Star Wars

  • Highlights from Disney’s D23 Expo 2017


    This week, Disney held its bi-annual fan expo, D23, in Anaheim, CA. Marvel, Pixar, Disney Animation, Disney Interactive Studios, and Walt Disney Productions rolled out major announcements this weekend, while fans and industry insiders were treated to sneak-peek teasers, celebrity appearances, exclusive merchandise, incredible cosplay, and more. Here are some highlights.

    Screenshot 2017-07-17 13.31.00

    A New “Star Wars” Park?

    Disney took the opportunity at D23 to reveal new details about its plans for a new themed-land called “Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge.” The project is shaping up to be one the company’s most immersive fan experiences.

    The Verge quoted Walt Disney Parks and Resorts Chairman Bob Chapek as explaining: “We are working on our most experiential concept ever … It combines a luxury resort with immersion in an authentic environment.” Basically, the goal will be for guests to live out their own “Star Wars” adventure throughout the course of their stay, complete with windows that look into outer space and a hotel designed like a spaceship.

    Celebrity Appearances

    Directors, stars, animators, and Disney giants were all present throughout the D23 Expo, and fans able to enjoy exclusive panels, talk-backs, and sneak-peeks presented by their favorite Disney stars. As Nerdist reported, “We saw the cast of ‘Descendants 2,’ ran into Mark Hamill and Stan Lee as Grand Marshalls of the Ultimate Fan Street Party, and saw ‘Black Panther’sChadwick Boseman running to his meet and greet. It was always good to keep an eye on the D23 app for surprise appearances.”

    Live-Action Films

    This year’s D23 Expo saw two jam-packed presentations, for animated and live-action films, respectively. Trailers, teasers, and A-list stars were in attendance to promote upcoming Disney live-action films.

    Slated for 2018 is “A Wrinkle in Time,” and director Ava DuVernay was there with stars Oprah Winfrey and Mindy Kaling to screen the trailer. Audiences were also treated to a talks and teasers for upcoming mega projects, “Star Wars: The Last Jedi,” and “Avengers: Infinity War.”

    But that wasn’t all in the live-action arena. The expo also promoted upcoming live-action adaptations of Disney classics slated to be directed by industry giants: “The Lion King” (Jon Favreau), “Dumbo” (Tim Burton), and “Aladdin” (Guy Ritchie). You’ll be able to catch Disney’s n live action adventure, “Dumbo,” on March 29, 2019. “Aladdin” has been cast. Earlier this month rumors circulated online that Disney was having trouble casting the film. Will Smith has been tapped to play the Genie. “Power Rangers” break-out star Naomi Scott will play Jasmine, and jumping on the magic carpet as Aladdin is Mena Massoud.

    Animated Films

    In the animation category, Disney screened a short film called “The Speed Test,” and hosted panels and teasers for major upcoming releases including “Toy Story 4,” Pixar’s “Coco,” “The Incredibles 2,” “Frozen 2,” “Wreck it Ralph Breaks the Internet,” and an upcoming feature from Dan Scanlon, yet to be titled.

    Perhaps the biggest news on the floor was the fact that all of the living Disney Princesses would make an appearance in “Ralph Breaks the Internet: Wreck-it Ralph 2.”  The cast includes Auli‘i Cravalho from “Moana,” Kristen Bell from “Frozen,” Kelly MacDonald as “Merida,” Mandy Moore from “Tangled,” Anika Noni Rose from “The Princess and the Frog,” Irene Bedard from “Pocahontas,” Linda Larkin from “Aladdin,” Paige O’Hara from “Beauty and the Beast,” and Jodi Benson from “The Little Mermaid.”

    More details were also released for “The Incredibles 2.” Holly Hunter shared that her character, Mrs. Incredible, will be doing more of the heavy lifting this time around: “Bob’s actually home with the kids this time…”

    “Tangled: The Animated Series” amassed the original cast in the same place for the first time. Mandy Moore and Zachery Levi shared their enthusiasm for the characters. “Disney said they didn’t want to do the show without us,” Levi said.

