Tag Archives: Shade VFX

VFX Roundtable: Trends and inspiration

By Randi Altman

The world of visual effects is ever-changing, and the speed at which artists are being asked to create new worlds, or to make things invisible is moving full-speed ahead. How do visual effects artists (and studios) prepare for these challenges, and what inspired them to get into this business? We reached out to a small group of visual effects pros working in television, commercials and feature films to find out how they work and what gets their creative juices flowing.

Let’s find out what they had to say…

KEVIN BAILLIE, CEO, ATOMIC FICTION
What do you wish clients would know before jumping into a VFX-heavy project?
The core thing for every filmmaking team to recognize is that VFX isn’t a “post process.” Careful advance planning and a tight relationship between the director, production designer, stunt team and cinematographer will yield a far superior result much more cost effectively.

In the best-looking and best-managed productions I’ve ever been a part of, the VFX team is the first department to be brought onto the show and the last one off. It truly acts as a partner in the filmmaking process. After all, once the VFX post phase starts, it’s effectively a continuation of production — with there being a digital corollary to every single department on set, from painters to construction to costume!

What trends in VFX have impressed you the most over the last year or two, and how are they affecting your work?
The move to cloud computing is one of the most exciting trends in VFX. The cloud is letting smaller teams to much bigger work, allowing bigger teams to do things that have never been seen before and will ultimately result in compute resources no longer being a constraint on the creative process.

Cloud computing allowed Atomic Fiction to play alongside the most prestigious companies in the world, even when we were just 20 people. That capability has allowed us to grow to over 200 people, and now we’re able to take the lead vendor position on A-list shows. It’s remarkable what dynamic and large-scale infrastructure in the cloud has enabled Atomic to accomplish.

How many years have you been working in VFX, and what project inspired you to get into this line of work?
I grew up in Seattle and started dabbling in 3D as a hobby when I was 14 years old, having been immensely inspired by Jurassic Park. Soon thereafter, I started working at Microsoft in the afternoons, developing visual content to demonstrate their upcoming technologies. I was fortunate enough to land a job with Lucasfilm right after graduating high school, which was 20 years ago at this point! I’ve been lucky enough to work with many of the directors that inspired me as a child, such as George Lucas and Robert Zemeckis, and modern pioneers like JJ Abrams.

Looking back on my career so far, I truly feel like I’ve been living the dream. I can’t wait for what’s next in this exciting, ever-changing business.

ROB LEGATO, OSCAR-WINNING VFX SUPERVISOR, SECOND UNIT DIRECTOR, SECOND UNIT DIRECTOR OF PHOTOGRAPHY
What do you wish clients would know before jumping into a VFX-heavy project?
It takes a good bit of time to come up with a plan that will ensure a sustainable attack when makinging the film. They need to ask someone in authority, “What does it take to do it,” and then make a reasonable plan. Everyone wants to do a great job all the time, and if they could maneuver the schedule — even with the same timeframe — it could be a much less frustrating job.

It happens time and time again, someone comes up with a budget and a schedule that doesn’t really fit with the task and forces you to live with it. That makes for a very difficult assignment that gets done because of the hard work of the people who are in the trenches.

What trends in VFX have impressed you the most over the last year or two, and how are they affecting your work?
For me, it’s how realistic you can make something. The rendering capabilities — like what we did on Jungle Book with the animals — are so sophisticated that it fools your eye into believing it’s real. Once you do that you’ve opened the magic door that allows you to do anything with a tremendous amount of fidelity. You can make good movies without it being a special-venue movie or a VFX movie. The computer power and rendering abilities — along with the incredible artistic talent pool that we have created over the years — is very impressive, especially for me, coming from a more traditional camera background. I tended to shy away from computer-generated things because they never had the authenticity you would have wanted.

Then there is the happy accident of shooting something, where an angle you wouldn’t have considered appears as you look through the camera; now you can do that in the computer, which I find infinitely fascinating. This is where all the virtual cinematography things I’ve done in the past come in to help create that happy accident.

