Tag Archives: VFX

Behind the Title: Postal director of operations Jason Mayo

NAME: Jason Mayo

COMPANY: Postal

CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR COMPANY?
Postal is a VFX and animation studio made up of artists and producers that like to make cool shit. We experiment and push the envelope, but we’re also adults, so we get it done on time and on budget. Oh and we’re not assholes. That would be a cool t-shirt. “Postal: We’re not assholes.”

Postal is a creative studio that believes everything starts with great design. That’s our DNA. We believe that it’s always about the talent and not the tools. Whether it’s motion graphics, animation, visual effects, or even editorial, our desire to create transcends all mediums.

Postal’s live-action parent company, Humble is a NY- and LA-based home for makers —directors, writers, creatives, artists and designers — to create culture-defining content.

Coke Freestyle

WHAT’S YOUR JOB TITLE?
Director of Operations

WHAT DOES THAT ENTAIL?
I spend a lot of my time on biz dev, recruiting interesting talent and developing strategic partnerships that lead to new pipelines of business.

WHAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE THE MOST ABOUT WHAT FALLS UNDER THAT TITLE?
Probably picking up garbage. Creatives are pretty messy. They leave their stuff all over the place. The truth of the matter is, it’s a small company so no matter what your title is, you’re always on the front lines. That’s what makes my days interesting.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
Definitely competing for projects we’re passionate about. I love the thrill of the chase. Also I love trying to keep our artists and producers inspired. Not every project needs to win awards but it’s important to me that my team finds the work interesting and challenging to tackle.

WHAT’S YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?
Probably the picking up the garbage part. I’ve ruined a lot of shirts. I also hate seeing content on TV or on the web that could have been produced by us. Especially if it turned out killer.

WHAT IS YOUR MOST PRODUCTIVE TIME OF THE DAY?
I have two daughters and a puppy so by 8am I’m basically a broken man. But as soon as I hit the office with my iced coffee in hand, I’m on fire. I love the start of the workday. Endless possibilities abound.

IF YOU DIDN’T HAVE THIS JOB, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING INSTEAD?
Probably a cool middle school English teacher. The kids would call me Jay and talk to me about their problems. Honestly though, when I’m done working I’ll probably just disappear into the woods or something and chase possums with a BB gun.

HOW EARLY ON DID YOU KNOW THIS WOULD BE YOUR PATH?
It was an accident. I wanted to be an actor. My mom’s best friend’s, ex-husband owned a small post house and he hired me as a receptionist. I was probably the greatest receptionist of all time. I thought being in “entertainment” would get me to Hollywood through the back door. I still have about 500 headshots that I never got to use.

CAN YOU NAME SOME RECENT PROJECTS YOU HAVE WORKED ON?
We’ve had such a crazy year. We’ve done projects for Pepsi, Coke, Panera, Morgan Stanley, TED, Canon, Billboard and Nike.

TED Zipline

WHAT IS THE PROJECT THAT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?
I really love the TED stuff we do. They are a dream client. They come to us with a challenge and they allow us to go away, come up with some really imaginative stuff and then present them with a solution. As long as it’s on brief, it can be any style or any execution we think is right. We love that type of open collaboration with our clients.

NAME THREE PIECES OF TECHNOLOGY YOU CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT.
If we’re talking about apps, as well as hardware, then that’s easy. Sonos because it’s all about the music, Netflix because… zombies, and ride sharing apps because cabs are dirty and they make me nauseous.

WHAT SOCIAL MEDIA CHANNELS DO YOU FOLLOW?
In general, I’m pretty active on social media and we actually just launched Facebook and Instagram pages for Postal. In a parallel universe I’m a dad blogger so I’ve always been big on community via social media. Facebook, Instagram and Twitter are the standards for me, but I’ve been Snapchatting with my daughter for years. I do have a Pinterest page somewhere, but it’s devoted solely to Ryan Gosling.

DO YOU LISTEN TO MUSIC WHILE YOU WORK?
I’m a heavy metal guy so pretty much anything heavy. I do also love me some Jackson Browne and some Dawes. Oh, and the Pretty in Pink soundtrack, of course.

WHAT DO YOU DO TO DE-STRESS FROM IT ALL?
I try not to let it get to me. It’s way tougher raising two daughters and two dogs. The rest is a cakewalk. I do binge eat from time to time and love to watch horror movies on the train. Always a good way for me to decompress.

Aubrey Woodiwiss joins Carbon LA as lead colorist

Full-service creative studio Carbon has added colorist Aubrey Woodiwiss as senior colorist/director of color grading to their LA roster. He comes to Carbon with a portfolio that includes spots for Dulux, NBA 2K17, Coors and Honda, and music videos for Beyonce’s Formation, Jay-Z’s On to the Next One and the Calvin Harris/Rihanna song This Is What You Came For.

“I’m always prepared to bend and shape myself around the requirements of the project at hand, but always with a point of view,” says Woodiwiss, who honed his craft at The Mill and Electric Theater Collective during his career.

“I am fortunate to have been able to collate various experiences within life and work, and have been able to reapply them back into the work I do. I vary my approach and style as required, and never bring a labored or autonomous look to anything. Communication is key, and a large part of what I do as well,” he adds.

Woodiwiss’ focus on creativity began during his adolescence, when he experimented with editing films on VHS and later directed and cut homemade music videos. Woodiwiss started his pro career in the early 2000s at Framestore, first as a runner and then as a digital lab operator, helping to pioneer film scanning and digital film tech on Harry Potter, Love Actually, Bridget Jones Diary and Troy.

While he’s traversed creative mediums from film, commercials, music videos and on over 3,000 projects, he maintains a linear mindset when it comes to each project. “I approach them similarly in that I try to realize the vision set by the creators of the project,” says Woodiwiss, who co-creative directed the immersive mixed media art exhibition and initiative mentl, with Pulse Films director Ben Newman and producer Craig Newman (Radiohead, Nick Cave).