    Video Games & VR

    The long-awaited third installment of the Kingdom Hearts series revealed a new playable world. Andy’s room from “Toy Story” will be a playable space in “Kingdom Hearts 3,” coming out in 2018.

    Marvel will be releasing a new VR game in 2018 titled “Powers United VR.” The game will allow the player to become their favorite hero, including Hulk, Rocket Raccoon, and Captain Marvel and will be exclusive to the Oculus Rift.

    Free Treats

    It wouldn’t be Disney if magic wasn’t present in every detail. At this year’s D23 Expo, the free swag was cold brew coffee with foam designs of iconic Disney characters — including Darth Vader. Shoppers were treated to exclusive merchandise launches not yet available anywhere else, from limited edition figurines to clothing lines.

    To see NYFA’s behind-the-scenes coverage of live events, follow us on #Snapchat @NYFilmAcademy.

  • The Force Awakens for NYFA VFX Alum Francesco Panzieri


    What does it take to land a gig working on one of the biggest movies of all time? If you’re New York Film Academy alumnus Francesco Panzieri you simply do what you’ve always done: Work hard, work fast, and produce work of impeccable quality.

    In conversation with The Force Awakens senior digital compositor, who is at once marked by his humility and quiet confidence, it soon becomes overwhelmingly clear that you are talking with someone who’s had a lifelong fascination with visual effects. He was exposed to them as a young child through such classic films as the Indiana Jones movies and the original Star Wars trilogy, films that “raised him as a child.”

    NYFA 3D Animation alum Francesco Panzieri

    Thus, when Francesco was called into the offices of Bad Robot, the production company owned by JJ Abrams, director of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, he knew that he was standing on the precipice of realizing a lifelong goal of his, remarking that “it’s mind-blowing because it’s one of my biggest dreams.”

    So how does one go from NYFA to working on the biggest film in the galaxy? In Francesco’s case, possessing over seven years of professional experience and the reputation for doing high quality work at a very quick pace—something he picked up working on television shows like Sleepy Hollow and Limitless that require a lightning-fast turn-around time—earned him kind words on his behalf from a “good soul,” words that soon had him in the offices of Bad Robot.

    “I told [my friend], if you guys ever needed someone, I would love to help,” says Francesco. As it just so happened to turn out, Bad Robot was indeed looking for a team of experienced, dependable, and fast-working VFX artists who could accomplish the massive workload of The Force Awakens not only on time, but also with peerless perfection. “One day I received an email from Bad Robot that said there is someone praising you…and within 24 hours I was there for an interview.”

    When Francesco was first called in for an interview, the project was still undisclosed, although Francesco knew in his heart was it would be. This lead him to going to his current employer and asking that he be allowed to work on this Non-Disclosure Agreement-sealed project, knowing that his work on the film would bring a new level of prestige to the company despite not being able to say what the project actually was (his employer of course agreed).

    When it came to working on the production itself, Francesco found himself in a pressure-cooker situation where he worked twelve hour days for seven days straight over the course of five weeks, up until the final edit was completed just a couple of weeks prior to the film’s release. Despite the high stakes, Francesco remained positive throughout. As he said, “Every morning I went to work with the smile of a child who is finally able to fulfill one of the most desired dreams of his childhood.”

    This childish wonder was certainly aided by the overriding ethos of Abrams’ vision, which focused much more on practical effects and bringing to life the spirit of the original trilogy. “The great thing about Episode 7 was that it was mainly shot [using practical effects]. I had hundreds of shots on my monitors with an X-Wing and I had BB-8 running on the monitor.”

    This mention of BB-8 is where we first learn one of the secrets of The Force Awakens as Francesco talks about his work removing the rig from BB-8, which was in fact a puppet operated by a master puppeteer dressed in all green in order to make keying him out, or removing him, from the shots much easier.

