Saturday, 21 November 2009

Films to see before you die: Nacho Libre (2006)

It's no secret that Napoleon Dynamite, the 2004 movie from Jared Hess, is considered by the crew at Wyld Stallyons to be one of the funniest and most original comedies of all time. It came out of nowhere, making a cult hero out of Jon Heder's titular character (he went on to feature in David Lettermen's Late Show and a spoof spot for Microsoft with Bill Gates), but it left director Hess a real problem: how do you follow up such a cool flick that's so damn funny?

Hess' second film, Nacho Libre concerns a monk played by Jack Black, who desires to be a luchador (a Mexican wrestler) so that he can help the orphans at the monastery and win the affections of Sister Encarnación (played by Penélope Cruz-a-like Ana de la Reguera). He enlists the help of Esqueleto (Héctor Jiménez), who previously mugged Nacho, and together they form an unlikely tag wrestling team. The movie culminates in a fight with Nacho's nemesis, the masked Ramses (César González), who turns out to be not quite the hero that Nacho initially thought he was.

The movie is not quite as episodic as Napoleon Dynamite, although the plot is slight and still acts as the bare bones to hang a series of bizarre situations from. Nacho Libre shares with Hess' first film a love of the bizarre, absurd and grotesque, and the movie is peppered with more oddball characters than David Lynch's entire oeuvre. Hess succeeds in creating a unique, self contained world, powered, it would seem, by Jack Black's uniquely mobile eyebrows. The movie is full of comedy Mexican accents, overwrought melodrama, slapstick and funny, quotable lines ("Chancho, when you are a man, sometimes you wear stretchy pants in your room... Just for fun.")

On paper, this film should be wall-to-wall laughs, and yet inexplicably it occasionally falls flat and runs out of steam. It doesn't happen very often, but it's enough to take the edge off the film. The ending, in particular, is a bit of a damp squib, and I waited hopefully to the end of the credits to see if there was a Napoleon Dynamite-style coda, but no such luck.

Hess seems uncertain whether to make the fights funny, or keep them true to the spirit of Lucha Libre, and ploughs an uncertain and wavering path between the two. It probably says more about Hess' inexperience as a director than any lack of innate comedy skills, because when he gets the magic combination right, he's one of the most thrilling and enjoyable directors around. I suspect he'll learn lessons from some of the fumbles in the movie and go on to become one of the great comedy directors.

Jack Black is consistently funny as Nacho, unafraid to make good use of his pudgy body and gurning face. It's the kind of role Jim Carrey could do, but would make unbearably annoying; with Jack Black, it's endearing.

Nacho Libre is a quirky little film, full of off-kilter nuances, that suffers from the inevitable comparison to Napoleon Dynamite. Although some aspects of the film don't quite hit the mark, this is still a far funnier film than most comedies that emerge from Hollywood (or anywhere else for that matter). At least Jared Hess (and his co-writing wife Jerusha) are doing something different: after all, when was the last time you saw a comedy about a Mexican wrestling monk?

Wednesday, 16 September 2009


Wyld Stallyons were honoured to be part of the London premiere for onedotzero's annual celebration of moving image, this year entitled adventures in motion. Our music video for The Blizzards The Reason was selected to be part of the world tour which starts now. You can find out when onedotzero will be setting up the projectors in your neck of the woods by checking out their website.

Friday, 4 September 2009

We've moved!

We're still knee-deep in boxes and looking for cables that attach one bit of equipment to another, but finally we moved out of our old offices to a new address in lovely Barbican. Luckily, this is five minutes walk from Clerkenwell, so clients who haven't yet updated their Blackberries with our new details won't have far to walk.

Now, all we need to do now is sort out that pesky internet...

Monday, 22 June 2009


Director Jason Arber's short film Aneurysm finally makes an appearance on the Wyld Stallyons site. Initially conceived as a studio test for the Canon 5D Mk II DSLR camera, it quickly became an unsettling peek into some of the darker regions of Jason's mind. Although we can't say for sure, we suspect he was dropped on his head as a baby.

Saturday, 20 June 2009

Films to see before you die: When The Wind Blows (1986)

Although it seems an unlikely notion today, back in the 1980s nuclear war seemed a distinct possibility, even a foregone conclusion. The Cold War had pitched the West against the Soviet Union and its allies resulting in a massive arms race and increasingly sinister sabre rattling. After the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, when the World was almost thrown into a full scale nuclear conflict, the only defence was deterrence, otherwise known as MAD - Mutually Assured Destruction. Both sides had the capacity to destroy each other several times over, so any attack could be construed as suicide. However in the latter stages of the Cold War, with improving accuracy and missile technology, this deterrent was undermined by the doctrine of First Strike: attempting to destroy as much of the opposition's nuclear arsenal as possible.

