Tag Archives: ILM

VFX vet Rob Bredow takes helm at ILM, Gretchen Libby upped to VP

Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) has named Rob Bredow as SVP, executive creative director and head of ILM, which is a division of Lucasfilm. Bredow will be in charge of all of ILM’s four studios worldwide — in San Francisco, London, Singapore and Vancouver — and report to Lucasfilm GM Lynwen Brennan.

In addition, it was announced that Gretchen Libby has been promoted to VP, marketing and production. She will report to Bredow. More on Libby in a bit.

Bredow joined ILM as a VFX supervisor in 2014 and shortly thereafter was named VP of new media and head of Lucasfilm’s Advanced Development Group. He helped launch a new division, ILMxLAB, in 2015, combining the talents of Lucasfilm, ILM, and Skywalker Sound to develop, create, and release story-based immersive entertainment.

In 2016, Bredow was promoted to CTO of Lucasfilm, overseeing technical operations and partnerships as well as the company’s technology roadmap. Currently, Bredow is working as the visual effects supervisor and co-producer on Solo: A Star Wars Story directed by Ron Howard, which releases on May 25, 2018.

Prior to joining ILM, Bredow was the CTO and visual effects supervisor at Sony Pictures Imageworks. He has worked on films such as Independence Day, Godzilla, Stuart Little, Castaway, Surf’s Up, Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs and many others.

He is a member of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts & Sciences (Visual Effects Branch) and the AMPAS Scientific and Technical Council and, in 2010, was nominated for a Visual Effects Society Award Outstanding Effects Animation in an Animated Feature Motion Picture.

Gretchen Libby

Libby started at ILM in 1997 as a production manager. A year later, she was promoted to associate visual effects producer for A Perfect Storm and then to visual effects producer on Star Wars: Attack of the Clones two years later. In her previous role, Libby had focused on the company’s global expansion, which included opening studios in Singapore, Vancouver and London, and was the key marketing point of contact for ILM’s clients. Libby’s focus will remain on client marketing, overseeing all global production and strategic relationships. Prior to ILM, Libby worked in visual effects film production at Pacific Data Images in Palo Alto, California, and in visual effects commercial production in New York.

Libby is a member of the Producers Guild of America and formerly served on the board of directors of the Visual Effects Society of which she remains a member. She is also a member of Women in Film and has served as a producer on 29 feature films, eight of which received Academy Award nominations for visual effects.

Oscar-winner Jeff White is now CD at ILM Vancouver

Oscar-winning visual effects supervisor Jeff White has been named creative director of Industrial Light & Magic’s Vancouver studio. A 16-year ILM veteran, White will work directly with ILM Vancouver executive in charge Randal Shore.

Recently, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences honored White and three colleagues, (Jason Smith, Rachel Rose, Mike Jutanwith a Technical Achievement Award for his original design of ILM’s procedural rigging system, Block Party. He is also nominated for an Academy Award for Visual Effects for his contribution to Kong: Skull Island.

White joined Industrial Light & Magic in 2002 as a creature technical director, working on a variety of films, including the Academy Award-winning Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest, as well as War of the Worlds and Star Wars: Episode III: Revenge of the Sith.

In 2012, White served as the ILM VFX supervisor on Marvel’s The Avengers, directed by Joss Whedon, and earned both Oscar and BAFTA nominations for his visual effects work. He also received the Hollywood Film Award for visual effects for the work. White was also a VFX supervisor on Duncan Jones’ 2016 sci-fi offering, Warcraft, based on the well-known video game World of Warcraft by Blizzard Entertainment.

Says White, “Having worked with many of the artists here in Vancouver on a number of films, including Kong: Skull Island, I know firsthand the amazing artistic and technical talent we have to offer and I couldn’t be more excited to share what I know and collaborate with them on all manner of projects.”

Initially conceived as a satellite office when it opened in 2012, ILM’s Vancouver studio became a permanent fixture in the company’s operation in 2014. In 2017, the studio nearly doubled in size, adding a second building adjacent to its original location in the Gastown district. The studio has spearheaded ILM’s work on such films as Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets, Only the Brave and most recently, Ryan Coogler’s Black Panther and Ava DuVernay’s A Wrinkle in Time.

Sci-Tech Award winners named

The 2018 Sci-Tech Awards (Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences) have been bestowed to 34 individuals and one company representing 10 scientific and technical achievements. Each recipient will be honored at the annual Scientific and Technical Awards Presentation on February 10 at the Beverly Wilshire in Beverly Hills.

“This year we are happy to honor a very international group of technologists for their innovative and outstanding accomplishments,” says Ray Feeney, Academy Award recipient and chair of the Scientific and Technical Awards Committee. “These individuals have significantly contributed to the ongoing evolution of motion pictures and their efforts continue to empower the creativity of our industry.”

Technical Achievement Award Winners (Academy Certificates)

Honorees: Jason Smith and Jeff White for the original design, and to Rachel Rose and Mike Jutan for the architecture and engineering of the BlockParty procedural rigging system at Industrial Light & Magic.

BlockParty streamlines the rigging process through a comprehensive connection framework, a unique graphical user interface and volumetric rig transfer. This has enabled ILM to build richly detailed and unique creatures while greatly improving artist productivity.

