Tag Archives: VFX

Digital locations for Scandal/How to Get Away With Murder crossover

If you like your Thursday night television served up with a little Scandal and How to Get Away With Murder, then you likely loved the recent crossover episodes that paired the two show’s leading ladies. VFX Legion, which has a brick and mortar office in LA but artists all over the world, was called on to create a mix of photorealistic CG environments and other effects that made it possible for the show’s actors to appear in a variety of digital surroundings, including iconic locations in Washington, DC.

VFX Legion has handled all of the visual effects for both shows for almost three years, and is slated to work on the next season of Murder (this is Scandal’s last season). Over the years, the Shondaland Productions have tasked the company with creating high shot counts for almost 100 episodes, each matching the overall look of a single show. However, the crossover episodes required visual effects that blended with two series that use different tools and each have their own look, presenting a more complex set of challenges.

For instance, Scandal is shot on an Arri Alexa camera, and How to Get Away With Murder on a Sony F55, at different color temps and under varying lighting conditions. DP preferences and available equipment required each environment to be shot twice, once with greenscreens for Scandal and then again using bluescreens for Murder.

The replication of the Supreme Court Building is central to the storyline. Building its exterior facade and interiors of the courtroom and rotunda digitally from the ground up were the most complex visual effects created for the episodes.

The process began during preproduction with VFX supervisor Matthew T. Lynn working closely with the client to get a full understanding of their vision. He collaborated with VFX Legion head of production, Nate Smalley, production manager Andrew Turner and coordinators Matt Noren and Lexi Sloan on streamlining workflow and crafting a plan that aligned with the shows’ budgets, schedules, and resources. Lynn spent several weeks on R&D, previs and mockups. Legion’s end-to-end approach was presented to the staffs of both shows during combined VFX meetings, and a plan was finalized.

A rough 3D model of the set was constructed from hundreds of reference photographs stitched together using Agisoft Photoscan and photogrammetry. HDRI panoramas and 360-degree multiple exposure photographs of the set were used to match the 3D lighting with the live-action footage. CG modeling and texturing artist Trevor Harder then added the fine details and created the finished 3D model.

CG supervisor Rommél S. Calderon headed up the team of modeling, texturing, tracking, layout and lighting artists that created Washington, DC’s Supreme Court Building from scratch.

“The computer-generated model of the exterior of the building was a beast, and scheduling was a huge job in itself,” explains Calderon. “Meticulous planning, resource management, constant communication with clients and spot-on supervision were crucial to combining the large volume of shots without causing a bottleneck in VFX Legion’s digital pipeline.”

Ken Bishop, VFX Legion’s lead modeler, ran into some interesting issues while working with footage of the lead characters Olivia Pope and Annalise Keating filmed on the concrete steps of LA’s City Hall. Since the Supreme Court’s staircase is marble, Bishop did a considerable amount of work on the texture, keeping the marble porous enough to blend with the concrete in this key shot.

Compositing supervisor Dan Short led his team through the process of merging the practical photography with renders created with Redshift and then seamlessly composited all of the shots using Foundry’s Nuke.

See their breakdown of the shots here:

Netflix’s Altered Carbon: the look, the feel, the post

By Randi Altman

Netflix’s Altered Carbon is a new sci-fi series set in a dystopian future where people are immortal thanks to something called “stacks,” which contain their entire essence — their personalities, their memories, everything. The one setback is that unless you are a Meth (one of the rich and powerful), you need to buy a “sleeve” (a body) for your stack, and it might not have any resemblance to your former self. It could be a different color, a different sex, a different age, a different everything. You have to take what you can get.

Based on a 2002 novel by Richard K. Morgan, it stars Swedish actor Joel Kinnaman.

Jill Bogdanowicz

We reached out to the show’s colorist, Jill Bogdanowicz, as well as post producer Allen Marshall Palmer to find out more about the show’s varied and distinctive looks.

The look has a very Blade Runner-type feel. Was that in homage to the films?
Bogdanowicz: The creators wanted a film noir look. Blade Runner is the same genre, but the show isn’t specifically an homage to Blade Runner.

Palmer: I’ll leave that for fans to dissect.

Jill, can you talk about your process? What tools did you use?
Bogdanowicz: I designed a LUT to create that film noir look before shooting. I actually provided a few options, and they chose my favorite one and used it throughout. After they shot everything and I had all 10 episodes in my bay, I got familiar with the content, wrapped my head around the story and came up with ideas to tell that story with color.

The show covers many different times and places so scenes needed to be treated visually to show audiences where the story is and what’s happened. I colored both HDR (Dolby Vision) and SDR passes using DaVinci Resolve.