How many years have you been working in VFX, and what project inspired you to get into this line of work?
I’ve been working in VFX since about 1984. Visual effects wasn’t my dream. I wanted to make movies: direct, shoot and be a cameraman and editor. I fell into it and then used it as an avenue to allow me to create sequences in films and commercials.

The reason you go to movies is to see something you have never seen before, and for me that was Close Encounters. The first time I saw the mothership in Close Encounters, it wasn’t just an effect, it became an art form. It was beautifully realized and it made the story. Blade Runner was another where it’s no longer a visual effect, it’s filmmaking as an art form.

There was also my deep appreciation for Doug Trumbull, whose quality of work was so high it transcended being a visual effect or a photographic effect.

LISA MAHER, VP OF PRODUCTION, SHADE VFX 
What do you wish clients would know before jumping into a VFX-heavy project?
That it’s less expensive in the end to have a VFX representative involved on the project from the get-go, just like all the other filmmaking craft-persons that are represented. It’s getting better all the time though, and we are definitely being brought on board earlier these days.

At Shade we specialize in invisible or supporting VFX. So-called invisible effects are often much harder to pull off. It’s all about integrating digital elements that support the story but don’t pull the audience out of a scene. Being able to assist in the planning stages of a difficult VFX sequence often results in the filmmakers achieving what they envisioned more readily. It also helps tremendously to keep the costs in line with what was originally budgeted. It also goes without saying that it makes for happier VFX artists as they receive photography captured with their best interests in mind.

What trends in VFX have impressed you the most over the last year or two, and how are they affecting your work?
I would say the most exciting development affecting visual effects is the explosion of opportunities offered by the OTT content providers such as Netflix, Amazon, HBO and Hulu. Shade primarily served the feature film market up to three years ago, but with the expanding needs of television, our offices in Los Angeles and New York are now evenly split between film and TV work.

We often find that the film work is still being done at the good old reliable 2K resolution while our TV shows are always 4K plus. The quality and diversity of projects being produced for TV now make visual effects a much more buoyant enterprise for a mid-sized company and also a real source of employment for VFX professionals who were previously so dependent on big studio generated features.

How many years have you been working in VFX, and what project inspired you to get into this line of work?
I’ve been working in visual effects close to 20 years now. I grew up in Ireland; as a child the world of film, and especially images of sunny California, were always a huge draw for me. They helped me survive the many grey and rainy days of the Irish climate.  I can’t point to one project that inspired me to get into film making — there have been so many — just a general love for storytelling, I guess. Films like Westworld (the 1973 version), Silent Running, Cinema Paradiso, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Blade Runner and, of course, the original Star Wars were truly inspirational.

DAVID SHELDON-HICKS, CO-FOUNDER/EXECUTIVE CREATIVE DIRECTOR, TERRITORY STUDIO
What do you wish clients would know before jumping into a VFX-heavy project?
The craft and care and love that goes into VFX is often forgotten in the “business” of it all. As a design led studio that straddles art and VFX departments in our screen graphic and VFX work, we prefer to work with the director from the preproduction phase. This ensures that all aspects of our work are integrated into story and world building.

The talent and gut instinct, eye for composition and lighting, appreciation of form, choreography of movement and, most notably, the appreciation of the classics is so pertinent to the art of VFX and is undersold for conversations of shot counts, pipelines, bidding and numbers of artists. Bringing the filmmakers into the creative process has to be the way forward for an art form still finding its own voice.

What trends in VFX have impressed you the most over the last year or two, and how are they affecting your work?
The level of concept art and postviz coming through from VFX studios is quite staggering. It gets back to my point from above of bringing the VFX dialogue with filmmakers and VFX artists concentrated on world building and narrative expansion. It’s so exciting to see concept art and postviz getting to a new level of sophistication and influence in the filmmaking process.