This period was full of fear and paranoia, a time when the UK government issued a pamphlet entitled Protect and Survive, which demonstrated that they took the prospect of nuclear war extremely seriously. This document was to be one of the inspirations for Raymond Briggs' comic book, When The Wind Blows.

In the 1970s, Briggs had authored several comic books—Father Christmas, Fungus the Bogeyman and The Snowman—that had found success with both children and adults. During the following decade, his work took a darker, more adult tone, beginning with Gentleman Jim (1980), which followed the fortunes of Jim and Hilda Bloggs, loosely based on Briggs' parents.

Jim and Hilda returned once again for the pessimistic and satirical When The Wind Blows (1982), as the couple survive a nuclear blast—no thanks to the contradictory advice given in various government leaflets—but gradually succumb to the effects of radiation sickness. It's a sad and poignant tale set in the remote Sussex countryside, contrasting Jim's unwavering belief that the government has everything under control and the stark realities surrounding them.

The book was made into a powerful animated feature in 1986 starring Sir John Mills as Jim and Dame Peggy Ashcroft as Hilda. It was directed by Roger Corman protégé Jimmy T Murakami, who previously found fame with Humanoids from the Deep (1980), Battle Beyond the Stars (1980) and a segment in the cult animation Heavy Metal (1981).

Murakami managed to craft an animation that remained an almost panel for panel reproduction of the comic book, but introduced some innovative techniques, such as placing the 2D characters in a 3D environment that was filmed with motion control cameras. The result is probably the closest a British movie has ever come to Japanese anime.

Although the threat of a Nuclear winter has diminished, the film still manages to pack a powerful emotional punch thanks to the flawless script by Briggs and the strong characterisation by Mills and Ashcroft, who are perfect in their role as the naïve, retired couple. The movie is grim and uncompromising, but also very human, and it's impossible to feel unmoved by Jim and Hilda's slow, painful decline.

It's arguably one of the greatest British cartoons ever made, up there with Watership Down (1978) and Yellow Submarine (1968). The DVD release comes with a German-produced documentary made while When The Wind Blows was in production and offers a fascinating insight into how cartoons were made before the introduction of computers.

Films to see before you die: Pan's Labyrinth (2006)

A fairy tale for adults is the best way to summarise Guillermo del Toro’s Pan’s Labyrinth, childlike, magical and full of dark menace in equal measure, the movie is an incredible experience. It could be considered a companion piece to del Toro’s earlier The Devil’s Backbone (2001), and he himself thinks the movie could be seen as an informal sequel. At the 59th Cannes Film Festival, del Toro stated that compared to the earlier movie, Pan's Labyrinth is "a darker, more complex and metaphoric film."

The movie takes place in a post-civil war Spain in 1944, when the 12-year old Ofelia (Ivana Baquero) moves from the city to the countryside with her pregnant mother to be with her new stepfather, Captain Vidal (Sergi López). Vidal is trying to eradicate the last of the rebels on behalf of the fascist government, and is cold and merciless, a human embodiment of evil.

A fairy leads Ofelia into an ancient stone labyrinth next to the small village, the centre of which is a spiral staircase cut into the rock which leads to carved plinth and a giant faun (Doug Jones). He tells her that she is the reincarnation of of an ancient princess and gives her three tasks to do before the next full moon. He hands her a blank book, and tells her to read it when she is alone for instructions.

Her first task is to feed a giant toad a handful of stones and pull a key out of its stomach. The second task is to enter the lair of the Pale Man (Doug Jones) and use the key to find a hidden dagger. Under no circumstances should she eat from the great feast the Pale Man has laid out before him. But she ignores the advice and eats two grapes awakening the creature, who has a penchant for eating children.

Meanwhile, Vidal is trying to brutally suppress the rebels whilst trying to discover the identity of the informant in the village who is smuggling antibiotics to the wounded freedom fighters hiding in the woods surrounding the Captain's troops.

Ofelia’s mother struggles with a difficult pregnancy, falling in and out of a fever, which is temporarily relieved when Ofelia, on the advice of the faun, puts a mandrake root in a bowl of milk under her mother's bed. As the rebels finally attack the camp, the faun gives Ofelia one final chance to demonstrate that she is the princess of the netherworld.

The strength of del Toro’s work is that it effortlessly fuses the mysterious, surreal and nightmarish world of fairy tales with the brutal, dark and cruel reality of Spain under Franco. The art direction is astonishing, mixing del Toro’s unique vision with Goya, The Brothers Grimm, traditional folklore and hints of Alice in Wonderland.

Ivana Baquero is astonishing as Ofelia, giving an incredibly strong performance, reminiscent in many ways of Natalie Portman's portrayal of Mathilda in Luc Besson’s Léon (1994). Sergi López oozes evil from every pore in his role as the heartless captain, although if a criticism could be levelled at the film, it's that Vidal is so relentlessly malevolent that he becomes a cipher, and is not so well rounded as some of the other characters.