I worked very closely with both DPs — Martin Ahlgren and Neville Kidd — in pre-timing the show, and they gave me a nice idea of what they were looking for so I had a great starting point. They were very close knit. The entire team on this project was an absolute pleasure, and it was a great creative collaboration, which comes through in the final product of the show.

The show is shot and posted like a feature and has a feature feel. Was that part of your marching orders?
Bogdanowicz: I’m primarily a features colorist, so I’m very familiar with the film noir look and heavy VFX, and that’s one reason I was included on this project. It was right up my alley.

Palmer: We approached Altered Carbon as a 10-part feature rather than a television series. I coined the term “feature episodic entertainment,” which describes what we were aspiring to — destination viewing instead of something merely disposable. In a world with so many viewing options, we wanted to command the viewer’s full attention, and fans are rewarded for that attention.

We were very concerned about how images, especially VFX, were going to look in HDR so we had weekly VFX approval sessions with Jill, our mastering colorist, in her color timing bay.

Executive producers and studio along with the VFX and post teams were able to sit together — adjusting color corrections if needed before giving final approval on shots. This gave us really good technical and creative quality control. Despite our initial concerns about VFX shots in HDR, we found that with vendors like Double Negative and Milk with their robust 16-bit EXR pipelines we weren’t “breaking” VFX shots when color correcting for HDR.

How did the VFX affect the workflow?
Bogdanowicz: Because I was brought on so early, the LUT I created was shared with the VFX vendors so they had a good estimation of the show’s contrast. That really helped them visualize the look of the show so that the look of the shots was pretty darn close by the time I got them in my bay.

Was there a favorite scene or scenes?
Bogdanowicz: There are so many spectacular moments, but the emotional core for me is in episode 104 when we see the beginning of the Kovacs and Quell love story in the past and how that love gives Kovacs the strength to survive in the present day.

Palmer: That’s a tough question! There are so many, it’s hard to choose. I think the episode that really jumps out is the one in which Joel Kinnaman’s character is being tortured and the content skips back and forth in time, changes and alternates between VR and reality. It was fun to create a different visual language for each space.

Can you talk about challenges in the process and how you overcame them?
Bogdanowicz: The show features a lot of VFX and they all need to look as real as possible, so I had to make sure they felt part of the worlds. Fortunately, VFX supervisor Everett Burrell and his team are amazing and the VFX is top notch. Coming up with different ideas and collaborating with producers James Middleton and Laeta Kalogridis on those ideas was a really fun creative challenge. I used the Sapphire VFX plugin for Resolve to heavily treat and texture VR looks in different ways.

Palmer: In addition to the data management challenges on the picture side, we were dealing with mixing in Dolby Atmos. It was very easy to get distracted with how great the Atmos mix sounds — the downmixes generally translated very well, but monitoring in 5.1 and 2.0 did reveal some small details that we wanted to adjust. Generally, we’re very happy with how both the picture and sound is translating into viewer’s homes.

Dolby Vision HDR is great at taking what’s in the color bay into the home viewing environment, but there are still so many variables in viewing set-ups that you can still end up chasing your own tail. It was great to see the behind the scenes of Netflix’s dedication to providing the best picture and sound quality through the service.

The look of the AI hotel was so warm. I wanted to live there. Can you talk about that look?
Bogdanowicz: The AI hotel look was mostly done in design and lighting. I saw the warm practical lights and rich details in the architecture and throughout the hotel and ran with it. I just aimed to keep the look filmic and inviting.

What about the look of where the wealthy people lived?
Bogdanowicz: The Meth houses are above the clouds, so we kept the look very clean and cool with a lot of true whites and elegant color separation.

Seems like there were a few different looks within the show?
Bogdanowicz: The same LUT for the film noir look is used throughout the show, but the VR looks are very different. I used Sapphire to come up with different concepts and textures for the different VR looks, from rich quality of the high-end VR to the cheap VR found underneath a noodle bar.

Allen, can you walk us through the workflow from production to post?
Palmer: With the exception of specialty shots, the show was photographed on Alexa 65 — mostly in 5K mode, but occasionally in 6.5K and 4K for certain lenses. The camera is beautiful and a large part of the show’s cinematic look, but it generates a lot of data (about 1.9TB/hour for 5K) so this was the first challenge. The camera dictates using the Codex Vault system, and Encore Vancouver was up to the task for handling this material. We wanted to get the amount of data down for post, so we generated 4096×2304 ProRes 4444XQ “mezzanine” files, which we used for almost all of the show assembly and VFX pulls.

During production and post, all of our 4K files were kept online at Efilm using their portal system. This allowed us fast, automated access to the material so we could quickly do VFX pulls, manage color, generate 16-bit EXR frames and send those off to VFX vendors. We knew that time saved there was going to give us more time on the back end to work creatively on the shots so the Portal was a very valuable tool.

