Category Archives: motion graphics

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.

MTI 4.28

Behind the Title: Artist/Creative Director Barton Damer

NAME: Barton Damer

COMPANY: Dallas-based  Already Been Chewed

CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR COMPANY?
AlreadyBeenChewed is a boutique studio that I founded in 2010. We have created a variety of design, motion graphics and 3D animated content for iconic brands, including Nike, Vans, Star Wars, Harry Potter and Marvel Comics. Check out our motion reel.

WHAT’S YOUR JOB TITLE?
Owner/Founding Artist/Creative Director

WHAT DOES THAT ENTAIL?
My job is to set the vibe for the types of projects, clients and style of work we create. I’m typically developing the creative, working with our chief strategy officer to land projects and then directing the team to execute the creative for the project.

WHAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE ABOUT WHAT FALLS UNDER THAT TITLE?
When you launch out on your own, it’s surprising how much non-creative work there is to do. It’s no longer good enough to be great at what you do (being an artist). Now you have to be excellent with communication skills, people skills, business, organization, marketing, sales and leadership skills. It’s surprising how much you have to juggle in the course of a single day and still hit deadlines.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
Developing a solution that will not only meet the clients needs but also push us forward as a studio is always exciting. My favorite part of any job is making sure it looks amazing. That’s my passion. The way it animates is secondary. If it doesn’t look good to begin with, it won’t look better just because you start animating it.

WHAT’S YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?
Dealing with clients that stress me out for various reasons —whether it’s because they are scope creeping or not realizing that they signed a contract… or not paying a bill. Fortunately, I have a team of great people that help relieve that stress for me, but it can still be stressful knowing that they are fighting those battles for the company. We get a lot of clients who will sign a contract without even realizing what they agreed to. It’s always stressful when you have to remind them what they signed.

WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE TIME OF THE DAY?
Night time! That’s when the freaks come out! I do my best creative at night. No doubt!

IF YOU DIDN’T HAVE THIS JOB, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING INSTEAD?
Real estate investing/fixing up/flipping. I like all aspects of designing, including interior design. I’ve designed and renovated three different studio spaces for Already Been Chewed over the last seven years.

HOW EARLY ON DID YOU KNOW THIS WOULD BE YOUR PATH?
I blew out my ACL and tore my meniscus while skateboarding. I wanted to stay involved with my friends that I skated with knowing that surgery and rehab would have me off the board for at least a full year. During that time, I began filming and editing skate videos of my friends. I quickly discovered that the logging and capturing of footage was my least favorite part, but I loved adding graphics and motion graphics to the skate videos. I then began to learn Adobe After Effects and Maxon Cinema 4D.

At this time I was already a full-time graphic designer, but didn’t even really know what motion graphics were. I had been working professionally for about five or six years before making the switch from print design to animation. That was after dabbling in Flash animations and discovering I didn’t want to do code websites (this was around 2003-2004).

CAN YOU NAME SOME RECENT PROJECTS YOU HAVE WORKED ON?
We recently worked with Nike on various activations for the Super Bowl, March Madness and got to create motion graphics for storefronts as part of the Equality Campaign they launched during Black History Month. It was cool to see our work in the flagship Niketown NYC store while visiting New York a few weeks ago.

We are currently working on a variety of projects for Nike, Malibu Boats, Training Mask, Marvel and DC Comics licensed product releases, as well as investing heavily in GPUs and creating 360 animated videos for VR content.

HOW DID THE NIKE EQUALITY MOTION GRAPHICS CAMPAIGN COME TO FRUITION?
Nike had been working on a variety of animated concepts to bring the campaign to life for storefronts. They had a library of animation styles that had already been done that they felt were not working. Our job was to come up with something that would benefit the campaign style.

We recreated 16 athlete portraits in 3D so that we could cast light and shadows across their faces to slowly reveal them from black and also created a seamless video loop transitioning between the athlete portraits and various quotes about equality.