Carbon’s addition of the FilmLight Baselight color system and Woodiwiss as senior colorist to its established VFX/design services hammers home the studio’s move toward a complete post solution in Los Angeles. Plans are in the works to offer remote grading capabilities from any of the Carbon offices in NY, Chicago and Los Angeles.

Behind the Title: Milk VFX supervisor Jean-Claude Deguara

NAME: Jean-Claude Deguara

COMPANY: Milk Visual Effects (@milkvfx)

CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR COMPANY?
Milk is an independent visual effects company. We create complex sequences for high-end television and feature films, and we have studios in London and Cardiff, Wales. We launched four years ago and we pride ourselves on our friendly working culture and ability to nurture talent.

WHAT’S YOUR JOB TITLE?
VFX Supervisor

WHAT DOES THAT ENTAIL?
Overseeing the VFX for feature films, television and digital content — from the initial concept development right through to delivery. This includes on-set supervision and supervising teams of artists.

HOW DID YOU TRANSITION TO VFX?
I started out as a runner at London post house Soho 601, and got my first VFX role at The Hive. Extinct was my very first animation job — a Channel 4 dinosaur program. Then I moved to Mill Film to work on Harry Potter.

HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN WORKING IN VFX?
Over 20 years.

HOW HAS THE VFX INDUSTRY CHANGED IN THE TIME YOU’VE BEEN WORKING?
In London, the industry has grown from what was a small cottage industry in the late 1990s, pre Harry Potter. More creative freedom has come with the massive technology advances.

When I started out TV was all done on Digi Beta, but now, with the quality of cameras, television VFX has caught up with film.

Dinosaurs in the Wild

Being able to render huge amounts of data in the cloud as we did recently on our special venue project Dinosaurs in the Wild means that smaller companies can compete better.

DID A PARTICULAR FILM INSPIRE YOU ALONG THIS PATH IN ENTERTAINMENT?
Ray Harryhausen’s films inspired me as child. We’d watch at Christmas in awe!

I was also massively inspired by Spitting Image. I applied for a job only to find they were about to close down.

DID YOU GO TO FILM SCHOOL?
No, I went to Weston Supermare College of Art (Bristol University) and studied for an art and design diploma. Then I went straight into the film/TV industry as a runner.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
The creative planning and building of shots and collaborating with all the other departments to try to problem solve in order to tell the best possible story visually, within the budget.

WHAT’S YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?
Answering emails, and the traveling.

IF YOU DIDN’T HAVE THIS JOB, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING INSTEAD?
If I didn’t do this, I’d like to be directing.

Sherlock

CAN YOU NAME SOME RECENT PROJECTS YOU HAVE WORKED ON?
Sherlock (BBC/Hartswood), Dinosaurs in the Wild, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell (BBC) and Beowulf (ITV). I am currently VFX supervisor on Good Omens (BBC/Amazon).

WHAT IS THE PROJECT/S THAT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?
It’s really hard to choose, but the problem solving on Sherlock has been very satisfying. We’ve created invisible effects across three series.

WHAT TOOLS DO YOU USE DAY TO DAY?
I previz in Autodesk Maya.

WHERE DO YOU FIND INSPIRATION NOW?
Scripts. I get creative “triggers” when I’m reading scripts or discussing a new scene or idea, which for me, pushes it to the next level. I also get a lot of inspiration working with my fellow artists at Milk. They’re a talented bunch.

WHAT DO YOU DO TO DE-STRESS FROM IT ALL?
I’d go to the gym, but the pub tends to get in the way!

VFX company Kevin launches in LA

VFX vets Tim Davies, Sue Troyan and Darcy Parsons have partnered to open the Los Angeles-based VFX house, Kevin. The company is currently up and running in a temp studio in Venice, while construction is underway on Kevin’s permanent Culver City location, scheduled to open early next year.

When asked about the name, as none of the partners are actually named Kevin, Davies said, “Well, Kevin is always there for you! He’s your best mate and will always have your back. He’s the kind of guy you want to have a beer with whenever he’s in town. Kevin knows his stuff and works his ass off to make sure you get what you need and then some!” Troyan added, “Kevin is a state of mind.”

Davies is on board as executive creative director, overseeing the collective creative output of the company. Having led teams of artists for over 25 years, he was formerly at Asylum Visual Effects and The Mill as creative director and head of 2D. Among his works are multiple Cannes Gold Lion-winning commercials, including HBO’s “Voyeur” campaign for Jake Scott, Nike Golf’s Ripple for Steve Rogers, Old Spice’s Momsong for Steve Ayson, Old Spice’s Dadsong for Andreas Nilsson, and Old Spice’s Whale and Rocket Car for Steve Rogers.

Troyan will serve as senior executive producer of Kevin, having previously worked on campaigns at The Mill and Method. Parsons, owner and partner of Kevin, has enjoyed a career covering multiple disciplines, including producer, VFX producer and executive producer.

Launch projects for Kevin include recent spots for Wieden + Kennedy Portland, The Martin Agency and Spark44.

Main Image: L-R: Darcy Parsons, Sue Troyan, Tim Davies

The A-List: Victoria & Abdul director Stephen Frears

By Iain Blair

Much like the royal subjects of his new film Victoria & Abdul and his 2006 offering, The Queen (which won him his second Oscar nomination), British director Stephen Frears has long been considered a national treasure. Of course, the truth is that he’s an international treasure.

The director, now 76 years old, has had a long and prolific career that spans some five decades and that has embraced a wide variety of styles, themes and genres. He cut his teeth at the BBC, where he honed his abilities to work with tight budgets and schedules. He made his name in TV drama, working almost exclusively for the small screen in the first 15 years of his career.

Stephen Frears with writer Iain Blair.

In the mid-1980s, Frears turned to the cinema, shooting The Hit, which starred Terence Stamp, John Hurt and Tim Roth. The following year he made My Beautiful Laundrette for Channel 4, which crossed over to big screen audiences and altered the course of his career.

