Tag Archives: VFX

Pixomondo streamlines compute management with Thinkbox’s Deadline

There’s never a dull moment at Pixomondo, where artists and production teams juggle feature film, TV, theme park and commercial VFX projects between offices in Toronto, Vancouver, Los Angeles, Frankfurt, Stuttgart, Shanghai and Beijing. The Academy- and Emmy-award-winning VFX studio securely manages its on-premises compute resources across its branches and keeps its rendering pipeline running 24/7 utilizing Thinkbox’s Deadline, which it standardized on in 2010.

In recent months, Pixomondo has increasingly been computing workstation tasks on its render farm via Deadline and has moved publishing to Deadline as well. Sebastian Kral, Pixomondo’s global head of pipeline, says, “By offloading more to Deadline, we’re able to accelerate production. Our artists don’t have to wait for publishes to finish before they move onto the next task, and that’s really something. Deadline’s security is top-notch, which is extremely important for us given the secretive nature of some of our projects.”

Kral is particularly fond of Deadline’s Python API, which allows his global team to develop custom scripts to minimize the minutia that artists must deal with, resulting in a productivity boon. “Deadline gives us incredible flexibility. The Python API is fast, reliable and more usable than a command line entry point, so we can script so many things on our own, which is convenient,” says Kral. “We can build submission scripts for texture conversions, and create proxy data when a render job is done, so our artists don’t have to think about whether or not they need a QT of a composite.”

Power Rangers. Images courtesy of Pixomondo.

The ability to set environment variables for renders, or render as a specific user, allows Pixomondo’s artists to send tasks to the farm with an added layer of security. With seven facilities worldwide, and the possibility of new locations based on production needs, Pixomondo has also found Deadline’s ability to enable multi-facility rendering valuable.

“Deadline is packed with a ton of great out-of-the-box features, in addition to the new features that Thinkbox implements in new iterations; we didn’t even need to build our own submission tool, because Deadline’s submission capabilities are so versatile,” Kral notes. “It also has a very user-friendly interface that makes setup quick and painless, which is great for getting new hires up to speed quickly and connecting machines across facilities.”

Pixomondo’s more than 400 digital artists are productive around the clock, taking advantage of alternating time zones at facilities around the world. Nearly every rendering decision at the studio is made with Deadline in mind, as it presents rendering metrics in an intuitive way that allows the team to more accurately estimate project turnaround. “When opening Deadline to monitor a render, it’s always an enjoyable experience because all the information I need is right there at my fingertips,” says Kral. “It provides a meaningful overview of our rendering resource spread. We just log in, test renders, and we have all the information needed to determine how long each task will take using the available machines.”

Benji Davidson joins Brickyard VFX

Brickyard VFX in Santa Monica has added VFX supervisor Benji Davidson to its staff. Davidson’s experience includes live-action directing, creative directing and VFX supervision. He joins Brickyard from MPC, where he served as VFX supervisor since 2008.

In his career, Davidson has worked as an on-set VFX supervisor, lead 2D artist and director, among other things. Born and raised in England, he got his start at acclaimed commercial production company HKM/The Directors Bureau before joining MPC LA.

His notable projects include Activision’s Call of Duty: Black Ops III Seize Glory, EA Sports’ Madden NFL 16 Madden: The Movie, Samsung’s Do What You Can’t and Super Bowl spots for Coca-Cola and Acura. He also contributed to the Los Angeles Olympics bid.

“I think in today’s climate, with rapid turnarounds, there is a benefit to being involved early on,” says Davidson. “I aim to help the director and agency, not hinder them. I’ve enjoyed being on set, sometimes that’s the only place everybody is together, which is invaluable when you get to post. You already know the expectations. There’s a secret short-hand from that shared experience.”

Brickyard is a digital production studio working in high-end visual effects, animation, design and creative development for advertising, feature films and emerging media.