CAN YOU DESCRIBE THE MOTION GRAPHICS SCOPE OF THE NIKE EQUALITY CAMPAIGN, AND THE SOFTWARE USED?
The video we created was used in various Nike flagship stores — Niketown NYC, Soho and LA, to name a few. We reformatted the video to work in a variety of sizes. We were able to see the videos at Niketown NYC where it was on the front of the window displays. It was also used on large LED walls on the interior as well as a four-story vertical screen in store.

We created the portrait technique on all 16 athletes using Cinema 4D and Octane. The remainder of the video was animated in After Effects.

The portraits were sculpted in Cinema 4D and we used camera projection to accurately project real photos of the athletes onto the 3D portrait. This allowed us to keep 100 percent accuracy of the photos Nike provided, but be able to re-light and cast shadows accordingly to reveal the faces up from black.

WHAT IS THE PROJECT THAT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?
That’s a tough one. Usually, it’s whatever the latest project is. We’re blessed to be working on some really fun projects. That being said… working on Vans 50th Anniversary campaign for the Era shoe is pretty epic! Especially since I am a long time skateboarder.

Our work was used globally on everything from POP displays to storefronts to interactive Website takeover and 3D animated spots for broadcast. It was amazing to see it being used across so many mediums.

NAME THREE PIECES OF TECHNOLOGY YOU CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT.
A computer, my iPhone and speakers!

WHAT SOCIAL MEDIA CHANNELS DO YOU FOLLOW?
I’m very active on Instagram and Facebook. I chose to say “no” to Snapchat in hopes that it will go away so that I don’t have to worry about one more thing (he laughs), and twitter is pretty much dead for me these days. I log in once a month and see if I have any notifications. I also use Behance and LinkedIn a lot, and Dribbble once in a blue moon.

DO YOU LISTEN TO MUSIC WHILE YOU WORK? IF SO, WHAT KIND?
My 25-year-old self would cyber bully me for saying this but soft Drake is “Too Good” these days. Loving Travis Scott and Migos among a long list of others.

WHAT DO YOU DO TO DE-STRESS FROM IT ALL?
First I bought a swimming pool to help me get away from the computer/emails and swim laps with the kids. That worked for a while, but then I bought a convertible BMW to try to ease the tension and enjoy the wind through my hair. Once that wore off and the stress came back, I bought a puppy. Then I started doing yoga. A year later I bought another puppy.


Industry vet Alex Moulton joins NYC’s Trollbäck+Company

New York’s Trollbäck+Company has hired Alex Moulton as chief creative officer where he has been tasked with helping businesses and organizations develop sustainable brands through design-driven strategy and mixed media.

Moulton, who joins the agency from Vice Media, was recently at the helm of NBC Universo’s highly regarded brand refresh, as well as show packaging for ESPN’s The Undefeated In-Depth: Serena With Common.

“Alex brings an invaluable perspective to Trollbäck+Company as both an artist and entrepreneur,” says founder Jakob Trollbäck. “In his short time here, he has already reinvigorated the collective creative energy of our company. This clearly stems from his constant quest to dig deeper as a creative problem solver, which falls perfectly into our philosophy of ‘Discard everything that means nothing.’”

Says Moulton, “My vision for Trollbäck+Company is very clear: design culturally relevant, sustainable brands — from initial strategy and positioning to content and experiential activations —  with a nimble and holistic approach that makes us the ultimate partner for CMOs that care about designing an enduring brand and bringing it to market with integrity.”

Prior to Trollbäck+Company, as senior director, creative and content at Vice, Moulton helped launch digital content channel Live Nation TV (LNTV) — a joint venture for which he led brand creative, content development, production and partnership initiatives.

As executive creative director at advertising agency Eyeball, Moulton led product launches, rebrands and campaigns for major brands, including Amazon, New York Public Radio, Wildlife Conservation Society’s New York Aquarium, A&E, CMT, Disney, E!, Nickelodeon, Oxygen, Ovation and VH1.

