Category Archives: compositing

Winners: IBC2017 Impact Awards

postPerspective has announced the winners of our postPerspective Impact Awards from IBC2017. All winning products reflect the latest version of the product, as shown at IBC.

The postPerspective Impact Award winners from IBC2017 are:

• Adobe for Creative Cloud
• Avid for Avid Nexis Pro
• Colorfront for Transkoder 2017
• Sony Electronics for Venice CineAlta camera

Seeking to recognize debut products and key upgrades with real-world applications, the postPerspective Impact Awards are determined by an anonymous judging body made up of industry pros. The awards honor innovative products and technologies for the post production and production industries that will influence the way people work.

“All four of these technologies are very worthy recipients of our first postPerspective Impact Awards from IBC,” said Randi Altman, postPerspective’s founder and editor-in-chief. “These awards celebrate companies that push the boundaries of technology to produce tools that actually make users’ working lives easier and projects better, and our winners certainly fall into that category. You’ll notice that our awards from IBC span the entire pro pipeline, from acquisition to on-set dailies to editing/compositing to storage.

“As IBC falls later in the year, we are able to see where companies are driving refinements to really elevate workflow and enhance production. So we’ve tapped real-world users to vote for the Impact Awards, and they have determined what could be most impactful to their day-to-day work. We’re very proud of that fact, and it makes our awards quite special.”

IBC2017 took place September 15-19 in Amsterdam. postPerspective Impact Awards are next scheduled to celebrate innovative product and technology launches at the 2018 NAB Show.

Behind the Title: Artist Jayse Hansen

NAME: Jayse Hansen

COMPANY: Jayse Design Group

CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR COMPANY?
I specialize in designing and animating completely fake-yet-advanced-looking user interfaces, HUDs (head-up displays) and holograms for film franchises such as The Hunger Games, Star Wars, Iron Man, The Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy, Spiderman: Homecoming, Big Hero 6, Ender’s Game and others.

On the side, this has led to developing untraditional, real-world, outside-the-rectangle type UIs, mainly with companies looking to have an edge in efficiency/data-storytelling and to provide a more emotional connection with all things digital.

Iron Man

WHAT’S YOUR JOB TITLE?
Designer/Creative Director

WHAT DOES THAT ENTAIL?
Mainly, I try to help filmmakers (or companies) figure out how to tell stories in quick reads with visual graphics. In a film, we sometimes only have 24 frames (one second) to get information across to the audience. It has to look super complex, but it has to be super clear at the same time. This usually involves working with directors, VFX supervisors, editorial and art directors.

With real-world companies, the way I work is similar. I help figure out what story can be told visually with the massive amount of data we have available to us nowadays. We’re all quickly finding that data is useless without some form of engaging story and a way to quickly ingest, make sense of and act on that data. And, of course, with design-savvy users, a necessary emotional component is that the user interface looks f’n rad.

WHAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE THE MOST ABOUT WHAT FALLS UNDER THAT TITLE?
A lot of R&D! Movie audiences have become more sophisticated, and they groan if a fake UI seems outlandish, impossible or Playskool cartoon-ish. Directors strive to not insult their audience’s intelligence, so we spend a lot of time talking to experts and studying real UIs in order to ground them in reality while still making them exciting, imaginative and new.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
Research, breaking down scripts and being able to fully explore and do things that have never been done before. I love the challenge of mixing strong design principles with storytelling and imagination.

WHAT’S YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?
Paperwork!

WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE TIME OF THE DAY?
Early morning and late nights. I like to jam on design when everyone else is sleeping.

IF YOU DIDN’T HAVE THIS JOB, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING INSTEAD?
I actually can’t imagine doing anything else. It’s what I dream about and obsess about day and night. And I have since I was little. So I’m pretty lucky that they pay me well for it!

If I lost my sight, I’d apply for Oculus or Meta brain implants and live in the AR/VR world to keep creating visually.

SO YOU KNEW THIS WAS YOUR PATH EARLY ON?
When I was 10 I learned that they used small models for the big giant ships in Star Wars. Mind blown! Suddenly, it seemed like I could also do that!

As a kid I would pause movies and draw all the graphic parts of films, such as the UIs in the X-wings in Star Wars, or the graphics on the pilot helmets. I never guessed this was actually a “specialty niche” until I met Mark Coleran, an amazing film UI designer who coined the term “FUI” (Fictional User Interface). Once I knew it was someone’s “everyday” job, I didn’t rest until I made it MY everyday job. And it’s been an insanely great adventure ever since.

CAN YOU TALK MORE ABOUT FUI AND WHAT IT MEANS?
FUI stands for Fictional (or Future, Fantasy, Fake) User Interface. UIs have been used in films for a long time to tell an audience many things, such as: their hero can’t do what they need to do (Access Denied) or that something is urgent (Countdown Timer), or they need to get from point A to point B, or a threat is “incoming” (The Map).

Mockingjay Part I

As audiences are getting more tech-savvy, the potential for screens to act as story devices has developed, and writers and directors have gotten more creative. Now, entire lengths of story are being told through interfaces, such as in The Hunger Games: The Mockingjay Part I where Katniss, Peeta, Beetee and President Snow have some of their most tense moments.

