Tag Archives: BBC

Behind the Title: Milk VFX supervisor Jean-Claude Deguara

NAME: Jean-Claude Deguara

COMPANY: Milk Visual Effects (@milkvfx)

CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR COMPANY?
Milk is an independent visual effects company. We create complex sequences for high-end television and feature films, and we have studios in London and Cardiff, Wales. We launched four years ago and we pride ourselves on our friendly working culture and ability to nurture talent.

WHAT’S YOUR JOB TITLE?
VFX Supervisor

WHAT DOES THAT ENTAIL?
Overseeing the VFX for feature films, television and digital content — from the initial concept development right through to delivery. This includes on-set supervision and supervising teams of artists.

HOW DID YOU TRANSITION TO VFX?
I started out as a runner at London post house Soho 601, and got my first VFX role at The Hive. Extinct was my very first animation job — a Channel 4 dinosaur program. Then I moved to Mill Film to work on Harry Potter.

HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN WORKING IN VFX?
Over 20 years.

HOW HAS THE VFX INDUSTRY CHANGED IN THE TIME YOU’VE BEEN WORKING?
In London, the industry has grown from what was a small cottage industry in the late 1990s, pre Harry Potter. More creative freedom has come with the massive technology advances.

When I started out TV was all done on Digi Beta, but now, with the quality of cameras, television VFX has caught up with film.

Dinosaurs in the Wild

Being able to render huge amounts of data in the cloud as we did recently on our special venue project Dinosaurs in the Wild means that smaller companies can compete better.

DID A PARTICULAR FILM INSPIRE YOU ALONG THIS PATH IN ENTERTAINMENT?
Ray Harryhausen’s films inspired me as child. We’d watch at Christmas in awe!

I was also massively inspired by Spitting Image. I applied for a job only to find they were about to close down.

DID YOU GO TO FILM SCHOOL?
No, I went to Weston Supermare College of Art (Bristol University) and studied for an art and design diploma. Then I went straight into the film/TV industry as a runner.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
The creative planning and building of shots and collaborating with all the other departments to try to problem solve in order to tell the best possible story visually, within the budget.

WHAT’S YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?
Answering emails, and the traveling.

IF YOU DIDN’T HAVE THIS JOB, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING INSTEAD?
If I didn’t do this, I’d like to be directing.

Sherlock

CAN YOU NAME SOME RECENT PROJECTS YOU HAVE WORKED ON?
Sherlock (BBC/Hartswood), Dinosaurs in the Wild, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell (BBC) and Beowulf (ITV). I am currently VFX supervisor on Good Omens (BBC/Amazon).

WHAT IS THE PROJECT/S THAT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?
It’s really hard to choose, but the problem solving on Sherlock has been very satisfying. We’ve created invisible effects across three series.

WHAT TOOLS DO YOU USE DAY TO DAY?
I previz in Autodesk Maya.

WHERE DO YOU FIND INSPIRATION NOW?
Scripts. I get creative “triggers” when I’m reading scripts or discussing a new scene or idea, which for me, pushes it to the next level. I also get a lot of inspiration working with my fellow artists at Milk. They’re a talented bunch.

WHAT DO YOU DO TO DE-STRESS FROM IT ALL?
I’d go to the gym, but the pub tends to get in the way!

My first trip to IBC

By Sophia Kyriacou

When I was asked by the team at Maxon to present my work at their IBC stand this year, I jumped at the chance. I’m a London-based working professional with 20 years of experience as a designer and 3D artist, but I had never been to an IBC. My first impression of the RAI convention center in Amsterdam was that it’s super huge and easy to get lost in for days. But once I found the halls relevant to my interests, the creative and technical buzz hit me like heat in the face when disembarking from a plane in a hot humid summer. It was immediate, and it felt so good!

The sounds and lights were intense. I was surrounded by booths with baselines of audio vibrating against the floor changing as you walked along. It was a great atmosphere; so warm and friendly.