    Another fascinating tidbit that Francesco shares is the fact that The Force Awakens had the secret name of AVCO, which was the name of the cinema where Abrams first saw Star Wars. Of course, secrecy was at the heart of the film’s production and Francesco and his fellow colleagues received a lengthy rundown from a head of security at Disney who advised the VFX team to keep their phones away from their desks and forbade them from taking any pictures or sharing any media whatsoever.

    NYFA alum Francesco Panzieri dresses as Kylo Ren

    Francesco dressed up as Kylo-Ren at Disney Studios for Halloween 2015.

    Generally speaking, most of Francesco’s work focused on the scenes in the desert when Rey, played by Daisy Ridley, dismounts her speeder. However, his excitement spikes when talking about one shot particular: “My last shot before wrapping up the movie was on an alien-character in Maz Kanata’s cantina, and it took me 7 days to ultimately complete what was a very, very tough paint job on 25 frames of the movie. I probably consider that as my favorite shot because it challenged me to give everything I got and it also stoked and left many people amazed who were pushing the shot away from their lists as they were intimidated by the amount of time required and difficulty of such a task.”

    When discussing the technical challenges he encountered, he talks about the overarching high standards held by Abrams, visual effects supervisor Roger Guyett, and visual effects studio Industrial Lights & Magic. According to Francesco, “We had 6 steps of review, the effects on the whole movie were on 2,100 shots and the schedule was really tight. However, I felt [incredible] to be part of the right group of talented artists who also had a huge passion for the Star Wars universe, and that’s why every single goal was achieved and nothing seemed impossible. Each time we looked exhausted or tired or challenged, our compositing supervisor would joke and say, ‘We are just working on the biggest movie in cinema history!’”

    As to whether he believes the new film carries on the legacy of the original trilogy, Francesco responds vehemently, saying “I think it touches the inner chords of each fan of Star Wars…I found it very touching. Even when I was watching it with everyone from Disney and Bad Robot, we were all involved together, you know, screaming and hooing at the moving. It’s such a beautiful homage in the way it was done.”

    Of course, making his way all the way to the Star Wars galaxy is quite a feat for the Italian, who split his time growing up between the city of Pescara on the east coast of Italy and Dubai. Traveling extensively as a child, Francesco eventually enrolled in the Accademia dell’Immagine (The Academy of Image Arts) where he studied under such Italian Film legends as the composer Ennio Morricone and director Francesco Rosi. Panzieri was the odd one out early on in his studies in that, unlike his fellow students who had no clue what they wanted to accomplish professionally, he had a clear vision of what he wanted to do with his career and that was to work in VFX.

    Following his graduation in 2008, Francesco’s next move was to New York City where he enrolled in the One-Year 3D Animation & VFX Program at NYFA. While he is quick to credit NYFA with setting him on his current path, he also does not mince words when talking about his time in the fast-time program, stating that “NYFA was the toughest year of my life.” However, despite the long days and endless experimentation with new tools, Francesco describes the program as “very hands-on and I am thankful as that kind of [fast] pace prepared me to enter the field.”

    It was at NYFA where Francesco truly started to realize his potential, citing faculty members as Boaz Livny and Robert Appleton as crucial figures in not just helping him to learn the software and know-how of the VFX craft, but also providing him with priceless advices. He cites Livny’s exhortation to attend such industry events as SIGGRAPH as a particularly important suggestion, enabling him to go and meet recruiters face to face.

    He cites his year on OPT as the “most important year of my life” as that was when he had a relatively short window to establish himself in the field and find a company to sponsor his work visa. Realizing it was now or never, Francesco made the point of making many copies of his portfolio, which he would then deliver in person to studios around town. “I was shameless,” Francesco says with a slight smirk. However, this shamelessness paid out, eventually leading to his first gig, interning on Danny DeVito’s web series Blood Factory, which in turn led to him getting hired to work on Clash of the Titans.

    Having worked as a senior digital compositor and in the Hollywood VFX industry for over seven years now Francesco’s credits are lined with the kind of prestige television and movie credits such as Mad Men, True Detective, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D, Limitless, and For Colored Girls Only. Equal parts soft-spoken yet self-assured in his abilities, Panzieri’s soft-spoken style belies a fevered intensity that has guided him through the many highlights of his VFX career, which itself was first inspired largely by Star Wars.