But this is a minor point for a film which is so wonderfully fantastical and works on so many levels. This film is designed to be allegorical and different meanings can be stripped from it, such as the perils of fascism and dogma and the loss of innocence for both Ofelia and Spain. The film deals with the difficult choices we all have to make and just as the faun is an ambiguous creature, capable of tenderness and violence, the reality of Ofelia's world is for the audience to decide.

Films to see before you die: Alice (1988)

I'm sure Lewis Carroll didn't envisage anything quite as disturbing and nightmarish as Jan Švankmajer's Alice when he wrote Alice's Adventures in Wonderland in 1865. The dreamlike quality of the book has made it open to interpretation and over a dozen movie adaptations had been produced before Švankmajer's in 1988, the most famous of which was Disney's whimsical animated version in 1951.

Švankmajer is a Czech artist, born in 1934, whose work spans decades. He's best known for his surreal, stop-motion films, such as Darkness/Light/Darkness, Meat Love and Dimensions of Dialogue. His off-kilter aesthetic is darkly humorous, where plates of meat come to life and clay statues see with glass eyes. Švankmajer directly influenced artists such as Tim Burton, Terry Gilliam (who called Dimensions of Dialogue one of the ten best animated films of all time) and The Brothers Quay.

Švankmajer first tackled Carroll with his 1971 short film Jabberwocky (watch an excerpt here). Alice (or Něco z Alenky in the original Czech) is more inspired by Alice's Adventures in Wonderland than a straight retelling of the story, and includes many changes to the original and new sequences.

Alice is now a slightly grubby child, who narrates the movie in the third person. The story is told in a mixture of live action and stop motion, with Alice (played by Kristýna Kohoutová and dubbed by Camilla Power in the English version) often shrinking down to a stop motion doll for certain sequences.

The movie is full of nightmarish images: stuffed animals, like the White Rabbit, who leak sawdust, ominous skulls, a rat hammering wooden stakes into Alice's head, and jars full of nails. It's a quietly menacing and disconcerting film, like an acid trip gone horribly wrong. And yet there are so many visual puns and funny moments it never becomes overwrought or bleak.

Švankmajer's entire oeuvre is worth checking out, but if you only have a chance to see one, Alice is a great example of his unique talent.

Friday, 19 June 2009

Interested in Digital Filmmaking?

If you're interested in low-budget filmmaking and a roll-your-sleeves-up approach to special and visual effects, but don't know where to look for help, tutorials and like-minded people, here are a few links to get you started. It's not an exhaustive list, but a handy jumping off point to some of our favourite sites.

VFX Industry news, interviews and tutorials, and home to some of the best video and audio podcasts around, such as FXGuideTV, FXPodcast and Red Centre. FXPhd is a membership-based series of courses on all aspects of digital post-production, such as high-end compositing, and using industry standard software such as Nuke, Flame, Maya, Houdini, After Effects, Final Cut, Color, and more.

Video Co-pilot
If you want to learn After Effects, there's really only one place to go: Andrew Kramer's awesome Video Co-pilot site. He covers the basics, but also features advanced techniques that teach even long-time AE users new tricks in a funny and engaging way.

Creative Cow
Creative Cow is a less polished and more variable community, but still features a lot of handy tutorials on a wide range of creative software from After Effects to Apple Color.

DV Rebel
First of all, if you haven't bought the book, The DV Rebel's Guide: An All-Digital Approach to Making Killer Action Movies on the Cheap, you should stop what you're doing right now and buy it. We pretty much treat it as our bible at Wyld Stallyons. Then head on over the the Rebel Café and dive into the forums which are full of useful information.

Film Riot
Filmmaking on the cheap: Ryan Connolly, together with Tim Allen and Joshua Connolly, show you how. This is basic stuff, but presented with such infectious energy and humour, it makes you want to grab a video camera and start shooting some exploding heads.

ProVideo Coalition
News and tutorials from people who really know what they're doing. Always an interesting read.

The VFX Show
A joint production between FXGuide and The PixelCorps, a team of panellists, including Mike Seymour, John Flowers, Jason Wingrove, Matt Graham and David Stripinis dissect new releases and classic movies, discussing the visual effects in wonderfully geeky depth.

This is where the filmmaking community hang out: a massive, useful and friendly forum. If you have a question about any aspect of digital filmmaking, chances are someone here has asked it already and the answer is a few mouse clicks away.

Have we forgotten anything? Email us and let us know!

We [heart] Red

Film has some great qualities such as wonderful organic grain and amazing exposure latitude, but it's also expensive to shoot and process. Digital, on the other hand, is still playing catch-up in the latitude department, but the main advantage is that it can be much, much cheaper than film.