How many VFX shots did you average per episode? Seems like a ton, especially with the AI characters. Who provided those and what were those turnarounds like?
Palmer: There were around 2,300 visual effects shots during this season — probably less than most people would think because we built a large Bay City street inside a former newspaper printing facility outside of Vancouver. The shot turnaround varied depending on the complexity and where we were in the schedule. We were lucky that something like episode 1’s “limo ride” sequence was started very early on because it gave us a lot of time to refine our first grand views of Bay City. Our VFX supervisor Everett Burrell and VFX producer Tony Meagher were able to get us out in front of a lot of challenges like the amount of 3D work in the last two episodes by starting that work early on since we knew we would need those shots from the script and prep phase.

Review: HP’s lower-cost DreamColor Z24x display

By Dariush Derakhshani

So, we all know how important a color-accurate monitor is in making professional-level graphics, right? Right?!? Even at the most basic level, when you’re stalking online for the perfect watch band for your holiday present of a smart watch, you want the orange band you see in the online ad to be what you get when it arrives a few days later. Even if your wife thinks orange doesn’t suit you, and makes you look like “you’re trying too hard.”

Especially as a content developer, you want to know what you’re looking at is an accurate representation of the image. Ever walk into a Best Buy and see multiple screens showing the same content but with wild ranging differences in color? You can’t have that discrepancy working as a pro, especially in collaboration; you need color accuracy. In my own experience, that position has been filled by HP’s 10-bit DreamColor displays for many years now, but not everyone is awash in bitcoins, and justifying a price tag of over $1,200 is sometimes hard to justify, even for a studio professional.

Enter HP’s DreamColor Z24x display at half the price, coming in around $550 online. Yes, DreamColor for half the cost. That’s pretty significant. For the record, I haven’t used a 24-inch monitor since the dark ages; when Lost was the hot TV show. I’ve been fortunate enough to be running at 27-inch and higher, so there was a little shock when I started using the Z24x HP sent me for review. But this is something I quickly got used to.

With my regular 32-inch 4K display still my primary — so I can fit loads of windows all over the place — I used this DreamColor screen as my secondary display, primarily to check output for my Adobe After Effects comps, Adobe Premiere Pro edits and to hold my render view window as I develop shaders and lighting in Autodesk Maya. I felt comfortable knowing the images I shared with my colleagues across town would be seen as I intended them, evening the playing field when working collaboratively (as long as everyone is on the same LUT and color space). Speaking of color spaces, the Z24x hits 100% of sRGB, 99% of AdobeRGB and 96% of DCI P3, which is just slightly under HP’s Z27x DreamColor. It is, however, slightly faster with a 6ms response rate.

The Z24x has a 24-inch IPS panel from LG that exhibits color in 10-bit, like its bigger 27-inch Z27x sibling. This gives you over a billion colors, which I have personally verified by counting them all —that was one, long weekend, I can tell you. Unlike the highest-end DreamColor screens though, the Z24x dithers up from 8-bit to 10-bit (called an 8-bit+FRC). This means it’s better than an 8-bit color display, for sure, but not quite up to real 10-bit, making it color accurate but not color critical. HP’s implementation of dithering is quite good, when subjectively compared to my full 10-bit main display. Frankly, a lot of screens that claim 10-bit may actually be 8-bit+FRC anyway!

While the Z27x gives you 2560×1440 as you expect of most 27inch displays, if not full on 4K, the Z24x is at a comfortable 1920×1200, just enough for a full 1080p image and a little room for a slider or info bar. Being the res snob that I am, I had wondered if that was just too low, but at 24-inches I don’t think you would want a higher resolution, even if you’re sitting only 14-inches away from it. And this is a sentiment echoed by the folks at HP who consulted with so many of their professional clients to build this display. That gives a pixel density of about 94PPI, a bit lower than the 109PPI of the Z27x. This density is about the same as a 1080p HD display at 27-inch, so it’s still crisp and clean.

Viewing angles are good at about 178 degrees, and the screen is matte, with an anti-glare coating, making it easier to stare at without blinking for 10 hours at a clip, as digital artists usually do. Compared to my primary display, this HP’s coating was more matte and still gave me a richer black in comparison, which I liked to see.

Connection options are fairly standard with two DisplayPorts, one HDMI, and one DVI dual link for anyone still living in the past. You also get four USB ports and an analog 3.5mm audio jack if you want to drive some speakers, since you can’t from your phone anymore (Apple, I’m looking at you).

Summing Up
So while 24-inches is a bit small for my tastes for a display, I am seriously impressed at the street price of the Z24x, allowing a lot more pros and semi-pros to get the DreamColor accuracy HP offers at half the price. While I wouldn’t recommend color grading a show on the Z24x, this DreamColor does a nice job of bringing a higher level of color confidence at an attractive price. As a secondary display, the z24x is a nice addition to an artist workflow with budget in mind — or who has a mean, orange-watch-band-hating spouse.