My first Maxon presentation was on day two of IBC — it was a show-and-tell of three award-winning and nominated sequences I created for the BBC in London and one for Noon Visual Creatives. As a Cinema 4D user, it was great to see the audience at the stand captivated by my work. and knowing it was streamed live to a large audience globally made it even more exciting.

The great thing about IBC is that it’s not only about companies shouting about their new toys. I also saw how it brings passionate pros from all over the world together — people you would never meet in your usual day-to-day work life. I met people from all over globe and made new friends. Everyone appeared to share the same or similar experience, which was wonderful.

The great thing about having the first presentation of the day at Maxon meant I could take a breather and look around the show. I also sat in on a Dell Precision/Radeon Technologies roundtable event one afternoon. That was a really interesting meeting. We were a group of pros from varied disciplines within the industry. It was great to talk about what hardware works, what doesn’t work, and how it could all get better. I don’t work in a realtime area, but I do know what I would like to see as someone who works in 3D. It was incredibly interesting, and everyone was so welcoming. Thoroughly enjoyed it.

Sunday evening, I went over to the SuperMeet — such an energetic and friendly vibe. The stage demos were very interesting. I was particularly taken with the fayIN tracker plug-in for Adobe After Effects. It appears to be a very effective tool, and I will certainly look into purchasing it. The new Adobe Premiere features look fantastic as well.

Everything about my time at IBC was so enjoyable. I went back London buzzing, and am already looking forward to next year’s IBC show.

Sophia Kyriacou is a London-based broadcast designer and 3D artist who splits her time working as a freelancer and for the BBC.

AxisVFX celebrates Christmas with ‘Doctor Who’ special

By Randi Altman

Even Doctor Who celebrates Christmas, but in a very different way than most. Let’s just say the Doctor’s not sitting around a fireplace drinking eggnog and listening to holiday music. In Doctor Who‘sThe Husbands of River Songs” our favorite Tardis traveling character is hurled into a frantic chase across the galaxy. This special premiered on December 25 and featured a typical wacky plot and some pretty cool effects.

UK-based AxisVFX was called on to create over 100 shots for the episode. They split the work between their two studios — one in Bristol, England, and one in Glasgow, Scotland. The Axis team was led by co-owner/VFX supervisor Grant Hewlett and fellow VFX supervisor Stuart Aitken. They worked closely with director Douglas Mackinnon and producer Nikki Wilson while creating shots that ranged from alien planets to giant robots to galactic star-liners.

Grant Hewitt

Grant Hewlett

Services spanned digital matte painting, character animation, fluids and particle simulation work to rigid body simulations and compositing using Autodesk Maya, Side Effects Houdini and The Foundry’s Nuke.

Over the holidays, we reached out to Hewlett to find out more. Let’s dig in.

You provided over 100 VFX shots?
We ended up delivering 119 shots in total, which was about a third more than we bid. This is relatively normal as we pick up A/B shots when editing starts. A/B shots are effectively the same shot chopped up in the edit.

It’s part of our remit as a company to serve the story first, so we rarely charge for this type of addition; flexibility is what’s required on a show like Doctor Who.

How early did you get involved, and have you worked on Doctor Who previously?
We got involved about three or four weeks before shooting. We started breaking down scripts and exploring creative solutions to the many and varied effects required. Previously, we had worked on an episode from Season 8 called “Flatline” with Douglas Mackinnon and Nikki Wilson, so it was great to work with them again.

Working under tight deadlines and juggling multiple issues is tough; you have to live with the decisions you make. Building relationships and allowing space for creativity to blossom is pretty nerve-racking at times but ultimately very rewarding.

What were the types of shots needed? Invisible? Obvious? Both?
Doctor Who is a challenging show for a visual effects company as there is minimal re-use and every story has its own demands. The Christmas special had spaceships, digital matte paintings, set extensions, characters, fluid effects, snow, explosions and even an exploding head!

The majority of fix-it type work is done superbly by the BBC in-house online team. At the center of our work was Hydroflax the Robot, which was a prosthetic/suit/performer in the majority of shots with additional VFX enhancements. We built a full copy of the real suit in Maya using photogrammetry I shot on set with a Sony RX 100, which is great little piece of kit with a F1.8  lens.

