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Michael McCormick * Puppeteer Known for Dark Crystal, Labyrinth and Return of the Jedi

Tuesday, April 14th, 2020

We recently sat down with Master Puppeteer Michael McCormick to learn more about his work on Jim Henson’s films and more.

Michael McCormick has broad experience with design and fabrication in FX makeup, creatures, puppets and special props. Since 1960, he has been a professional sculptor and puppeteer and a member of both SAG and IATSE.

McCormick was performing his Punch and Judy puppet show on the Santa Fe Plaza in 1980 when Roger Miller (country music legend) stopped to chat. “He told me, ‘You ever shown your stuff to Jim Henson?’ ” McCormick said. “I said, ‘No.’ He said, ‘You want to?’ The New Mexico native packed his puppets and flew to London. “Jim Henson hired me, because I loved my own work,” he said. Henson hired him to work on a new project called The Dark Crystal. Though it wasn’t a huge hit at the time, it has become one of the biggest hits of children’s cinema from the 1980s. McCormick was the head of the unit that created the puppets that were the bad guys, the evil Skeksis. From there, he went on to work on classics such as Labyrinth, created puppets for Return of the Jed and did special effects for other TV shows and movies. “But it was “Return of the Jedi” that stands out, he said. He created Salacious Crumb, Jabba The Hutt’s jester, for the film.

Though he retired in Ireland – or tried to – he returned to the States, taught at New Mexico State University and gives an occasional lecture. McCormick has always been a studio artist and shows his work in the United States and Europe. McCormick credits his parents for his love of the absurd and puppetry. His father came to Los Alamos in the 1940s to work on the Manhattan Project, and he encouraged McCormick to experiment and build things.

Interview by Benjamin P., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic


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Maureen Fan, CEO/Founder, Baobab Studios – The World’s Leading Indie Interactive Narrative Animation Studio

Saturday, March 28th, 2020

Today, it is our pleasure to introduce you to a female leader in animation film production. Maureen Fan, CEO and co-founder Baobab Studios. Six-time Emmy winning Baobab Studios is the world’s leading independent interactive narrative animation studio. Their mission: Bring out your sense of wonder. Inspire you to dream. Make YOU matter. Baobab has won an Emmy for Best Interactive Media for every qualifying project the studio has created. Named Fast Company’s 2018 Most Innovative Company, Baobab is creatively led by Eric Darnell, the writer and director of Antz and all four Madagascar films. In a first, Hollywood is taking Baobab’s VR IP to become a feature film: Roth Kirschenbaum Films (​Maleficent, Alice in Wonderland, Snow White and The Huntsman) has signed on to adapt ​INVASION! into a traditional feature film.

Check out Gerry O’s interview with Maureen Fan from earlier this month.

Baobab has won six Emmy awards as well as the first-ever Annie award for Best VR Production. Crow: The Legend, both a linear animated short film and an interactive VR experience, won the most awards of any animated program or series, traditional and/or interactive, at the 2019 Emmy Awards. Baobab has released Invasion!, Asteroids!, Jack, Crow: The Legend, and Bonfire to commercial and critical acclaim. Their work (traditional, VR, and AR) has gone viral landing on YouTube’s trending category. 


Their work stars diverse talents such as John Legend, Oprah, Constance Wu, Diego Luna, Liza Koshy, Tye Sheridan, Elizabeth Banks, Ethan Hawke, Lupita Nyong’o, and Ali Wong.

Lauded as the “Pixar of Virtual Reality” (CNet, The Wall Street Journal), Baobab’s advisors include Alvy Ray Smith (Pixar co-founder), Glenn Entis (DreamWorks Animation co-founder), legendary Oscar-winning animator Glen Keane, Mireille Soria, Kevin Lin (Twitch co-founder).

Investors include: Comcast Ventures, HTC, Samsung, Shari Redstone and Liz Murdoch’s Advancit/Freelands Cap, The Chernin Group, Horizons Ventures, 20th Century Fox, EMP, Shanghai Media Group, Youku Global Media Fund (Alibaba), Zynga co-founder Mark Pincus, and PayPal co-founder Peter Thiel.