    After all, as Francesco is quick to point out in relation to VFX artists, “Star Wars invented our profession.” He goes on to describe George Lucas’ trilogy, which “gave hope to many creative people,” as setting off a sort of visual effects butterfly effect out of which emerged many legends and pioneers of the VFX industry. Panzieri counts himself as one of many who was inspired to pursue visual effects after seeing the original Star Wars, alongside a steady diet of video games and movies. He remembers being struck by Lucas’ film when he first saw it and thinking, “Wow, how can I do that?”

    In looking back at his long road, Francesco lights up when providing advice for how other aspiring VFX artists can make their way in the industry. Ultimately, for him, it’s all about picking a goal and staying focused on it. As he says, “I opened in my head the door that would get me [to Star Wars] and I worked my butt off to get to that door.” He adds that patience also plays a major role, stating, “You can’t force something to happen. You have to create a positive energy for those things to come to you.”

    With another undisclosed project already under way, it’s clear that Francesco’s drive and commitment to his craft will continue to attract new and exciting opportunities for this young artist.


    January 19, 2016 • 3D Animation, Academic Programs, Student & Alumni Spotlights • Views: 10160

  • Stephen Colbert to Interview George Lucas at Tribeca


    colbert lucas

    For those of you on Stephen Colbert withdrawal, there’s a beacon of light ahead with the announcement from the Tribeca Film Festival that the long-time TV host will interview Star Wars creator George Lucas. The two are expected to discuss Lucas longstanding career as a filmmaker, which includes the classic franchises Star Wars and Indiana Jones. Fans also expect Lucas to unveil a bit about the upcoming films, which are being directed by J.J. Abrams, under Disney.

    Colbert hasn’t hidden his crush on Star Wars, having had an epic light saber duel with Comedy Central’s The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart. The force was strong for Colbert.

    While not everyone will be able to attend the exclusive interview this April in New York City, there is some solace in the fact that the brilliant comedy mind will be returning soon enough when he replaces David Letterman on the The Late Show this September.

    Now we just need to figure out how we’ll cope without Letterman…


    March 18, 2015 • Community Highlights, Entertainment News • Views: 4316

  • Simon Pegg to take on Franchise’s 50th Anniversary with Star Trek 3 Script


    simon peggAfter playing musical chairs with the production team for Star Trek 3, it looks like all the key players are now in place.

    When J.J. Abrams decided to leave Trek for Wars, Roberto Orci (who produced the first two Abrams films) was given both screenwriting and directing duties. That solution was not permanent, however, as Orci made like Abrams and departed the project.

    A moment of limbo ensued. But now it seems that the film has not only found the people for the job, but also renewed excitement in the future of the franchise.

    Taking the helm as director will be Justin Lin, a veteran of The Fast and Furious series. Simon Pegg and Doug Jung have been given the nod to create the script for the film.

    Jung created the TNT series Dark Blue and has written for Banshee and Big Love. Pegg also has plenty of writing chops, having co-written the Cornetto trilogy and comedies such as Paul and Run Fatboy Run.

    What makes this even more interesting is Pegg’s portrayal of one of the main characters in the film: Scotty. How this will affect the script is yet to be known, but there is certainly a lot of speculation.

    The film is set to be released in July of 2016. This will mark the 50 year anniversary of the original Star Trek series. Pegg is saddled with creating something that not only lives up to the big anniversary, but must also overcome the (somewhat subjective) odd-numbered Trek movie curse – something he makes reference to in his own series, Spaced.

    There’s no telling how this will turn out until the film is actually released. But, at least for now, this seems to be the right decision (or at least an exciting one).


    January 22, 2015 • Entertainment News • Views: 4142

  • Understanding the World through Film: Tiburon International Film Festival


    Tiburon FFTiburon International Film Festival is a platform for independent filmmakers from around the world, which certainly fits the mold of New York Film Academy’s student body. For students and alumni interested, the 13th Annual Tiburon International Film Festival (TIFF) will be held April 2014 in Tiburon, California and will showcase independent features and short films from around the world.