How many years have you been working in VFX, and what project inspired you to get into this line of work?
I have been working professionally in VFX for over 15 years. My love of VFX and creativity in general came from the moment I picked up a pencil and imagined new possibilities. But once I cut my film teeth designing screens graphics on Casino Royale and followed by Dark Knight, I left my freelance days behind and co-founded Territory Studio. Our first film as a studio was Prometheus, and working with Ridley Scott was a formative experience that has influenced our own design-led approach to motion graphics and VFX, which has established us in the industry and seen the studio grow and expand.

MARK BREAKSPEAR, VFX SUPERVISOR, SONY PICTURES IMAGEWORKS
What do you wish clients would know before jumping into a VFX-heavy project?

Firstly, I think the clients I have worked with have always been extremely cognizant of the key areas affecting VFX heavy projects and consequently have built frameworks that help plan and execute these mammoth shows successfully.

Ironically, it’s the smaller shows that sometimes have the surprising “gotchas” in them. The big shows come with built-in checks and balances in the form of experienced people who are looking out for the best interests of the project and how to navigate the many pitfalls that can make the VFX costs increase.

Smaller shows sometimes don’t allow enough discussion and planning time for the VFX components in pre-production, which could result in the photography not being captured as well as it could have been. Everything goes wrong from there.

So, when I approach any show, I always look for the shots that are going to be underestimated and try to give them the attention they need to succeed. You can get taken out of a movie by a bad driving comp as much as you can a monster space goat biting a planet in half.

What trends in VFX have impressed you the most over the last year or two, and how are they affecting your work?
I think there are several red herrings out there right now… the big one being VR. To me, VR is like someone has invented teleportation, but it only works on feet.

So, right now, it’s essentially useless and won’t make creating VFX any easier or make the end result any more spectacular. I would like to see VR used to aid artists working on shots. If you could comp in VR I could see that being a good way to help create more complex and visually thrilling shots. The user interface world is really the key area VR can benefit.

Suicide Squad

I do think however, that AR is very interesting. The real world, with added layers of information is a hugely powerful prospect. Imagine looking at a building in any city of the world, and the apartments for sale in it are highlighted in realtime, with facts like cost, square footage etc. all right there in front of you.

How does AR benefit VFX? An artist could use AR to get valuable info about shots just by looking at them. How often do we look at a shot and ask “what lens was this? AR could have all that meta-data ready to display at any point on any shot.

How many years have you been working in VFX, and what project inspired you to get into this line of work?
I’ve been in VFX for 25 years. When I started, VFX was not really a common term. I came to this industry through the commercial world… as a compositor on TV shows and music videos. Lots of (as we would call it now) visual effects, but done in a world bereft of pipelines and huge cloud-based renderfarms.

I was never inspired by a specific project to get into the visual effects world. I was a creative kid who also liked the sciences. I liked to work out why things ticked, and also draw them, and sometimes try to draw them with improvements or updates as I could imagine. It’s a common set of passions that I find in my colleagues.

I watched Star Wars and came out wondering why there were black lines around some of the space ships. Maybe there’s your answer… I was inspired by the broken parts of movies, rather than being swept up in the worlds they portrayed. After all that effort, time and energy… why did it still look wrong? How can I fix it for next time?

CHRIS HEALER, CEO/CTO/VFX SUPERVISOR, THE MOLECULE
What do you wish clients would know before jumping into a VFX-heavy project?

Plan, plan plan… previs, storyboarding and initial design are crucial to VFX-heavy projects. The mindset should ideally be that most (or all) decisions have been made before the shoot starts, as opposed to a “we’ll figure it out in post” approach.

What trends in VFX have impressed you the most over the last year or two, and how are they affecting your work?
Photogrammetry, image modeling and data capture are so much more available than ever before. Instead of an expensive Lidar rig that only produces geometry without color, there are many many new ways to capture the color and geometry of the physical world, even using a simple smart phone or DSLR.