As each year passes more and more major Hollywood movies are shot digitally. George Lucas got the ball rolling by shooting Star Wars Episode II on the Sony HDW-F900, but other directors, such as Robert Rodriguez and Steven Soderberg have seen the way the wind is blowing and shot digitally too. Panavision's Genesis is often the camera of choice for DOPs thanks to its Super 35mm recording area, making it focally compatible with regular Cine Primo lenses and giving a true 35 mm depth of field.

While Panavision is an established name in the movie business, there's a new kid on the block: The Red Digital Cinema Camera Company, created by Jim Jannard, the founder of the eyewear and apparel company Oakley, Inc. A keen photographer with an interest in cinematography, he felt it was possible to create a brand new pro digital movie camera for an affordable price.

The Red One camera was announced in 2006 and released in 2007, and is a 4K camera which means that it has just over 4,000 pixels of horizontal resolution. Its low cost, high quality performance and advanced imaging techniques such as the wavelet technology in its Redcode Raw format have created unparalleled enthusiasm for a digital movie camera. Cynics have accused enthusiasts of being fanboys and of ignoring shortcomings in the Red's output, such as the rolling shutter effect caused by the CMOS sensor and the clipping of highlights. Later builds of the camera's firmware have tackled the latter issue, but some VFX professionals still prefer the Genesis camera's CCD sensor, which doesn't have rolling shutter problems.

To be fair, most rolling shutter artefacts are difficult, if not impossible, to detect on the Red One's output, unlike the current crop of digital SLRs capable of shooting HD footage, such as the Canon 5D Mark II. Many have hailed these new SLRs as a boon for indie filmmakers, but current incarnations of the cameras have some serious limitations. In the case of the popular Canon 5D Mark II, its framerate is fixed at an NTSC-friendly 30fps, which is largely unsuitable for PAL regions which shoot at 25fps or footage destined for the big screen which is shot at 24fps.

Red have announced the Scarlet, a "DSMC" (Digital Still & Motion Camera) which looks likely to compete with the Canon 5D Mk II in the low-budget, indie filmmaking market. Although the first Scarlet cameras will not be released for several months yet, the footage we have seen so far looks tantalisingly good, but there really hasn't been enough of it out in the wild to formulate a true opinion of the camera's capabilities. It's quite likely, however, that in situations where we may have been tempted to use a Canon 5D Mk II, we'll probably end up using the Scarlet, due to its more professional controls. The digital SLRs seem to be great stills cameras that also happen to capture moving images, whereas the Scarlet is hopefully a video capture device first and foremost, that also happens to take decent photos.

At Wyld Stallyons we love the Red camera because it fits into our way of working. Rather than edit R3D files natively in Final Cut, we often have an After Effects workflow. We use Red Alert or RedCine to output selected clips as ProRes 422 (HQ) Quicktime files and import these into After Effects. We can then use them, just as we would any other footage.

While we may not be taking advantage of all of the R3D features, it suits our purposes very well. And by inputting 10-bit images and using a 16-bit or 32-bit float workflow, we're maintaining the quality all the way down the pipeline until final delivery.

Other professional formats have given us headaches of one sort or another, but using the Red One camera and the Redcode Raw file format has been nothing but a pleasure.

We Have Already Begun to Die

Here's a sneak peek at a new Wyld Stallyons short film called We Have Already Begun to Die. It's a personal project from Stallyons director Jason Arber, and was created with the help of individuals all around the world who kindly contributed their time and skills.

It should be finished next month, so keep checking back to find out more!

Summer 2009

Everyone's sweltering in the summer heat, but we've been working away on cool new work and updates to our site.

Our blog is now on our website, as well as living at its usual address on Blogger, which means you don't have to go as far to find out what we've been up to.

A lot of people enjoy our twitter feed (which can be found at so we've pulled out all the cool links we post there and incorporated them into a new Wyld Stallyons Tumblelog. Check it out!

We're going to be updating our blog much more frequently and include a wider range of information, so keep checking back for all your Wyld Stallyons news.

Tuesday, 20 January 2009

Fresh for 2009

Hey everyone.

It's been a little while since the last piece of news. However, tis a new year, with new president and new work from us!

Yes, in case you haven't checked it out already, visit our website to view our latest work, commissioned by Universal Music for Irish band, The Blizzards. We delighted at all the great feedback and press we've had so far... and the fact that it will also be appearing in the next issue of STASH Magazine/DVD which is very exciting for us.

Also in the pipeline is our latest showreel for Spring 2009. We'll be posting a montage with some cheeky little nuggets never seen before pretty soon - so stay tuned.

Don't forget you can also keep abreast of latest WS events and news on our facebook group page:

Laters dudes