Category Archives: compositing

Behind the Title: Director/Designer Ash Thorp

NAME: Ash Thorp (@ashthorp)

COMPANY: ALT Creative, Inc.

CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR COMPANY?
ALT Creative is co-owned by my wife Monica and myself. She helps coordinate and handle the company operations, while I manage the creative needs of clients. We work with a select list of outside contractors as needed, mainly depending on the size and scale of the project.

WHAT’S YOUR JOB TITLE?
I fulfill many roles, but if I had to summarize I would say I most commonly am hired for the role of director or designer.

WHAT DOES THAT ENTAIL?
Directing is about facilitating the team to achieve the best outcome on a given project. My ability to communicate with and engage my team toward a visionary goal is my top priority as a director. As a designer, I look at my role as an individual problem solver. My goal is to find the root of what is needed or requested and solve it using design as a mental process of solution.

WHAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE THE MOST ABOUT WHAT FALLS UNDER THAT TITLE?
I believe that directing is more about communication and not how well you can design, so many would be surprised by the amount of time and energy needed outside of “creative” tasks, such as emails, critiques, listening, observation and deep analysis.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
As a director, I love the freedom to expose the ideas in my mind to others and work closely with them to bring them to life. It’s immensely liberating and rewarding.

WHAT’S YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?
Redundancy often eats up my ambitions. Instructing my vision repeatedly to numerous teammates and partners can be taxing on my subconscious at times.

WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE TIME OF THE DAY?
The late evening because that is often when I have my mind to myself and am free of outside world distractions and noise.

IF YOU DIDN’T HAVE THIS JOB, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING INSTEAD?
Nothing. I strongly believe that this is what I was put on earth to do. This is the path I have been designed and focused on since I was a child.

SO YOU KNEW EARLY ON THIS WOULD BE YOUR PATH?
I grew up with a very artistic family; my mother’s side of the family displays creative traits in one media or another. They were and still are all very deeply committed to supporting me in my creative endeavors. Based on my upbringing, it was a natural progression to also be a creative person.

CAN YOU NAME SOME RECENT PROJECTS YOU HAVE WORKED ON?
As for client projects that are publicly released, I most recently worked on the Assassin’s Creed feature film and Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare video game.

For my own projects, I designed and co-directed a concept short for Lost Boy with Anthony Scott Burns. In addition, I released two personal projects: None is a short expression film devised to capture a tone and mood of finding oneself in a city of darkness, and Epoch
is an 11-minute space odyssey that merges my deep love of space and design.

WHAT IS THE PROJECT THAT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?
With Epoch being the most recently released project, I have received so many kind and congratulatory correspondences from viewers about how much they love the film. I am very proud of all the hard work and internal thought, development and personal growth it took to build this project with Chris Bjerre. I believe Epoch shows who I truly am, and I consider it one of the best projects of my personal career to date.

WHAT SOFTWARE DID YOU RELY ON FOR EPOCH?
We used a pretty wide spectrum of tools. Our general production tool kit was comprised of Adobe Photoshop for images and stills, texture building and 2D image editing; Adobe Bridge for reviewing frames and keeping a clear vision of the project; Adobe Premiere for editing everything from the beginning animatic to the final film; and, of course, our main staple in 3D was Maxon Cinema 4D, which we used to construct all of the final scenes and render everything using Octane Renderer.

We used Cinema 4D for everything — from building shots for the rough animatic to compiling entire scenes and shots for final render. We used it to animate the planets, moons, orbits, lights and the Vessel. It really is a rock-solid piece of software that I couldn’t imagine trying to build a film like Epoch without it. It allowed us to capture the animations, look, lighting and shots seamlessly from the project’s inception.

WHAT WAS YOUR INSPIRATION FOR THIS WORK?
I am personally inspired by so many things. Epoch was a personal tribute to Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, Alien, Carl Sagan, my love of space and space travel, classical sci-fi art and literature, and my personal love of graphic design all combined into one. We put tremendous effort into Epoch to pay proper homage to these things, yet also invite a new audience to experience something uniquely new. We hope you all enjoyed it!

