlestar will mean for the recently finished RDM series and it's spawn in Caprica which airs January 2010.

The HitFix post has some great links to some of the original plans for a series reboot from Bryan Singer and Tom DesSanto, who cut the project just before starting it back in 2001. They also go back to Richard Hatch's attempt to do a reboot. All of these treasures can be found in the archives of BattlestarGalactica.com.

Personally, I have mixed feelings. There are rumors of grudges Gary Larson has toward the RDM "reimagined series", and I can't help but wonder if Larson is pushing for this in spite of Moore's version. At the same time, I think Bryan Singer is a good choice to handle the project, as long as they let a little more time go by and Singer is given some creative control. I wish Bryan Singer would rehash his Logan's Run reboot he teased about several years ago before BSG gets put in the blender again.

Also at The Hollywood Reporter

Discussion at io9



Thanks to a Nicki Clyne update via Facebook which pointed to this awesome post at Bear McCreary's blog, we now have this spectacular in depth account of the Battlestar Galactica Orchestra concerts that took place during SDCC - a first hand account at that! Bear posts some awesome pictures and two video clips (below), one of which is an interview hijack by Eddie Olmos himself, who took over the mic from an SDNBC reporter and proceeded to interview Bear, Brendan, and Raya himself.

The blog post also touches on Bear's journey at the convention itself, including his participation in Richard Hatch’s Battlestar Retrospective event on the first Thursday of SDCC.

Don't forget to go to Raya's and Brendan's myspace pages to check out and download tracks from BSG episodes!!

Eddie's interview:

View more news videos at: http://www.nbcsandiego.com/video.

Concert excerpt - Tribute to Michael Jackson with "Earth Song":

Bear mentions that a live concert DVD might be on the way! Wee! Keep your eyes on the official Battlestar Galactica Orchestra site for upcoming news on that and exclusive clips and audio. W00t!

"In fact, one of the greatest compliments I heard from a fan all weekend was a girl who told me that she might never again be able to attend a punk concert because it would sound so weak in comparison to the BSG Orchestra."

- Bear McCreary

BSG: Program of the Year!

Fans and sensible critics around the world are gasping a big "Finally!" after Battlestar Galactica brought home the Program of the Year award from the Television Critics Association. Take that Emmys and Golden Globes! LA Times

< Proof in the pudding: Jane Espenson brings home the goods.


The Plan: DVD cover and details

The HD Room now has a glimpse at what the Blu-ray cover of The Plan will look like (virtually the same for standard def), and they also have some of the details for extra content, which should be the same for both formats with the exception of the Blu-ray exclusives of BD-Live content (trivia and live bookmarking). I really, really, really, really hope, however, that there might be some last minute fleeting chance that they will add The Face of the Enemy webisodes to The Plan on DVD/Blu-Ray, since it's practically a crime that TFOTE was not included on the 4.5 box set, nor The Complete Series collection. I'll save that for a later rant though ;)

Poll: How do you like your BSG?

Okay, so it was a pretty slow turnout for the "How Do You Like Your BSG" Poll, especially given that the poll was up for almost a month. In any event, the statistics seem to show that we like our BSG in any which way we can get - some completionists, some opportunists, some high definition enthusiasts, and many a combination of some or all of these.

Will buy Complete Series DVD set
4 (22%)
Will buy Complete Series on Blu-ray
5 (27%)
Even though already own other seasons on DVD
5 (27%)
Waiting for a good deal on CS on DVD
0 (0%)
Waiting for a good deal on CS on Blu-ray
3 (16%)
Own some other seasons on DVD
2 (11%)
Do not own any seasons on DVD
1 (5%)
Own all seasons on DVD (so far)
6 (33%)
Will get individual seasons on Blu-ray in August
0 (0%)
Will slowly acquire individual seasons on Blu-ray
1 (5%)
Will slowly acquire individual seasons on DVD
1 (5%)
Will only be buying 4.5 DVD on July 28th
2 (11%)
Will get 4.5 Blu-ray on July 28th
1 (5%)
Will eventually get 4.5
2 (11%)
Do not plan on buying any BSG DVDs or Blu-rays
1 (5%)

Total Votes: 18