The 3D model was textured in Mudbox and Photoshop and we prepped 8K maps for use in our proprietary Houdini shader written by CG supervisor Sergio Caires. Our “stunt” CG Hydroflax was used in a number of sequences in the episode. The most hilarious was Matt Lucas whizzing off like a firework. Awesome!

What was your workflow like? Did you have a supervisor on set?
I supervised the month-long shoot and worked closely with Douglas and Nikki on every scene, advising and suggesting alternatives when required. We had four weeks to deliver all of the shots once we got a locked cut, so my goal was to get as much approval and creative buy-in as we could as we went along.

    

We created hundreds of concepts and dozens of previz QuickTimes for the feedback loop so we could bring all to a common plan. In practice that works for the majority of shots, but things always evolve as the edit comes together. That’s the nerve-racking time for us — waiting for the edit. Thankfully Douglas and Nikki, while being demanding clients, are also very pragmatic and professional, which makes our job much easier than on some jobs, which I am not going to talk about here! (laughs).

You have mentioned some tools used. What do you call on for collaboration and other parts of the workflow?
We use a whole gamut of DCC tools, but our workhorse is Nuke. Shotgun provides the organization and pipeline tools and we use Alembic to move data around.

Having worked most of my career as a lighting/shots TD, I like to keep things simple so each distinct step in our 3D pipeline has a “publish,” allowing clean data for the next step.

How did the approval process go with the producers?
Approvals of concepts, animation/layout, look-development, lighting and final shots were carried out via the Shotgun Client review site, which is simply fantastic. Pretty much every day from the start of filming to the day before delivery we sent playlists for review by the director, producer, executives and post supervisor. We also had a number of face-to-face meetings in the cutting room, which are much more freeform and immediate. The goal was to generate ideas and approaches to explore.

What’s next for AxisVFX?
Well, we are a few weeks into two seasons of Red Dwarf and we have a number of other projects that I can’t really talk about yet.

‘Wolf Hall’ DP Gavin Finney: modern tech for a period drama

By Ellen Wixted

Based on Hilary Mantel’s Booker Prize-winning novels, Wolf Hall was adapted by the BBC in conjunction with PBS as a six-part series for television.  When the show first aired in the UK in January on BBC Two, the first episode attracted nearly six million viewers. In the US, the April premiere drew 4.4 million viewers on PBS and through streaming services.

Capturing the volatile mix of sex, politics and religion that defined Henry VIII’s Britain, Wolf Hall was directed by Peter Kosminsky and shot entirely on location by cinematographer Gavin Finney, BSC. The show stars Mark Rylance as Thomas Cromwell, Claire Foy as Anne Boleyn and Damien Lewis as Henry VIII.

I spoke with Finney about how he achieved the series’ distinctively fresh, contemporary look. The story of Henry VIII is familiar, but Mantel’s depiction of Thomas Cromwell is a significant departure from tradition. I asked Finney what the response to the series has been in the UK, and he was quick to note that while the historical events are well known to Brits, the show’s goal was to do justice to the novel — which is, at its heart, fiction. “Cromwell was the first plebeian power broker who wasn’t aristocracy or clergy,” Finney points out. “He was a mercenary, a lawyer and a banker.

Gavin Finney, behind the camera.

Gavin Finney, behind the camera.

In that time, especially, you had to be fleet of mind to stay alive. Typically, Thomas More is presented as a saint, but in Wolf Hall his darker side is portrayed, albeit with deep religious convictions. What’s great about Hilary’s writing is that no one comes through as an ogre or an angel.”

Documentary Immediacy Meets Historical Drama
Unlike most period dramas, which lavish visual attention on every surface, Finney notes that Kosminsky wanted the visual world of Wolf Hall to feel more like a documentary than a traditional drama. “For the people of the time, these weren’t historically important sites or fabulous costumes, they were the buildings they lived and worked in, and the clothes they wore.”