CAN YOU NAME SOME RECENT PROJECTS YOU HAVE WORKED ON?
The most recent projects I can talk about are Guardians of the Galaxy 2 and Spider-Man: Homecoming, both with the Cantina Creative team and Marvel. For Guardians 2, I had a ton of fun designing and animating various screens, including Rocket, Gamora and Star-Lord’s glass screens and the large “Drone Tactical Situation Display” holograms for the Sovereign (gold people). Spider-Man was my favorite superhero as a child, so I was honored to be asked to define the “Stark-Designed” UI design language of the HUDs, holograms and various AR overlays.

I spent a good amount of time researching the comic book version of Spider-man. His suit and abilities are actually quite complex, and I ended up writing a 30-plus page guide to all of its functions so I could build out the HUD and blueprint diagrams in a way that made sense to Marvel fans.

In the end, it was a great challenge to blend the combination of the more military Stark HUDs for Iron Man, which I’m very used to designing, and a new, slightly “webby” and somewhat cute “training-wheels” UI that Stark designed for the young Peter Parker. I loved the fact that in the film they played up the humor of a teenager trying to understand the complexities of Stark’s UIs.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

WHAT IS THE PROJECT THAT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?
I think Star Wars: The Force Awakens is the one I was most proud to be a part of. It was my one bucket list film to work on from childhood, and I got to work with some of the best talents in the business. Not only JJ Abrams and his production team at Bad Robot, but with my longtime industry friends Navarro Parker and Andrew Kramer.

WHAT SOFTWARE DID YOU RELY ON?
As always, we used a ton of Maxon Cinema 4D, Adobe’s After Effects and Illustrator and Element 3D to pull off rather complex and lengthy design sequences such as the Starkiller Base hologram and the R2D2/BB8 “Map to Luke Skywalker” holograms.

Cinema 4D was essential in allowing us to be super creative while still meeting rather insane deadlines. It also integrates so well with the Adobe suite, which allowed us to iterate really quickly when the inevitable last-minute design changes came flying in. I would do initial textures in Adobe Illustrator, then design in C4D, and transfer that into After Effects using the Element 3D plugin. It was a great workflow.

YOU ALSO CREATE VR AND AR CONTENT. CAN YOU TELL US MORE ABOUT THAT?
Yes! Finally, AR and VR are allowing what I’ve been doing for years in film to actually happen in the real world. With a Meta (AR) or Oculus (VR) you can actually walk around your UI like an Iron Man hologram and interact with it like the volumetric UI’s we did for Ender’s Game.

For instance, today with Google Earth VR you can use a holographic mapping interface like in The Hunger Games to plan your next vacation. With apps like Medium, Quill, Tilt Brush or Gravity Sketch you can design 3D parts for your robot like Hiro did in Big Hero 6.

Big Hero 6

While wearing a Meta 2, you can surround yourself with multiple monitors of content and pull 3D models from them and enlarge them to life size.

So we have a deluge of new abilities, but most designers have only designed on flat traditional monitors or phone screens. They’re used to the two dimensions of up and down (X and Y), but have never had the opportunity to use the Z axis. So you have all kinds of new challenges like, “What does this added dimension do for my UI? How is it better? Why would I use it? And what does the back of a UI look like when other people are looking at it?”

For instance, in the Iron Man HUD, most of the time I was designing for when the audience is looking at Tony Stark, which is the back of the UI. But I also had to design it from the side. And it all had to look proper, of course, from the front. UI design becomes a bit like product design at this point.

In AR and VR, similar design challenges arise. When we are sharing volumetric UIs — we will see other people’s UIs from the back. At times, we want to be able to understand them, and at other times, they should be disguised, blurred or shrouded for privacy reasons.

How do you design when your UI can take up the whole environment? How can a UI give you important information without distracting you from the world around you? How do you deal with additive displays where black is not a color you can use? And on and on. These are all things we tackle with each film, so we have a bit of a head start in those areas.

NAME THREE PIECES OF TECHNOLOGY YOU CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT.
I love tech, but it would be fun to be stuck with just a pen, paper and a book… for a while, anyway.

WHAT SOCIAL MEDIA CHANNELS DO YOU FOLLOW?
I’m on Twitter (@jayse_), Instagram (@jayse_) and Pinterest (skyjayse). Aside from that I also started a new FUI newsletter to discuss some behind the scenes of this type of work.

DO YOU LISTEN TO MUSIC WHILE YOU WORK?
Heck yeah. Lately, I find myself working to Chillstep and Deep House playlists on Spotify. But check out The Cocteau Twins. They sing in a “non-language,” and it’s awesome.

WHAT DO YOU DO TO DE-STRESS FROM IT ALL?
I chill with my best friend and fiancé, Chelsea. We have a rooftop wet-bar area with a 360-degree view of Las Vegas from the hills. We try to go up each evening at sunset with our puppy Bella and just chill. Sometimes it’s all fancy-like with a glass of wine and fruit. Chelsea likes to make it all pretty.

It’s a long way from just 10 years ago where we were hunting spare-change in the car to afford 99-cent nachos from Taco Bell, so we’re super appreciative of where we’ve come. And because of that, no matter how many times my machine has crashed, or how many changes my client wants — we always make time for just each other. It’s important to keep perspective and realize your work is not life or death, even though in films sometimes they try to make it seem that way.