Since then, he’s made big Hollywood studio pictures, such as the Oscar-nominated Florence Foster Jenkins, The Grifters and Dangerous Liaisons, as well as Mary Reilly and Hero. But he’s probably as well-known for smaller, grittier vehicles, such as the Oscar-nominated Philomena, Muhammad Ali’s Greatest Fight, Cheri, Dirty Pretty Things, High Fidelity, Prick Up Your Ears and Snapper, films that provided a rich palette for Frears to explore stories with a strong social and political conscience.

His latest film, Victoria & Abdul, is a drama (spiced with a good dash of comedy) about the unlikely but real-life relationship between Queen Victoria (Judi Dench) and her Muslim Indian servant Abdul Karim (Ali Fazal).

I recently spoke with Frears about making the film, which is already generating a lot of Oscar buzz, especially for Dench.

This seems to be a very timely film, with its race relations, and religious and class issues. Was that part of its appeal?
Absolutely. When I read it I immediately thought it was quite provocative and a very interesting story, and I always look for interesting stories, and the whole relationship was part of the fun. I thought it was a brilliant script, and it’s got so much going on – the personal story about them, all the politics and global stuff about the British Empire.

You’ve worked with Judi Dench before, but she had already portrayed Victoria in Mrs. Brown back in 1997. Did you have to twist her arm to revisit the character?
I said I’d only make this with her, as she’s a brilliant actress and she looks a bit like Victoria, but I think initially she passed. I’m actually not quite sure since I never had a conversation with her about it. What happened was, we organized a reading and she came to that and listened to it, and then she was on board.

What did she bring to the role?
Complete believability. You absolutely believe in her as Victoria. She can do all that, playing the most powerful woman in the world, and then she was also human, which is why she was so fond of Abdul. It’s the same as directing someone like Meryl Streep. She’s just so skillful and so intelligent, and their sense of their role and its direction is very, very strong, and they’re so skilled at telling the story.

This doesn’t look like your usual heavy, gloomy Victorian period piece. How did you approach this visually?
I have a wonderful production designer, Alan MacDonald, who has worked with me on many films, including Florence Foster Jenkins, Philomena and The Queen. And we shot this with DP Danny Cohen, who is so inventive. From the start we wanted it to feel period but do it in a more modern way in order to get away from that lugubrious feeling and the heavy Victoriana. When we got to Osborne House, which was her holiday home on the Isle of Wight, it’s anything but heavy and lugubrious. It’s this light and airy villa.

Fair to say the film starts dark and gets lighter in tone and color as it goes on — while the story starts lighter and more comical, and gets darker as it goes along?
Yes, because at the start she’s depressed, she’s dressed all in black, and then it’s like Cinderella, and she’s woken up… by Abdul’s kiss on her feet.

Did that really happen?
Yes, I think it did, and I think both servants kissed her feet — but it wasn’t under a table full of jellies (laughs).

You shot all over England, Scotland and India in many of the original locations. It must have been a challenge mixing all the locations with sets?
It was. The big coup was shooting in Osborne House, which no one has ever done before. That was a big thrill but also a relief. England is full of enormous country homes, so you just go down the list finding the best ones. I’ve done Balmoral twice now, so I know how you do it, and Windsor Castle, which is Gothic. But of course, they’re not decorated in the Victorian manner, so we had to dress all the rooms appropriately. Then you mix all the sets and locations, like putting a big puzzle together.

How was shooting in India?
We shot in Agra, by the Taj Mahal. The original statue of Victoria there was taken down after independence, but we were allowed to make a copy and put it back up.

Where did you do the post? How long was the process?
It was about five months, all in London, and we cut it at Goldcrest where I’ve done all the post work on my last few films. Philomena was not done there. It all depends on the budget.

Do you like the post process?
I love being on location and I enjoy shooting, but it’s always hard and full of problems. Post is so calm by comparison, and so different from all the money and time pressures and chaos of the shoot. It’s far more analytic and methodical, and it’s when you discover the good choices you made as well as your mistakes. It’s where you actually make your film with all the raw elements you’ve amassed along the way.

You worked with a new editor, Melanie Ann Oliver, who cut Les Mis and The Danish Girl for director Tom Hooper and Anna Karenina for director Joe Wright. How did that relationship work?
She wasn’t on set, but we talked every day about it, and she became the main conduit for it all, like all editors. She’s the person you’re talking to all the time, and we spent about three months editing. The main challenge was trying to find the right tone and the balance between all the comedy, jokes and the subtext — what was really going on. We went in knowing it would be very comedic at the start, and then it gets very serious and emotional by the end.

Who did the visual effects and how many visual effects shots are there?
I always use the same team. Union VFX did them all, and Adam Gascoyne, who did Florence Foster Jenkins and Philomena with me, was the VFX supervisor. The big VFX shots were of all the ships crossing the ocean, and a brilliant one of Florence. And as it’s a period piece, there’s always a lot of adding stuff and clean up, and we probably had several hundred VFX shots or so in the end, but I never know just how many.

Iain Blair and Judi Dench

How important are sound and music to you?
They’re both hugely important, even though I don’t really know much about music or sound mixing and just depend on my team, which includes supervising sound editor Becki Ponting. We mixed all the music by Thomas Newman at Abbey Road, and then we did the final mix at Twickenham Studios. The thing with composers like Thomas Newman and Alexandre Desplat who did The Queen and Florence is that they read me really well. When Alexandre was hired to score The Queen, they asked him to write a very romantic score, and he said, “No, no, I know Stephen’s films. They’re witty, so I’ll write you a witty score,” and it was perfect and won him an Oscar nomination. Same with this. Tom read it very, very well.

Did you do a DI?
Yes, at Goldcrest as usual, with Danny and colorist Adam Glasman. They’re very clever, and I’m not really involved. Danny does it. He gets me in and shows me stuff but I just don’t pretend to be technically clever enough about the DI as mine is a layman’s approach to it, so they do all the work and show me everything, and then I give any suggestions I might have. The trick with any of this is to surround yourself with the best technicians and the best actors, tell them what you want, and let them do their jobs.