NAME THREE PIECES OF TECHNOLOGY YOU CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT.
The Internet, computers and physical traveling devices (like cars, planes).

WHAT SOCIAL MEDIA CHANNELS DO YOU FOLLOW?
I try and limit my time spent on social media, but I have two Facebooks, Instagram, Twitter and a Behance account.

DO YOU LISTEN TO MUSIC WHILE YOU WORK?
I frequently listen to music while I work as it helps me fall deep into my mentally focused work state of mind. The type of music varies as some genres work better than others because they trigger different emotions for different tasks. When I am in deep thought, I listen to composers that have no lyrics in their work that may pull away my mind’s focus. When I am doing ordinary tasks or busy work, I listen to anything from heavy metal to drum and bass. The scale of music really varies for me as it’s also often based on my current mood. Music is a big part of my workday and my life.

WHAT DO YOU DO TO DE-STRESS FROM IT ALL?
I actually let the stress in and let it shape my decision making. I feel if I run away from it or unwind my mind, it takes double the effort to go back in to work. I embrace it as being a part of the high consumption industry in which I have chosen to work. It’s not always ideal and is often very demanding, but I often let it be the spark of the fire of my work.

An image scientist weighs in about this year’s SciTech winners

While this year’s Oscar broadcast was unforgettable due to the mix up in naming the Best Picture, many in the industry also remember actors Leslie Mann and John Cho joking about how no one understands what the SciTech Awards are about. Well, Shed’s SVP of imaging science, Matthew Tomlinson, was kind enough to answer some questions about the newest round of winners and what the technology means to the industry.

As an image scientist, what was the most exciting thing about this year’s Oscars’ Scientific and Technical Awards?
As an imaging scientist, I was excited about the five digital cameras — Viper, Genesis, Sony 65, Red Epic and Arri — that received accolades. I’ve been working with each of these cameras for years, and each of them has had a major impact in the industry. They’ve pioneered the digital revolution and have set a very high standard for future cameras that appear on the market.

The winners of the 2017 SciTech Awards. Credit: Todd Wawrychuk/A.M.P.A.S.

Another exciting aspect is that you actually have access to your “negative” with digital cameras and, if need be, you can make adjustments to that negative after you’ve exposed it. It’s an incredibly powerful option that we haven’t even realized the full potential of yet.

From an audience perspective, even though they’ll never know it, the facial performance capture solving system developed by ILM, as well as the facial performance-based software from Digital Domain and Sony Pictures Imageworks, is incredibly exciting. The industry is continuously pushing the boundaries of the scope of the visual image. As stories become more expansive, this technology helps the audience to engage with aliens or creatures that are created by a computer but based on the actions, movements and emotions of an actor. This is helping blur the lines between reality and fantasy. The best part is that these tools help tell stories without calling attention to themselves.

Which category or discipline saw the biggest advances from last year to this year? 
The advancements in each technology that received an award this year are based on years of work behind the scenes that led up to this moment. I will say that from an audience perspective, the facial animation advancements were significant this past year. We’re reaching a point where audiences are unaware major characters are synthetic or modified. It’s really mind blowing when you think about it.

Sony’s Toshihiko Ohnishi.

Which of the advancements will have the biggest impact on the work that you do, specifically?
The integration of digital cameras and intermixing various cameras into one project. It’s pretty common nowadays to see the Sony, Alexa and Red camera all used on the same project. Each one of these cameras comes with its own inherent colorspace and particular attributes, but part of my job is to make sure they can all work together — that we can interweave the various files they create — without the colorist having to do a lot of technical heavy lifting. Part of my job as an Imaging Scientist is handling the technicalities so that when creatives, such as the director, cinematographer and colorist, come together they can concentrate on the art and don’t have to worry about the technical aspects much at all.

Are you planning to use, or have you already begun using, any of these innovations in your work?

The digital cameras are very much part of my everyday life. Also, in working with a VFX house, I like to provide the knowledge and tools to help them view the imagery as it will be seen in the DI. The VFX artist spends an incredible amount of time and effort on every pixel they work on and it’s a real goal of mine to make sure that the work that they create is the best it can be throughout the DI.