Dariush Derakhshani is a VFX supervisor and educator in Southern California. You can follow his random tweets at @koosh3d.

Kathrin Lausch joins Uppercut as EP

New York post shop Uppercut has added Kathrin Lausch as executive producer. Lausch has over two decades of experience as an executive producer for top production and post production companies such as MPC, Ntropic, B-Reel, Nice Shoes, Partizan and Compass Films, among others. She has led shops on the front lines for the outset of digital, branded content, reality television and brand-direct production.

“I joined Uppercut after being very impressed with Micah Scarpelli’s clear understanding of the advertising market, its ongoing changes and his proactive approach to offer his services accordingly,” explains Lausch. “The new advertising landscape is offering up opportunities for boutique shops like Uppercut, and interesting conversations and relationships can come out of having a clear and focused offering. It was important to me to be part of a team that embraces change and thrives on being a part of it.”

Half French, half German-born, Lausch followed dual pursuits in law and art in NYC before finding her way to the world of production. She launched Passport Films, which later became Compass Films. After selling the company, she followed the onset of the digital advertising marketplace, landing with B-Reel. She made the shift to post production, further embracing the new digital landscape as executive producer at Nice Shoes and Ntropic before landing as head of new business at MPC.

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.

Oscar-winner Jordan Peele on directing Get Out

By Iain Blair

Get Out, the feature film debut of comedian-turned-director Jordan Peele, is chock full of shocks and surprises. This multi-layered horror film also shocked a lot of people in the industry when it went on to gross over a quarter of a billion dollars — on a $4.5 million budget — making it one of the most profitable films in Hollywood history. But those shocks are nothing compared to the ones Peele and his movie generated when it scooped up four major Oscar nominations, including Best Picture and Best Director (in a very strong Best Director year, Peele beat out the likes of Steven Spielberg, Ridley Scott and Martin McDonagh). He won for Best Original Screenplay.

The writer/director honed his cinematic skills on the Comedy Central sketch show Key and Peele, which quickly became a television and Internet sensation, earning 12 Primetime Emmy Award nominations and over 900 million online hits. For his first film, which stars Daniel Kaluuya, Allison Williams, Catherine Keener and Bradley Whitford, he assembled a stellar group of collaborators, including director of photography Toby Oliver (Insidious: Chapter 4), production designer Rusty Smith (Meet the Fockers), editor Gregory Plotkin (the Paranormal Activity series), costume designer Nadine Haders (Into the Badlands) and composer Michael Abels.

With the huge critical and commercial success of Get Out, Peele has now joined the big leagues. I recently caught up with Peele who talked about the Oscars, making the film, and his love of post.

This is your directorial movie debut, and it’s not only Oscar-nominated for Best Picture but also for Best Director. Are you still pinching yourself?
Oh yeah, 100 percent! It’s not something I feel I’ll ever get used to. It’s way beyond any expectations I had.

You were also Oscar-nominated for Best Original Screenplay, making you only the third person ever — after Warren Beatty and James L. Books — to score that and Best Director, Best Picture nods for your debut film. You realize it’s all downhill from here?
(Laughs) Yeah, I might as well quit making movies now while I’m still ahead, because I’m in big trouble. And that’s pretty ironic as the best award and reward for making my first movie is the fact that I get to make another.

You’re only the fifth African-American filmmaker to earn a Best Director nom and none have won. Is change coming fast enough?
I think change should have come a long time ago, but at least now we see some real progress, with such directors as Ryan Coogler, Ava DuVernay, Gary Gray, Barry Jenkins and Dee Rees. It’s this new class of amazing black directors, and people have worked very hard to get to this point, and it’s thanks to all the work of previous filmmakers. What’s blossoming in the industry now is very beautiful, so I’m very hopeful for the future.

When it comes to the Oscars, horror and comedy are two genres that don’t seem to get much respect. Why do you think that is?
I think it’s because they’re genres that are typically focused on getting a monetary return, so they get put in that box and are seen as lightweight and movies that are not art — even though there are many examples of elevated horror and elevated comedy that are extremely artistic films. So there’s that stigma. And if people don’t like horror, they just don’t like it, so it’s not a genre that you can expect everyone to want to see, unlike comedy. Everyone pretty much loves comedy, but when people tell me they don’t like horror, I tell them to seek it out, that it won’t scare them that much, and that it might surprise them.

Did you write this thinking, “I want to direct it too?”No, I never planned to direct it, but then about half-way through writing it I realized I was the only person who could actually direct it. I feel that being both the writer and director is easier than not doing both, because they’re done at separate times, so you don’t have to overlap, and then later if you want to change something on set, you know that you’re not missing or mistaking what the writer intended.