In the 16th Century, art played a key role in helping define the visual approach. “The witnesses to that time were the painters” points out Finney, noting that the team spent time in London looking not just at the Hans Holbein paintings that figure prominently in the story, but also at works by later painters from Caravaggio and Rembrandt to Vermeer and Gerard van Honthorst. “In that era, people are always painted by windows, and night scenes show how that world looked by candlelight. Peter staged the action so that interior shots are illuminated by natural looking light from the windows, and nighttime scenes are lit using candles.”

In part an aesthetic choice, the strategy had clear practical benefits as well. “Because we were shooting in some of the UK’s most important historical buildings — many of which Cromwell, Henry and Anne had walked through — we couldn’t just stick film lights in those rooms.” It also meant that the actors’ movements had to be carefully orchestrated in order to ensure they were illuminated, particularly in night scenes.

While accurate period detail was important, both Finney and Kosminski wanted that authenticity to be communicated without the visual grandstanding typically associated with period dramas. “We wanted the camera to be loose and fluid and reactive to the action, so the series had the immediacy of a documentary.” To that end, the team shot the entire series handheld — including most wide shots — to help place viewers in the action and give the show its unusual sense of intimacy.

The story is filmed almost entirely from Cromwell’s point of view. While true to the author’s intent, it also reinforces the show’s immediacy. “Almost all of the scenes in the show are witnessed from where Cromwell is standing,” explains Finney. “We don’t see Henry until nearly the end of the first episode, because Cromwell doesn’t meet him until then. Even though we had access to these amazing architectural spaces, we avoided using crane shots to move down through them because doing so wouldn’t make visual sense or be true to the novel.” The one exception — an aerial crane shot at Catherine of Aragon’s funeral — adds emotional impact in large part because it stands in stark contrast to the rest of the show.

Putting Digital To The Test
While Finney has extensive experience with both film and digital capture, Wolf Hall was Kosminski’s first foray into digital production. Two key requirements were that the camera had to be handheld, and the image quality — both in daylight and low light — had to be pristine.

The team spent weeks shooting test scenes with actors using a dizzying array of cameras and lenses. Cameras tested included the Red Epic and Dragon, the Arri Alexa and Amira, the Sony F55, the Canon C500, C300 and even the Canon 5D Mark III. They also tested multiple lens packages: the Cooke S4 series, Zeiss Master and Ultra Primes, Canon K-35s and Leica Summilux-C lenses. Shooting candlelight proved especially challenging with some of the camera and lens combinations — notably the Red cameras with Ultra Primes. The light from the candles reflected back onto the sensor and created a double image.

“We found the best combination was the Leica Summilux lenses on the Alexa,” says Finney. “Not only were they a kilo lighter — important given that I’d be carrying the weight for hours at a time on shoot days — but the lenses performed astonishingly well wide open. And the Leicas showed the least chromatic aberration of any we tested… even the Master Primes had some color fringing.”

The team shot ProRes 4444 Log C at 1920×1080 onto SxS cards on the camera. Files were then transcoded to Avid. LUTs were applied to dailies to convert them to REC 709, and a preliminary grade was applied using DaVinci Resolve so it was easier to visualize the end result.

“You have to test the full pipeline,” Finney insists. “Ansel Adams wrote in the 1950s that you can’t consider the film, camera and development processes separately. That’s still true today; you need to test your lens, camera and entire post pipeline before you can know what your image will look like.”

A Documentary-Style Shoot
Finney was responsible for filming all of the scenes in the series — literally. Shooting solo for 65 of the 85 filming days, Finney worked with a personal trainer in advance to prepare physically. Here again, approaching the shoot with a small, documentary-sized crew reaped big rewards. “The actors really responded to having such a small crew. They were able to walk into 500-year-old rooms that were dressed and lit the way they would have been at the time without the distraction of a large crew. There’s a scene in Episode 6 at Anne Boleyn’s trial — when [actress] Claire Foy entered the hall the first time, she gasped,” remembers Finney.