Honorees: Joe Mancewicz, Matt Derksen and Hans Rijpkema for the design, architecture and implementation of the Rhythm & Hues Construction Kit rigging system.

This toolset provides a new approach to character rigging that features topological independence, continuously editable rigs and deformation workflows with shape-preserving surface relaxation, enabling 15 years of improvements to production efficiency and animation quality.

Honorees: Alex Powell for the design and engineering and to Jason Reisig for the interaction design, and to Martin Watt and Alex Wells for the high-performance execution engine of the Premo character animation system at DreamWorks Animation.

Premo enables animators to pose full-resolution characters in representative shot context, significantly increasing their productivity.

Honorees: Rob Jensen for the foundational design and continued development and to Thomas Hahn for the animation toolset and to George ElKoura, Adam Woodbury and Dirk Van Gelder for the high-performance execution engine of the Presto Animation System at Pixar Animation Studios.

Presto allows artists to work interactively in scene context with full-resolution geometric models and sophisticated rig controls, and has significantly increased the productivity of character animators at Pixar.

Scientific and Engineering Award Winners (Academy Plaques)

Honorees: John Coyle, Brad Hurndell, Vikas Sathaye and Shane Buckham for the concept, design, engineering and implementation of the Shotover K1 camera system.

This six-axis stabilized aerial camera mount, with its enhanced ability to frame shots while looking straight down, enables greater creativity while allowing pilots to fly more effectively and safely.

Honorees: Jeff Lait, Mark Tucker, Cristin Barghiel and John Lynch for their contributions to the design and architecture of Side Effects Software’s Houdini visual effects and animation system.

Houdini’s dynamics framework and workflow management tools have helped it become the industry standard for bringing natural phenomena, destruction and other digital effects to the screen.

Honorees: Bill Spitzak and Jonathan Egstad for the visionary design, development and stewardship of Foundry’s Nuke compositing system.

Built for production at Digital Domain, Nuke is used across the motion picture industry, enabling novel and sophisticated workflows at an unprecedented scale.

Honorees: Abigail Brady, Jon Wadelton and Jerry Huxtable for their significant contributions to the architecture and extensibility of Foundry’s Nuke compositing system.

Expanded as a commercial product at The Foundry, Nuke is a comprehensive, versatile and stable system that has established itself as the backbone of compositing and image processing pipelines across the motion picture industry.

Honorees: Leonard Chapman for the overall concept, design and development, to Stanislav Gorbatov for the electronic system design, and to David Gasparian and Souhail Issa for the mechanical design and integration of the Hydrascope telescoping camera crane systems.

With its fully waterproof construction, the Hydrascope has advanced crane technology and versatility by enabling precise long-travel multi-axis camera movement in, out of and through fresh or salt water.

Academy Award of Merit (Oscar statuette)

Honorees: Mark Elendt and Side Effects Software for the creation and development of the Houdini visual effects and animation system.

With more than twenty years of continual innovation, Houdini has delivered the power of procedural methods to visual effects artists, making it the industry standard for bringing natural phenomena, destruction and other digital effects to the screen.

Gordon E. Sawyer Award (Oscar statuette)

Honoree: Jonathan Erland, visual effects technologist

Presented to an individual in the motion picture industry whose technological contributions have brought credit to the industry.

All images courtesy of A.M.P.A.S.

The importance of on-set VFX supervision

By Karen Maierhofer

Some contend that having a visual effects supervisor present on set during production is a luxury; others deem it a necessity. However, few, if any, see it as unnecessary.

Today, more and more VFX supes can be found alongside directors and DPs during filming, advising and problem-solving, with the goal of saving valuable time and expense during production and, later, in post.

John Kilshaw

“A VFX supervisor is on set and in pre-production to help the director and production team achieve their creative goals. By having the supervisor on set, they gain the flexibility to cope with the unexpected and allow for creative changes in scope or creative direction,” says Zoic Studios creative director John Kilshaw, a sought-after VFX supervisor known for his collaborative creative approach.

Kilshaw, who has worked at a number of top VFX studios including ILM, Method and Double Negative, has an impressive resume of features, among them The Avengers, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol and various Harry Potter films. More recently, he was visual effects supervisor for the TV series Marvel’s The Defenders and Iron Fist.

Weta Digital’s Erik Winquist (Apes trilogy, Avatar, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey) believes the biggest contribution a VFX supervisor can make while on set comes during prep. “Involving the VFX supervisor as early as possible can only mean less surprises during principal photography. This is when the important conversations are taking place between the various heads of departments. ‘Does this particular effect need to be executed with computer graphics, or is there a way to get this in-camera? Do we need to build a set for this, or would it be better for the post process to be greenscreen? Can we have practical smoke and air mortars firing debris in this shot, or is that going to mess with the visual effects that have to be added behind it later?’”

War for the Planet of the Apes via Weta Digital

According to Winquist, who is VFX supervisor on Rampage (2018), currently in post production, having a VFX supe around can help clear up misconceptions in the mind of the director or other department heads: “No, putting that guy in a green suit doesn’t make him magically disappear from the shot. Yes, replacing that sky is probably relatively straightforward. No, modifying the teeth of that actor to look more like a vampire’s while he’s talking is actually pretty involved.”