What sort of film did you set out to make, because it’s not just a straightforward horror film, is it?
No. I wanted to make a film I’d never seen before. It’s been called many things, and I myself have called it both a horror film and a social thriller. I was aiming at the genre somewhere between Rosemary’s Baby and Scream, so it’s about a lot of things — the way America deals with race and the idea that racism itself is a monster, and that we can’t neglect abuses and just stand by while atrocities happen. So I tried to incorporate a lot of layers and make something people would want to see more than once.

How did you prepare for directing your first film? It’s got to be pretty daunting.
It’s actually terrifying since you don’t know what you don’t know. I talked to everyone I could — Edgar Wright, Ben Affleck, Leigh Whannell, Peter Atencio who did our show and Keanu, and any other director I could — to try and prepare as much as possible.

How was the shoot?
We shot in Mobile, Alabama, and it was probably the most fun I’ve ever had working on anything. It was so hard and so intense. I was very prepared, but then you also have to be open to adapting and making changes, and too much preparation can work against you if you’re not careful.

Do you like the post process?
I absolutely loved it, and one big reason is because after so long just imagining what the film might look like, all of a sudden you have all the pieces of the puzzle in front of you, and you’re finally making the film. Post teaches you so much about what the film is meant to be and what it wants to be.

Where did you edit and post this?
At Blumhouse in LA.

Tell us about working with editor Gregory Plotkin, who cut most of the Paranormal Activity franchise for Paramount and Blumhouse Productions.
He’s a very accomplished editor and a real horror fan like me, so we bonded immediately over that. He could break down the script and all my influences from Hitchcock and Kubrick to Spielberg and Jonathan Demme. He did his pass and then I came in and did my director’s pass, and then we went over it all with a fine-tooth comb, tightening scenes up and so on and focusing on pace and timing, which are crucial in horror and comedy.

Is it true you shot multiple endings for the film? How did you decide on the right one?
We actually shot two, and the first one was not a happy one. When we edited it all together we realized it wasn’t working for an audience. They thought it was a downer, and then I realized it needed a hero and a happy ending instead, so that after going through all the stress, the audience could come out happy. So we asked for more money and went off and did a reshoot of the ending, which added another layer and worked far better.

Sound and music are so important in horror. Can you talk about that?
I look at it as at least half the movie since you can scare audiences so much with just clever sound design. I paid a lot of attention to it during the writing process, and then once we got into post it all became a very meticulous process. We were careful not to overdo all the sound design. We did it all at Wildfire, and they are such pros and were up for trying anything. They really understood my vision.

Can you talk about the VFX?
Ingenuity Studios did them and the big one was creating “The Sunken Place,” and it was tricky to do it as we didn’t have a bearing on this world apart from what I’d originally imagined. There was no up or down. Should the camera be fixed or floating? In the end, we shot Daniel Kaluuya against a black background on cables, and then Gregory played around in the Avid a lot, resizing the image. Then we added some CG stuff to give it that sort of underwater feel. We had a bunch of other shots, like the car hitting the deer and the father being impaled on the deer horns, which was all CGI.

Who was the colorist, and where did you do the DI?
It was all at Blumhouse, with Aidan Stanford, and I was pretty involved. It was tricky, and you can quickly go overboard with color, but the DP, Toby, did such a great job on the shoot that we mainly just tried to match his original color and not push it too far.

I assume you can’t wait to direct again?
Oh yeah! There’s nothing more fun. It’s the biggest artistic collaboration I can imagine, with all these moving parts, and I loved every minute of it.

What’s next?
I’m working on another screenplay, which I’ll direct for Universal. I just love Hitchcockian thrillers, so I’m staying in the same genre and zone.

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.

Trio from Reel FX and Shilo team on VFX/live-action studio

The commercial division of digital studio Reel FX has teamed up with Shilo founder/executive creative director Jose Sebastian Gomez to launch strategic creative group ATK PLN. Emmy Award-winner Gomez will lead the creative vision for the studio, joined by former Digital Domain HOP Jim Riche as executive producer, with overall strategy led by Reel FX’s David Bates as managing director. The trio will draw from their combined expertise across VFX, design, production, interactive media, branding and marketing to offer in-house services from concept to final delivery.

ATK PLN will work across design, animation and live action. The team has already created work for AT&T, Fox Racing and MADD — all a fusion of live action and VFX. ATK PLN creatives will work between its new Hollywood studio, Montreal and Dallas locations. ATK PLN will also partner with sister companies Flight School and Reel FX Animation.


In terms of tools, the company uses a lot of the traditional apps like Flame, Maya, Nuke and Houdini. “Our biggest push at the moment is into GPU rendering,” reports Riche. “We have had great success with Octane from Otoy, and it is a second pipeline in our systems working alongside Arnold. Octane is a faster render system and is fantastic on hard surface models.”