While replicating natural daylight through windows and using candles at night for most scenes, Finney used supplementary lighting for some shots. For night scenes, the team built reflective trays that contained 20 to 30 church candles, primarily so the lighting would be responsive to the actors’ movements. “Candles don’t flicker all the time,” explains Finney, “but the flames are very interactive when someone walks past. If you bring in extra light, you want it to behave the same way.” Finney also occasionally used Kino Flo LED lights, dimmed down to between 1.5% & 3% with diffusion filters and color gels.

Subtle Color On A Tight Schedule
Grading was done at Lipsync Post in London using FilmLight’s Baselight. Adam Inglis was the colorist. The grade for all six episodes took 13 days to complete, and both Finney and Kosminsky were present for the entire process. With such a tight schedule, it was imperative that the team collaborated effectively.

“Adam had a very sympathetic style, and really understood the very naturalistic, organic look Peter and I were trying to achieve. We didn’t want anything showy, and Adam was able to achieve fantastically subtle and precise effects very quickly and skillfully,” says Finney.

Reflecting On 4K
With a long and celebrated career to draw upon, I asked Finney about the changes he’s seen in the industry. “Obviously, it’s been a big transition from film to digital,” he says. “Film still has a place, but digital acquisition is now as good in terms of the dynamic range. For TV production, the transition to digital been massively positive; we can now use the same cameras and lenses as the biggest budget feature films, and we have a much greater ability to shape the picture in post than we did in the past. We couldn’t have shot Wolf Hall the way we did without the new cameras and lenses that are available.”

Gavin Finney

Gavin Finney

Finney began his career as a photographer, and he observed that if you want to know where cinematography is going, it’s smart look at the changes in still photography. “Still cameras have reached a point where you don’t need or want more megapixels; it just makes the images slower to process and move around… with more noise and less dynamic range,” he notes. “The public doesn’t benefit. The cameras I’m interested in are the ones that deliver greater dynamic range, less noise and more color depth.”

What does that mean for the push to 4K? Finney had strong opinions on the topic: “4K is great if you like sport, and it definitely matters for visual effects work, but super high resolutions aren’t necessarily great for drama, and I’m not convinced the public likes it either. I’ve never heard a critic wish for higher resolution, and the films that have recently won Academy Awards were all shot at 2K or 3.2K.” Finney notes that streaming services like Amazon and Netflix that are commissioning content are requiring 4K, but that his preference would be to spend the budget in other ways instead. “That said,” he concludes, “if I found a 4K camera that looked great, I’d use it.”

London’s Milk VFX house expands to Wales

London-based Milk VFX is opening a second studio in Cardiff, Wales, to support its expanding roster of TV and feature film projects, such as ITV’s 13-part warrior drama Beowulf and Thunderbirds are Go, FX’s The Bastard Executioner, Hartswood/BBC’s Sherlock, as well as the feature film Poltergeist and the recently completed Insurgent, the second offering in the Divergent series.

Milk’s new studio is located at the GloWorks building in Cardiff Bay — the Welsh Government’s flagship center for creative industries. Milk will open at the end of April with 20 artist seats and will begin work immediately on projects including the upcoming ninth season of the BBC’s Doctor Who and Hartswood/BBC’s Sherlock Christmas Special 2015. The new studio will share seamless communications and workflow with Milk’s London office via Sohonet.

VFX supervisor Sue Land will manage the new studio, reporting to Will Cohen, Milk’s CEO and executive producer. Milk has already recruited a number of key crew locally and will work closely with the Welsh Government and Creative Skillset to maximize opportunities to hire and train local talent as the studio grows. Milk has received the support of the Welsh Government as part of its program to foster the creative industries in Wales.

“Wales has a growing reputation as a great location for the film and television industry, and the Milk team are excited to be part of it,” reports Cohen. “The Welsh Government has been extremely supportive. They have helped us to locate our premises and talked us through the various options for new business support in Wales. They are passionate about growing the infrastructure and it is infectious!”