An early adopter of audio branding, Moulton founded his own branding agency and record label, Expansion Team, in 2002. As chief creative officer of the company, he created the sonic identities of Aetna, Amazon Studios/Originals, Boeing, JetBlue and Rovi, as well as more than 15 TV networks, including CNN International, Discovery, PBS, Universal and Comedy Central.

A DJ, composer and speaker about topics that combine music and design, Moulton has been featured in Billboard, V Man, Electronic Musician and XLR8R and has performed at The Guggenheim.


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.


Digging Deep: Helping launch the OnePlus 3T phone

By Jonathan Notaro

It’s always a big deal when a company drops a new smartphone. The years of planning and development culminate in a single moment, and the consumers are left to judge whether or not the new device is worthy of praise and — more importantly — worthy of purchase.

For bigger companies like Google and Apple, a misstep with a new phone release can often amount to nothing more than a hiccup in their operations. But for newer upstarts like OnePlus, it’s a make or break event. When we got the call at Brand New School to develop a launch spot for the company’s 3T smartphone, along with the agency Carrot Creative, we didn’t hesitate to dive in.

The Idea
OnePlus has built a solid foundation of loyal fans with their past releases, but with the 3T they saw the chance to build their fanbase out to more everyday consumers who may not be as tech-obsessed as their existing fans. It is an entirely new offering and, as creatives, the chance to present such a technologically advanced device to a new, wider audience was an opportunity we couldn’t pass up.

Carrot wanted to create something for OnePlus that gave viewers a unique sense of what the phone was capable of — to capture the energy, momentum and human element of the OnePlus 3T. The 3T is meant to be an extension of its owner, so this spot was designed to explore the parallels between man and machine. Doing this can run the risk of being cliché, so we opted for futuristic, abstract imagery that gets the point across effectively without being too heavy handed. We focused on representing the phone’s features that set it apart from other devices in this market, such as its powerful processor and its memory and storage capabilities.

How We Did It
Inspired by the brooding, alluring mood reflected in the design for the title sequence of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, we set out to meld lavish shots of the OnePlus 3T with robotically-infused human anatomy, drawing up initial designs in Autodesk Maya and Maxon Cinema 4D.

When the project moved into the animation phase, we stuck with Maya and used Nuke for compositing. Type designs were done in Adobe Illustrator and animated in Adobe After Effects.

Collaboration is always a concern when there are this many different scenes and moving parts, but this was a particular challenge. With a CG-heavy production like this, there’s no room for error, so we had to make sure that all of the different artists were on the same page every step along the way.

Our CG supervisor Russ Wootton and technical director Dan Bradham led the way and compiled a crack team to make this thing happen. I may be biased, but they continue to amaze me with what they can accomplish.

The Final Product
The project was two-month production process. Along the way, we found that working with Carrot and the brand was a breath of fresh air, as they were very knowledgeable and amenable to what we had in mind. They afforded us the creative space to take a few risks and explore some more abstract, avant-garde imagery that I felt represented what they were looking to achieve with this project.

In the end, we created something that I hope cuts through the crowded landscape of product videos and appeals to both the brand’s diehard-tech-savvy following and consumers who may not be as deep into that world. (Check it out here.)

Fueled by the goal of conveying the underlying message of “raw power” while balancing the scales of artificial and human elements, we created something I believe is beautiful, compelling and completely unique. Ultimately though, the biggest highlight was seeing the positive reaction the piece received when it was released. Normally, reaction from consumers would be centered solely on the product, but to have the video receive praise from a very discerning audience was truly satisfying.


Jonathan Notaro is a director at Brand New School, a bicoastal studio that provides VFX, animation and branding. 


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. “


Flavor Detroit welcomes VFX artist/designer Scott Stephens

Twenty-year industry veteran Scott Stephens has joined Flavor Detroit as senior VFX artist/designer. Previously the lead designer at Postique, Stephens has been a key part of the post boutique Section 8 as co-founder and lead designer since its launch in 2001.