How many years have you been working in VFX, and what project inspired you to get into this line of work?
I’ve been doing VFX now for over 16 years. I would have to say that The Matrix (part 1) was really inspiring when I saw it the first time, and it made clear that VFX as an art form was coming and available to artists of all kinds all over the world. Previous to that, VFX was very difficult to approach for the average student with limited resources.

PAUL MARANGOS, SENIOR VFX FLAME ARTIST, HOOLIGAN
What do you wish clients would know before jumping into a VFX-heavy project?

The more involved I can be in the early stages, the more I can educate clients on all of the various effects they could use, as well as technical hurdles to watch out for. In general, I wish more clients involved the VFX guys earlier in the process — even at the concepting and storyboarding stages — because we can consult on a range of critical matters related to budgets, timelines, workflow and, of course, bringing the creative to life with the best possible quality.

Fortunately, more and more agencies realize the value of this. For instance, with a recent campaign Hooligan finished for Harvoni, we were able to plan shots for a big scene featuring hundreds of lanterns in the sky, which required lanterns of various sizes for every angle that Elma Garcia’s production team shot. Having everything well storyboarded and under Elma’s direction, who left no detail unnoticed, we managed to create a spectacular display of lantern composites for the commercial.

We were also involved early on for a campaign for MyHeritage DNA (above) via creative agency Berlin Cameron, featuring spoken word artist Prince Ea, and directed by Jonathan Augustavo of Skunk. Devised as if projecting on a wall, we mapped the motion graphics in the 3D environments.

What trends in VFX have impressed you the most over the last year or two, and how are they affecting your work?
Of course VR and 360 live TV shows are exciting, but augmented reality is what I find particularly interesting — mixing the real world with graphics and video all around you. The interactivity of both of these emerging platforms presents an endless area of growth, as our industry is on the cusp of a sea change that hasn’t quite yet begun to directly affect my day-to-day.

Meanwhile, at Hooligan, we’re always educating ourselves on the latest software, tools and technological trends in order to prepare for the future of media and entertainment — which is wise if you want to be relevant 10 years from now. For instance, I recently attended the TED conference, where Chris Milk spoke on the birth of virtual reality as an artform. I’m also seeing advances in Google cardboard, which is making the platform affordable, too. Seeing companies open up VR Departments is an exciting step for us all and it shows the vision for the future of advertising.

How many years have you been working in VFX, and what project inspired you to get into this line of work?
I have worked in VFX for 25 years. After initially studying fine art and graphic design, the craft aspect of visual effects really appealed to me. Seeing special effects genius Ray Harryhausen’s four-minute skeleton fight was a big inspiration. He rear-projected footage of the actual actors and then combined the shots to make a realistic skeleton-Argonaut battle. It took him over four and a half months to shoot the stop-motion animation.

Main Image: Deadpool/Atomic Fiction.

Talking with new Shade VFX NY executive producer John Parenteau

By Randi Altman

John Parenteau, who has a long history working in visual effects, has been named executive producer of Shade VFX’s New York studio. Shade VFX, which opened in Los Angeles in 2009, provides feature and television visual effects, as well as design, stereoscopic, VR and previs services. In 2014, they opened their New York office to take advantage of the state’s fairly aggressive tax incentives and all that it brings to the city.

Shade-1“As a native New Yorker, with over a decade of working as an artist there, the decision to open an office back home was an easy one,” explains owner Bryan Godwin. “With John coming on board as our New York executive producer, I feel our team is complete and poised to grow — continuing to provide feature-film-level visuals. John’s deep experience running large facilities, working with top tier tent-pole clients and access to even more potential talent convinced me that he is the right choice to helm the production efforts out east.”