Having made this film, what do you think about Victoria now?
I think she was far more humane than is usually shown. I never really studied her at school, but there was this enduring image of an old battleaxe, and I think she was far more complex than that image. She learned Urdu from Abdul. That tells you a lot.


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.

Cabin Editing Company opens in Santa Monica focusing on editing, VFX

Cabin Editing Company has opened in Santa Monica, started by three industry veterans: managing partner Carr Schilling and award-winning editors Chan Hatcher, Graham Turner and Isaac Chen.

“We are a company of film editors with a passion for storytelling who are committed to mentoring talent and establishing lasting relationships with directors and agencies,” says Schilling, who formerly worked alongside Hatcher, Turner and Chen at NO6.

L-R: Isaac Chen, Carr Schilling, Graham Turner and Chan Hatcher.

Cabin, which also features creative director/Flame artist Verdi Sevenhuysen and editor Lucas Spaulding, will offer creative editorial, visual effects, finishing, graphics and color. The boutique’s work spans mediums across broadcast, branded content, web, film and more.

Why was now the right time to open a studio? “Everything aligned to make it possible, and at Cabin we have a collective of top creative talent where each of us bring our individual style to our projects to create great work with our clients,” says Schilling.

The boutique studio has already been busy working with agencies such as 215 McCann, BBDO, CP+B, Deutsch, GSD&M, Mekanism and Saatchi & Saatchi.

In terms of tools, Cabin uses Avid Media Composer and Autodesk Flame Premium all centralized to the Facilis TerraBlock shared storage system via Fibre.

Creative nominees named for HPA Awards

Nominees in the creative categories for the 2017 HPA Awards have been announced. Receiving a record-breaking number of entrants this year, the HPA Awards creative categories recognize the outstanding work done by individuals and teams who bring compelling content to a global audience.

Launched in 2006, the HPA Awards recognize outstanding achievement in editing, sound, visual effects and color grading for work in television, commercials and feature films. The winners of the 12th Annual HPA Awards will be announced on November 16 at the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles.

The 2017 HPA Award nominees are:

Outstanding Color Grading – Feature Film
The Birth of a Nation
Steven J. Scott // Technicolor – Hollywood

Ghost in the Shell
Michael Hatzer // Technicolor – Hollywood

Photo Credit: Hopper Stone.

Hidden Figures

Hidden Figures
Natasha Leonnet // Efilm

Doctor Strange
Steven J. Scott // Technicolor – Hollywood

Beauty and the Beast
Stefan Sonnenfeld // Company 3

Fences
Michael Hatzer // Technicolor – Hollywood

Outstanding Color Grading – Television
The Last Tycoon – Burying the Boy Genius
Timothy Vincent // Technicolor – Hollywood

Game of Thrones – Dragonstone
Joe Finley // Chainsaw

Genius – Einstein: Chapter 1
Pankaj Bajpai // Encore Hollywood

The Crown – Smoke and Mirrors
Asa Shoul // Molinare

The Man in the High Castle – Detonation
Roy Vasich // Technicolor

Outstanding Color Grading – Commercial
Land O’ Lakes – The Farmer
Billy Gabor // Company 3

Pennzoil – Joyride Tundra
Dave Hussey // Company 3

Jose Cuervo – Last Days
Tom Poole // Company 3

Nedbank – The Tale of a Note
Sofie Borup // Company 3

Squarespace – John’s Journey
Tom Poole // Company 3

Outstanding Editing – Feature Film
Hidden Figures
Peter Teschner

Dunkirk
Lee Smith, ACE

The Ivory Game
Verena Schönauer

Get Out
Gregory Plotkin

Lion
Alexandre de Franceschi

Game of Thrones

Outstanding Editing – Television
Game of Thrones – Stormborn
Tim Porter, ACE

Stranger Things – Chapter 1: The Vanishing of Will Byers
Dean Zimmerman

Game of Thrones – The Queen’s Justice
Jesse Parker

Narcos – Al Fin Cayo!
Matthew V. Colonna, Trevor Baker

Westworld – The Original
Stephen Semel, ACE, Marc Jozefowicz

Game of Thrones – Dragonstone
Crispin Green

Outstanding Editing – Commercial
Nespresso – Comin’ Home
Chris Franklin // Big Sky Edit

Bonafont – Choices
Doobie White // Therapy Studios

Optum – Heroes
Chris Franklin // Big Sky Edit

SEAT – Moments
Doobie White // Therapy Studios

Outstanding Sound – Feature Film
Fate of the Furious
Peter Brown, Mark Stoeckinger, Paul Aulicino, Steve Robinson, Bobbi Banks // Formosa Group

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
Addison Teague, Dave Acord, Chris Boyes, Lora Hirschberg // Skywalker Sound

Sully
Alan Murray, Bub Asman, John Reitz, Tom Ozanich // Warner Bros. Post Production Creative Services

John Wick: Chapter 2
Mark Stoeckinger, Alan Rankin, Andy Koyama, Martyn Zub, Gabe Serano // Formosa Group

Doctor Strange
Shannon Mills, Tom Johnson, Juan Peralta, Dan Lauris // Skywalker Sound

Outstanding Sound – Television
Underground – Soldier
Larry Goeb, Mark Linden, Tara Paul // Sony Pictures Post

Stranger Things – Chapter 8: The Upside Down
Craig Henigham // FOX
Joe Barnett, Adam Jenkins, Jordan Wilby, Tiffany Griffith // Technicolor – Hollywood

Game of Thrones – The Spoils of War
Tim Kimmel, MPSE, Paula Fairfield, Mathew Waters, CAS, Onnalee Blank, CAS, Bradley C. Katona, Paul Bercovitch // Formosa Group

The Music of Strangers: Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble
Pete Horner // Skywalker Sound
Dimitri Tisseyre // Envelope Music + Sound
Dennis Hamlin // Hamlin Sound