Known for his work with top brands and directors on major commercial campaigns for Blue Cross Blue Shield (BCBS), Chrysler, Expedia, Food Network, Mazda and Six Flags, to name but a few, Stephens also brings vast experience creating content that maximizes unique environments and screens of all sizes.

Recent projects include the Amazon Kindle release in Times Square, the Ford Focus theatrical release for the Electric Music Festival, BCBS media for the Pandora app, Buick’s multi-screen auto show installations and the Mount St. Helens installation for the National Park Service.


Lost in Time game show embraces ‘Interactive Mixed Reality’

By Daniel Restuccio

The Future Group — who has partnered with Fremantle Media, Ross Video and Epic Games — have created a new super-agile entertainment platform that blends linear television and game technology into a hybrid format called “Interactive Mixed Reality.”

The brainchild of Bård Anders Kasin, this innovative content deployment medium generated a storm of industry buzz at NAB 2016, and their first production Lost in Time — a weekly primetime game show — is scheduled to air this month on Norwegian television.

The Idea
The idea originated more than 13 years ago in Los Angeles. In 2003, at age 22, Kasin, a self-taught multimedia artist from Notodden, Norway, sent his CV and a bunch of media projects to Warner Bros. in Burbank, California, in hopes of working on The Matrix. They liked it. His interview was on a Wednesday and by Friday he had a job as a technical director.

Kasin immersed himself in the cutting-edge movie revolution that was The Matrix franchise. The Wachowskis visionary production was a masterful inspiration and featured a compelling sci-fi action story, Oscar-winning editing, breakthrough visual effects (“bullet-time”) and an expanded media universe that included video games and an animè-style short The Animatrix. The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolutions were shot at the same time, as well as more than an hour of footage specifically designed for the video game. The Matrix Online, an Internet gaming platform, was a direct sequel to The Matrix Revolutions.

L-R: Bård Anders Kasin and Jens Petter Høili.

Fast forward to 2013 and Kasin has connected with software engineer and serial entrepreneur Jens Petter Høili, founder of EasyPark and Fairchance. “There was this producer I knew in Norway,” explains Kasin, “who runs this thing called the Artists’ Gala charity. He called and said, ‘There’s this guy you should meet. I think you’ll really hit it off.’” Kasin met Høili had lunch and discussed projects they each were working on. “We both immediately felt there was a connection,” recalls Kasin. No persuading was necessary. “We thought that if we combined forces we were going to get something that’s truly amazing.”

That meeting of the minds led to the merging of their companies and the formation of The Future Group. The mandate of Oslo-based The Future Group is to revolutionize the television medium by combining linear TV production with cutting-edge visual effects, interactive gameplay, home viewer participation and e-commerce. Their IMR concept ditches the individual limiting virtual reality (VR) headset, but conceptually keeps the idea of creating content that is a multi-level, intricate and immersive experience.

Lost in Time
Fast forward again, this time to 2014. Through another mutual friend, The Future Group formed an alliance with Fremantle Media. Fremantle, a global media company, has produced some of the highest-rated and longest-running shows in the world, and is responsible for top international entertainment brands such as Got Talent, Idol and The X Factor.

Kasin started developing the first IMR prototype. At this point, the Lost in Time production had expanded to include Ross Video and Epic Games. Ross Video is a broadcast technology innovator and Epic Games is a video game producer and the inventor of the Unreal game engine. The Future Group, in collaboration with Ross Video, engineered the production technology and developed a broadcast-compatible version of the Unreal game engine called Frontier, shown at NAB 2016, to generate high-resolution, realtime graphics used in the production.

On January 15, 2015 the first prototype was shown. When Freemantle saw the prototype, they were amazed. They went directly to stage two, moving to the larger stages at Dagslys Studios. “Lost in Time has been the driver for the technology,” explains Kasin. “We’re a very content-driven company. We’ve used that content to drive the development of the platform and the technology, because there’s nothing better than having actual content to set the requirements for the technology rather than building technology for general purposes.”

