Tag Archives: VFX supervisor

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.”

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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.

ILM welcomes Oscar-winning VFX supervisor Eric Barba

ILM (Industrial Light & Magic) has brought Academy Award-winning visual effects supervisor Eric Barba to its Vancouver-based studio as creative director. In addition to supervising effects work, Barba will also provide creative oversight across all of the studio’s projects. He will work closely with ILM Vancouver’s executive in charge, Randal Shore, and collaborate with ILM’s global talent base.

For the past two years, Barba was chief creative officer of Digital Domain. A visual effects supervisor since 1999, he supervised the visual effects on David Fincher’s Zodiac, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Gone Girl and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, for which he was honored with an Oscar and a BAFTA Film Award for Outstanding Visual Effects.

Barba often collaborates with Joseph Kosinski, having supervised work on his films Tron: Legacy and Oblivion. Most recently Barba has been consulting on a number of feature projects.

Outside of his feature work, Barba has supervised effects work on dozens of commercials for brands such as Nike, Heineken and Microsoft Xbox/Epic Games. He has directed ad campaigns for American Express, Cingular, Honda, Jaguar and Nike. He has received eight AICP Awards, and three gold and two bronze Clio Awards for his spot work.

Barba began his career as a digital artist on sci-fi programs from Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Imaging. He is a graduate of Art Center College of Design and is a member of The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences.

ILM Vancouver is currently in production on Warcraft for Duncan Jones, Luc Besson’s Valerian and David Green’s Teenage Mutant Turtles 2.

Blog: My three goals for NAB 2015

This VFX supervisor shares his NAB game plan.

By Adrian Winter

It has been about four or five years since I was at an NAB Show, so I am very much looking forward to this year’s trip. In the past, my plan has been to fly out for just a day or two, walk the floor and then take a redeye home. This year I will be there for almost the entire week, and have plans to take in as many demos and seminars as I manage to squeeze in.

I have three areas of focus for the convention:

The Big players
Adobe, Autodesk, The Foundry and FilmLight always have a big presence at NAB, and I’ll be checking in with them to see what they have in the pipeline. I also plan to swing by a few of my other favorite exhibitor booths to see if I come across any gems. Continue reading

Behind the Title: Method VFX supervisor Alvin Cruz

NAME: Eduardo “Alvin” Cruz

COMPANY: Method Studios (@method_studios)

CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR COMPANY?
Method Studios is an artist-driven global studio that offers high-end visual effects for the film, commercial, television, gaming and design industries.

WHAT’S YOUR JOB TITLE?
Visual Effects Supervisor

WHAT DOES THAT ENTAIL?
A visual effects supervisor is the person who determines creative and technical approaches for Continue reading

PostChat: VFX/post supervisor Eric Alba

By Randi Altman

This week’s PostChat, the weekly Twitter conversation about post production, featured veteran VFX/post supervisor Eric Alba. Jesse Averna (@dr0id), one of the hosts of PostChat, interviewed  Alba about “the relationship between editors and the visual effects departments and how the demands of Alba’s job have changed over the years from more practical to more CGI and maybe now back to more practical.”

Alba’s diverse background makes him ideally suited for this type of discussion. Alba (@alba) started in post and found his way to VFX, and his story is one of inspiration. He got his start as a videotape operator in a VTR machine room. From there learned all aspects of post Continue reading

Zoic VFX helps time travel for ‘Hot Tub Time Machine 2’

Zoic Studios in Vancouver created 225 visual effects shots for the sequel to the popular, and silly, Hot Tub Time Machine. Zoic’s VFX supervisor Rocco Passionino travelled to the New Orleans to be on hand during the shoot.

The work provided included visual effects to help ramp up the funny, including futuristic matte paintings, high-tech graphical interfaces for a number of devices and vortexes of light and water. Passionino and the Zoic Vancouver office worked closely with director Steve Pink to deliver just the right visuals needed. The film stars Craig Robinson, Clark Duke, Rob Corddry and Adam Scott.

Since the guys use a hot tub to travel through time, the water vortex that serves as their mode of transportation to the future was hugely important to the story. To intensify this time portal for the sequel, the Zoic team crafted a water vortex that becomes a column of water and light. Passionino worked with cinematographer Declan Quinn to create an animated LED light system to simulate the interactive light from the water vortex that would later be augmented in post.

The CG team used a wide array of tools and software to delve into the dynamics and water solutions involved with creating the water vortex. Once the main column of the of the vortex was created using Realflow, additional elements of foam, splashes, droplets, blobs, steam, mist and debris were created in Maya with Phoenix, Fury and Vray, then added in compositing to create the shaft of the vortex.

Additional render passes for subsurface, refraction, depth, luminosity and light rays were created along with an RGB lighting utility pass to give further flexibility for the compositors to light the CG in 2D. To connect the chaos on the ground to the sky, a swirling mass of volumetric clouds were created with Phoenix and rendered in Vray.