Both Kilshaw and Winquist note that it is not uncommon to have a VFX supervisor on set whenever there are shots that include visual effects. In fact, Winquist has not heard of a major production that didn’t have a visual effects supervisor present for principal photography. “From the filmmaker’s point of view, I can’t imagine why you would not want to have your VFX supervisor there to advise,” he says. “Film is a collaborative medium. Building a solid team is how you put your vision up on the screen in the most cost-effective way possible.”

At Industrial Light & Magic, which has a long list of major VFX film credits, it is a requirement. “We always have a visual effects supervisor on set, and we insist on it. It is critical to our success on a project,” says Lindy De Quattro, VFX supervisor at ILM. “Frankly, it terrifies me to think about what could happen without one present.”

Lindy De Quattro

For some films, such as Evan Almighty, Pacific Rim, Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol and the upcoming Downsizing, De Quattro spent an extended period on set, while for many others she was only present for a week or two while big VFX scenes were shot. “No matter how much time you have put into planning, things rarely go entirely as planned. And someone has to be present to make last-minute adjustments and changes, and deal with new ideas that might arise on that day — it’s just part of the creative process,” she says.

For instance, while working on Pacific Rim, Director Guillermo del Toro would stay up until the wee hours of the night making new boards for what would be shot the following day, and the next morning everyone would crowd around his hand-drawn sketches and notebooks and he would say, “OK, this is what we are shooting. So we have to be prepared and do everything in our power to help ensure that the director’s vision becomes reality on screen.”

“I cannot imagine how they would have gone about setting up the shots if they didn’t have a VFX supervisor on set. Someone has to be there to be sure we are gathering the data needed to recreate the environment and the camera move in post, to be sure these things, and the greenscreens, are set up correctly so the post is successful,” De Quattro says. If you don’t know to put in greenscreen, you may be in a position where you cannot extract the foreground elements the way you need to, she warns. “So, suddenly, two days of an extraction and composite turns into three weeks of roto and hair replacement, and a bunch of other time-consuming and expensive work because it wasn’t set up properly in initial photography.”

Sometimes, a VFX supervisor ends up running the second unit, where the bulk of the VFX work is done, if the director is at a different location with the first unit. This was the case recently when De Quattro was in Norway for the Downsizing shoot. She ended up overseeing the plate unit and did location scouting with the DP each morning to find shots or elements that could be used in post. “It’s not that unusual for a VFX supervisor to operate as a second unit director and get a credit for that work,” she adds.

Kilshaw often finds himself discussing the best way of achieving the show’s creative goals with the director and producer while on set. Also, he makes sure that the producer is always informed of changes that will impact the budget. “It becomes very easy for people to say, ‘we can fix this in post.’ It is at this time when costs can start to spiral, and having a VFX supervisor on set to discuss options helps stop this from happening,” he adds. “At Zoic, we ensure that the VFX supervisor is also able to suggest alternative approaches that may help directors achieve what they need.”

Erik Winquist

According to Winquist, the tasks a VFX supe does on set depends on the size of the budget and crew. In a low-budget production, a person might be doing a myriad of different tasks themselves: creating previs and techvis, working with the cinematographer and key grip concerning greenscreen or bluescreen placement, placing tracking markers, collecting camera information for each setup or take, shooting reference photos of the set, helping with camera or lighting placement, gathering lighting measurements with gray and chrome reference spheres — basically any information that will help the person best execute the visual effects requirements of the shot. “And all the while being available to answer questions the director might have,” he says.

If the production has a large budget, the role is more about spreading out and managing those tasks among an on-set visual effects team: data wranglers, surveyors, photographers, coordinators, PAs, perhaps a motion capture crew, “so that each aspect of it is done as thoroughly as possible,” says Winquist. “Your primary responsibility is being there for the director and staying in close communication with the ADs so that you or your team are able to get all the required data from the shoot. You only have one chance to do so.”

The benefits of on-set VFX supervision are not just for those working on big-budget features, however. As Winquist points out, the larger the budget, the more demanding the VFX work and the higher the shot count, therefore the more important it is to involve the VFX supervisor in the shoot. “But it could also be argued that a production with a shoestring budget also can’t afford to get it wrong or be wasteful during the shoot, and the best way to ensure that footage is captured in a way that will make for a cost-effective post process is to have the VFX supervisor there to help.”

Kilshaw concurs. “Regardless of whether it is a period drama or superhero show, whether you need to create a superpower or a digital version of 1900 New York, the advantages of visual effects and visual effects supervision on set are equally important.”

While De Quattro’s resume is overflowing with big-budget VFX films, she has also assisted on smaller projects where a VFX supervisor’s presence was also critical. She recalls a commercial shoot, one that prompted her to question the need for her presence. However, production hit a snag when a young actor was unable to physically accomplish a task during multiple takes, and she was able to step in and offer a suggestion, knowing it would require just a minor VFX fix. “It’s always something like that. Even if the shoot is simple and you think there is no need, inevitably someone will need you and the input of someone who understands the process and what can be done,” she says.

De Quattro’s husband is also a VFX supervisor who is presently working on a non-VFX-driven Netflix series. While he is not on set every day, he is called when there is an effects shoot scheduled.

Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol

So, with so many benefits to be had, why would someone opt not to have a VFX supervisor on set? De Quattro assumes it is the cost. “What’s that saying, ‘penny wise and pound foolish?’ A producer thinks he or she is saving money by eliminating the line item of an on-set supervisor but doesn’t realize the invisible costs, including how much more expensive the work can be, and often is, on the back end,” she notes.

“On set, people always tell me their plans, and I find myself advising them not to bother building this or that — we are not going to need it, and the money saved could be better utilized elsewhere,” De Quattro says.

On Mission: Impossible, for example, the crew was filming a complicated underwater escape scene with Tom Cruise and finally got the perfect take, only his emergency rig became exposed. However, rather than have the actor go back into the frigid water for another take, De Quattro assured the team that the rig could be removed in post within the original scope of the VFX work. While most people are aware that can be done now, having someone with the authority and knowledge to know that for sure was a relief, she says.

Despite their extensive knowledge of VFX, these supervisors all say they support the best tool for the job on set and, mostly, that is to capture the shot in-camera first. “In most instances, the best way to make something look real is to shoot it real, even if it’s ultimately just a small part of the final frame,” Winquist says. However, when factors conspire against that, whether it be weather, animals, extras, or something similar, “having a VFX supervisor there during the shoot will allow a director to make decisions with confidence.”

Main Image: Weta’s Erik Winquist on set for Planet of the Apes.

More speakers added for Italy’s upcoming View Conference

More than 50 speakers are confirmed for 2017’s View Conference, a digital media conference that takes place in Turin, Italy, from October 23-27. Those speakers include six visual effects Oscar winners, two Academy Sci-Tech award winners, animated feature film directors, virtual reality pioneers, computer graphics researchers, game developers, photographers, writers and studio executives.

“One of the special reasons to attend View is that our speakers like to stay for the entire week and attend talks given by the other speakers, so our attendees have many opportunities to interact with them,” says conference director Dr. Maria Elena Gutierrez. “View brings together the world’s best and brightest minds across multiple disciplines, in an intimate and collaborative place where creatives can incubate and celebrate.”

Newly confirmed speakers include:

Scott Stokdyk- This Academy Award winner (VFX supervisor, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets) will showcase VFX from the film – from concept, design and inspiration to final color timing.

Paul Debevec – This Academy Award winner (senior staff engineer, Google VR, ICT) will give attendees a glimpse inside the latest work from Google VR and ICT.

Martyn Culpitt – A VFX supervisor on Logan and at Image Engine company, he will breakdown the film Logan, highlighting the visual effects behind Wolverine’s gripping final chapter.

Jan-Bart Van Beek – This studio art director at Guerrilla Games will take attendees through the journey that Guerrilla Games underwent to design the post-apocalyptic world of the game franchise, Horizon Zero Dawn.

David Rosenbaum – This chief creative officer at Cinesite Studios along with Cinesite EP Warren Franklin will present at talk titled, “It’s All Just Funny Business: Looking for IP, Talent ad Audiences.”

Elisabeth Morant – This product manager for Google’s Tilt Brush will discusses the company’s VR painting application in a talk called, “Real Decisions, Virtual Space: Designing for VR.”

Donald Greenberg – This professor of computer graphics at Cornell University will be discussing the “Next-gen of Virtual Reality”

Steve Muench – He will present “The Labor of Loving Vincent: Animating Van Gogh to Solve a Mystery.”

Deborah Fowler – This professor of visual effects at Savannah College of Art and Design/SCAD will showcase “Procedural and Production Techniques using Houdini.”

Daniele Federico: This co-founder and developer at Toolchefs will present “Make us Alive. An In-Depth Look at Atoms Crowd Software.”

Jason Bickerstaff – This character artist from Pixar Animation Studios) will present “Crossing The Dimensional Rift.”

Steve Beck – This VFX art director from ILM will discuss “The Future of Storytelling.”

Nancy Basi – She is executive director of the Film and Media Centre – Vancouver Economic Commission.

For a complete listing of speakers visit http://www.viewconference.it/speakers

 

Lucasfilm and ILM release open source MaterialX library

Lucasfilm and ILM have launched the first open source release of the MaterialX library for computer graphics. MaterialX is an open standard developed by Lucasfilm’s Advanced Development Group and ILM engineers to facilitate the transfer of rich materials and look-development content between applications and renderers.

Originated at Lucasfilm in 2012, MaterialX has been used by ILM on features including Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, as well as realtime immersive experiences such as Trials On Tatooine.

Workflows at computer graphics production studios require multiple software tools for different parts of the production pipeline, and shared and outsourced work requires companies to hand off fully look-developed models to other divisions or studios which may use different software packages and rendering systems.

MaterialX addresses the current lack of a common, open standard for representing the data values and relationships required to transfer the complete look of a computer graphics model from one application or rendering platform to another, including shading networks, patterns and texturing, complex nested materials and geometric assignments. MaterialX provides a schema for describing material networks, shader parameters, texture and material assignments and color-space associations in a precise, application-independent and customizable way.

MaterialX is an open source project released under a modified Apache license.