In Lost in Time, three studio contestants are set loose on a greenscreen stage and perform timed, physical game challenges. The audience, which could be watching at home or on a mobile device, sees the contestant seamlessly blended into a virtual environment built out of realtime computer graphics. The environments are themed as western, ice age, medieval times and Jurassic period sets (among others) with interactive real props.

The audience can watch the contestants play the game or participate in the contest as players on their mobile device at home, riding the train or literally anywhere. They can play along or against contestants, performing customized versions of the scripted challenges in the TV show. The mobile content uses graphics generated from the same Unreal engine that created the television version.

“It’s a platform,” reports partner Høili, referring to the technology behind Lost in Time. A business model is a way you make money, notes tech blogger Jonathan Clarks, and a platform is something that generates business models. So while Lost in Time is a specific game show with specific rules, built on television technology, it’s really a business technology framework where multiple kinds of interactive content could be generated. Lost in Time is like the Unreal engine itself, software that can be used to create games, VR experiences and more, limited only by the imagination of the content creator. What The Future Group has done is create a high-tech kitchen from which any kind of cuisine can be cooked up.

Soundstages and Gear
Lost in Time is produced on two greenscreen soundstages at Dagslys Studios in Oslo. The main “gameplay set” takes up all of Studio 1 (5,393 square feet) and the “base station set” is on Studio 3 (1,345 square feet). Over 150 liters (40 gallons) of ProCyc greenscreen paint was used to cover both studios.

Ross Video, in collaboration with The Future Group, devised an integrated technology of hardware and software that supports the Lost in Time production platform. This platform consists of custom cameras, lenses, tracking, control, delay, chroma key, rendering, greenscreen, lighting and switcher technology. This system includes the new Frontier hardware, introduced at NAB 2016, which runs the Unreal game engine 3D graphics software.

Eight Sony HDC-2500 cameras running HZC-UG444 software are used for the production. Five are deployed on the “gameplay set.” One camera rides on a technocrane, two are on manual pedestal dollies and one is on Steadicam. For fast-action tracking shots, another camera sits on the Furio RC dolly that rides on a straight track that runs the 90-foot length of the studio. The Furio RC pedestal, controlled by SmartShell, guarantees smooth movement in virtual environments and uses absolute encoders on all axes to send complete 3D tracking data into the Unreal engine.

There is also one Sony HDC-P1 camera that is used as a static, center stage, ceiling cam flying 30 feet above the gameplay set. There are three cameras in the home base set, two on Furio Robo dollies and one on a technocrane. In the gameplay set, all cameras (except the ceiling cam) are tracked with the SolidTrack IR markerless tracking system.

All filming is done at 1080p25 and output RGB 444 via SDI. They use a custom LUT on the cameras to avoid clipping and an expanded dynamic range for post work. All nine camera ISOs, separate camera “clean feeds,” are recorded with a “flat” LUT in RGB 444. For all other video streams, including keying and compositing, they use LUT boxes to invert the signal back to Rec 709.

Barnfind provided the fiber optic network infrastructure that links all the systems. Ross Video Dashboard controls the BarnOne frames as well as the router, Carbonite switchers, Frontier graphics system and robotic cameras.

A genlock signal distributed via OpenGear syncs all the gear to a master clock. The Future Group added proprietary code to Unreal so the render engine can genlock, receive and record linear timecode (LTC) and output video via SDI in all industry standard formats. They also added additional functionality to the Unreal engine to control lights via DMX, send and receive GPI signals, communicate with custom sensors, buttons, switches and wheels used for interaction with the games and controlling motion simulation equipment.

In order for the “virtual cameras” in the graphics systems and the real cameras viewing the real elements to have the exact same perspectives, an “encoded” camera lens is required that provides the lens focal length (zoom) and focus data. In addition the virtual lens field of view (FOV) must be properly calibrated to match the FOV of the real lens. Full servo digital lenses with 16-bit encoders are needed for virtual productions. Lost in Time uses three Canon lenses with these specifications: Canon Hj14ex4.3B-IASE, Canon Hj22ex7.6B-IASE-A and Canon Kj17ex7.7B-IASE-A.