American Gods – The Bone Orchard
Bradley North, Joseph DeAngelis, Kenneth Kobett, David Werntz, Tiffany S. Griffith // Technicolor

Outstanding Sound – Commercial
Honda – Up
Anthony Moore, Neil Johnson, Jack Hallett // Factory
Sian Rogers // SIREN

Virgin Media – This Is Fibre
Anthony Moore // Factory

Kia – Hero’s Journey
Nathan Dubin // Margarita Mix Santa Monica

SEAT – Moments
Doobie White // Therapy Studios

Rio 2016 Paralympic Games – We’re the Superhumans
Anthony Moore // Factory

Outstanding Visual Effects – Feature Film
Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales
Gary Brozenich, Sheldon Stopsack, Patrick Ledda, Richard Clegg, Richard Little // MPC

War for the Planet of the Apes

War for the Planet of the Apes
Dan Lemmon, Anders Langlands, Luke Millar, Erik Winquist, Daniel Barrett // Weta Digital

Beauty and the Beast
Kyle McCulloch, Glen Pratt, Richard Hoover, Dale Newton, Neil Weatherley // Framestore

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2
Guy Williams, Kevin Andrew Smith, Charles Tait, Daniel Macarin, David Clayton // Weta Digital

Ghost in the Shell
Guillaume Rocheron, Axel Bonami, Arundi Asregadoo, Pier Lefebvre, Ruslan Borysov // MPC

Outstanding Visual Effects – Television
Black Sails – XXIX
Erik Henry
Yafei Wu, Nicklas Andersson, David Wahlberg // Important Looking Pirates
Martin Lippman // Rodeo

Westworld

The Crown – Windsor
Ben Turner, Tom Debenham, Oliver Cubbage, Lionel Heath, Charlie Bennett // One of Us

Taboo – Episode One
Henry Badgett, Nic Birmingham, Simon Rowe, Alexander Kirichenko, Finlay Duncan // BlueBolt VFX

Ripper Street – Occurrence Reports
Ed Bruce, Nicholas Murphy, Denny Cahill, Piotr Swigut, Mark Pinheiro // Screen Scene

Westworld – The Bicameral Mind
Jay Worth // Deep Water FX
Bobo Skipper, Gustav Ahren, Jens Tenland // Important Looking Pirates
Paul Ghezzo // Cosa VFX

Outstanding Visual Effects – Commercial
Walmart – Lost & Found
Morgan MacCuish, Michael Ralla, Aron Hjartarson, Todd Herman // Framestore

Honda – Keep the Peace
Laurent Ledru, Georgia Tribuiani, Justin Booth-Clibborn, Ellen Turner // Psyop

Nespresso – Comin’ Home
Martin Lazaro, Murray Butler, Nick Fraser, Callum McKevney // Framestore

Kia – Hero’s Journey
Robert Sethi, Chris Knight, Tom Graham, Jason Bergman // The Mill

Walmart – The Gift
Mike Warner, Kurt Lawson, Charles Trippe, Robby Geis // Zero VFX

In other awards news, Larry Chernoff has been named recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award. Winners of the coveted Engineering Excellence Award include Colorfront Engine by Colorfront, Dolby Vision Post Production Tools by Dolby, Mistika VR by SGO and the Weapon 8K Vista Vision by Red Digital Cinema. These special awards will be bestowed at the HPA Awards gala as well.

The HPA Awards gala ceremony is expected to be a sold-out affair and early ticket purchase is encouraged. Tickets for the HPA Awards are on sale now and can be purchased online at www.hpaawards.net.

Behind the Title: Artist Jayse Hansen

NAME: Jayse Hansen

COMPANY: Jayse Design Group

CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR COMPANY?
I specialize in designing and animating completely fake-yet-advanced-looking user interfaces, HUDs (head-up displays) and holograms for film franchises such as The Hunger Games, Star Wars, Iron Man, The Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy, Spiderman: Homecoming, Big Hero 6, Ender’s Game and others.

On the side, this has led to developing untraditional, real-world, outside-the-rectangle type UIs, mainly with companies looking to have an edge in efficiency/data-storytelling and to provide a more emotional connection with all things digital.

Iron Man

WHAT’S YOUR JOB TITLE?
Designer/Creative Director

WHAT DOES THAT ENTAIL?
Mainly, I try to help filmmakers (or companies) figure out how to tell stories in quick reads with visual graphics. In a film, we sometimes only have 24 frames (one second) to get information across to the audience. It has to look super complex, but it has to be super clear at the same time. This usually involves working with directors, VFX supervisors, editorial and art directors.

With real-world companies, the way I work is similar. I help figure out what story can be told visually with the massive amount of data we have available to us nowadays. We’re all quickly finding that data is useless without some form of engaging story and a way to quickly ingest, make sense of and act on that data. And, of course, with design-savvy users, a necessary emotional component is that the user interface looks f’n rad.

WHAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE THE MOST ABOUT WHAT FALLS UNDER THAT TITLE?
A lot of R&D! Movie audiences have become more sophisticated, and they groan if a fake UI seems outlandish, impossible or Playskool cartoon-ish. Directors strive to not insult their audience’s intelligence, so we spend a lot of time talking to experts and studying real UIs in order to ground them in reality while still making them exciting, imaginative and new.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
Research, breaking down scripts and being able to fully explore and do things that have never been done before. I love the challenge of mixing strong design principles with storytelling and imagination.

WHAT’S YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?
Paperwork!

WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE TIME OF THE DAY?
Early morning and late nights. I like to jam on design when everyone else is sleeping.

IF YOU DIDN’T HAVE THIS JOB, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING INSTEAD?
I actually can’t imagine doing anything else. It’s what I dream about and obsess about day and night. And I have since I was little. So I’m pretty lucky that they pay me well for it!

If I lost my sight, I’d apply for Oculus or Meta brain implants and live in the AR/VR world to keep creating visually.

SO YOU KNEW THIS WAS YOUR PATH EARLY ON?
When I was 10 I learned that they used small models for the big giant ships in Star Wars. Mind blown! Suddenly, it seemed like I could also do that!