Atomic Fiction hires Marc Chu to lead animation department

Atomic Fiction has welcomed animation expert Marc Chu to lead the studio’s animation efforts across its Oakland and Montreal locations. Chu joins Atomic Fiction from ILM, where he most recently served as animation director, bringing more than 20 years of experience animating and supervising the creation of everything from aliens and spaceships to pirates and superheroes.

Based out of Atomic Fiction’s Oakland office, Chu will oversee animation company-wide and serve as the principal architect of initial studio production, including the expansion of Atomic Fiction’s previs and digital creature offerings. He’s already begun work on The Predator and is ramping up activity on an upcoming Robert Zemeckis feature.

“Atomic Fiction is already well-established and known for its seamless work in environments, so this is an amazing opportunity to be a part of their journey into doing more animation-driven work,” said Chu. “My goal is to help grow an already-strong animation department to the next level, becoming a force that is able to tackle any challenge, notably high-level creature and character work.”

Chu established and built his career at ILM, creating and supervising work for some of the biggest film franchises of the last 20 years. For 2009’s Iron Man, he worked to define the characters and animation through the sequel and on the first two Avengers films. His extensive credits also include Star Wars franchise continuations The Force Awakens and Rogue One, and the original Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy, which earned Best VFX Oscar nominations, and won for Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men’s Chest.

Chu also has two VES Award wins for his Davy Jones CG character work.

The A-list — Kong: Skull Island director Jordan Vogt-Roberts

By Iain Blair

Plucky explorers! Exotic locations! A giant ape! It can only mean one thing: King Kong is back… again. This time, the new Warner Bros. and Legendary Pictures’ Kong: Skull Island re-imagines the origin of the mythic Kong in an original adventure from director Jordan Vogt-Roberts (The Kings of Summer).

Jordan Vogt-Roberts

With an all-star cast that includes Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, Oscar-winner Brie Larson, John Goodman and John C. Reilly, it follows a diverse team of explorers as they venture deep into an uncharted island in the Pacific — as beautiful as it is treacherous — unaware that they’re crossing into the domain of the mythic Kong.

The legendary Kong was brought to life on a whole new scale by Industrial Light & Magic, with two-time Oscar-winner Stephen Rosenbaum (Avatar, Forrest Gump) serving as visual effects supervisor.

To fully immerse audiences in the mysterious Skull Island, Vogt-Roberts, his cast and filmmaking team shot across three continents over six months, capturing its primordial landscapes on Oahu, Hawaii — where shooting commenced on October 2015 — on Australia’s Gold Coast and, finally, in Vietnam, where production took place across multiple locations, some of which have never before been seen on film. Kong: Skull Island was released worldwide in 2D, 3D and IMAX beginning March 10.

I spoke with Vogt-Roberts about making the film and his love of post.

What’s the eternal appeal of doing a King Kong movie?
He’s King Kong! But the appeal is also this burden, as you’re playing with film history and this cinematic icon of pop culture. Obviously, the 1933 film is this impeccable genre story, and I’m a huge fan of creature features and people like Ray Harryhausen. I liked the idea of taking my love for all that and then giving it my own point of view, my sense of style and my voice.

With just one feature film credit, you certainly jumped in the deep end with this — pun intended — monster production, full of complex moving parts and cutting-edge VFX. How scary was it?
Every movie is scary because I throw myself totally into it. I vanish from the world. If you asked my friends, they would tell you I completely disappear. Whether it’s big or small, any film’s daunting in that sense. When I began doing shorts and my own stuff, I did shooting, the lighting, the editing and so on, and I thrived off all that new knowledge, so even all the complex VFX stuff wasn’t that scary to me. The truly daunting part is that a film like this is two and a half years of your life! It’s a big sacrifice, but I love a big challenge like this was.

What were the biggest challenges, and how did you prepare?
How do you make it special —and relevant in 2017? I’m a bit of a masochist when it comes to a challenge, and when I made the jump to The Kings of Summer it really helped train me. But there are certain things that are the same as they always are, such as there’s never enough time or money or daylight. Then there are new things on a movie of this size, such as the sheer endurance you need and things you simply can’t prepare yourself for, like the politics involved, all the logistics and so on. The biggest thing for me was, how do I protect my voice and point of view and make sure my soul is present in the movie when there are so many competing demands? I’m proud of it, because I feel I was able to do that.

How early on did you start integrating post and all the VFX?
Very early on — even before we had the script ready. We had concept artists and began doing previs and discussing all the VFX.

Did you do a lot of previs?
I’m not a huge fan of it. Third Floor did it and it’s a great tool for communicating what’s happening and how you’re going to execute it, but there’s also that danger of feeling like you’re already making the movie before you start shooting it. Think of all the great films like Blade Runner and the early Star Wars films, all shot before they even had previs, whereas now it’s very easy to become too reliant on it; you can see a movie sequence where it just feels like you’re watching previs come to life. It’s lost that sense of life and spontaneity. We only did three previs sequences — some only partially — and I really stressed with the crew that it was only a guide.

Where did you do the post?
It was all done at Pivotal in Burbank, and we began cutting as we shot. The sound mix was done at Skywalker and we did our score in London.

Do you like the post process?
I love post. I love all aspects of production, but post is where you write the film again and where it ceases being what was on the page and what you wanted it to be. Instead you have to embrace what it wants to be and what it needs to be. I love repurposing things and changing things around and having those 3am breakthroughs! If we moved this and use that shot instead, then we can cut all that.