It’s important to always have something that is only for you and your loved ones that nobody can take away. After all, as long as we’re healthy and alive, life is good!

Dell 6.15

Review: Blackmagic’s Fusion 9

By David Cox

At Siggraph in August, Blackmagic Design released a new version of its compositing software Fusion. For those not familiar with Fusion, it is a highly flexible node-based compositor that can composite in 2D and 3D spaces. Its closest competitor is Nuke from The Foundry.

The raft of new updates in Version 9 could be categorized into one of two areas: features created in response to user requests, and a set of tools for VR. Also announced with the new release is a price drop to $299 for the full studio version, which, judging by global resellers instantly running out of stock (Fusion ships via dongle), seems to have been a popular move!

As with other manufacturers in the film and broadcast area, the term “VR” is a little misused as they are really referring to “360 video.” VR, although a more exciting term, would demand interactivity. That said, as a post production suite for 360 video, Fusion already has a very strong tool set. It can create, manipulate, texture and light 3D scenes made from imported CGI models and built-in primitives and particles.

Added in Version 9 is a spherical camera that can capture a scene as a 360 2D or stereo 3D image. In addition, new tools are provided to cross-convert between many 360 video image formats. Another useful tool allows a portion of a 360-degree image to be unwrapped (or un-distorted) so that restoration or compositing work can be easily carried out on it before it is perfectly re-wrapped back into the 360-degree image.

There is also a new stabilizer for 360 wrap-around shots. A neat feature is that Fusion 9 can directly drive VR headsets such as Oculus Rift. Within Fusion, any node can be routed to any viewing monitor and the VR headset simply presents itself as an extra one of those.

Notably, Blackmagic has opted not to tackle 360-degree image stitching — the process by which images from multiple cameras facing in different directions are “stitched” together to form a single wrap-around view. I can understand this — on one hand, there are numerous free or cheap apps that perform stitching and so there’s no need for Blackmagic to reinvent that wheel. On the other hand, Blackmagic targets the mass user area, and given that 360 video production is a niche activity, productions that strap together multiple cameras form an even smaller and decreasing niche due to the growing number of single-step 360-degree cameras that provide complete wrap-around images without the need for stitching.

Moving on from VR/360, Fusion 9 now boasts some very significant additional features. While some Fusion users had expressed concerned that Blackmagic was favoring Resolve, in fact it is now clear that the Fusion development team have been very busy indeed.

Camera Tracker
First up is an embedded camera tracker and solver. Such a facility aims to deduce how the original camera in a live-action shoot moved through the scene and what lens must have been on it. From this, a camera tracker produces a virtual 3D scene into which a compositor can add objects that then move precisely with the original shot.

Fusion 9’s new camera tracker performed well in tests. It requires the user to break the process down into three logical steps: track, refine and export. Fusion initially offers auto-placed trackers, which follow scores of details in the scene quite quickly. The operator then removes any obviously silly trackers (like the ones chasing around the moving people in a scene) and sets Fusion about the task of “solving” the camera move.

Once done, Fusion presents a number of features to allow the user to measure the accuracy of the resulting track and to locate and remove trackers that are adversely affecting that result. This is a circular process by which the user can incrementally improve the track. The final track is then converted into a 3D scene with a virtual camera and a point cloud to show where the trackers would exist in 3D space. A ground plane is also provided, which the user can locate during the tracking process.

While Fusion 9’s camera tracker perhaps doesn’t have all the features of a dedicated 3D tracker such as SynthEyes from Andersson Technologies, it does satisfy the core need and has plenty of controls to ensure that the tool is flexible enough to deal with most scenarios. It will certainly be received as a welcome addition.

Planar Tracker
Next up is a built-in “planar” tracker. Planar trackers work differently than classic point trackers, which simply try to follow a small area of detail. A planar tracker follows a larger area of a shot, which makes up a flat plane — such as a wall or table top. From this, the planar tracker can deduce rotation, location, scale and perspective.

Fusion 9 Studio’s new planar tracker also performed well in tests. It assessed the track quickly and was not easily upset by foreground objects obscuring parts of the tracked area. The resulting track can either be used directly to insert another image into the resulting plane or to stabilize the shot, or indirectly by producing a separate Planar Transform node. This is used to warp any other asset such as a matte for rotoscoping work.

Inevitably, any planar tracker will be compared to the long-established “daddy” of them all, Mocha Pro from Boris FX. At a basic level, Fusion’s planar tracker worked just as well as Mocha, creating solid tracks from a user-defined area nicely and quickly. However, I would think that for complex rotoscoping, where a user will have many roto layers, driven by many tracking sources, with other layers acting as occlusion masks, Mocha’s working environment would be easier to control. Such a task would lead to many, many wired up nodes in Fusion, whereas Mocha would present the same functions within a simper layer-list. Of course, Mocha Pro is available as an OFX plug-in for Fusion Studio anyway, so users can have the best of both worlds.

Delta Keyer
Blackmagic also added a new keyer to Fusion called the Delta Keyer. It is a color difference keyer with a wide range of controls to refine the resulting matte and the edges of the key. It worked well when tested against one of my horrible greenscreens, something I keep for these very occasions!