G-Tech 6-15

Nickelodeon gets new on-air brand refresh

The children’s network Nickelodeon has debuted an all-new brand refresh of its on-air and online look and feel. Created with animation, design, global branding and creative agency Superestudio, based in Buenos Aires, Argentina, Nick’s new look features an array of kids interacting with the real world and Nick’s characters in live-action and graphic environments.

The new look consists of almost 300 deliverables, including bumpers, IDs, promo toolkits and graphic developments that first rolled out across the network’s US linear platform, followed by online, social media and off-channel. Updated elements for the network’s international channels will follow.

“We really wanted to highlight how much surprise and fun are parts of kids’ lives, so we took as our inspiration the surreal nature of GIFs, memes and emoticons and created an entire new visual vocabulary,” says Michael Waldron, SVP, creative director art and design for Nickelodeon Group and Nick@Nite. “Using a mix of real kids and on-air talent, the refresh looks through the lens of how kids see things — the unpredictable, extraordinary and joyful nature of a child’s imagination. Superestudio was the right company for this refresh because they use a great mix of different techniques, and they brought a fresh viewpoint that had just the right amount of quirk and whimsy.”

Nickelodeon’s new look was created by combining real kids with 2D and 3D graphics to create imaginative reinterpretations of Nickelodeon’s properties and characters as they became real-world playgrounds for kids to bring to life, rearrange and redesign. From turning SpongeBob’s face into a tongue-twisted fun zone to kids rearranging and rebuilding Lincoln Loud from The Loud House, everything from the overhead and docu-style camera angles to the seamless blend of real-world and tactile elements.

Nickelodeon’s classic orange logo is now set against an updated color palette of bright tones, including purple, light blue, lime and cream.

According to Superestudio executive creative director Ezequiel Rormoser, “The software that we used is Adobe After Effects and Maxon Cinema 4D. I think the most interesting thing is how we mixed live action with graphics, not in terms of technical complexity, but in the way they interact in an unexpected way. “


Recreating history for Netflix’s The Crown

By Randi Altman

If you, like me, binge-watched Netflix’s The Crown, you are now considerably better educated on the English monarchy, have a very different view of Queen Elizabeth, and were impressed with the show’s access to Buckingham Palace.

Well, it turns out they didn’t actually have access to the Palace. This is where London-based visual effects house One of Us came in. While the number of shots provided for the 10-part series varied, the average was 43 per episode.

In addition to Buckingham Palace, One of Us worked on photoreal digital set extensions, crowd replications and environments, including Downing Street and London Airport. The series follows a young Elizabeth who inherits the crown after her father, King George VI, dies. We see her transition from a vulnerable young married lady to a more mature woman who takes her role as head monarch very seriously.

We reached out to One of Us VFX supervisor Ben Turner to find out more.

How early did you join the production?
One of Us was heavily involved during an eight-month pre-production process, until shooting commenced in July 2015.

Ben Turner

Did they have clear vision of what they needed VFX vs. practical?
As we were involved from the pre-production stage, we were able to engage in discussions about how best to approach shooting the scenes with the VFX work in mind. It was important to us and the production that actors interacted with real set pieces and the VFX work would be “thrown away” in the background, not drawing attention to itself.

Were you on set?
I visited all relevant locations, assisted on set by Jon Pugh who gathered all VFX data required. I would attend all recces at these locations, and then supervise on the shoot days.

Did you do previs? If so, what software did you use?
We didn’t do much previs in the traditional sense. We did some tech-vis to help us figure out how best to film some things, such as the arrivals at the gates of Buckingham Palace and the Coronation sequence. We also did some concept images to help inform the shoot and design of some scenes. This work was all done in Autodesk Maya, The Foundry’s Nuke and Adobe Photoshop.