Ms. Fan has held leadership roles in film, gaming, and the consumer web. She was most recently vice president of games at Zynga, where she oversaw three game studios, including the FarmVille sequels, which contributed to 40% of the company’s revenues. Previously, she worked on Pixar’s Toy Story 3 film and at eBay in product management and UI design. Her most recent collaboration, “The Dam Keeper,” directed by Dice Tsutsumi and Robert Kondo, was nominated for the 2015 Oscar® Best Animated Short. She received her undergraduate degree in an interdisciplinary program in computer science, art and psychology from Stanford University graduating Phi Beta Kappa and earned her master’s degree in business from Harvard University.

By Gerry O., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 17
Author’s Page – Amazon
World According to G

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Industry Veteran Glenn Ross Shares Words of Wisdom and Insight with KIDS FIRST!

Saturday, March 21st, 2020

You are sure to enjoy Gerry O.’s interview with industry veteran Glenn Ross, sharing his wisdom and advice for kids wanting to pursue a career in the entertainment business. Take a look at his video interview below and read here more about him.

A veteran in the global entertainment arena, Glenn Ross has served as General Manager and Executive Vice President of Universal 1440 Entertainment since March 2005.  He oversees the development and production of live-action and animated productions for distribution in all media worldwide, fueling Universal’s aggressive strategy of capitalizing on the power of its high-profile properties and franchises to create top-quality filmed entertainment content.

Mr. Ross and his team have produced movies based on the wildly successful Bring It On film franchise. Additionally, he was responsible for the Tony Award-nominated Broadway Musical, Bring It On: The Musical.  Mr. Ross oversaw the fall 2006 production of the Daytime Emmy Award®-winning Curious George series,the #1 animated television pre-school program on PBS Kids.     

Universal 1440 Entertainment has also produced sequels to The Land Before Time, American Pie Presents, Death Race, Scorpion King, Beethoven, The Little Rascals, Veggie Tales, Dragonheart, The Little Engine That Could and the latest installment in the Chucky franchise.

Mr. Ross came to Universal from Lionsgate Family Home Entertainment where he served as Executive Vice President and was responsible for the acquisition, production, marketing and day-to-day activities for the company’s family entertainment projects. Concurrently, as EVP of Lionsgate Home Entertainment, Mr. Ross oversaw all the marketing efforts for the division.  He joined the company in January 1998 when it was formerly known as Artisan Home Entertainment.

Prior to his tenure at Lionsgate, Mr. Ross worked as Senior Vice President of Hallmark Home Entertainment where he was responsible for the acquisition, marketing and sales for a broad range of films.  Before Hallmark, Mr. Ross held the position of Senior Vice President of Republic Pictures, overseeing worldwide theatrical, home video and television marketing. Previously, he served as Vice President of Marketing at RCA/Columbia Home Video.  Mr. Ross began his career as Director of Creative Services for RSO (The Robert Stigwood Organization) Records. He holds a BS from the Philadelphia College of Art, and is a Trustee of the Starlight Children’s Foundation.

By Gerry O., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 17
Author’s Page – Amazon
World According to G

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Introducing industry leader, Geneva Wasserman, SVP, Condé Nast Entertainment

Friday, March 13th, 2020

Today in our third installment of our CSuite Interviews, we’d like to introduce you to Geneva Wasserman, SVP Motion Pictures, Condé Nast Entertainment.

Wasserman, a nearly 20-year veteran of the entertainment industry, previously was co-founder and executive producer of Project Z Entertainment where she is credited for producing Door Man and Godfrey.  While there, Wasserman and Tim Marlowe struck a deal with Microsoft to develop and implement proprietary artificial intelligence software tools to better predict market reaction to entertainment and advertising content.

Previously, Wasserman was president of Whitener Entertainment Group, a film/TV production house focused on family and animation, and president of WV Enterprises, Wilmer Valderrama’s film and television production company, where she produced Seoul Searching and Gnome Alone. She also co-founded publishing and advertising platforms True360VR and 360 AdSpots.