Behind the Title: Union VFX supervisor James Roberts

NAME: James Roberts

COMPANY: London-based Union (@unionvfx)

CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR COMPANY?
Union is an independent VFX company founded on a culture of originality, innovation and collaboration.

WHAT’S YOUR JOB TITLE?
VFX Supervisor

WHAT DOES THAT ENTAIL?
Overseeing the VFX for feature films from concept to delivery. This includes concept development, on-set photography and supervision of artists.

WHAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE ABOUT WHAT FALLS UNDER THAT TITLE?
I sometimes get to be an actor.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
Working with creative artists both on set and in the studio to develop original artwork.

WHAT’S YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?
Answering emails.

WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE TIME OF THE DAY?
1am

IF YOU DIDN’T HAVE THIS JOB, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING INSTEAD?
Professional dog walker

WHY DID YOU CHOOSE THIS PROFESSION?
My mother was an artist and my father was a computer programmer… I didn’t have many other options.

My Cousin Rachel

CAN YOU NAME SOME RECENT PROJECTS?
T2 Trainspotting and My Cousin Rachel.

WHAT PROJECT ARE YOU MOST PROUD OF?
’71 and The Theory of Everything.

NAME THREE PIECES OF TECHNOLOGY YOU CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT.
Headphones, Side Effects Houdini and light bulbs.

WHAT SOCIAL MEDIA CHANNELS DO YOU FOLLOW?
Instagram — I’m @jjjjjjames

DO YOU LISTEN TO MUSIC WHILE YOU WORK?
Yes…… anything and everything.

WHAT DO YOU DO TO DE-STRESS FROM IT ALL?
I spend time away from work with nice people.

Foundry’s Nuke and Hiero 11.0 now available

Foundry has made available Nuke and Hiero 11.0, the next major release for the Nuke line of products, including Nuke, NukeX, Nuke Studio, Hiero and HieroPlayer. The Nuke family is being updated to VFX Platform 2017, which includes several major updates to key libraries used within Nuke, including Python, Pyside and Qt.

The update also introduces a new type of group node, which offers a powerful new collaborative workflow for sharing work among artists. Live Groups referenced in other scripts automatically update when a script is loaded, without the need to render intermediate stages.

Nuke Studio’s intelligent background rendering is now available in Nuke and NukeX. The Frame Server takes advantage of available resource on your local machine, enabling you to continue working while rendering is happening in the background. The LensDistortion node has been completely revamped, with added support for fisheye and wide-angle lenses and the ability to use multiple frames to produce better results. Nuke Studio now has new GPU-accelerated disk caching that allows users to cache part or all of a sequence to disk for smoother playback of more complex sequences.

 

 

Laundry adds James Sweigert as managing director

Animation and design house Laundry has a new managing director in James Sweigert, who brings extensive experience in marketing, brand strategy, design and TV and film production to the studio, which recently moved into a new creative space in the Arts District in downtown Los Angeles.

Working closely with Richardson and ECD/partner Anthony Liu, Sweigert will oversee all creative and production management and operations for the studio, which encompasses animation, design, VFX and live-action production. He is also tasked with nurturing existing client relationships and cultivating new opportunities with brands, services and technology partners.

Sweigert arrives at Laundry following a tenure as executive producer of TV and Streaming at mOcean. Other previous positions include EP/partner at Nathaniel James, head of production at Brand New School and assistant EP at Fuel/Razorfish. He’s produced notable projects, including the main titles for the Emmy Award-winning documentary Hawaiian: The Legend of Eddie Aikau, which was featured on ESPN Films’ 30 for 30; IDs for the NFL Network’s broadcast of Super Bowl XLVII between the San Francisco 49ers and Baltimore Ravens, as well as work for HBO’s Game of Thrones and Sport in America.