Riche continues, “When I joined David Bates at Reel FX almost two years ago we created a vision to elevate the company to the next level, challenging the status quo of the advertising community to offer a new, unique approach to creative problem solving. Bringing on Jose Gomez and his creative vision to our team at ATK PLN is allowing us to turn our ideas into reality. I am excited about how this forward-thinking team will continue to evolve with the changing market.”

The 16th annual VES Award winners

The Visual Effects Society (VES) celebrated artists and their work at the 16th Annual VES Awards, which recognize outstanding visual effects artistry and innovation in film, animation, television, commercials, video games and special venues.

Seven-time host, comedian Patton Oswalt, presided over more than 1,000 guests at the Beverly Hilton. War for the Planet of the Apes was named photoreal feature film winner, earning four awards. Coco was named top animated film, also earning four awards. Games of Thrones was named best photoreal episode and garnered five awards — the most wins of the night. Samsung; Do What You Can’t; Ostrich won top honors in the commercial field, scoring three awards. These top four contenders collectively garnered 16 of the 24 awards for outstanding visual effects.

President of Marvel Studios Kevin Feige presented the VES Lifetime Achievement Award to producer/writer/director Jon Favreau. Academy Award-winning producer Jon Landau presented the Georges Méliès Award to Academy Award-winning visual effects master Joe Letteri, VES. Awards presenters included fan-favorite Mark Hamill, Coco director Lee Unkrich, War for the Planet of the Apes director Matt Reeves, Academy Award-nominee Diane Warren, Jaime Camil, Dan Stevens, Elizabeth Henstridge, Sydelle Noel, Katy Mixon and Gabriel “Fluffy” Iglesias.

Here is a list of the winners:

Outstanding Visual Effects in a Photoreal Feature

War for the Planet of the Apes

Joe Letteri

Ryan Stafford

Daniel Barrett

Dan Lemmon

Joel Whist


Outstanding Supporting Visual Effects in a Photoreal Feature


Andrew Jackson

Mike Chambers

Andrew Lockley

Alison Wortman

Scott Fisher


Outstanding Visual Effects in an Animated Feature


Lee Unkrich

Darla K. Anderson

David Ryu

Michael K. O’Brien


Outstanding Visual Effects in a Photoreal Episode

Game of Thrones: Beyond the Wall

Joe Bauer

Steve Kullback

Chris Baird

David Ramos

Sam Conway


Outstanding Supporting Visual Effects in a Photoreal Episode

Black Sails: XXIX

Erik Henry

Terron Pratt

Yafei Wu

David Wahlberg

Paul Dimmer


Outstanding Visual Effects in a Real-Time Project

Assassin’s Creed Origins

Raphael Lacoste

Patrick Limoges

Jean-Sebastien Guay

Ulrich Haar


Outstanding Visual Effects in a Commercial

Samsung Do What You Can’t: Ostrich

Diarmid Harrison-Murray

Tomek Zietkiewicz

Amir Bazazi

Martino Madeddu



Outstanding Visual Effects in a Special Venue Project

Avatar: Flight of Passage

Richard Baneham

Amy Jupiter

David Lester

Thrain Shadbolt


Outstanding Animated Character in a Photoreal Feature

War for the Planet of the Apes: Caesar

Dennis Yoo

Ludovic Chailloleau

Douglas McHale

Tim Forbes


Outstanding Animated Character in an Animated Feature

Coco: Hèctor

Emron Grover

Jonathan Hoffman

Michael Honsel

Guilherme Sauerbronn Jacinto


Outstanding Animated Character in an Episode or Real-Time Project

Game of Thrones The Spoils of War: Drogon Loot Train Attack

Murray Stevenson

Jason Snyman

Jenn Taylor

Florian Friedmann


Outstanding Animated Character in a Commercial

Samsung Do What You Can’t: Ostrich

David Bryan

Maximilian Mallmann

Tim Van Hussen

Brendan Fagan


Outstanding Created Environment in a Photoreal Feature

Blade Runner 2049; Los Angeles

Chris McLaughlin

Rhys Salcombe

Seungjin Woo

Francesco Dell’Anna


Outstanding Created Environment in an Animated Feature

Coco: City of the Dead

Michael Frederickson

Jamie Hecker

Jonathan Pytko

Dave Strick


Outstanding Created Environment in an Episode, Commercial, or Real-Time Project

Game of Thrones; Beyond the Wall; Frozen Lake

Daniel Villalba

Antonio Lado

José Luis Barreiro

Isaac de la Pompa


Outstanding Virtual Cinematography in a Photoreal Project

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2: Groot Dance/Opening Fight