Were there any challenges in working in 4K? Did your workflow change at all, and how much of your work currently is in 4K?
Working in 4K didn’t really change our workflow too much. At One of Us, we are used to working on film projects that come in all different shapes and sizes (we recently completed work on Terrance Mallick’s Voyage of Time in IMAX 5K), but for The Crown we invested in the infrastructure that enabled us to take it in our stride — larger and faster disks to hold the huge amounts of data, as well as a new 4K monitor to review all the work.

     

What were some of your favorite, or most challenging, VFX for the show?
The most challenging work was the kind of shots that many people are already very familiar with. So the Queen’s Coronation, for example, was watched by 20 million people in 1953, and with Buckingham Palace and Downing Street being two of the most famous and recognizable addresses in the world, there wasn’t really anywhere for us to hide!

Some of my favorite shots are the ones where we were recreating real events for which there are amazing archive references, such as the tilt down on the scaffolding at Westminster Abbey on the eve of the Coronation, or the unveiling of the statue of King George VI.

     

Can you talk about the tools you used, and did you create any propriety tools during the workflow?
We used Enwaii and Maya for photogrammetry, Photoshop for digital matte painting and Nuke for compositing. For crowd replication we created our own in-house 2.5D tool in Nuke, which was a card generator that gave the artist a choice of crowd elements, letting them choose the costume, angle, resolution and actions required.

What are you working on now?
We are currently hard at work on Season 2 of The Crown, which is going to be even bigger and more ambitious, so watch this space! Recent work also includes King Arthur: Legend Of The Sword (Warner Bros.) and Assassin’s Creed (New Regency).


Chaos Group and Adobe partner for photorealistic rendering in CC

Chaos Group’s V-Ray rendering technology is featured in Adobe’s Creative Cloud, allowing graphic designers to easily create photorealistic 3D rendered composites with Project Felix.

Available now, Project Felix is a public beta desktop app that helps users composite 3D assets like models, materials and lights with background images, resulting in an editable render they can continue to design in Photoshop CC. For example, users can turn a basic 3D model of a generic bottle into a realistic product shot that is fully lit and placed in a scene to create an ad, concept mock-up or even abstract art.

V-Ray acts as a virtual camera, letting users test angles, perspectives and placement of their model in the scene before generating a final high-res render. Using the preview window, Felix users get immediate visual feedback on how each edit affects the final rendered image.

By integrating V-Ray, Adobe has brought the same raytracing technology used by companies Industrial Light & Magic to a much wider audience.

“We’re thrilled that Adobe has chosen V-Ray to be the core rendering engine for Project Felix, and to be a part of a new era for 3D in graphic design,” says Peter Mitev, CEO of Chaos Group. “Together we’re bringing the benefits of photoreal rendering, and a new design workflow, to millions of creatives worldwide.”

“Working with the amazing team at Chaos Group meant we could bring the power of the industry’s top rendering engine to our users,” adds Stefano Corazza, senior director of engineering at Adobe. “Our collaboration lets graphic designers design in a more natural flow. Each edit comes to life right before their eyes.”


The Foundry gives Jody Madden additional role, ups Phil Parsonage

The Foundry’s chief customer officer, Jody Madden, has been given the additional role of chief product officer (CPO). In another move, Phil Parsonage has been promoted to director of engineering.

As CPO, Madden — who had at one time held the title of COO at The Foundry — returns to her more technical roots, which includes stints at VFX studios such Digital Domain and Industrial Light & Magic. In this new role, Madden is responsible for managing The Foundry’s full product line.

“I’m really excited to be stepping into this new role as I continue my rewarding journey with The Foundry,” says Madden. “I started [in this industry] as a customer, so I’m intimately familiar with the challenges the market faces. Now as CPO, I’m truly excited to help our customers address their technical and business challenges by continuing to push the boundaries of visual effects and design software.”

Parsonage, who has been with The Foundry for over 10 years, will run The Foundry’s engineering efforts. As part of this job, he is responsible for conceiving and implementing the company’s technical strategy.

 


Behind the Title: Composer Michael Carey

NAME: Michael Carey (@MichaelCarey007)

COMPANY: Resonation Music

WHAT’S YOUR JOB TITLE?
Creative director/composer (film/commercials/TV) and songwriter/producer/mixer (album work).