Also a filmmaker, Sweigert has just completed producing and directing a documentary titled N-Men: The Untold Story. The film takes a look at the Northern California skateboarding scene from 1975 through today, featuring interviews with Tony Hawk, Tony Alva and the N-Men who inspired them. The film is scheduled for release in 2018 with Laundry playing an instrumental role in the post production.

“I’ve known James since arriving in Los Angeles 18 years ago, and the moons have finally aligned for us to work together,” says PJ Richardson, executive creative director and partner of Laundry. “What I’m most excited about is his fresh enthusiasm for design-driven animation and production, but also his understanding of how it is all evolving. Like us, he understands creativity comes down to having fun, so it’s a perfect fit.”

“Laundry has a sophisticated creative infrastructure, which I’m excited about bringing to new heights,” says Sweigert. “We can achieve great things with our clients by tapping deeper into the existing strengths of this company across the board, and implementing systems that allow us to become more of a strategic partner early on. I’m also keen on what the future holds for Laundry with respect to VR/AR, 360 and experiential work, as well as expanding our live-action bandwidth.”

 

Quick Chat: Filmmaker/DP/VFX artist Mihran Stepanyan

Veteran Armenian artist Mihran Stepanyan has an interesting background. In addition to being a filmmaker and cinematographer, he is also a colorist and visual effects artist. In fact, he won the 2017 Flame Award, which was presented to him during NAB in April.

Let’s find out how his path led to this interesting mix of expertise.

Tell us about your background in VFX.
I studied feature film directing in Armenia from 1997 through 2002. During the process, I also became very interested in being a director of photography. As a self-taught DP, I was shooting all my work, as well as films produced by my classmates and colleagues. This was great experience. Nearly 10 years ago, I started to study VFX because I had some projects that I wanted to do myself. I’ve fallen in love with that world. Some years ago, I started to work in Moscow as a DP and VFX artist for a Comedy Club Production special project. Today, I not only work as a VFX artist but also as a director and cinematographer.

How do your experiences as a VFX artist inform your decisions as a director and cinematographer?
They are closely connected. As a director, you imagine something that you want to see in the end, and you can realize that because you know what you can achieve in production and post. And, as a cinematographer, you know that if problems arise during the shoot, you can correct them in VFX and post. Experience in cinematography also complements VFX artistry, because your understanding of the physics of light and optics helps you create more realistic visuals.

What do you love most about your job?
The infinity of mind, fantasy and feelings. Also, I love how creative teams work. When a project starts, it’s fun to see how the different team members interact with one another and approach various challenges, ultimately coming together to complete the job. The result of that collective team work is interesting as well.

Tell us about some recent projects you’ve worked on.
I’ve worked on Half Moon Bay, If Only Everyone, Carpenter Expecting a Son and Doktor. I also recently worked on a tutorial for FXPHD that’s different from anything I’ve ever done before. It is not only the work of an Autodesk Flame artist or a lecturer, but also gave me a chance to practice English, as my first language is Armenian.

Mihran’s Flame tutorial on FXPHD.

Where do you get your inspiration?
First, nature. There nothing more perfect to me. And, I’m picturalist, so for various projects I can find inspiration in any kind of art, from cave paintings to pictorial art and music. I’m also inspired by other artists’ work, which helps me stay tuned with the latest VFX developments.

If you had to choose the project that you’re most proud of in your career, what would it be, and why?
I think every artist’s favorite project is his/her last project, or the one he/she is working on right now. Their emotions, feelings and ideas are very fresh and close at the moment. There are always some projects that will stand out more than others. For me, it’s the film Half Moon Bay. I was the DP, post production supervisor and senior VFX artist for the project.

What is your typical end-to-end workflow for a project?
It differs on each project. In some projects, I do everything from story writing to directing and digital immediate (DI) finishing. For some projects, I only do editing or color grading.

How did you come to learn Flame?
During my work in Moscow, nearly five years ago, I had the chance to get a closer look at Flame and work on it. I’m a self-taught Flame artist, and since I started using the product it’s become my favorite. Now, I’m back in Armenia working on some feature films and upcoming commercials. I am also a member of Flame and Autodesk Maya Beta testing groups.