The Delta Keyer can also take a clean plate as a reference input, which is essentially a frame of the green/bluescreen studio without the object to be keyed. The Delta Keyer then uses this to understand which deviations from the screen color represent the foreground object and which are just part of an uneven screen color.

To assist with this process, there is also a new Clean Plate node, which is designed to create an estimate of a clean plate in the absence of one being available from the shoot (for example, if the camera was moving). The combination of the clean plate and the Delta Keyer produced good results when challenged to extract subtle object shadows from an unevenly lit greenscreen shot.

Studio Player
Studio Player is also new for Fusion 9 Studio; it’s a multi-station shot review tool. Multiple versions of clips and comps can be added to the Studio Player’s single layer timeline, where simple color adjustments and notes can be added. A neat feature is that multiple studio players in different locations can be slaved together so that cross-facility review sessions can take place, with everyone looking at the same thing at the same time, which helps!

Fusion 9 Studio also supports the writing of Apple-approved Pro Res from all its supported platforms, including Windows and Linux. Yep – you read that right. Other format support has also been widened and improved, such as faster native handling for DNxHR codecs, for example.

Summing Up
All in all, the updates to Fusion 9 are comprehensive and very much in line with what professional users have been asking for. I think it certainly demonstrates that Blackmagic is as committed to Fusion as Resolve, and at $299, it’s a no-brainer for any professional VFX artist to have available to them.

Of course, the price drop shows that Blackmagic is also aiming Fusion squarely at the mass independent filmmaker market. Certainly, with Resolve and Fusion, those users will have pretty much all the post tools they will need.

Fusion by its nature and heritage is a more complex beast to learn than Resolve, but it is well supported with a good user manual, forums and video tutorials. I would think it likely that for this market, Fusion might benefit from some minor tweaks to make it more intuitive in certain areas. I also think the join between Resolve and Fusion will provide a lot of interest going forward for this market. Adobe has done a masterful job bridging Premiere and After Effects. The join between Resolve and Fusion is more rudimentary, but if Blackmagic gets this right, they will have a killer combination.

Finally, Fusion 9 extends what was already a very powerful and comprehensive compositing suite. It has become my primary compositing device and the additions in version 9 only serve to cement that position.


David Cox is a VFX compositor and colorist with 20+ years experience. He started his career with MPC and The Mill before forming his own London-based post facility. Cox recently created interactive projects with full body motion sensors and 4D/AR experiences.


Blackmagic’s Fusion 9 is now VR-enabled

At SIGGRAPH, Blackmagic was showing Fusion 9, its newly upgraded visual effects, compositing, 3D and motion graphics software. Fusion 9 features new VR tools, an entirely new keyer technology, planar tracking, camera tracking, multi-user collaboration tools and more.

Fusion 9 is available now with a new price point — Blackmagic has lowered the price of its Studio version from $995 to $299 Studio Version. (Blackmagic is also offering a free version of Fusion.) The software now works on Mac, PC and Linux.

Those working in VR get a full 360º true 3D workspace, along with a new panoramic viewer and support for popular VR headsets such as Oculus Rift and HTC Vive. Working in VR with Fusion is completely interactive. GPU acceleration makes it extremely fast so customers can wear a headset and interact with elements in a VR scene in realtime. Fusion 9 also supports stereoscopic VR. In addition, the new 360º spherical camera renders out complete VR scenes, all in a single pass and without the need for complex camera rigs.

The new planar tracker in Fusion 9 calculates motion planes for accurately compositing elements onto moving objects in a scene. For example, the new planar tracker can be used to replace signs or other flat objects as they move through a scene. Planar tracking data can also be used on rotoscope shapes. That means users don’t have to manually animate motion, perspective, position, scale or rotation of rotoscoped elements as the image changes.

Fusion 9 also features an entirely new camera tracker that analyzes the motion of a live-action camera in a scene and reconstructs the identical motion path in 3D space for use with cameras inside of Fusion. This lets users composite elements with precisely matched movement and perspective of the original. Fusion can also use lens metadata for proper framing, focal length and more.

The software’s new delta keyer features a complete set of matte finesse controls for creating clean keys while preserving fine image detail. There’s also a new clean plate tool that can smooth out subtle color variations on blue- and greenscreens in live action footage, making them easier to key.

For multi-user collaboration, Fusion 9 Studio includes Studio Player, a new app that features a playlist,
storyboard and timeline for playing back shots. Studio Player can track version history, display annotation notes, has support for LUTs and more. The new Studio Player is suited for customers that need to see shots in a suite or theater for review and approval. Remote synchronization lets artists  sync Studio Players in multiple locations.

In addition, Fusion 9 features a bin server so shared assets and tools don’t have to be copied onto each user’s local workstation.


Foundry’s Nuke and Hiero 11.0 now available

Foundry has made available Nuke and Hiero 11.0, the next major release for the Nuke line of products, including Nuke, NukeX, Nuke Studio, Hiero and HieroPlayer. The Nuke family is being updated to VFX Platform 2017, which includes several major updates to key libraries used within Nuke, including Python, Pyside and Qt.

The update also introduces a new type of group node, which offers a powerful new collaborative workflow for sharing work among artists. Live Groups referenced in other scripts automatically update when a script is loaded, without the need to render intermediate stages.