As a kid I would pause movies and draw all the graphic parts of films, such as the UIs in the X-wings in Star Wars, or the graphics on the pilot helmets. I never guessed this was actually a “specialty niche” until I met Mark Coleran, an amazing film UI designer who coined the term “FUI” (Fictional User Interface). Once I knew it was someone’s “everyday” job, I didn’t rest until I made it MY everyday job. And it’s been an insanely great adventure ever since.

CAN YOU TALK MORE ABOUT FUI AND WHAT IT MEANS?
FUI stands for Fictional (or Future, Fantasy, Fake) User Interface. UIs have been used in films for a long time to tell an audience many things, such as: their hero can’t do what they need to do (Access Denied) or that something is urgent (Countdown Timer), or they need to get from point A to point B, or a threat is “incoming” (The Map).

Mockingjay Part I

As audiences are getting more tech-savvy, the potential for screens to act as story devices has developed, and writers and directors have gotten more creative. Now, entire lengths of story are being told through interfaces, such as in The Hunger Games: The Mockingjay Part I where Katniss, Peeta, Beetee and President Snow have some of their most tense moments.

CAN YOU NAME SOME RECENT PROJECTS YOU HAVE WORKED ON?
The most recent projects I can talk about are Guardians of the Galaxy 2 and Spider-Man: Homecoming, both with the Cantina Creative team and Marvel. For Guardians 2, I had a ton of fun designing and animating various screens, including Rocket, Gamora and Star-Lord’s glass screens and the large “Drone Tactical Situation Display” holograms for the Sovereign (gold people). Spider-Man was my favorite superhero as a child, so I was honored to be asked to define the “Stark-Designed” UI design language of the HUDs, holograms and various AR overlays.

I spent a good amount of time researching the comic book version of Spider-man. His suit and abilities are actually quite complex, and I ended up writing a 30-plus page guide to all of its functions so I could build out the HUD and blueprint diagrams in a way that made sense to Marvel fans.

In the end, it was a great challenge to blend the combination of the more military Stark HUDs for Iron Man, which I’m very used to designing, and a new, slightly “webby” and somewhat cute “training-wheels” UI that Stark designed for the young Peter Parker. I loved the fact that in the film they played up the humor of a teenager trying to understand the complexities of Stark’s UIs.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

WHAT IS THE PROJECT THAT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?
I think Star Wars: The Force Awakens is the one I was most proud to be a part of. It was my one bucket list film to work on from childhood, and I got to work with some of the best talents in the business. Not only JJ Abrams and his production team at Bad Robot, but with my longtime industry friends Navarro Parker and Andrew Kramer.

WHAT SOFTWARE DID YOU RELY ON?
As always, we used a ton of Maxon Cinema 4D, Adobe’s After Effects and Illustrator and Element 3D to pull off rather complex and lengthy design sequences such as the Starkiller Base hologram and the R2D2/BB8 “Map to Luke Skywalker” holograms.

Cinema 4D was essential in allowing us to be super creative while still meeting rather insane deadlines. It also integrates so well with the Adobe suite, which allowed us to iterate really quickly when the inevitable last-minute design changes came flying in. I would do initial textures in Adobe Illustrator, then design in C4D, and transfer that into After Effects using the Element 3D plugin. It was a great workflow.

YOU ALSO CREATE VR AND AR CONTENT. CAN YOU TELL US MORE ABOUT THAT?
Yes! Finally, AR and VR are allowing what I’ve been doing for years in film to actually happen in the real world. With a Meta (AR) or Oculus (VR) you can actually walk around your UI like an Iron Man hologram and interact with it like the volumetric UI’s we did for Ender’s Game.

For instance, today with Google Earth VR you can use a holographic mapping interface like in The Hunger Games to plan your next vacation. With apps like Medium, Quill, Tilt Brush or Gravity Sketch you can design 3D parts for your robot like Hiro did in Big Hero 6.

Big Hero 6

While wearing a Meta 2, you can surround yourself with multiple monitors of content and pull 3D models from them and enlarge them to life size.

So we have a deluge of new abilities, but most designers have only designed on flat traditional monitors or phone screens. They’re used to the two dimensions of up and down (X and Y), but have never had the opportunity to use the Z axis. So you have all kinds of new challenges like, “What does this added dimension do for my UI? How is it better? Why would I use it? And what does the back of a UI look like when other people are looking at it?”

For instance, in the Iron Man HUD, most of the time I was designing for when the audience is looking at Tony Stark, which is the back of the UI. But I also had to design it from the side. And it all had to look proper, of course, from the front. UI design becomes a bit like product design at this point.

In AR and VR, similar design challenges arise. When we are sharing volumetric UIs — we will see other people’s UIs from the back. At times, we want to be able to understand them, and at other times, they should be disguised, blurred or shrouded for privacy reasons.

How do you design when your UI can take up the whole environment? How can a UI give you important information without distracting you from the world around you? How do you deal with additive displays where black is not a color you can use? And on and on. These are all things we tackle with each film, so we have a bit of a head start in those areas.

NAME THREE PIECES OF TECHNOLOGY YOU CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT.
I love tech, but it would be fun to be stuck with just a pen, paper and a book… for a while, anyway.

WHAT SOCIAL MEDIA CHANNELS DO YOU FOLLOW?
I’m on Twitter (@jayse_), Instagram (@jayse_) and Pinterest (skyjayse). Aside from that I also started a new FUI newsletter to discuss some behind the scenes of this type of work.

DO YOU LISTEN TO MUSIC WHILE YOU WORK?
Heck yeah. Lately, I find myself working to Chillstep and Deep House playlists on Spotify. But check out The Cocteau Twins. They sing in a “non-language,” and it’s awesome.

WHAT DO YOU DO TO DE-STRESS FROM IT ALL?
I chill with my best friend and fiancé, Chelsea. We have a rooftop wet-bar area with a 360-degree view of Las Vegas from the hills. We try to go up each evening at sunset with our puppy Bella and just chill. Sometimes it’s all fancy-like with a glass of wine and fruit. Chelsea likes to make it all pretty.