WHAT DOES THAT ENTAIL?
For commercials, film and TV projects, I work closely with the director, producer and agency to come up with something that meets their needs and the needs of the project. I develop an understanding of their overall vision, and then I conceptualize, compose and produce original music to capture the essence of this vision, in a complimentary way.

i-want-to-say-composer-main-title-opening-scenes

Michael Carey was composer of the main title theme and the opening scenes for ‘I Want to Say.’

This includes themes, underscore, source, main titles, end titles, etc. When it comes to album projects and soundtrack songs, I often write for (or with) the featured artist or band and produce the track from end to end. This means that I am also the engineer, programmer, session player and often mixer for a project.

On large projects that require fast turnaround, I wear the “creative director” hat, and I assemble and manage a specific team of colleagues to collaborate with me — those I know can get the job done at the highest level. I keep things focused and cohesive, and strive to maintain a consistent musical voice.

WHAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE THE MOST ABOUT WHAT FALLS UNDER THAT TITLE?
Whichever medium I’m working in, be it music-for-picture or album work, the underlying fundamentals are surprisingly similar. In both instances, it’s ultimately about storytelling – conveying maximum emotional impact in a compelling way. Using dynamics, melody, tension, release, density and space to create memorable moments and exciting transitions to keep the viewer or listener engaged.

I’m always striving to support the “main event.” In film, it’s visuals and dialog. In album work it’s the singer’s performance. I see my job as building a metaphorical “frame” around the picture. Enhance, reinforce, compliment, but never distract.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
Two parts, really. First, the satisfaction of achieving a collective goal. Helping a filmmaker/artist realize their vision, while finding a way to authentically express my own musical vision and make a deeper connection with the audience experiencing the work.

There are moments in the course of a project when you hit on something that’s undeniable. Everyone involved immediately feels it. Human connections are made. Those are great moments, and ultimately you want the whole piece to feel like that.

The second part is the inspiration that comes from working collaboratively (usually with people at the top of their game) with those talented peers who challenge and push you in directions you might not have taken otherwise.

WHAT IS YOUR PROCESS FOR SCORING? HOW DO YOU BEGIN?
1) Watch film/read script. 2) Discuss with director, get a sense of their vision. 3) Create musical sketches and build a sonic palette. If there’s already some picture available to work with, then I’ll tackle a scene that feels representative of the rest of the project and refine it with input from the director. My goal is to create a musical/sonic “voice” or “sound” for the film that becomes an inextricable part of its personality.

CAN YOU WALK US THROUGH YOUR WORKFLOW?
Once overall direction has been established and scenes have been spotted, my first step with a scene is to map things out tempo/timing-wise, making note of any significant cuts, events or moments that need to be hit (or avoided) musically.

By defining this structure first, it frees me up to explore musically and texturally with a clear understanding of where “ins” and “outs” are. By then, I usually have a pretty clear sense of what I want to hear as it pertains to realizing the vision of the director, and from that point it is about execution —programming, recording live instrumentation, processing/manipulation and mixing — whatever is required to make the scene “feel” the way it does in my head.

DOES YOUR PROCESS CHANGE DEPENDING ON THE TYPE OF PROJECT? FILM VS. SPOT, ETC?
There are certain nuances that have to be considered when approaching these different types of projects. Nailing the details in short form (commercials) is often more crucial because you have an entire world of information to convey in 30 seconds or less. There can be no missed moment or opportunity. It needs to feel cohesive with a cinematic story arc, and a compelling payoff at the end, all in an incredibly compressed window of time.

This is less evident in long-form projects. With feature films or TV, you often have the luxury to build musical movements more naturally as a scene progresses.

IF YOU DIDN’T HAVE THIS JOB, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING INSTEAD?
That’s a tough one. As a kid I wanted to be an anthropologist. At 21, I went to a cooking school in Paris for a month thinking that that might be cool. More recently, I’ve been dabbling with building websites for friends using template-based platforms like Squarespace.