James Baker

Steven Lo

Alvise Avati

Robert Stipp


Outstanding Model in a Photoreal or Animated Project

Blade Runner 2049: LAPD Headquarters

Alex Funke

Steven Saunders

Joaquin Loyzaga

Chris Menges


Outstanding Effects Simulations in a Photoreal Feature

War for the Planet of the Apes

David Caeiro Cebrián

Johnathan Nixon

Chet Leavai

Gary Boyle


Outstanding Effects Simulations in an Animated Feature


Kristopher Campbell

Stephen Gustafson

Dave Hale

Keith Klohn


Outstanding Effects Simulations in an Episode, Commercial, or Real-Time Project 

Game of Thrones; The Dragon and the Wolf; Wall Destruction

Thomas Hullin

Dominik Kirouac

Sylvain Nouveau

Nathan Arbuckle


Outstanding Compositing in a Photoreal Feature

War for the Planet of the Apes

Christoph Salzmann

Robin Hollander

Ben Warner

Beck Veitch


Outstanding Compositing in a Photoreal Episode

Game of Thrones The Spoils of War: Loot Train Attack

Dom Hellier

Thijs Noij

Edwin Holdsworth

Giacomo Matteucci


Outstanding Compositing in a Photoreal Commercial

Samsung Do What You Can’t: Ostrich

Michael Gregory

Andrew Roberts

Gustavo Bellon

Rashabh Ramesh Butani


Outstanding Visual Effects in a Student Project


Florian Brauch

Romain Thirion

Matthieu Pujol

Kim Tailhades 




Cinesite VFX supervisor Stephane Paris: 860 shots for The Commuter

By Randi Altman

The Commuter once again shows how badass Liam Neeson can be under very stressful circumstances. This time, Neeson plays a mild-mannered commuter named Michael who gets pushed too far by a seemingly benign but not-very-nice Vera Farmiga.

For this Jaume Collet-Serra-directed Lionsgate film, Cinesite’s London and Montreal locations combined to provide over 800 visual effects shots. The studio’s VFX supervisor, Stephane Paris, worked hand in hand with The Commuter’s overall VFX supervisor Steve Begg.

Stephane Paris

The visual effects shots vary, from CG commuters to Neesom’s outfits changing during his daily commute to fog and smog to the climactic huge train crash sequence. Cinesite’s work on the film included a little bit of everything. For more, we reached out to Paris…

How early did Cinesite get involved in The Commuter?
We were involved before principal photography began. I was then on set at Pinewood Studios, just outside London, for about six weeks alongside Steve. They had set up two stages. The first was a single train carriage adapted and dressed to look like multiple carriages — this was used to film all the main action onboard the train. The carriage was surrounded by bluescreen and shot on a hydraulic system to give realistic shake and movement. In one notable shot, the camera pulls back through the entire length of the train, through the carriage walls. A camera rig was set up on the roof and programmed to repeat the same pullback move through each iteration of the carriage — this was subsequently stitched together by the VFX team.

How did you work with the film’s VFX supervisor, Steve Begg?
Cinesite had worked with Steve previously on productions such as Spectre, Skyfall and Inkheart. Having created effects with him for the Bond films, he was confident that Cinesite could create the required high-quality invisible effects for the action-heavy sequences. We interacted with Steve mainly. The client’s approach was to concentrate on the action, performances and story during production, so we lit and filmed the bluescreens carefully, ensuring reflections were minimized and the bluescreens were secure in order to allow creative freedom to Jaume during filming. We were confident that by using this approach we would have what we needed for the visual effects at a later stage.

You guys were the main house on the film, providing a whopping 860 visual effects shots. What was your turnaround like? How did you work for the review and approval process?
Yes, Cinesite was the lead vendor, and in total we worked on The Commuter for about a year, beginning with principal photography in August 2016 and delivering in August 2017. Both our London and Montreal studios worked together on the film. We have worked together previously, notably on San Andreas and more recently on Independence Day: Resurgence, so I had experience of working across both locations. Most of the full CG heavy shots were completed in London, while the environments, some of the full CG shots and 2D backgrounds were completed in Montreal, which also completed the train station sequence that appears early in the film.

My time was split fairly evenly between both locations, so I would spend two to three weeks in London followed by the same amount of time in Montreal. Steve never needed to visit the Montreal studio, but he was very hands-on and involved throughout. He visited our London studio at least twice a week, where we used the RV system to review both the London and Montreal work.

Can you describe the types of shots you guys provided?
We delivered over 860, from train carriage composites right through to entirely CG shots for the spectacular climactic train crash sequence. The crash required the construction of a two-kilometers-long environment asset complete with station, forest, tracks and industrial detritus. Effects were key, with flying gravel, breaking and deforming tracks, exploding sleepers, fog, dust, smoke and fire, in addition to the damaged train carriages. Other shots required a realistic Neeson digi-double to perform stunts.