The Lost in Time camera feeds are routed to the Carbonite family hardware: Ultrachrome HR, Carbonite production frame and Carbonite production switcher. Carbonite Ultrachrome HR is a stand-alone multichannel chroma key processor based on the Carbonite Black processing engine. On Lost in Time, the Ultrachrome switcher accepts the Sony camera RGB 444 signal and uses high-resolution chroma keyers, each with full control of delay management, fill color temperature for scene matching, foreground key and fill, and internal storage for animated graphics.

Isolated feeds of all nine cameras are recorded, plus two quad-splits with the composited material and the program feed. Metus Ingest, a The Future Group proprietary hardware solution, was used for all video recording. Metus Ingest can simultaneously capture and record  up to six HD channels of video and audio from multiple devices on a single platform.

Post Production
While the system is capable of being broadcast live, they decided not to go live for the debut. Instead they are only doing a modest amount of post to retain the live feel. That said, the potential of the post workflow on Lost in Time arguably sets a whole new post paradigm. “Post allows us to continue to develop the virtual worlds for a longer amount of time,” says Kasin. “This gives us more flexibility in terms of storytelling. We’re always trying to push the boundaries with the creative content. How we tell the story of the different challenges.”

All camera metadata, including position, rotation, lens data, etc., and all game interaction, were recorded in the Unreal engine with a proprietary system. This allowed graphics playback as a recorded session later. This also let the editors change any part of the graphics non-destructively. They could choose to replace 3D models or textures or in post change the tracking or point-of-view of any of the virtual cameras as well as add cameras for more virtual “coverage.”

Lost in Time episodes were edited as a multicam project, based on the program feed, in Adobe Premiere CC. They have a multi-terabyte storage solution from Pixit Media running Tiger Technology’s workflow manager. “The EDL from the final edit is fed through a custom system, which then builds a timeline in Unreal to output EXR sequences for a final composite.”

That’s it for now, but be sure to visit this space again to see part two of our coverage on The Future Group’s Lost in Time. Our next story will include the real and virtual lighting systems, the SolidTrack IR tracking system, the backend component, and interview with Epic Games’ Kim Libreri about Unreal engine development/integration and a Lost in Time episode editor.


Daniel Restuccio, who traveled to Oslo for this piece, is a writer, producer and teacher. He is currently multimedia department chairperson at California Lutheran in Thousand Oaks.

Alkemy X adds creative director Geoff Bailey

Alkemy X, which offers live-action production, design, high-end VFX and post services, has added creative director Geoff Bailey to its New York office, which has now almost doubled in staff. The expansion comes after Alkemy X served as the exclusive visual effects company on M. Night Shyamalan’s Split.

Alkemy X and Bailey started collaborating in 2016 when the two worked together on a 360 experiential film project for EY (formerly Ernst & Young) and brand consultancy BrandPie. Bailey was creative director on the project, which was commissioned for EY’s Strategic Growth Forum held in Palm Desert, California, last November. The project featured Alkemy X’s live-action, VFX, animation, design and editorial work.

“I enjoy creating at the convergence of many disciplines and look forward to leveraging my branding knowledge to support Alkemy X’s hybrid creation pipeline — from ideation and strategy, to live-action production, design and VFX,” says Bailey.

Most recently, Bailey was a creative director at Loyalkaspar, where he creatively led the launch campaign for A&E’s Bates Motel. He also served as creative director/designer on the title sequence for the American launch of A&E’s The Returned, and as CD/director on a series of launch spots for the debut of Vice Media’s TV channel Viceland.

Prior to that, Bailey freelanced for several New York design firms as a director, designer and animator. His freelance résumé includes work for HBO, Showtime, Hulu, ABC, Cinemax, HP, Jay-Z, U2, Travel Channel, Comedy Central, CourtTV, Fuse, AMC Networks, Kiehl’s and many more. Bailey holds an MFA in film production from Columbia University.