I think the common themes with these other interests are curiosity, experimentation, creativity and storytelling. Bringing an idea to life, making the abstract tangible. At the end of the day, music still allows me to do these things with a greater degree of satisfaction.

HOW EARLY ON DID YOU KNOW THIS WOULD BE YOUR PATH?
I knew music would be my path by age 14. I was playing guitar in local bands at the time, and then moved into steady club gigs. By the time I was 18, I was in a signed band, recording and touring. I couldn’t have imagined doing anything else. When I hit my 20s, I knew that writing and composing was the path ahead (vs. being a “gun for hire” guitarist).

I still played in bands and did lots of session work, but I focused more on songwriting and learning about recording and production. During that time, I had the opportunity to work with some legendary British engineer producers. At one point, a well-known video director who had shot some videos with one of my bands had started doing commercials, and he was unhappy with the music that an ad agency had put in one of his spots. So he recruited me to take a shot a composing a new score. It all clicked, and that opened the door to a couple of decades of high-profile commercial spots, as well as consistent work from major ad agencies and brands.

Eventually, this journey led me down the road of TV and film. All the while, I kept a foot in the album world, writing for and producing artists in the US and internationally.

andy-vargas-the-beat-2016-hmma-winner-producer-songwriterCAN YOU NAME SOME RECENT PROJECTS YOU HAVE WORKED ON?
I Want To Say— Composer: Main Title and opening scenes (Healdsburg International Film Festival – Best Documentary).
LBS– Songwriter/Producer: End Title Track feat. J.R. Richards of Dishwalla (Sundance Official Selection, Independent Spirit Awards nominee)
• Andy Vargas/The Beat (Producer/Songwriter – Winner 2016 Hollywood Music in Media Awards “R&B/Soul”)
• Escape The Fate/Alive (Songwriter — hit single, #26 Active Rock, album #2 Billboard Hard Rock charts)

WHAT IS THE PROJECT THAT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?
It’s hard to pick one. Some of the projects listed above are contenders. There’s a young band I’m developing and producing right now called Bentley. I will be very proud when that is released. They’re fantastic.

NAME THREE PIECES OF TECHNOLOGY YOU CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT.
Pro Tools. It’s my “instrument” as much as any guitar or keyboard. It’s allowed me to be incredibly productive and make anything I hear in my head a reality. Steven Slate, Sound Toys and PSP plug-ins. Vibe, warmth, color, saturation, detail. My extensive collection of vintage gear (amps, mics, mic pres, compressors, guitars, boutique pedals, etc.). Not sure if these qualify as “technology,” but they all have buttons and knobs and make great noises!

WHAT SOCIAL MEDIA CHANNELS DO YOU FOLLOW?
Instagram, Twitter and Facebook (to a lesser extent lately).

WHAT DO YOU DO TO DE-STRESS FROM IT ALL?
I have an amazing family who helps keep me centered with my eyes on the big picture. Running and exercise (not enough, but feels great when I do) and, increasingly, I try to meditate each morning. A friend and colleague whose studio demeanor I’ve always admired turned me onto it. He’s consistently calm and focused even in the midst of total drama and chaos. I’d like to think I’m getting there.

Main Image: Patricia Maureen Photography-P.M.P


Creating and tracking roaches for Hulu’s 11.22.63

By Randi Altman

Looking for something fun and compelling to watch while your broadcast shows are on winter break? You might want to try Hulu’s original eight-part miniseries 11.22.63, which the streaming channel released last February.

It comes with a pretty impressive pedigree — it’s based on a Stephen King novel, it’s executive produced by J.J. Abrams, it stars Oscar-nominee James Franco (127 Hours) and it’s about JFK’s assassination and includes time travel. C’mon!

The plot involves Franco’s character traveling back to 1960 in an effort to stop JFK’s assassination, but just as he makes headway, he feels the past pushing back in some dangerous, and sometimes gross, ways.