Shade’s New York office is already flush with work, including Rock that Body for Sony, The OA and The Get Down for Netflix, Mosaic for HBO and Civil for TNT. Not long ago, the shop finished work on Daredevil and Jessica Jones, two of Marvel’s Netflix collaborations. As John helps grow the client list in NYC, he will be supporting NY visual effects supervisor Karl Coyner, and working directly with Shade’s LA-based EP/VP of production Lisa Maher.

John has a long history in visual effects, starting at Amblin Entertainment in the early ‘90s all the way through to his recent work with supercomputer company Silverdraft, which provides solutions for VFX, VR and more. I’ve known him for many years. In fact, I first started spelling John Parenteau’s name wrong when he was co-owner and VFX supervisor at Digital Muse back in the mid to late ‘90s — kidding, I totally know how to spell it… now.

We kept in touch over the years. His passion and love for filmmaking and visual effects has always been at the forefront of our conversations, along with his interest in writing. John even wrote some NAB blogs for me when he was managing director of Pixomondo (they won the VFX Oscar for Hugo during that time) and I was editor-in-chief of Post Magazine. We worked together again when he was managing director of Silverdraft.

“I’ve always been the kind of guy who likes a challenge, and who likes to push into new areas entertainment,” says John. “But leaving visual effects was less an issue of needing a change and more of a chance to stretch my experience into new fields. After Pixomondo, Silverdraft was a great opportunity to delve into the technology behind VFX and to help develop some unique computer systems for visual effects artists.”

Making the decision to leave the industry a couple years ago to take care of his mother was difficult, but John knew it was the right thing to do. “While moving to Oregon led me away from Hollywood, I never really left the industry; it gets under your skin, and I think it’s impossible to truly get out, even if you wanted to.”

Parenteau realized quickly that the Portland scene wasn’t a hot-bed of film and television VFX, so he took the opportunity to apply his experience in entertainment to a new market, founding marketing boutique Bigfoot Robot. “I discovered a strong need for marketing for small- to mid-sized companies, including shooting and editing content for commercials and marketing videos. But I did keep my hand in media and entertainment thanks to one of my first clients, the industry website postPerspective. Randi and I had known each other for so many years, and our new relationship helped her out technically while allowing me to stay in touch with the industry.”

John’s mom passed over a year ago, and while he was enjoying his work at Bigfoot Robot, he realized how much he missed working in visual effects. “Shade VFX had always been a company I was aware of, and one that I knShade-2ew did great work,” he says. “In returning to the industry, I was trying to avoid landing in too safe of a spot and doing something I’d already done before. That’s when Bryan Godwin and Dave Van Dyke (owner and president of Shade, respectively) contacted me about their New York office. I saw a great opportunity to help build an already successful company into something even more powerful. Bryan, Lisa and Dave have become known for producing solid work in both feature and television, and they were looking for a missing component in New York to help them grow. I felt like I could fill that role and work with a company that was fun and exciting. There’s also something romantic about living in Manhattan, I have to admit.”

And it’s not just about building Shade for John. “I’m the kind of guy who likes to become part of a community. I hope I can contribute in various ways to the success of visual effects for not only Shade but for the New York visual effects community as a whole.”

While I’ll personally miss working with John on a day-to-day basis, I’m happy for him and for Shade. They are getting a very talented artist, who also happens to be a really nice guy.

Shade VFX ups Lisa Maher to executive producer

Bi-coastal visual effects company Shade VFX has promoted Lisa Maher, former biz dev executive, to the position of executive producer with primary responsibility for overseeing the studio’s Los Angeles-based productions.

Maher assumes her new role not long after Shade VFX was nominated for an Emmy in the Outstanding Special Effects in a Supporting Role for the Netflix series Daredevil.

Maher joined the shade VFX team in 2013, bringing with her over 20 years in the film industry, primarily producing visual effects for facilities such as Rhythm & Hues and CIS Hollywood. She completed production on over 25 feature films before transitioning into business development. Prior to joining Shade, she worked for Dr. D Studios and Fuel VFX.