Another central effect for the comedy was the visualization of a character’s existence being threatened due to the time travel. To show Lou (Rob Corddry) flickering — in threat of not surviving long enough to reach 2024 — clean plates were shot on set for each of the scenes where the effect would be needed and moments where the actors crossed. In post production, compositors painted sections back in that were needed and added multiple layers of static, distortion and chromatic aberration to the images to create the final effect.

Since Hot Tub Time Machine 2 includes traveling to the future, the Zoic team also crafted a number of holographic elements, such as a holographic television and holographic phone communications. To create a television that would cater to the ever-dwindling attention spans of viewers, Zoic worked with director Pink to create a holographic television that would allow for an endless number of channels to display simultaneously.

Motion graphics designer Jeremy Price crafted the multi-planed interface and composited the content into the windows to create an interactive and holographic device that was activated by touch. This design was also used for telecommunications throughout the film.

Best practices for working with practical and digital effects

By Andre Bustanoby

As a follow up to a short interview postPerspective did with MastersFX about working with and integrating practical and digital effects, I wanted to take this opportunity to share some insights and guidelines for producers, directors and artists who wish to blend both art forms within their film and TV projects.

Start With a Plan and Make Decisions Early
Because of today’s digital tools, it is now possible to create any image one can imagine… if one has the time, resources and talent, of course. However, despite advances in technology, big-screen images that were developed in the era before computer filmmaking came along can often be the most visually satisfying, even today.

Continue reading

MPC creates a variety of fairies, environments for Disney’s ‘Maleficent’

MPC, led by VFX supervisors Adam Valdez (based in London) and Seth Maury (based in Vancouver), completed 875 shots for Disney’s Maleficent, starring Angelina Jolie in a take on the story of Sleeping Beauty. Working closely with director Rob Stromberg and production VFX supervisor Carey Villegas, the team created a host of animated creatures and fairy world environments.

At the start of the movie, the young Maleficent flies into MPC’s full CG fairy world environment with colorful trees, lakes and waterfalls, interacting with MPC’s hero fairies as she travels. MPC’s environment team built a library of photographic elements taken from a second-unit shoot for their human and fairy environments. These included trees, rocks and bushes. This CG environment was built in Maya, using IDV Speedtree as a basis for tree geometry. The team created 15 different types of creatures, all with their own unique characteristics and features. These ranged from the larger, humanistic mushroom fairies and Wallerbogs, to the more animalistic Cheeps, smaller delicate dew fairies and water pixies.

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MPC were tasked with creating Maleficent’s castle, which was created as a 3D model. A great deal of attention was paid to the texturing of the walls. The texture team layered different brick, mortar and masonry effects to the model to enhance detail and give a realistic look. The lighting team took inspiration from moonlit walks around Vancouver, taking photographs of different buildings hit by moonlight and its effect. They used a combination of subtle light sources on the model, including strong internal lights and firelights to make the castle feel as grand as possible, and the compositing team added flags and soldiers to the battlements.

One of the most iconic scenes of the movie includes an establishing shot of MPC’s CG castle with a CG crowd arriving for Aurora’s christening. MPC’s FX team created the green magic Maleficent uses to curse the baby.

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In the moorland battle scene, MPC used its propriety crowd software tool, ALICE to multiply 100 soldier actors into a 1,500-member army. The team also turned the on-set standing stones into giant obelisks and added CG grass, distant trees and mountains. The team developed the Dark Rider chief, four additional Dark Riders, boar, troll and serpent fairies.

MPC also created the raven Diaval, which Maleficent transforms into a man. MPC’s animation team researched the traits of the bird’s behavior, from their flight to feather and wing movements, spending time with a bird-handler to gather photo and video reference to create a CG model. To transform the bird into a human the VFX team used fluid simulation ink effects and deep compositing.

MPC built a CG thorn wall, which surrounds the fairy world, and used its destruction tool Kali for the disruption of the soil. Soldiers attempt to destroy the wall and the team added CG fire balls, trebuchets, soldiers, fire and flame FX and destruction elements.

O_EB_4087_Cine_still_4K_v2.1078_afterdragon

MPC created a full CG dragon and Great Hall interior for the climactic battle sequence. MPC worked with designs created by production concept artists and continued to develop the fire breathing creature using Pixologic Z-Brush. The team then had to transform the creature into the raven. Digital burning embers, dragon fire and smoke FX fill the room and MPC also transformed the character of Diaval from raven to dragon. Full CG soldiers were created to battle the charging dragon.

MPC’s artists also created a Disney logo using the CG Sleeping Beauty castle replacing the traditional Cinderella castle. This also involved MPC FX work to match the Disney logo fireworks and sparkle VFX. A full CG environment was built to illustrate the opening voiceover and introduce the audience to the world Maleficent inhabits.

Quick chat: ‘Sleepy Hollow’ VFX supervisor Jason Zimmerman

BURBANK — The first season of Fox’s Sleepy Hollow, which recently had its season finale, averaged anywhere from 30 to 300 visual effects shots.

The show’s VFX supervisor, Jason Zimmerman, had three go-to houses — Synaptic VFX, Pixomondo (www.pixomondo.com) and Fuse (www.fusefx.com) — to create what the Continue reading