Saturday, January 31, 2009

On the "Reading Workbench" Part 1

I'm a fairly avid reader and thought the blog would be a good place to discuss some of the more interesting books that I've read recently. My interest in books covers technology, history, film making. I was originally thinking of making a list of books that I've read and just leaving it at that, but then I thought it would be worthwhile to give my impressions of them too while I was at it.

So here goes ...

1). Droidmaker: George Lucas and the Digital Revolution
Droidmaker tells, in immense detail, the story of the George Lucas and his quest to modernize the film making process to keep up with his vision for storytelling. Beginning in the late 60's the book begins describing the collaboration and friendship with Francis Ford Coppola. It documents the tedious, labor intensive and manual process for assembling a film. The story follows the creation of the the computer graphics group at Lucasfilm which had three purposes: to advance the state of film editing, compositing, and sound creation. The story follows this group, a portion of which eventually formed the core of what became Pixar. Along the way graphics luminaries such as Ed Catmull, and Alvy Ray Smith and other notable people are encountered. Overall an excellent read (so much that I've read it 3 times !). Michael Rubin, the author of the book, keeps a very interesting blog.

Side comment (and a couple of cool links):
Anyone who knows me knows that I am an avid, Star Wars, ILM, and George Lucas fan. However, what intrigues me most is what George Lucas had done to advance the state of film making. The DroidMaker book is the book I've been waiting for for years to come out as it provides a highly detailed look at the center of the film making revolution.
I remember as a child seeing the making of shows that showed the behind-the-scenes magic that went into the making of those images. Another major influence in my childhood (I guess like any kid growing up in the mid-late 70s) was that of computers. I recall seeing buried in an issue of Byte magazine a one page blurb about a completely computer generated "photograph" called the "Road to Point Reyes," rendered by the the Lucasfilm Computer Graphics Group. This book gives all the detail to this fascinating group of people and continues to show how key they were to modernizing/"digitalizing" the process of film making.


#2 The Pixar Story
A nice corollary the DroidMaker and gives a slightly different take on the same topic. This follows the "Computer Graphics" group of Lucasfilm, how Pixar was spun out and went from a hardware company, to producing shorts and commercials to finally feature films. The book wraps up discussing the purchase by Disney.


#3 The DV Rebel's Guide: An All-Digital Approach to Making Killer Action Movies on the Cheap
THE book for the independent film maker. Stu Maschwitz is discusses how, by planning, and using basic tools (Adobe After Effects CS4), professional, high-quality stories can be made into film. There is no description that does this book adequate justice; if you want to make a film, this book is an absolute MUST to own.


#4 Walt Disney: The Triumph of the American Imagination
Excellent, detailed book highlighting the life of Walt Disney. The book gives a keen look into how hard Walt Disney struggled to get his studio established. Reading this book, you gain insight into how a focused vision and long, hard work and tenacity built the studio. Another insight I had was how Walt always wanted to be doing something new and innovative; how after he made a groundbreaking advance, he would be ready for new, different challenges. Snow White and Pinocchio were, as far as Walt was concerned, the pinnacle of animation. After this (except for Fantasia, where a new concept in animation was attempted) Walt was ready to move on to other things, most notably the theme parks. The book also describes the relationship he had with his brother and how the two personalities formed a good team. Walt, the creative visionary always held the craftsmanship of the final product as the main goal; Roy however had to keep the costs under control and provide financing for Walt's creative vision. Another highly recommended book.

More books to follow in the next post ...

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