Maher emphasizes that regardless of the title change, her key goals won’t change. “Focusing on the needs of our clients will still be my primary mission.”

“Lisa has been one of the driving forces of Shade’s recent and rapid expansion and growth. While acting as our business development executive, Shade’s revenues grew 300 percent by the end of 2014, and are on target for even more growth in 2015,” says CEO Bryan Godwin.

The Shade team has lent their expertise to projects such as Daredevil, True Detective, The Amazing Spider-Man 2, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, The Intern, Black Sails, Olive Kitteridge, 22 Jump Street, Selma, Behind the Candelabra and The Wolverine among many others. They are in post for a number of projects at this time, including Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, to be released in 2016.

Everett Burrell joins Shade VFX

Visual effects supervisor Everett Burrell has joined Santa Monica- and New York-based Shade VFX where he will work on feature film and television projects in both of the studio’s locations.

Burrell, who was most recently with Look Effects, brings over 25 years of industry experience in both digital and practical effects to Shade. Having begun his career working with Stan Winston, Greg Cannom and Rick Baker in practical creature and make-up effects, Burrell went on to form his own company, Optic Nerve, with John Vulich. There he worked with George Romero on The Dark Hall and on the remake of Night of the Living Dead with Tom Savini. Burrell went on to contribute to Babylon 5, for which he received an Emmy, and then began using his skills on other television shows, including Hercules, Ally McBeal, Charmed and Dune.

In 2003, Burrell joined Café FX. His credits while there included Blade III, Sin City, Hellboy, The Mist and Pan’s Labyrinth. In 2007 Burrell became an independent VFX supervisor, and his credits include Max Payne, Battle Los Angeles, Prometheus, Warm Bodies, A Good Day to Die Hard and Fury.

Burrell will join shade VFX on their current production slate that includes feature projects, including Poltergeist for MGM, 22 Jump Street for Sony, McFarland for Disney, Max Steel for Dolphin Entertainment and Annie for Sony. In television, Shade LA is in production on the upcoming mini-series Olive Kitteridge for HBO/Playtone and a D.J. Caruso project in the New York facility.

Shade VFX expands to NYC, ups David Van Dyke to VP

New York — Client requests and an uptick in work being done in New York City, thanks to an aggressive post-production tax incentive, have spurred Santa Monica-based Shade VFX  to open its second location, this one in the Big Apple.

In addition, Shade executive producer David Van Dyke, who has been with the company since its inception five years ago, has been promoted to VP. He will remain in LA and continue to report directly to Bryan Godwin, Shade’s founder, owner and visual effects supervisor.

Bryan Godwin-shade vfx lo-resSMALL

Bryan Godwin

“We’ve been researching expanding to an incentivized area, and New York was a no-brainer for us,” states Godwin, who will now be spending time on both coasts. “Having grown up in New York as well as having been an executive in two post production firms there, I have great ties to the artist community in NYC — and, of course, great artists is what makes a great VFX firm. The particular rules for the New York incentive are very favorable for visual effects and not tied to physical production like most other states.”

Says Van Dyke, “We’ve kept our team very nimble so we can quickly respond and adapt to the various challenges that come our way, and New York will continue that mission of giving clients the attention they deserve.”

Shade VFX operates as a boutique studio but offers an infrastructure, pipeline and technology expected from larger studios.

Shade’s New York office is located at 475 Park Avenue South. A medium-sized staff will be built up over the coming months. The New York location is currently in production on a D.J. Caruso project. Shade previously worked with Caruso on I Am Number Four.

On the television front, Shade’s Los Angeles office  is the sole vendor for HBO and Playtone’s upcoming miniseries Olive Kitteridge. There is a possibility that some TD work on this might be done in New York.

For features, the LA studio is currently in production on work for Sony’s The Amazing Spider-Man 2. Recently completed feature projects include Jon Favreau’s Chef and Disney’s Million Dollar Arm.