It’s a long way from just 10 years ago where we were hunting spare-change in the car to afford 99-cent nachos from Taco Bell, so we’re super appreciative of where we’ve come. And because of that, no matter how many times my machine has crashed, or how many changes my client wants — we always make time for just each other. It’s important to keep perspective and realize your work is not life or death, even though in films sometimes they try to make it seem that way.

It’s important to always have something that is only for you and your loved ones that nobody can take away. After all, as long as we’re healthy and alive, life is good!

Zoic Studios adds feature film vet Lou Pecora as VFX supervisor

Academy Award-nominated Lou Pecora has joined Zoic Studios’ Culver City studio as VFX supervisor. Pecora has over two decades of experience in visual effects, working across commercial, feature film and series projects. He comes to Zoic from Digital Domain, where he spent 18 years working on large-scale feature film projects as a visual effects supervisor and compositing supervisor.

Pecora has worked on films including X Men: Apocalypse, Spider-Man: Homecoming, X-Men: Days of Future Past (his Oscar nom), Maleficent, Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End, I, Robot, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, Transformers: Dark of the Moon, Star Trek, G.I. Joe: Retaliation, Stealth, The Mummy: Tomb of the Emperor, How the Grinch Stole Christmas, Flags of Our Fathers and Letters From Iwo Jima, among others.

“There has been a major shift in the television landscape, with a much greater volume of work and substantially higher production values than ever before,” says Pecora. “Zoic has their hands in a diverse range of high-end television projects, and I’m excited to bring my experience in the feature film space to this dynamic sector of the entertainment industry.”

The addition of Pecora comes on the heels of several high-profile projects at Zoic, including work on Darren Aronofsky’s thriller Mother!, Game of Thrones for HBO and Marvel’s The Defenders for Netflix.

 

Sony Imageworks’ VFX work on Spider-Man: Homecoming

By Daniel Restuccio

With Sony’s Spider-Man: Homecoming getting ready to release digitally on September 26 and on 4K Ultra HD/Blu-ray, Blu-ray 3D, Blu-ray and DVD on October 17, we thought this was a great opportunity to talk about some of the film’s VFX.

Sony Imageworks has worked on every single Spider-Man movie in some capacity since the 2002 Sam Raimi version. On Spider-Man: Homecoming, Imageworks worked on mostly the “third act,” which encompasses the warehouse, hijacked plane and beach destruction scenes. This meant delivering over 500 VFX shots, created by over 30 artists (at one point this peaked at 200) and compositors, and rendering out 2K finished scenes.

All of the Imageworks artists used Dell R7910 workstations with Intel Xeon CPU E5-2620 24 cores, 64GB memory and Nvidia Quadro P5000 graphics cards. They used Cinesync for client reviews and internally they used their in-house Itview software. Rendering technology was SPI Arnold (not the commercial version) and their custom shading system. Software used was Autodesk 2015, Foundry’s Nuke X 10.0 and Side Effects Houdini 15.5. They avoided plug-ins so that their auto-vend, breaking of comps into layers for the 3D conversion process, would be as smooth as possible. Everything was rendered internally on their on-premises renderfarm. They also used the Sony “Kinect” scanning technique that allowed their artists to do performance capture on themselves and rapidly prototype ideas and generate reference.

We sat down with Sony Imageworks VFX supervisor Theo Bailek, who talks about the studio’s contribution to this latest Spidey film.

You worked on The Amazing Spider-Man in 2012 and The Amazing Spider-Man 2 in 2014. From a visual effects standpoint, what was different?
You know, not a lot. Most of the changes have been iterative improvements. We used many of the same technologies that we developed on the first few movies. How we do our city environments is a specific example of how we build off of our previous assets and techniques, leveraging off the library of buildings and props. As the machines get faster and the software more refined, it allows our artists increased iterations. This alone gave our team a big advantage over the workflows from five years earlier. As the software and pipeline here at Sony has gotten more accessible, it has allowed us to more quickly integrate new artists.

It’s a lot of very small, incremental improvements along the way. The biggest technological changes between now and the early Spider-Mans is our rendering technology. We use a more physically-accurate-based rendering incarnation of our global illumination Arnold renderer. As the shaders and rendering algorithms become more naturalistic, we’re able to conform our assets and workflows. In the end, this translates to a more realistic image out of the box.

The biggest thing on this movie was the inclusion of Spider-Man in a Marvel Universe: a different take on this film and how they wanted it to go. That would be probably the biggest difference.

Did you work directly with director Jon Watts, or did you work with production VFX supervisor Janek Sirrs in terms of the direction on the VFX?
During the shooting of the film I had the advantage of working directly with both Janek and Jon. The entire creative team pushed for open collaboration, and Janek was very supportive toward this goal. He would encourage and facilitate interaction with both the director and Tom Holland (who played Spider-Man) whenever possible. Everything moved so quick on set, often times if you waited to suggest an idea you’d lose the chance, as they would have to set up for the next scene.

The sooner Janek could get his vendor supervisors comfortable interacting, the bigger our contributions. While on set I often had the opportunity to bring our asset work and designs directly to Jon for feedback. There were times on set when we’d iterate on a design three or four times over the span of the day. Getting this type of realtime feedback was amazing. Once post work began, most of our reviews were directly with Janek.

When you had that first meeting about the tone of the movie, what was Jon’s vision? What did he want to accomplish in this movie?
Early on, it was communicated from him through Janek. It was described as, “This is sort of like a John Hughes, Ferris Bueller’s take on Spider-Man. Being a teenager he’s not meant to be fully in control of his powers or the responsibility that comes with them. This translates to not always being super-confident or proficient in his maneuvers. That was the basis of it.

Their goal was a more playful, relatable character. We accomplished this by being more conservative in our performances, of what Spider-Man was capable of doing. Yes, he has heightened abilities, but we never wanted every landing and jump to be perfect. Even superheroes have off days, especially teenage ones.