Nuke Studio’s intelligent background rendering is now available in Nuke and NukeX. The Frame Server takes advantage of available resource on your local machine, enabling you to continue working while rendering is happening in the background. The LensDistortion node has been completely revamped, with added support for fisheye and wide-angle lenses and the ability to use multiple frames to produce better results. Nuke Studio now has new GPU-accelerated disk caching that allows users to cache part or all of a sequence to disk for smoother playback of more complex sequences.

 

 


Quick Chat: Filmmaker/DP/VFX artist Mihran Stepanyan

Veteran Armenian artist Mihran Stepanyan has an interesting background. In addition to being a filmmaker and cinematographer, he is also a colorist and visual effects artist. In fact, he won the 2017 Flame Award, which was presented to him during NAB in April.

Let’s find out how his path led to this interesting mix of expertise.

Tell us about your background in VFX.
I studied feature film directing in Armenia from 1997 through 2002. During the process, I also became very interested in being a director of photography. As a self-taught DP, I was shooting all my work, as well as films produced by my classmates and colleagues. This was great experience. Nearly 10 years ago, I started to study VFX because I had some projects that I wanted to do myself. I’ve fallen in love with that world. Some years ago, I started to work in Moscow as a DP and VFX artist for a Comedy Club Production special project. Today, I not only work as a VFX artist but also as a director and cinematographer.

How do your experiences as a VFX artist inform your decisions as a director and cinematographer?
They are closely connected. As a director, you imagine something that you want to see in the end, and you can realize that because you know what you can achieve in production and post. And, as a cinematographer, you know that if problems arise during the shoot, you can correct them in VFX and post. Experience in cinematography also complements VFX artistry, because your understanding of the physics of light and optics helps you create more realistic visuals.

What do you love most about your job?
The infinity of mind, fantasy and feelings. Also, I love how creative teams work. When a project starts, it’s fun to see how the different team members interact with one another and approach various challenges, ultimately coming together to complete the job. The result of that collective team work is interesting as well.

Tell us about some recent projects you’ve worked on.
I’ve worked on Half Moon Bay, If Only Everyone, Carpenter Expecting a Son and Doktor. I also recently worked on a tutorial for FXPHD that’s different from anything I’ve ever done before. It is not only the work of an Autodesk Flame artist or a lecturer, but also gave me a chance to practice English, as my first language is Armenian.

Mihran’s Flame tutorial on FXPHD.

Where do you get your inspiration?
First, nature. There nothing more perfect to me. And, I’m picturalist, so for various projects I can find inspiration in any kind of art, from cave paintings to pictorial art and music. I’m also inspired by other artists’ work, which helps me stay tuned with the latest VFX developments.

If you had to choose the project that you’re most proud of in your career, what would it be, and why?
I think every artist’s favorite project is his/her last project, or the one he/she is working on right now. Their emotions, feelings and ideas are very fresh and close at the moment. There are always some projects that will stand out more than others. For me, it’s the film Half Moon Bay. I was the DP, post production supervisor and senior VFX artist for the project.

What is your typical end-to-end workflow for a project?
It differs on each project. In some projects, I do everything from story writing to directing and digital immediate (DI) finishing. For some projects, I only do editing or color grading.

How did you come to learn Flame?
During my work in Moscow, nearly five years ago, I had the chance to get a closer look at Flame and work on it. I’m a self-taught Flame artist, and since I started using the product it’s become my favorite. Now, I’m back in Armenia working on some feature films and upcoming commercials. I am also a member of Flame and Autodesk Maya Beta testing groups.

How did you teach yourself Flame? What resources did you use?
When I started to learn Flame, there weren’t as many resources and tutorials as we have now. It was really difficult to find training documentation online. In some cases, I got information from YouTube, NAB or IBC presentations. I learned mostly by experimentation, and a lot of trial and error. I continue to learn and experiment with Flame every time I work.

Any tips for using the product?
As for tips, “knowing” the software is not about understanding the tools or shortcuts, but what you can do with your imagination. You should always experiment to find the shortest and easiest way to get the end result. Also, imagine how you can construct your schematic without using unnecessary nods and tools ahead of time. Exploring Flame is like mixing the colors on the palette in painting to get the perfect tone. In the same way, you must imagine what tools you can “mix” together to get the result you want.

Any advice for other artists?
I would advise that you not be afraid of any task or goals, nor fear change. That will make you a more flexible artist who can adapt to every project you work on.

What’s next for you?
I don’t really know what’s next, but I am sure that it is a new beginning for me, and I am very interested where this all takes me tomorrow.


Nutmeg and Nickelodeon team up to remix classic SpongeBob songs

New York creative studio Nutmeg Creative was called on by Nickelodeon to create trippy music-video-style remixes of some classic SpongeBob SquarePants songs for the kids network’s YouTube channel. Catchy, sing-along kids’ songs have been an integral part of SpongeBob since its debut in 1999.

Though there are dozens of unofficial fan remixes on YouTube, Nickelodeon frequently turns to Nutmeg for official remixes: vastly reimagined versions accompanied by trippy, trance-inducing visuals that inevitably go viral. It all starts with the music, and the music is inspired by the show.

