Tag Archives: VFX

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.

AT&T

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

Dunkirk

Andrew Jackson

Mike Chambers

Andrew Lockley

Alison Wortman

Scott Fisher

 

Outstanding Visual Effects in an Animated Feature

Coco

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

Coco

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

Hybrids

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!

VFX supervisor Lesley Robson-Foster on Amazon’s Mrs. Maisel

By Randi Altman

If you are one of the many who tend to binge-watch streaming shows, you’ve likely already enjoyed Amazon’s The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. This new comedy focuses on a young wife and mother living in New York City in 1958, when men worked and women tended to, well, not work.

After her husband leaves her, Mrs. Maisel chooses stand-up comedy over therapy — or you could say stand-up comedy chooses her. The show takes place in a few New York neighborhoods, including the toney Upper West Side, the Garment District and the Village. The storyline brings real-life characters into this fictional world — Midge Maisel studies by listening to Red Foxx comedy albums, and she also befriends comic Lenny Bruce, who appears in a number of episodes.

Lesley Robson-Foster on set.

The show, created by Amy Sherman-Palladino and Dan Palladino, is colorful and bright and features a significant amount of visual effects — approximately 80 per episode.

We reached out to the show’s VFX supervisor, Lesley Robson-Foster, to find out more.

How early did you get involved in Mrs. Maisel?
The producer Dhana Gilbert brought my producer Parker Chehak and I in early to discuss feasibility issues, as this is a period piece and to see if Amy and Dan liked us! We’ve been on since the pilot.

What did the creators/showrunners say they needed?
They needed 1958 New York City, weather changes and some very fancy single-shot blending. Also, some fantasy and magic realism.

As you mentioned, this is a period piece, so I’m assuming a lot of your work is based on that.
The big period shots in Season 1 are the Garment District reconstruction. We shot on 19th Street between 5th and 6th — the brilliant production designer Bill Groom did 1/3 of the street practically and VFX took care of the rest, such as crowd duplication and CG cars and crowds. Then we shot on Park Avenue and had to remove the Met Life building down near Grand Central, and knock out anything post-1958.

We also did a major gag with the driving footage. We shot driving plates around the Upper West Side and had a flotilla of period-correct cars with us, but could not get rid of all the parked cars. My genius design partner on the show Douglas Purver created a wall of parked period CG cars and put them over the modern ones. Phosphene then did the compositing.

What other types of effects did you provide?
Amy and Dan — the creators and showrunners — haven’t done many VFX shows, but they are very, very experienced. They write and ask for amazing things that allow me to have great fun. For example, I was asked to make a shot where our heroine is standing inside a subway car, and then the camera comes hurtling backwards through the end of the carriage and then sees the train going away down the tunnel. All we had was a third of a carriage with two and a half walls on set. Douglas Purver made a matte painting of the tunnel, created a CG train and put it all together.

Can you talk about the importance of being on set?
For me being on set is everything. I talk directors out of VFX shots and fixes all day long. If you can get it practically you should get it practically. It’s the best advice you’ll ever give as a VFX supervisor. A trust is built that you will give your best advice, and if you really need to shoot plates and interrupt the flow of the day, then they know it’s important for the finished shot.

Having a good relationship with every department is crucial.

Can you give an example of how being on set might have saved a shot or made a shot stronger?
This is a character-driven show. The directors really like Steadicam and long, long shots following the action. Even though a lot of the effects we want to do really demand motion control, I know I just can’t have it. It would kill the performances and take up too much time and room.

I run around with string and tennis balls to line things up. I watch the monitors carefully and use QTake to make sure things line up within acceptable parameters.

In my experience you have to have the production’s best interests at heart. Dhana Gilbert knows that a VFX supervisor on the crew and as part of the team smooths out the season. They really don’t want a supervisor who is intermittent and doesn’t have the whole picture. I’ve done several shows with Dhana; she knows my idea of how to service a show with an in-house team.

You shot b-roll for this? What camera did you use, and why?
We used a Blackmagic Ursa Mini Pro. We rented one on The OA for Netflix last year and found it to be really easy to use. We liked that’s its self-contained and we can use the Canon glass from our DSLR kits. It’s got a built-in monitor and it can shoot RAW 4.6K. It cut in just fine with the Alexa Mini for establishing shots and plates. It fits into a single backpack so we could get a shot at a moment’s notice. The user interface on the camera is so intuitive that anyone on the VFX team could pick it up and learn how to get the shot in 30 minutes.

What VFX houses did you employ, and how do you like to work with them?
We keep as much as we can in New York City, of course. Phosphene is our main vendor, and we like Shade and Alkemy X. I like RVX in Iceland, El Ranchito in Spain and Rodeo in Montreal. I also have a host of secret weapon individuals dotted around the world. For Parker and I, it’s always horses for courses. Whom we send the work to depends on the shot.

For each show we build a small in-house team — we do the temps and figure out the design, and shoot plates and elements before shots leave us to go to the vendor.

You’ve worked on many critically acclaimed television series. Television is famous for quick turnarounds. How do you and your team prepare for those tight deadlines?
Television schedules can be relentless. Prep, shoot and post all at the same time. I like it very much as it keeps the wheels of the machine oiled. We work on features in between the series and enjoy that slower process too. It’s all the same skill set and workflow — just different paces.

If you have to offer a production a tip or two about how to make the process go more smoothly, what would it be?
I would say be involved with EVERYTHING. Keep your nose close to the ground. Really familiarize yourself with the scripts — head trouble off at the pass by discussing upcoming events with the relevant person. Be fluid and flexible and engaged!

Sci-Tech Award winners named

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

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

Technical Achievement Award Winners (Academy Certificates)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scientific and Engineering Award Winners (Academy Plaques)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Academy Award of Merit (Oscar statuette)

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

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

Gordon E. Sawyer Award (Oscar statuette)

Honoree: Jonathan Erland, visual effects technologist

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

All images courtesy of A.M.P.A.S.

Jogger moves CD Andy Brown from London to LA

Creative director Andy Brown has moved from Jogger’s London office to its Los Angeles studio. Brown led the development of boutique VFX house Jogger London, including credits for the ADOT PSA Homeless Lights via Ogilvy & Mather, as well as projects for Adidas, Cadbury, Valentino, Glenmorangie, Northwestern Mutual, La-Z-Boy and more. He’s also been involved in post and VFX for short films such as Foot in Mouth, Containment and Daisy as well as movie title sequences (via The Morrison Studio), including Jupiter Ascending, Collide, The Ones Below and Ronaldo.

Brown got his start in the industry at MPC, where he worked for six years, eventually assuming the role of digital online editor. He then went on to work in senior VFX roles at some of London’s post houses, before assuming head of VFX at One Post. Following One Post’s merger with Rushes, Brown founded his own company Four Walls, establishing the company’s reputation for creative visual effects and finishing.

Brown oversaw Four Walls’ merger with LA’s Jogger Studios in 2016. Andy has since helped form interconnections with Jogger’s teams in London, New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco and Austin, with high-end VFX, motion graphics and color grading carried out on projects globally.

VFX house Jogger is a sister company of editing house Cut + Run.