    Submissions are open to all genres: Fiction, documentary, short, animation, experimental, student, children, sports, music video…..from any nation in the world.

    TIFF has screened over 2000 independent films from more than 100 countries since its inception.

    The festival has also honored and hosted many great filmmakers such as: Oscar winning director and cinematographer Haskell Wexler [Medium Cool], George Lucas [Star Wars], Blake Edwards [Pink Panthers], Santiago Alvarez [Hanoi Martes 13], John Frankenheimer [Manchurian Candidate],George Stevens [Shane], Malcolm McDowell [A Clockwork Orange], Saul Zaentz [One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest],  Mark Rydell [On Golden Pond], Irving Saraf [The Sermons of Sister Jane], Robert Snyder [Pablo Casals: A Cry for Peace], Paul Mazursky [Down & Out in Beverly Hills], Bob Rafelson [Five Easy Pieces], Brad Bird [Toy Story], Luchino Visconti [Death in Venice], Hal Hickel [Pirates of the Caribbean] among many others.

    Golden Reel Awards:

    The films submitted to the Tiburon International Film Festival are eligible to win the “Golden Reel Award” in several categories: Best Fiction, Best Documentary, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Short, Best Animation, Best Children’s Film, Best Student Film, Best Music Video, Best Sport Film. The winners of all categories will be announced during a ceremony at the end of the Festival.

    Entry Information:
    Entry form and eligibility guidelines are available by clicking here and filling out the necessary information.

    The Early Bird Deadline on December 1, 2013 is fast approaching while the final deadline falls on January 15, 2014.


    October 28, 2013 • Film Festivals • Views: 5371

  • Star Wars Actor Billy Dee Williams Receives Honorary MFA Degree at New York Film Academy Event Moderated by Oscar-Winning Actor Louis Gossett Jr.


    New York Film Academy Los Angeles was thrilled to host a conversation between veteran actors Billy Dee Williams and Academy-Award winner Louis Gossett Jr. on May 18, 2011.

    Louis Gossett Jr. and Billy Dee Williams

    Academy-Award Winner Louis Gossett Jr. (Left) Interviews Star Billy Dee Williams (Right) at NYFA.

    New York Film Academy students and alumni packed the house for a screening of The Empire Strikes Back followed by a Q&A with Billy Dee Williams. The event was moderated by legendary actor Louis Gossett Jr. Though Louis Gossett Jr. and Billy Dee Williams have known each other professionally for 40 years, it was the first time the stars have appeared on stage together.

    Lando Calrissian

    Billy (Right) appears as Lando Calrissian in Star Wars.

    Billy has been in over 40 films and 70 television shows throughout his career. He is well known for starring as Lando Calrissian in the epic Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back and Star Wars: The Return of the Jedi. He has also co-starred twice with Diana Ross, first as Louis McKay in Lady Sings the Blues and later as Brian in the critically acclaimed film Mahogany. Louis Gossett Jr. received a 1983 Oscar for An Officer and A Gentleman.

    Billy Dee Williams

    Billy Dee Williams signs autographs for NYFA students and alumni.

    “This was a great evening!!!” gushes NYFA graduate Michelle Stevenson. “I’m glad I was able to attend. NYFA is the best!!!”

    Billy Dee Williams NYFA

    Star Wars Actor Billy Dee Williams Receives Honorary MFA Degree from New York Film Academy. 

    Students rose to their feet for a standing ovation for Billy Dee Williams, who received an honorary MFA degree from the New York Film Academy. The two stars later posed for pictures with students and signed autographs.

    Black Entertainment Television (BET) will be doing a follow up piece on the event. In addition, New York Film Academy will be posting video clips of the interview in the coming weeks. New York Film Academy extends a huge thank you to Billy and Louis for a memorable evening.


    May 20, 2011 • Acting • Views: 5668