How did you teach yourself Flame? What resources did you use?
When I started to learn Flame, there weren’t as many resources and tutorials as we have now. It was really difficult to find training documentation online. In some cases, I got information from YouTube, NAB or IBC presentations. I learned mostly by experimentation, and a lot of trial and error. I continue to learn and experiment with Flame every time I work.

Any tips for using the product?
As for tips, “knowing” the software is not about understanding the tools or shortcuts, but what you can do with your imagination. You should always experiment to find the shortest and easiest way to get the end result. Also, imagine how you can construct your schematic without using unnecessary nods and tools ahead of time. Exploring Flame is like mixing the colors on the palette in painting to get the perfect tone. In the same way, you must imagine what tools you can “mix” together to get the result you want.

Any advice for other artists?
I would advise that you not be afraid of any task or goals, nor fear change. That will make you a more flexible artist who can adapt to every project you work on.

What’s next for you?
I don’t really know what’s next, but I am sure that it is a new beginning for me, and I am very interested where this all takes me tomorrow.

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.

Speakers set for VIEW Conference 2017

This year, the VIEW Conference is once again taking place in Torino, Italy. Focusing on computer graphics, digital media and games, the conference spans five days (October 23-27) and features talks, workshops, panel discussions, interactive sessions, awards and more. An audience of 6,000 professionals and students is expected.

Here are the expected speakers so far:
Rob Pardo – CEO, Bonfire Studios. Videogame designer (World of Warcraft); Eric Darnell – chief creative officer, Baobab Studios. Co-director/co-writer all DreamWorks’ Madagascar films and projects including Invasion, Asteroids, Rainbow Crow; Phil Chen – co-founder, HTC Vive. Managing partner of Presence Capital VR/AR Venture Fund and partner of Horizons Ventures, which invests in VR/AR/AI; Joe Letteri – senior VFX supervisor, four-time Oscar winner, Weta Digital; Debevec – senior staff engineer, Google VR and Oscar winner; Kevin Lin – COO, Twitch.TV; Christopher Townsend – Overall VFX supervisor, Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2; Vicki Dobbs Beck – executive in charge of ILM x LAB; Mark Osborne – The Little Prince and Kung Fu Panda, DreamWorks Animation; Kris Pearn – director The Willoughbys, Bron Animation and Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs 2 co-director, Sony Pictures Animation; Shannon Tindle – director/writer, Sony Pictures Animation, Disney, Laika, Google Spotlight Story On Ice; Cinzia Angelini – director, upcoming CG Animated short Mila; Hal Hickel – animation director, Rogue One, ILM. Oscar and BAFTA Winner; Rob Coleman – head of animation, Lego Batman Movie, Animal Logic. Two-time Oscar nominee for his work on Star Wars; Kim White – DP, lighting, Cars 3, Pixar Animation; Noelle Triaureau – production designer, Smurfs: The Lost Village, Sony Pictures Animation; Mike Ford – VFX supervisor, Smurfs: The Lost Village, Sony Pictures Imageworks; Carlos Zaragoza – production designer, The Emoji Movie, Sony Pictures Animation; Maureen Fan – CEOfficer, Baobab Studios, VR; Larry Cutler – CTO, Baobab Studios; Eloi Champagne – technical director, National Film Board of Canada, VR; Claudio Pedica – senior interaction designer, Sólfar Studios & AI researcher at Reykjavik University; Michael Rubin – founder/chief photo officer, Neomodern; David Putrino – director of rehabilitation innovation, Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. Director of Telemedicine and Virtual Rehabilitation Medicine at Weill-Cornell Medical College. Chief mad scientist, Not Impossible Labs; Victor Perez – VFX supervisor, Gabriele Salvatores Invisible Boy sequel; Francesco Filippi – director, Mani Rosse (Red Hands), Studio Mistral; and Ed Hooks – mMulti-faceted theatrical professional, actor, author and acting teacher.