Infused with the manic energy of classic Warner Bros. Looney Toons, SpongeBob is simultaneously slapstick and surreal with an upbeat vibe that has attracted a cult-like following from the get-go. Now in its 10th season, SpongeBob attracts fans that span two generations: kids who grew up watching SpongeBob now have kids of their own.

The show’s sensibility and multi-generational audience informs the approach of Nutmeg sound designer, mixer and composer JD McMillin, whose remixes of three popular and vintage SpongeBob songs have become viral hits: Krusty Krab Pizza and Ripped My Pants from 1999, and The Campfire Song Song (yes, that’s correct) from 2004. With musical styles ranging from reggae, hip-hop and trap/EDM to stadium rock, drum and bass and even Brazilian dance, McMillin’s remixes expand the appeal of the originals with ear candy for whole new audiences. That’s why, when Nickelodeon provides a song to Nutmeg, McMillin is given free rein to remix it.

“No one from Nick is sitting in my studio babysitting,” he says. “They could, but they don’t. They know that if they let me do my thing they will get something great.”

“Nickelodeon gives us a lot of creative freedom,” says executive producer Mike Greaney. “The creative briefs are, in a word, brief. There are some parameters, of course, but, ultimately, they give us a track and ask us to make something new and cool out of it.”

All three remixes have collectively racked up hundreds of thousands of views on YouTube, with The Campfire Song Song remix generating 655K views in less than 24 hours on the SpongeBob Facebook page.

McMillin credits the success to the fact that Nutmeg serves as a creative collaborative force: what he delivers is more reinvention than remix.

“We’re not just mixing stuff,” he says. “We’re making stuff.”

Once Nick signs off on the audio, that approach continues with the editorial. Editors Liz Burton, Brian Donnelly and Drew Hankins each bring their own unique style and sensibility, with graphic Effects designer Stephen C. Walsh adding the finishing touches.

But Greaney isn’t always content with cut, shaken and stirred clips from the show, going the extra mile to deliver something unexpected. Case in point: he recently donned a pair of red track pants and high-kicked in front of a greenscreen to add a suitably outrageous element to the Ripped My Pants remix.

In terms of tools used for audio work, Nutmeg used Ableton Live, Native Instruments Maschine and Avid Pro Tools. For editorial they called on Avid Media Composer, Sapphire and Boris FX. Graphics were created in Adobe After Effects, and Mocha Pro.

FMPX8.14

Latest Autodesk Flame family updates and more

Autodesk was at NAB talking up new versions of its tools for media and entertainment, including the Autodesk Flame Family 2018 Update 1 for VFX, the Arnold 5.0 renderer, Maya 2017 Update 3 for 3D animation, performance updates for Shotgun production tracking and review software and 3DS Max 2018 software for 3D modeling.

The Autodesk Flame 2018 Update 1 includes new action and batch paint improvements such as 16-bit floating point (FP) depth support, scene detect and conform enhancements.

The Autodesk Maya 2017 Update 3 includes enhancements to character creation tools such as interactive grooming with XGen, an all-new UV workflow, and updates to the motion graphics toolset that includes a live link with Adobe After Effects and more.

Arnold 5.0 is offering several updates including better sampling, new standard surface, standard hair and standard volume shaders, Open Shading Language (OSL) support, light path expressions, refactored shading API and a VR camera.

— Shotgun updates accelerate multi-region performance and make media uploads and downloads faster regardless of location.

— Autodesk 3ds Max 2018 offers Arnold 5.0 rendering via a new MAXtoA 1.0 plug-in, customizable workspaces, smart asset creation tools, Bézier motion path animation, and a cloud-based large model viewer (LMV) that integrates with Autodesk Forge.

The Flame Family 2018 Update 1, Maya 2017 Update 3 and 3DS Max 2018 are all available now via Autodesk e-stores and Autodesk resellers. Arnold 5.0 and Shotgun are both available via their respective websites.


Exceptional Minds: Autistic students learn VFX, work on major feature films

After graduation, these artists have been working on projects for Marvel, Disney, Fox and HBO.

By Randi Altman

With an estimated 1 in 68 children in the US being born with some sort of autism spectrum disorder, according to the Centers for Disease Control’s Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring, I think it’s fair to say that most people have been touched in some way by a child on the spectrum.

As a parent of a teenager with autism, I can attest to the fact that one of our biggest worries, the thing that keeps us up at night, is the question of independence. Will he be able to make a living? Will there be an employer who can see beyond his deficits to his gifts and exploit those gifts in the best possible way?

Enter Exceptional Minds, a school in Los Angeles that teaches young adults with autism how to create visual effects and animation while working as part of a team. This program recognizes how bright these young people are and how focused they can be, surrounds them with the right teachers and behavioral therapists, puts the right tools in their hands and lets them fly.

The school, which also has a VFX and animation studio that employs its graduates, was started in 2011 by a group of parents who have children on the spectrum. “They were looking for work opportunities for their kids, and quickly discovered they couldn’t find any. So they decided to start Exceptional Minds and prepare them for careers in animation and visual effects,” explains Susan Zwerman, the studio executive producer at Exceptional Minds and a long-time VFX producer whose credits include Broken Arrow, Alien Resurrection, Men of Honor, Around the World in 80 Days and The Guardian.