Bruce Branit

In the series pilot, Franco’s character, Jack Epping, is being chased by Kennedy’s security after he tries to sneak into a campaign rally. He ducks in a storage room to hide, but he’s already ticked off the past, which slowly serves him up a room filled with cockroaches that swarm him. The sequence is a slow build, with roaches crawling out, covering the floor and then crawling up him.

I’m not sure if Franco has a no-roach clause in his contract (I would), but in order to have control over these pests, it was best to create them digitally. This is where Bruce Branit, owner of BranitFX in Kansas City, Missouri came in. Yes, you read that right, Kansas City, and his resume is impressive. He is a frequent collaborator with Jay Worth, Bad Robot’s VFX supervisor.

So for this particular scene, BranitFX had one or two reference shots, which they used to create a roach brush via Photoshop. Once the exact look was determined regarding the amount of attacking roaches, they animated it in 3D and and composited. They then used 2D and 3D tracking tools to track Franco while the cockroaches swarmed all over him.

Let’s find out more from Bruce Branit.

How early did you get involved in that episode? How much input did you have in how it would play out?
For this show, there wasn’t a lot of lead time. I came on after shooting was done and there was a rough edit. I don’t think the edit changed a lot after we started.

What did the client want from the scene, and how did you go about accomplishing that?
VFX supervisor Jay Worth and I have worked together on a lot of shows. We’d done some roaches for an episode of Almost Human, and also I think for Fringe, so we had some similar assets and background with talking “roach.” The general description was tons of roaches crawling on James Franco.

Did you do previs?
Not really. I rendered about 10 angles of the roach we had previously worked with and made Adobe Photoshop brushes out of each frame. I used that to paint up a still of each shot to establish a baseline for size, population and general direction of the roaches in each of the 25 or so shots in the sequence.

Did you have to play with the movements a lot, or did it all just come together?
We developed a couple base roach walks and behaviors and then populated each scene with instances of that. This changed depending on whether we needed them crossing the floor, hanging on a light fixture or climbing on Franco’s suit. The roach we had used in the past was similar to what the producers on 11.22.63 had in mind. We made a few minor modifications with texture and modeling. Some of this affected the rig we’d built so a lot of the animations had to be rebuilt.

Can you talk about your process/workflow?
This sequence was shot in anamorphic and featured a constantly flashing light on the set going from dark emergency red lighting to brighter florescent lights. So I generated unsqueezed lens distortion, removed and light mitigated interim plates to pull all of our 2D and 3D tracking off of. The tracking was broken into 2D, 3D and 3D tracking by hand involving roaches on Franco’s body as he turns and swats at them in a panic. The production had taped large “Xs” on his jacket to help with this roto-tracking, but those two had to be painted out for many shots prior to the roaches reaching Franco.

The shots were tracked in Fusion Studio for 2D and SynthEyes for 3D. A few shots were also tracked in PFTrack.

The 3D roach assets were animated and rendered in NewTek LightWave. Passes for the red light and white light conditions were rendered as well as ambient show and specular passes. Although we were now using tracking plates with the 2:1 anamorphic stretch removed, a special camera was created in LightWave that was actually double the anamorphic squeeze to duplicate the vertical booked and DOF from an anamorphic lens. The final composite was completed in Blackmagic Fusion Studio using the original anamorphic plates.

What was the biggest challenge you faced working on this scene?
Understanding the anamorphic workflow was a new challenge. Luckily, I had just completed a short project of my own called Bully Mech that was shot with Lomo anamorphic lenses. So I had just recently developed some familiarity and techniques to deal with the unusual lens attributes of those lenses. Let’s just say they have a lot of character. I talked with a lot of cinematographer friends to try to understand how the lenses behaved and why they stretched the out-of-focus element vertically while the image was actually stretched the other way.

What are you working on now?
I‘ve wrapped up a small amount of work on Westworld and a handful of shots on Legends of Tomorrow. I’ve been directing some television commercials the last few months and just signed a development deal on the Bully Mech project I mentioned earlier.

We are making a sizzle reel of the short that expands the scope of the larger world and working with concept designers and a writer to flush out a feature film pitch. We should be going out with the project early next year.