VIEW has also announced the opening of submissions for the show’s VIEW Awards. Celebrating the best in animation and video games, each year this competition receives hundreds of entries, vying for recognition in four categories for animated short films or videogames.

The VIEW Conference’s awards competition recognizes animated short films and videogames created between January 1, 2015 and September 15, 2017. Entry is available online here.

The awards categories are:
Best Short– category for those creating and animating shorts, music videos or commercials using 2D/3D animation.  The contest is open to students and professionals with a maximum length of 30 minutes. The best short will be evaluated based on design, environments and best character. First prize is 2,000 Euros.
• Social Contest – a short video clip or commercial focusing on social themes. First prize is 500 Euros.
• Game Contest – an award recognizing the best gameplay, design and mechanics. First prize is 500 Euros.
• ItalianMix – dedicated to the work of Italian artists, the work can be animated, experimental or documentary. Maximum length of 30 minutes. First prize is 500 Euros.

Behind the Title: Flavor LA director/CD Jason Cook

Name: Jason Cook (@jcookerama)

Company: Flavor LA

Can you describe your company?
We are a narrative-driven company that uses design, animation, CG, visual effects and live action to tell stories for our clients. Flavor LA serves the West Coast territories for our parent company, Cutters Studios in Chicago.

What’s your job title?
I am both a director and creative director for this office.

What does that entail?
It really depends on the project, but I tend to wear many hats. From a creative direction perspective, I am involved with the cultivation and management of all of the creative that we do here in LA. I have a strong design background, which helps me lead our team through pitching, production and finish. We pride ourselves on highly conceptual and thoughtful storytelling in our work, so I spend a large part of my days with the headphones on writing treatments. I love when the job involves live-action opportunities. Here, I can use a completely different medium and skill set to accomplish our creative goals. My sensibility is very design-driven, so most of the stuff I shoot tends to have a CG or VFX component, which is always so exciting.

What would surprise people the most about what falls under that title?
It’s funny. As I came up as a designer, I always swore to myself I would never stop designing, and I kept that promise up until the last couple of years. I love designing, but as I get busier, my bandwidth gets smaller. I have grown into a true leadership role and have come to accept that my time is better served looking at the bigger picture instead of being consumed by the intricacies of the process. This allows me to manage projects with greater quality control and leaves my brain and creative flow available for new things as they come in. As a leader, I’ve found that giving artists space, and not micro-managing their development, brings me greater results.

What’s your favorite part of the job?
Seeing a plan come together is the most gratifying part of this business. It’s exciting when we are given a brief, we pitch an idea, and we win. There’s also a moment of, “Ok how to do we pull this off?” For me, putting my head together with my team, allowing for experimentation, encouraging outside thinking and following the creative where it leads us is such a fun part of this process. When all the elements start to coalesce and you see the first dailies comped and your previs edit starts to get replaced with real shots… that’s when things get awesome.

What’s your least favorite?
I try to work very efficiently and sometimes communications break down, which can be frustrating. This is for any number of reasons, but it gets in the way of the process and that can slow momentum.

What is your favorite time of the day?
Not the morning! I’m more of a night owl. I tend to stay up a bit later and write when it’s nice and quiet.

If you didn’t have this job, what would you be doing instead?
I think my internal drive to tell stories would have translated into straight-up filmmaking. I chose a graphic design path, but I also focused my intention on motion graphics, which incorporates live action a lot of the time. I really believe that everything I’ve done up to this point has led me to where I am today.

How early on did you know this would be your path?
It seems so trite now because so many people have a similar story, but I remember watching the film title of Seven and it blew my freaking mind. I was just graduating high school at the time, and I knew right there that I wanted to do that, even though I didn’t really understand at the time what “that” was.