You had three editors — Richard Pearson, Bob Murawski and Josh Schaeffer. How did that work?
Rick and Bob ran point, and Rick was the lead. Josh was the editor who had done The Kings of Summer with me, and my shorts. He really understands my montages and comedy. It was so great that Rick and Bob were willing to bring him on, and they’re all very different editors with different skills — and all masters of their craft. They weren’t on set, except for Hawaii. Once we were really globe-trotting, they were in LA cutting.

VFX play a big role. Can you talk about working on them with VFX supervisor Jeff White and ILM, who did the majority of the effects work?
He ran the team there, and they’re all amazing. It was a dream come true for me. They’re so good at taking kernels of ideas and turning them into reality. I was able to do revisions as I got new ideas. Creating Kong was the big one, and it was very tricky because the way he moves isn’t totally realistic. It’s very stylized, and Jeff really tapped into my animé and videogame sensibility for all that. We also used Hybride and Rodeo for some shots.

What was the hardest VFX sequence to do?
The helicopter sequence was really very difficult, juggling the geography of that, with this 100-foot creature and people spread all over the island, and also the final battle sequence. The VFX team and I constantly asked ourselves, “Have we seen this before? Is it derivative? Is it redundant?” The goal was to always keep it fresh and exciting.

Where did you do the DI?
At Fotokem with colorist Dave Cole who worked on The Lord of the Rings and so many others. I love color, and we did a lot of very unusual stuff for a movie like this, with a lot of saturation.

Did the film turn out the way you hoped?
A movie never quite turns out the way you hope or think it will, but I love the end result and I feel it represents my voice. I’m very proud of what we did.


Industry insider Iain Blair has been interviewing the biggest directors in Hollywood and around the world for years. He is a regular contributor to Variety and has written for such outlets as Reuters, The Chicago Tribune, The Los Angeles Times and the Boston Globe.

ILM’s Richard Bluff talks VFX for Marvel’s Doctor Strange

By Daniel Restuccio

Comic book fans have been waiting for over 30 years for Marvel’s Doctor Strange to come to the big screen, and dare I say it was worth the wait. This is in large part because of the technology now available to create the film’s stunning visual effects.

Fans have the option to see the film in traditional 2D, Dolby Cinema (worthy of an interstate or plane fare pilgrimage, in my opinion) and IMAX 3D. Doctor Strange, Marvel Studios’ 15th film offering, is also receiving good critical reviews and VFX Oscar buzz — it’s currently on the list of 20 films still in the running in the Visual Effects category for the 89th Academy Awards.

Marvel Doctor StrangeThe unapologetically dazzling VFX shots, in many cases directly inspired by the original comic visuals by Steve Dittko, were created by multiple visual effects houses, including Industrial Light & Magic, Luma Pictures, Lola VFX, Method Studios, Rise FX, Crafty Apes, Framestore, Perception and previs house The Third Floor. Check out our interview with the film’s VFX supervisor Stephane Ceretti.

Director Scott Derrickson said in in a recent Reddit chat that Doctor Strange is “a fantastical superhero movie.

“Watching the final cut of the film was deeply satisfying,” commented Derrickson. “A filmmaker cannot depend upon critical reviews or box office for satisfaction — even if they are good. The only true reward for any artist is to pick a worthy target and hit it. When you know you’ve hit your target that is everything. On this one, I hit my target.”

Since we got an overview of how the visual effects workflow went from Ceretti, we decided to talk to one of the studios that provided VFX for the film, specifically ILM and their VFX supervisor Richard Bluff.

Richard Bluff

According to Bluff, early in pre-production Marvel presented concept art, reference images and previsualization on “what were the boundaries of what the visuals could be.” After that, he says, they had the freedom to search within those bounds.

During VFX presentations with Marvel, they frequently showed three versions of the work. “They went with the craziest version to the point where the next time we would show three more versions and we continued to up the ante on the crazy,” recalls Bluff.

As master coordinator of this effort for ILM, Bluff encouraged his artists, “to own the visuals and try to work out how the company could raise the quality of the work or the designs on the show to another level. How could we introduce something new that remains within the fabric of the movie?”

As a result, says Bluff, they had some amazing ideas flow from individuals on the film. Jason Parks came up with the idea of traveling through the center of a subway train as it fractured. Matt Cowey invented the notion of continually rotating the camera to heighten the sense of vertigo. Andrew Graham designed the kaleidoscope-fighting arena “largely because his personal hobby is building and designing real kaleidoscopes.”

Unique to Doctor Strange is that the big VFX sequences are all very “self-contained.” For example, ILM did the New York and Hong Kong sequence, Luma did the Dark Dimension and Method did the multi-universe. ILM also designed and developed the original concept for the Eldridge Magic and provided all the shared “digital doubles” — CGI rigged and animatable versions of the actors — that tied sequences together. The digital doubles were customized to the needs of each VFX house.

Previs
In some movies previs material is generated and thrown away. Not so with Doctor Strange. What ILM did this time was develop a previs workflow where they could actually hang assets and continue to develop, so it became part of the shot from the earliest iteration.