The teams also created shots near the film’s opening that demonstrate the repetition of Michael’s daily commute. In a poignant shot at Grand Central Station multiple iterations of Michael’s journey are shown simultaneously, with the crowds gradually accelerating around him while his pace remains measured. His outfit changes, and the mood lighting changes to show the passing of the seasons around him.

The shot was achieved with a combination of multiple motion control passes, creation of the iconic station environment using photogrammetry and, ultimately, by creating the crowd of fellow commuters in CG for the latter part of the shot (a seamless transition was required between the live-action passes and the CG people).

Did you do previs? If so, what tools did you use?
No. London’s Nvizible handled all the initial previs for the train crash. Steve Begg blocked everything out and then sent it to Jaume for feedback initially, but the final train crash layout was done by our team with Jaume at Cinesite.

What did you use tool-wise for the VFX?
Houdini’s RBD particle and fluid simulation processes were mainly used, with some Autodesk Maya for falling pieces of train. Simulated destruction of the train was also created using Houdini, with some internal set-up.

What was the most challenging scene or scenes you worked on? 
The challenge was, strangely enough, more about finding proper references that would fit our action movie requirements. Footage of derailing trains is difficult to find, and when you do find it you quickly notice that train carriages are not designed to tear and break the way you would like them to in an action movie. Naturally, they are constructed to be safe, with lots of energy absorption compartments and equipped with auto triggering safe mechanisms.

Putting reality aside, we devised a visually exciting and dangerous movie train crash for Jaume, complete with lots of metal crumbling, shattering windows and multiple large-scale impact explosions.

As a result, the crew had to ensure they were maintaining the destruction continuity across the sequence of shots as the train progressively derails and crashes. A high number of re-simulations were applied to the train and environment destruction whenever there was a change to one of these in a shot earlier in the sequence. Devising efficient workflows using in-house tools to streamline this where possible was key in order to deliver a large number of effects-heavy destruction shots whilst maintaining accurate continuity and remaining responsive to the clients’ notes during the show.

Quick Chat: ArsenalCreative’s new VFX supervisor Mike Wynd

VFX supervisor Mike Wynd has joined ArsenalCreative from MPC, where he spent eight years in a similar role. Over the years, Wynd has worked on many high-profile projects for directors such as Rupert Sanders, Noam Murro and Adam Berg. He has also won a number of industry awards, including a Silver Clio and a Gold British Arrow, as well as a VES Award nomination.

Wynd started his career in Melbourne, Australia, working for Computer Pictures before landing at Images Post in Auckland, New Zealand. Eight years later, he headed back to Australia to serve as head of 3D at Garner MacLennan Design, where he worked on many high-end animations and effects, including the first Lord of the Rings movie. After that studio was bought out, Wynd joined Digital Pictures. Next, he assisted in establishing a new 3D/design team at FSM. After that he relocated to Los Angeles, where he worked for Moving Pixels. Later, he took on the role of VFX supervisor for MPC.

We reached out to Wynd to ask him a few questions about being a VFX supervisor:

What drew you to VFX supervision?
The thing I enjoy most about VFX supervision is the problem solving. From how best to shoot what we require to seamlessly integrating our effects, through to the actual approach and tools that we’ll employ in post production. We’ve always got a finite amount of time and money with which to produce our work and a little bit of alternative thinking can go a long way to achieve higher quality and more efficient results.

How early do you like being brought onto a project?
I’d prefer to be bought in on a project ideally from day one. Especially on a complex VFX project, being involved alongside production means that we, as a team, can troubleshoot many aspects of the job, that in the long run, will mean savings in cost and time as well as higher quality results. It also gives time for relationships to be formed between VFX and production so that on the shoot the VFX team is seen as an asset rather than a hindrance.

Do you go on set? Why is that so important?
I do go on set… a lot! I have been very lucky over the years to travel to some incredible locations all over the world. It’s so important because this is where the foundations are laid for a successful job. Being able to see how and why footage is shot the way it is goes a long way toward finding solutions to post issues.

Actually seeing the environment of a scene can offer clues that may help in significantly reducing any issues that may arise once the footage is back in the studio. And, of course, there’s the nuts and bolts of capturing set information, along with color and lighting references critical to the project. And probably the most important reason to be on-set is to act as the conduit connecting production and post. The two parties often act so separately from one another, yet each is only doing half the job.

Have you worked on anything at ArsenalCreative yet?
It’s early days for me at ArsenalCreative, but thus far I’ve worked on a Chevy presentation for the motor shows and a series of pod shots for Lexus.

If you had one piece of advice for someone about to embark on a project that involves VFX, what would it be?
Ha! Get VFX involved from day one!