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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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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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Calling all Indie Filmmakers! Submit Your Films Now for a KIDS FIRST! Endorsement.

Saturday, November 22nd, 2014

Submit.Nov.2014.Horiz.jpgFor all indie filmmakers, you have until November 30 to submit your films for a KIDS FIRST! Endorsement. To get your endorsement before the end of 2014, send it in today.

The sooner you get it to us, the quicker you get your endorsement.KIDS FIRST! has been supporting quality children’s media for 23 years and is the most highly respected media endorsement program in the country. Unlike an awards program which limits the number of winners, every title that meets our criteria and is approved by our kids’ juries receives an endorsement. Our base-line criteria includes:

NO gratuitous violence or abuse
NO inappropriate sexual behavior
NO bias in terms of race, gender, culture or religion
NO condescension toward children
NO replicable unsafe behavior

KIDS FIRST! Endorsed Titles Receive

  • The right to use the KIDS FIRST! endorsement seal and rating on all promotional and packaging materials..
  • A unique title landing page on the KIDS FIRST! website featuring reviews by our jurors, your trailer or sample clip, cover art and link to your website to purchase.
  • Consideration for a KIDS FIRST! Best Award
  • Coverage on the KIDS FIRST! Radio Show, KIDS FIRST! Coming Attractions (100,000 listeners)
  • Promoted in KIDS FIRST! News (45,000 readers/mo)
  • Promoted on KIDS FIRST! Social media (450,000 reach)

For more information, go to http://www.kidsfirst.org/submit-a-title/ KF_logo.JPG

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KIDS FIRST! Accepting Submissions Now for Endorsements and Film Festival Entries

Monday, September 30th, 2013

KF_logo.JPGYou may submit your films, DVDs, Audio Recording, Games and Apps now through October 15 for a KIDS FIRST! Endorsement and now through October 30 for Film Festival entries. Screenplays may be submitted at any time. For more info or to enter, go here.

KIDS FIRST! has been supporting quality children’s media for 22 years and is the most highly respected media endorsement program in the country. Unlike an awards program which limits the number of winners, every title that meets our criteria and is approved by our kids’ juries receives an endorsement. Our base-line criteria includes:

  • NO gratuitous violence or abuse
  • NO inappropriate sexual behavior
  • NO bias in terms of race, gender, culture or religion
  • NO condescension toward children
  • NO replicable unsafe behavior

KIDS FIRST! Endorsed Titles Receive

  • The right to use the KIDS FIRST! endorsement seal and rating on all promotional and packaging materials..
  • A unique title landing page on the KIDS FIRST! website
  • featuring reviews by our jurors, your trailer or sample clip, cover art and link to your website to purchase.
  • Consideration for a KIDS FIRST! Best Award
  • Coverage on the KIDS FIRST! Radio Show, KIDS FIRST! Coming Attractions (100,000 listeners/month)
  • Promoted in KIDS FIRST! News (45,000 readers/mo)
  • Promoted on KIDS FIRST! Social media (450,000 reach)

KIDS FIRST! recently announced their new partnership with John Wood who joins us as a judge for audio recordings. John brings his considerable experience of decades as a children’s audio reviewer and awards judge to the re-launch of our CD endorsement program.  Children’s recording artists, specializing in both music and spoken word, know the name of John Wood whose kidzmusic.com website is revered by anyone interested in great music and recordings for children. Parents concerned about the lyrics in current pop music and curious enough to venture beyond the blockbuster releases found at any box store know that kidzmusic offers great CDs for their kids.

With John Wood joining KIDS FIRST!, the prestigious KIDS FIRST! endorsement gives musicians and spoken word artists an opportunity to take advantage of the branding power that KIDS FIRST! offers them. What a great combination. The judging period runs September 1 to October 15, 2013. To submit your  music or spoken word recordings, go here.

KIDS FIRST! has supported quality children’s media since 1991 and is the most highly respected media endorsement program in the country. Unlike awards’ programs which limit the number of winners, every title that meets the KIDS FIRST! criteria and is approved by the judges, receives an endorsement. Once a title is endorsed, it receives its own unique landing page on the KIDS FIRST! website, with a review, a music or spoken word clip, the cover art and a link to purchase. Additionally, the reviews of endorsed media are promoted to the KIDS FIRST! media network throughout the year where they reach an audience of 3+ million.

KIDS FIRST! is a project of the 22-year-old, national nonprofit, Coalition for Quality Children’s Media whose mission is to teach children critical thinking skills so they can become informed media users and to promote quality children’s media to the general public.

KIDS FIRST! is supported by major entertainment companies including Walt Disney, Warner Brothers, AOL Kids, HDNet Movies, 20th Century Fox, Paramount, Universal and Sony as well as Grand Magazine, Working Mother, National Association of Parenting Publications and Voice America Radio Network.

To submit a title, go to  http://www.kidsfirst.org/submit-a-title/kf-what-endorsement.html
For more information about John Wood go to http://www.kidsfirst.org/about-us/Board_Staff_Bios_John.Wood.html

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Keep Those Film Submissions Coming for the KIDS FIRST! Festivals

Monday, June 25th, 2012

KF_logo.JPGThe early deadline for KIDS FIRST! Film Festival submissions is extended to June 30! That most economical of times to submit a film for festival consideration will hold all the way through the month. Send us your application by June 30 and pay only $20-$40 per title (see the “submit a title” page on our website for an explanation of categories and fees). KIDS FIRST! screens films at more than 100 children’s film festival venues around the country.

Other deadlines for this submission period are:
July 10, for the regular deadline
July 20, for the late deadline
July 25, for the extended late deadline for CQCM members and Withoutabox

Deadlines refer to the date we receive your submission application, not your product, so there is still time to submit for the early deadline!

The next submission period will start in December, for the second of our two annual submission periods.

While we have two submission periods for films, we accept screenplays year-round. Fee is a flat $55.

All screenplay entries will receive written, detailed feedback, and we’ve heard from many screenwriters that they’ve found this a marvelous opportunity to make their screenplays even stronger. Screenplays are now eligible for our KIDS FIRST! Recommended logo, too – and will be considered for the KIDS FIRST! Best Screenplay Award.

Our KIDS FIRST! Best webpage is up and running. Check it out to see films and trailers of our nominated and winning titles. Most of our nominees from the 2012 KIDS FIRST! Best Awards have given us permission to highlight their nominated and/or winning film or trailer on our new KIDS FIRST! Best site. Check it out here. Congratulations to all our nominees for making great children’s films!

We will be giving KIDS FIRST! Best Awards twice per year. We’ve made this change to align with the twice-a-year submission schedule (now just mid year and late year instead of quarterly.)

Don’t miss out! Send in your submission application by June 30 to be eligible for early deadline entry fees!

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