Since the program began, these young people have had the opportunity to work on some very high-profile films and TV programs. Recent credits include Game of Thrones, The Fate of the Furious and Doctor Strange, which was nominated for an Oscar for visual effects this year.

We reached out to Zwerman to find out more about this school, its studio and how they help young people with autism find a path to independence.

The school came first and then the studio?
Yes. We started training them for visual effects and animation and then the conversation turned to, “What do they do when they graduate?” That led to the idea to start a visual effects studio. I came on board two years ago to organize and set it up. It’s located downstairs from the school.

How do you pick who is suitable for the program?
We can only take 10 students each year, and unfortunately, there is a waiting list because we are the only program of its kind anywhere. We have a review process that our educators and teachers have in terms of assessing the student’s ability to be able to work in this area. You know, not everybody can function working on a computer for six or eight hours. There are different levels of the spectrum. So the higher functioning and the medium functioning are more suited for this work, which takes a lot of focus.

Students are vetted by our teachers and behavioral specialists, who take into account the student’s ability, as well as their enthusiasm for visual effects and animation — it’s very intense, and they have to be motivated.

Susie Zwerman (in back row, red hair) with artists in the Exceptional Minds studio.

I know that kids on the spectrum aren’t necessarily social butterflies, how do you teach them to work as a team?
Oh, that’s a really good question. We have what’s called our Work Readiness program. They practice interviewing, they practice working as a team, they learn about appearance, attitude, organization and how to problem solve in a work place.

A lot of it is all about working in a team, and developing their social skills. That’s something we really stress in terms of behavioral curriculum.

Can you describe how the school works?
It’s a three-year program. In the first year, they learn about the principles of design and using programs like Adobe’s Flash and Photoshop. In Flash, they study 2D animation and in Photoshop they learn how to do backgrounds for their animation work.

During year two, they learn how to work in a production pipeline. They are given a project that the class works on together, and then they learn how to edit using Adobe Premiere Pro and compositing on Adobe After Effects.

In the third year, they are developing their skills in 3D via Autodesk Maya and compositing with The Foundry’s Nuke. So they learn the way we work in the studio and our pipeline, as well as preparing their portfolios for the workplace. At the end of three years, each student completes their training with a demo reel and resume of their work.

Who helps with the reels and resumes?
Their teachers supervise that process and help them with editing and picking the best pieces for their reel. Having a reel is important for many reasons. While many students will work in our studio for a year after graduation, I was able to place some directly into the work environment because their talent was so good… and their reel was so good.

What is the transition like from school to studio?
They graduate in June and we transition many of them to the studio, where they learn about deadlines and get paid for their work. Here, many experience independence for the first time. We do a lot of 2D-type visual effects clean-up work. We give them shots to work on and test them for the first month to see how they are doing. That’s when we decide if they need more training.

The visual effects side of the studio deals with paint work, wire and rod removal and tracker or marker removals — simple composites — plus a lot of rotoscoping and some greenscreen keying. We also do end title credits for the major movies.

We just opened the animation side of the studio in 2016, so it’s still in the beginning stages, but we’re doing 2D animation. We are not a 3D studio… yet! The 2D work we’ve done includes music videos, Websites, Power Points and some stuff for the LA Zoo. We are gearing up for major projects.

How many work in the studio?
Right now, we have about 15 artists at workstations in our current studio. Some of these will be placed on the outside, but that’s part of using strategic planning in the future to figure out how much expansion we want to do over the next five years.

Thanks to your VFX background, you have many existing relationships with the major studios. Can you talk about how that has benefitted Exceptional Minds?
We have had so much support from the studios; they really want to help us get work for the artists. We started out with Fox, then Disney and then HBO for television. Marvel Studios is one of our biggest fans. Marvel’s Victoria Alonso is a big supporter, so much so that we gave her our Ed Asner Award last June.

Once we started to do tracker marker and end title credits for Marvel, it opened doors. People say, “Well, if you work for Marvel, you could work for us.” So she has been so instrumental in our success.

What were the Fox and Marvel projects?
Our very first client was Fox and we did tracker removals for Dawn of the Planet of the Apes — that was about three years ago. Marvel happened about two years ago and our first job for them was on Avengers: Age of Ultron.

What are some of the other projects Exceptional Minds has worked on?
We worked on Doctor Strange, providing tracker marker removals and end credits. We worked on Ant-Man, Captain America: Civil War, Pete’s Dragon, Alvin & the Chipmunks: The Road Chip and X-Men: Apocalypse.

Thanks to HBO’s Holly Schiffer we did a lot of Game of Thrones work. She has also been a huge supporter of ours.

It’s remarkable how far you guys have come in a short amount of time. Can you talk about how you ended up at Exceptional Minds?
I used to be DGA production manager/location manager and then segued into visual effects as a freelance VFX producer for all the major studios. About three years ago, my best friend Yudi Bennett, who is one of the founders of Exceptional Minds, convinced me to leave my career and  come here to help set up the studio. I was also tasked with producing, scheduling and budgeting work to come into the studio. For me, personally, this has been a spiritual journey. I have had such a good career in the industry, and this is my way of giving back.

So some of these kids move on to other places?
After they have worked in the studio for about a year, or sometimes longer, I look to have them placed at an outside studio. Some of them will stay here at our studio because they may not have the social skills to work on the outside.