Wasserman started her career as an attorney with law firm Gray Cary. She has worked as an entertainment licensing attorney and in business development, finance and production roles on projects at Disney, Lionsgate, Oxygen, DreamWorks Animation, Fox Searchlight, 20th Century Fox and Discovery, among others.

Condé Nast Entertainment (CNE) is an award-winning next generation studio and distribution network with entertainment content across film, television, premium digital video, social, virtual reality and OTT channels. CNE develops, produces and distributes video content across 17 brands, including Bon Appétit, Glamour, GQ, Vanity Fair, Vogue and Wired. We can’t wait to see what Ms. Wasserman brings to life at CNE.

Interview by Nathalia J., KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 11

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Who is VFX Whizz Scott Ross?

Monday, March 2nd, 2020

In our second C-Suite Interview, KIDS FIRST! introduces you to Scott Ross, a maven of the Visual Effects Industry. Veteran KIDS FIRST! Film Critic Gerry O. recently met with Scott in his southern California home to discuss the history and future of VFX. Take a look and learn!

Marvel produces films full of actors in green suits running on green treadmills in front of green walls. Yet, audiences never see these films, because of the thousands of people working in an industry called visual effects (VFX), the art of cinematic illusions. VFX ranges from mirrors and double exposure to making ghostly images on film, to complex supercomputers processing 3D models that mimic reality.

Few know the VFX industry better than Scott Ross, former general manager of Industrial Light and Magic as well as co-founder of Digital Domain. His work has garnered an incredible seven Academy Awards for Best Visual Effects, Technical Achievement Awards and more.

When Scott first entered the VFX industry in the 1980s, computer technology still had years of development ahead. Thus, the industry relied on photochemical processes, optical printers and optical illusions to achieve the desired effects. “Everything was film-oriented, and everything was organic,” Scott explained.

When computers did arrive, the VFX industry had a brand-new issue: “there were no… true artists that understood how to work within a computer.” So, the pioneering VFX artists were computer scientists from top institutions such as UC Berkeley. As expected, mixing computer scientists with traditional cinematic artists, “didn’t work all that well,” Scott commented.

While technology has certainly improved with the release of sophisticated programs like NUKE by Foundry or Adobe After Effects by Adobe Systems, the industry still has many problems to solve. Marvel’s most recent hit, Avengers: Endgame features characters made digitally, worlds made digitally and even the outfits of main characters are made digitally. This has caused many to argue that VFX has become overused as the average film becomes increasingly digitally made. Yet, production companies have a reason to put in as much VFX as possible.

Scott explains that international markets have become an increasingly larger portion of a film’s profit and, “you’re not going to have Driving Miss Daisy [a dialogue-heavy period piece] play very well in Beijing or Shanghai.” Yet, characters turning to dust? Volcanoes erupting? That has far more international promise than a film with two characters talking.

While there may be an ever-growing demand for VFX, VFX companies continue to go out of business due to production companies constantly asking for changes, increasing the time needed to perfect their work. The pressure-riddled VFX artists suffer as they work long hours with little rest due to razor-thin time constraints (Avengers: Endgame finished VFX less than a month before premiering) and, do their work inside in darkness, often across the world from where production takes place. Sometimes, they don’t even appear in the credits of the film.

While technology continues to improve to make the lives of VFX artists easier, it also invariably has caused the industry to “bifurcate,” making many artists obsolete while only the world-renowned artists maintain demand. For example, take the field of rotoscoping. This animation technique revolves around cutting out objects from the rest of a frame and, based on personal experience, maybe the most monotonous step in the filmmaking process. Because it can be done by anyone, it has been outsourced to countries with cheaper labor like India and China, and has increasingly been replaced by sophisticated computer programs.

Visual Effects continues to be an increasingly important step in filmmaking. Despite the industry being in its infant stage, it has already felt the blunt impact of technological innovation and will continue to do so as lifeless computers become more involved in the emotional process of making cinema.

By Gerry Orz, KIDS FIRST! Film Critic, age 17
Author’s Page – Amazon
World According to G

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