There was extensive previs done for Marvel by The Third Floor as a creative and technical guide across the movie, and further iterations internal to ILM done by ILM’s lead visualization artist, Landis Fields.

Warning! Spoiler! Once Doctor Strange moves the New York fight scene into the mirror universe, the city starts coming apart in an M.C. Escher-meets-Chris Nolan-Inception kind of way. To make that sequence, ILM created a massive tool kit of New York set pieces and geometry, including subway cars, buildings, vehicles and fire escapes.

In the previs, Fields started breaking apart, duplicating and animating those objects, like the fire escapes, to tell the story of what a kaleidoscoping city would look like. The artists then fleshed out a sequence of shots, a.k.a. “mini beats.” They absorbed the previs into the pipeline by later switching out the gross geometry elements in Fields’ previs with the actual New York hero assets.

Strange Cam
Landis and the ILM team also designed and built what ILM dubbed the “strange cam,” a custom 3D printed 360 GoPro rig that had to withstand the rigors of being slung off the edge of skyscrapers. What ILM wanted to do was to be able to capture 360 degrees of rolling footage from that vantage point to be used as a moving background “plates” that could be reflected within the New York City glass buildings.

VFX, Sound Design and the Hong Kong
One of the big challenges with the Hong Kong sequence was that time was reversing and moving forward at the same time. “What we had to do was ensure the viewer understands that time is reversing throughout that entire sequence.” During the tight hand-to-hand action moments that are moving forward in time, there’s not really much screen space to show you time reversing in the background. So they designed the reversing destruction sequence to work in concert with the sound design. “We realized we had to move away from a continuous shower of debris toward rhythmic beats of debris being sucked out of frame.”

before-streetafter-street

Bluff says the VFX the shot count on the film — 1,450 VFX — was actually a lot less than Captain America: Civil War. From a VFX point of view, The Avengers movies lean on the assets generated in Iron Man and Captain America. The Thor movies help provide the context for what an Avengers movie would look and feel like. In Doctor Strange “almost everything in the movie had to be designed (from scratch) because they haven’t already existed in a previous Marvel film. It’s a brand-new character to the Marvel world.”

Bluff started development on the movie in October of 2014 and really started doing hands on work in February of 2016, frequently traveling between Vancouver, San Francisco and London. A typical day, working out of the ILM London office, would see him get in early and immediately deal with review requests from San Francisco. Then he would jump into “dailies” in London and work with them until the afternoon. After “nightlies” with London there was a “dailies” session with San Francisco and Vancouver, work with them until evening, hit the hotel, grab some dinner, come back around 11:30pm or midnight and do nightlies with San Francisco. “It just kept the team together, and we never missed a beat.”

2D vs. IMAX 3D vs. Dolby Cinema
Bluff saw the entire movie for the first time in IMAX 3D, and is looking forward to seeing it in 2D. Considering sequences in the movie are surreal in nature and Escher-like, there’s an argument that suggests that IMAX 3D is a better way to see it because it enhances the already bizarre version of that world. However, he believes the 2D and 3D versions are really “two different experiences.”

Dolby Cinema is the merging of Dolby Atmos — 128-channel surround sound — with the high dynamic range of Dolby Vision, plus really comfortable seats. It is, arguably, the best way to see a movie. Bluff says as far as VFX goes, high dynamic range information has been there for years. “I’m just thankful that exhibition technology is finally catching up with what’s always been there for us on the visual effects side.”

During that Reddit interview, Derrickson commented, “The EDR (Extended Dynamic Range) print is unbelievable — if you’re lucky enough to live where an EDR print is playing. As for 3D and/or IMAX, see it that way if you like that format. If you don’t, see it 2D.”

Doctor Strange is probably currently playing in a theater near you, but go see it in Dolby Cinema if you can.


In addition to being a West Coast correspondent for postPerspective, Daniel Restuccio is the multimedia department chair at California Lutheran University and former Walt Disney Imagineer.

Credit: Film Frame ©2016 Marvel. All Rights Reserved.

Digging Deeper: Doctor Strange VFX supervisor Stephane Ceretti

By Daniel Restuccio

Marvel’s Doctor Strange — about an arrogant neurosurgeon who loses the use of his hands in an accident and sets off on a self-obsessed journey to find a cure — has been doing incredibly well in terms of box office. You’ve got the winning combination of Benedict Cumberbatch, Marvel, a compelling story and a ton of visual effects created by some of the biggest houses in the business, including ILM (London, San Francisco, Vancouver), Method (LA, Vancouver), Luma (LA, Melbourne) Framestore London, Lola, Animal Logic, Crafty Apes, Exceptional Minds and Technicolor VFX.

Stephane Ceretti

Leading the VFX charge was visual effects supervisor Stephane Ceretti, whose credit list reads like a Top 10 list for films based on Marvel comics, including Guardians of the Galaxy, Thor: The Dark World, Captain America: The First Avenger and X-Men: First Class. His resume is long and impressive.