Five graduates have been placed so far and they are working full time at various productions studios and visual effects facilities in Los Angeles. We have also had graduates in internships at Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon.

One student is at Marvel, and others are at Stargate Studios, Mr. Wolf and New Edit. To be able to place our artists on the outside is our ultimate goal. We love to place them because it’s sort of life changing. For example, one of the first students we placed, Kevin, is at Stargate. He moved out of his parents’ apartment, he is traveling by himself to and from the studio, he is getting raises and he is moving up as a rotoscope artist.

What is the tuition like?
Students pay about 50 percent and we fundraise the other 50 percent. We also have scholarships for those that can’t afford it. We have to raise a lot of money to support the efforts of the school and studio.

Do companies donate gear?
When we first started, Adobe donated software. That’s how we were able to fund the school before the studio was up and running. Now we’re on an educational plan with them where we pay the minimum. Autodesk and The Foundry also give us discounts or try to donate licenses to us. In terms of hardware, we have been working with Melrose Mac, who is giving us discounts on computers for the school and studio.


Check out Exceptional Minds Website for more info.

Aardman creates short film, struts its stuff

By Randi Altman

All creative studios strive for creative ways to show off their talent and offerings, and London-based Aardman is no exception. Famous for its stop-motion animation work (remember the Wallace and Gromit films?), this studio now provides so much more, including live-action, CG, 2D animation and character creation.

Danny Capozzi

In order to help hammer home all of their offerings, and in hopes of breaking that stop-motion stereotype, Aardman has created a satirical short film, called Visualize This, depicting a conference call between a production company and an advertising agency, giving the studio the ability to show off the range of solutions they can provide for clients. Each time the fictional client suggests something, that visual pops up on the screen, whether it’s adding graffiti to a snail’s shell or textured type or making a giant monster out of CG cardboard boxes.

We reached out to Aardman’s Danny Capozzi, who directed the short, to find out more about this project and the studio in general.

How did the idea for this short come about?
I felt that the idea of making a film based on a conference call was something that would resonate with a lot of people in any creative industry. The continuous spit balling of ideas and suggestions would make a great platform to demonstrate a lot of different styles that myself and Aardman can produce. Aardman is well known for its high level of stop-motion/Claymation work, but we do CGI, live action and 2D just as well. We also create brand new ways of animating by combining styles and techniques.

Why was now the right time to do this?
I think we are living in a time of uncertainty, and this film really expresses that. We do a lot of procrastinating. We have the luxury to change our minds, our tastes and our styles every two minutes. With so much choice of everything at our fingertips we can no longer make quick decisions and stick to them. There’s always that sense of “I love this… it’s perfect, but what if there’s something better?” I think Visualize This sums it up.

You guys work with agencies and directly with brands — how would you break that up percentage wise?
The large majority of our advertising work still comes through agencies, although we are increasingly doing one-off projects for clients who seek us out for our storytelling and characters. It’s hard to give a percentage on it because the one-offs vary so much in size that they can skew the numbers and give the wrong impression. More often than not, they aren’t advertising projects either and tend to fall into the realm of short films for organizations, which can be either charities, museums or visitor attractions, or even mass participation arts projects and events.

Can you talk about making the short? Your workflow?
When I first pitched the idea to our executive producer Heather Wright, she immediately loved the idea. After a bit of tweaking on the script and the pace of the dialogue we soon went into production. The film was achieved during some down time from commercial productions and took about 14 weeks on and off over several months.

What tools did you call on?
We used a large variety of techniques CGI, stop-motion, 2D, live action, timelapse photography and greenscreen. Compositing and CG was via Maya, Houdini and Nuke software. We used HDRI (High Dynamic Range Images). We also used Adobe’s After Effects, Premiere, Photoshop, and Illustrator, along with clay sculpting, model making and blood, sweat and, of course, some tears.

What was the most complicated shot?
The glossy black oil shot. This could have been done in CGI with a very good team of modelers and lighters and compositors, but I wanted to achieve this in-camera.

Firstly, I secretly stole some of my son Vinny’s toys away to Aardman’s model-making workshop and spray painted them black. Sorry Vinny! I hot glued the black toys onto a black board (huge mistake!), you’ll see why later. Then I cleared Asda out of cheap cooking oil — 72 litres of the greasy stuff. I mixed it with black oil paint and poured it into a casket.

We then rigged the board of toys to a motion control rig. This would act as the winch to raise the toys out of the black oily soup. Another motion control was rigged to do the panning shot with the camera attached to it. This way we get a nice up and across motion in-camera.

We lowered the board of toys into the black soup and the cables that held it up sagged and released the board of toys. Noooooo! I watched them sink. Then to add insult to injury, the hot glue gave way and the toys floated up. How do you glue something to an oily surface?? You don’t! You use screws. After much tinkering it was ready to be submerged again. After a couple of passes, it worked. I just love the way the natural glossy highlights move over the objects. All well worth doing in-camera for real, and so much more rewarding.

What sort of response has it received?
I’m delighted. It has really travelled since we launched a couple of weeks ago, and it’s fantastic to keep seeing it pop up in my news feed on various social media sites! I think we are on over 20,000 YouTube views and 40,000 odd views on Facebook.