And regarding the move to Cardiff in particular, he says, it was “a natural choice of location, given our long-term relationship with BBC Wales, as the BBC Roath Lock Studios are just opposite GloWorks, where Milk’s studio will be located. Milk’s new Cardiff hub will share seamless communications and workflow with our main London studio — enabling us to replicate its boutique style service.”

Milk’s location in Cardiff will use the same tools as its London location, including Maya, Houdini, Arnold, Golaem Crowd, Yeti, Mari, Nuke, Ocula, 3D Equalizer, Deadline, RV, Shotgun and some proprietary offerings.

Milk provides 117 VFX shots for ‘Doctor Who’ debut episode

The BBC’s Doctor Who is back, to the delight of television audiences worldwide. The series, which has gone through eight iterations over the years, recently had its season debut, and London-based VFX house Milk played a role.

The studio created the visual effects for the premiere episode “Deep Breath,” which featured Peter Capaldi as Doctor Who. Ben Wheatley directed the 80-minute episode, which was simulcast and screened in cinemas globally on August 23.

The focus of Milk’s work, 87 shots worth, was the sinister and mysterious “Half-Face Man,” who appears throughout the episode. Milk replaced one entire side of the actor Peter Ferdinando’s head in 87 of the 117 digital shots produced by Milk.

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LipSync provides post for BBC mini-series ‘Death Comes to Pemberley’

London —  Death Comes to Pemberley, written as a sequel to Jane Austen’s novel  “Pride and Prejudice,” was entirely post produced at LipSync Post (http://www.lipsyncpost.co.uk) in London, with color grading and deliverables done on one of the facility’s three Quantel Pablo color correction and finishing systems by senior colorist Stuart Fyvie, who completed the grade on all three one-hour episodes in just nine days.

The series will air between Christmas and the New Year on BBC1 in the UK, with international distribution to follow in 2014.

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Milk to create VFX for new ‘Doctor Who’ series

London — Milk Visual Effects (www.milk-vfx.com), which created VFX for the BBC’s Doctor Who 50th Anniversary special episode: Day of the Doctor, has been commissioned by the BBC to create the visual effects for the eighth series of Doctor Who, starring new doctor Peter Capaldi. The new series will be broadcast in 2014.

Milk is currently working with the BBC to create the VFX for the much anticipated one-hour Doctor Who Christmas Special: The Time of the Doctor — in which Matt Smith’s doctor will regenerate into Peter Capaldi’s incoming Thirteenth Doctor — due to air on BBC One on Christmas Day. Doctor Who series eight will start shooting in January 2014.

The news comes on the heels of the BBC’s landmark Doctor Who 50th anniversary special: The Day of The Doctor for which Milk created the VFX work in stereoscopic 3D.

The team at Milk (previously as The Mill’s TV department prior to Milk’s launch in June 2013) has been creating the visual effects for Doctor Who since its regeneration in 2005. During this time they have scooped a raft of awards including a BAFTA, a VES (Visual Effects Society) Award and an RTS Award for their VFX work.

According to Milk CEO Will Cohen, “Many of us on the team have been privileged to enjoy a 10-year love affair with Doctor Who, so to be able to carry on collaborating with the BBC Wales team on telling these incredible stories fills us with joy and provides us with an opportunity as VFX artists to help push the boundaries of what can be done visually on television.”

will cohensmall

CEO Will Cohen

He added: ”A new series with a newly regenerated Doctor is in many ways like starting working on the show all over again. Doctor Who is a show that never, ever gets boring. It’s different every week. This will be our fourth Doctor and we are very, very excited!”

Milk’s current TV projects also include Sherlock: Series Three (Hartswood Films/BBC); new pirate drama series Black Sails for Starz; Sky’s New Year’s Day TV special – David Attenborough’s Natural History Museum Alive (Sky Atlantic); and the new TV drama Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, a seven-part miniseries due to be broadcast on BBC One in the UK in 2015.

On the feature film side, Milk is working on MGM’s upcoming Hercules and has recently completed work on 47 Ronin for Universal.