We recently reached out to Ceretti to find out more about Doctor Strange‘s VFX process…

When did you start on the project? When were all the shots turned in?
I started in September 2014 as Scott Derrickson, the director, was working on the script. Production got pushed a few months while we waited for Benedict Cumberbatch to be available, but we worked extensively on previz and visual development during all this time. Production moved to London in June 2015 and shooting began in November 2015 and went until March 2016. Shots and digital asset builds got turned over as we were shooting and in post, as the post production period was very short on the film. We only had 5.5 months to do the visual effects. We finished the film sometime in October, just a few weeks before the release.

What criteria did you use to distribute the shots among the different VFX companies?  For example, was it based on specialty areas?
It’s like a casting; you try to pick the best company and people for each style of effects. For example, ILM had done a lot of NYC work before, especially with Marvel on Avengers. Plus they are a VFX behemoth, so for us it made sense to have them on board the project for these two major sequences, especially with Richard Bluff as their supervisor. He worked with my VFX producer Susan Pickett on the New York battle sequence in Avengers and she knew he would totally be great for what we wanted to achieve.

What creative or technical breakthroughs were there on this project? For example, ILM talked about the 360 Dr. Strange Camera. What were some of the other things that had never been done before?
I think we pushed the envelope on a lot of visual things that had been touched before, but not to that level. We also made huge use of digital doubles extremely close to camera, both in the astral world and the magic mystery tour. It was a big ask for the vendors.

ILM said they did the VFX at IMAX 2K, were any of the VFX shots done at 4K? If yes, why?
No we couldn’t do a 4K version for the IMAX on this project. IMAX takes care, upresing the shots to IMAX resolution with their DMR process. The quality of the Alexa 65, which we used to shoot the movie, makes it a much smoother process. Images were much sharper and detailed to begin with.

It may be meaningless to talk about how many effects shots there were in the movie when it seems like every shot is a VFX shot.  Is there a more meaningful way to describe the scale of the VFX work? 
It is true that just looking at the numbers isn’t a good indication … we had 1,450 VFX shots in the film, and that’s about 900 less than Guardians of the Galaxy, but the shot complexity and design was way more involved because every shot was a bit of a puzzle, plus the R&D effort.

Some shots with the Mandelbrot 3D fractals required a lot of computing power, having a full bending CG NY required tons of assets and the destruction simulation in Hong Kong had to be extremely precise as we were really within the entire street being rebuilt in reversed time. All of these were extremely time and process consuming and needed to be choreographed and designed precisely.

Can you talk about the design references Marvel gave you for the VFX work done in this movie?
Well most of the references that Marvel gave us came from the comics, especially the ones from Steve Ditko, who created all the most iconic psychedelic moments in Doctor Strange in the ‘60s and ‘70s. We also looked at a Doctor Strange comic called “The Oath,” which inspired some of the astral projection work.

How did you draw the line stylistically and creatively between impressively mind-blowing and over-the-top psychedelic?
It was always our concern to push the limits but not break them. We want to take the audience to these new places but not lose them on the way. It was a joint effort between the VFX artists and the director, editors and producers to always keep in mind what the goal of the story was and to make sure that the VFX wouldn’t take over when it was not necessary. It’s important that the VFX don’t overtake the story and the characters at any time. Sometimes we allow ourselves to shine and show off but it’s always in the service of pushing the story further.

What review and submission technology did you use to coordinate all the VFX houses? Was there a central server?
We used CineSync to review all the submissions live with the vendors. Marvel has a very strong IT department and servers that allow the various vendors to send their submission securely and quickly. We used a system called Signiant that allows all submissions to be automatically sorted and put in a database for review. It’s very efficient and necessary when you get a huge amount of submissions daily as we did toward the end of the project. Our team of amazing coordinators made sure everything was reviewed and presented to the studio so we could give immediate feedback to our vendors, who worked 24/7 around the globe to finish the movie.

What project management software did you use?
Our database is customized and we use Filemaker. Our review sessions are a mixture of CineSync (QuickTime and interactive reviews) and Tweak RV for 2K viewing and finalizing.

In talking to ILM about the film, they mentioned previs, production and postvis. Can you talk a bit about that whole workflow?
We do extensive previz/techviz and stuntviz before production, but as soon as the shots are in the can editors cut them in the movie. They are then turned over to our postviz team so we can quickly check that everything works and the editors can cut in a version of the shot that represents the idea of what it will be in the end. It’s a fantastic tool that allows us to shape the film before we turn it over to the vendors, so we nail basic ideas and concepts before they get executed. Obviously, there is lots that the vendors will add on top of the postviz, but this process is necessary for a lot of reasons (editing, R&D, preview screening) and is very efficient and useful.

Collectively how many hundreds of people worked on the VFX on this movie?
I would say about 1,000 people in the VFX overall. That does not count the 3D conversion people.

What was the personal challenge for you? How did you survive and thrive while working on this one project?
I worked two years on it! It was really difficult, but also very exciting. Sometimes mentally draining and challenging, but always interesting. What makes you survive is the excitement of making something special and getting to see it put together by such a talented group of people across the board. When you work on this kind of film everybody does their best, so the outcome is worth it. I think we definitely tried to do our best, and the audience seems to respond to what we did. It’s incredibly rewarding and in the end, it’s the reason why we make these movies — so that people can enjoy the ride.


In addition to being a West Coast correspondent for postPerspective, Daniel Restuccio is the multimedia department chair at California Lutheran University and former Walt Disney Imagineer.