Arrow Electronics

Can you name some recent projects you have worked on?
I recently shot a few spots that I’m really happy with. Two for Arrow Electronics and a spec spot for water conservation that involves a cute CG water drop character that lightly shames people for wasting water. In April, I directed and creative directed a live, site-specific show for over 3,000 Detroit Lions fans to reveal the team’s new uniforms.

What is the project that you are most proud of?
I really love the Be Pro-H20 spec I shot. It was a complete labor of love and a self-financed production that I wrote, cast and directed. The Lions event was absolutely crazy and something I’ve never done before. Somehow I sold the Lions on creating a giant geometric lion head installation that we projection-mapped visuals onto. It was madness! I learned so much on that project and I hope to do more live events like that down the road.

Name three pieces of technology you can’t live without.
I think my phone is clearly one, followed by the Internet and cameras.

What social media channels do you follow?
I’ve been weening myself off of Facebook these days. I have a Twitter and Instagram account as well.

Do you listen to music while you work? Care to share your favorite music to work to?
It depends on the task at hand, but I have a hard time writing to music with lyrics. My go-to is the composer Cliff Martinez. Something about his scores just gets me so focused and the words spill out. If I don’t need to focus, my musical tastes span from hip-hop to house music. I’ll throw on some Motley Crüe sometimes, too.

This is a high stress job. What do you do to de-stress from it all?
It can be a very high stress job for sure, and sometimes it’s easy to take it with you when you leave the office. I try to make a conscious effort not to get pulled into the chaos of the process. Even when we are in the weeds, we have to remember it always works out in the end. To unwind, I love hanging with my wife and our two pups and watching a movie at home, going out with friends or traveling. My PS4 comes in handy sometimes too.

John Hughes, Helena Packer, Kevin Donovan open post collective

Three industry vets have combined to launch PHD, a Los Angeles-based full-service post collective. Led by John Hughes (founder of Rhythm & Hues), Helena Packer (VFX supervisor/producer) and Kevin Donovan (film/TV/commercials director), PHD works across the genres of VR/AR, independent films, documentaries, TV — including limited series and commercials. In addition to post production, including color grading, offline and online editorial, the visual effects and final delivery, they offer live-action production services. In addition to Los Angeles, PHD has locations in India, Malaysia and South Africa.

Hughes was the co-founder of the legendary VFX shop Rhythm & Hues (R&H) and led that studio for 26 years, earning three Academy Awards for “Best Visual Effects” (Babe, The Golden Compass, Life of Pi) as well as four scientific and engineering Academy Awards.

Packer was inducted into the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) in 2008 for her creative contributions to filmmaking as an accomplished VFX artist, supervisor and producer. Her expertise extends beyond feature films to episodic TV, stereoscopic 3D and animation. Packer has been the VFX supervisor and Flame artist for hundreds of commercials and over 20 films, including 21 Jump Street and Charlie Wilson’s War.

Director Kevin Donovan is particularly well-versed in action and visual effects. He directed the feature film, The Tuxedo, and is currently producing the TV series What Would Trejo Do? He has shot over 700 commercials during the course of his career and is the winner of six Cannes Lions.

Since the company’s launch, PHD has worked on a number of projects — two PSAs for the Climate Change organization 5 To Do Today featuring Arnold Schwarzenegger and James Cameron called Don’t Buy It and Precipice
a PSA for the international animal advocacy group WildAid shot in Tanzania and Oregon called Talking Elephant, another for WildAid shot in Cape Town, South Africa called Talking Rhino, and two additional WildAid PSAs featuring actor Josh Duhamel called Souvenir and Situation.

“In a sense, our new company is a reconfigured version of R&H, but now we are much smarter, much more nimble and much more results driven,” says Hughes about PHD. “We have very little overhead to deal with. Our team has worked on hundreds of award-winning films and commercials…”

Main Photo: L-R:  John Hughes, Helena Packer and Kevin Donovan.