This being part of the Marvel Universe, was there a pool of common assets that all the VFX houses used?
Yes. With the Marvel movies, they’re incredibly collaborative and always use multiple vendors. We’re constantly sharing the assets. That said, there are a lot of things you just can’t share because of the different systems under the hood. Textures and models are easily exchanged, but how the textures are combined in the material and shaders… that makes them not reusable given the different renderers at companies. Character rigs are not reusable across vendors as facilities have very specific binding and animation tools.

It is typical to expect only models, textures, base joint locations and finished turntable renders for reference when sending or receiving character assets. As an example, we were able to leverage somewhat on the Avengers Tower model we received from ILM. We did supply our Toomes costume model and Spider-Man character and costume models to other vendors as well.

The scan data of Tom Holland, was it a 3D body scan of him or was there any motion capture?
Multiple sessions were done through the production process. A large volume of stunts and test footage were shot with Tom before filming that proved to be invaluable to our team. He’s incredibly athletic and can do a lot of his own stunts, so the mocap takes we came away with were often directly usable. Given that Tom could do backflips and somersaults in the air we were able to use this footage as a reference for how to instruct our animators later on down the road.
Toward the later-end of filming we did a second capture session, focusing on the shots we wanted to acquire using specific mocap performances. Then again several months later, we followed up with a third mocap session to get any new performances required as the edit solidified.

As we were trying to create a signature performance that felt like Tom Holland, we exclusively stuck to his performances whenever possible. On rare occasions when the stunt was too dangerous, a stuntman was used. Other times we resorted to using our own in-house method of performance capture using a modified Xbox Kinect system to record our own animators as they acted out performances.

In the end performance capture accounted for roughly 30% of the character animation of Spider-Man and Vulture in our shots, with the remaining 70% being completed using traditional key-framed methods.

How did you approach the fresh take on this iconic film franchise?
It was clear from our first meeting with the filmmakers that Spider-Man in this film was intended to be a more relatable and light-hearted take on the genre. Yes, we wanted to take the characters and their stories seriously, but not at the expense of having fun with Peter Parker along the way.

For us that meant that despite Spider-Man’s enhanced abilities, how we displayed those abilities on screen needed to always feel grounded in realism. If we faltered on this goal, we ran the risk of eroding the sense of peril and therefore any empathy toward the characters.

When you’re animating a superhero it’s not easy to keep the action relatable. When your characters possess abilities that you never see in the real world, it’s a very thin line between something that looks amazing and something that is amazingly silly and unrealistic. Over-extend the performances and you blow the illusion. Given that Peter Parker is a teenager and he’s coming to grips with the responsibilities and limits of his abilities, we really tried to key into the performances from Tom Holland for guidance.

The first tool at our disposal and the most direct representation of Tom as Spider-Man was, of course, motion capture of his performances. On three separate occasions we recorded Tom running through stunts and other generic motions. For the more dangerous stunts, wires and a stuntman were employed as we pushed the limit of what could be recorded. Even though the cables allowed us to record huge leaps, you couldn’t easily disguise the augmented feel to the actor’s weight and motion. Even so, every session provided us with amazing reference.

Though a bulk of the shots were keyframed, it was always informed by reference. We looked at everything that was remotely relevant for inspiration. For example, we have a scene in the warehouse where the Vulture’s wings are racing toward you as Spider-Man leaps into the air stepping on the top of the wings before flipping to avoid the attack. We found this amazing reference of people who leap over cars racing in excess of 70mph. It’s absurdly dangerous and hard to justify why someone would attempt a stunt like that, and yet it was the perfect for inspiration for our shot.

In trying to keep the performances grounded and stay true to the goals of the filmmakers, we also found it was always better to err on the side of simplicity when possible. Typically, when animating a character, you look for opportunities to create strong silhouettes so the actions read clearly, but we tended to ignore these rules in favor of keeping everything dirty and with an unscripted feel. We let his legs cross over and knees knock together. Our animation supervisor, Richard Smith, pushed our team to follow the guidelines of “economy of motion.” If Spider-Man needed to get from point A to B he’d take the shortest route — there’s not time to strike an iconic pose in-between!


Let’s talk a little bit about the third act. You had previsualizations from The Third Floor?
Right. All three of the main sequences we worked on in the third act had extensive previs completed before filming began. Janek worked extremely closely with The Third Floor and the director throughout the entire process of the film. In addition, Imageworks was tapped to help come up with ideas and takes. From early on it was a very collaborative effort on the part of the whole production.
The previs for the warehouse sequence was immensely helpful in the planning of the shoot. Given we were filming on location and the VFX shots would largely rely on carefully choreographed plate photography and practical effects, everything had to be planned ahead of time. In the end, the previs for that sequence resembled the final shots in most cases.

The digital performances of our CG Spider-Man varied at times, but the pacing and spirit remained true to the previs. As our plane battle sequence was almost entirely CG, the previs stage was more of an ongoing process for this section. Given that we weren’t locked into plates for the action, the filmmakers were free to iterate and refine ideas well past the time of filming. In addition to The Third Floor’s previs, Imageworks’ internal animation team also contributed heavily to the ideas that eventually formed the sequence.

For the beach battle, we had a mix of plate and all-CG shots. Here the previs was invaluable once again in informing the shoot and subsequent reshoots later on. As there were several all-CG beats to the fight, we again had sections where we continued to refine and experiment till late into post. As with the plane battle, Imageworks’ internal team contributed extensively to pre and postvis of this sequence.

The one scene, you mentioned — the fight in the warehouse — in the production notes, it talks about that scene being inspired by an actual scene from the comic The Amazing Spider-Man #33.
Yes, in our warehouse sequence there are a series of shots that are directly inspired by the comic book’s cells. Different circumstances in the the comic and our sequence lead to Spider-Man being trapped under debris. However, Tom’s performance and the camera angles that were shot play homage to the comic as he escapes. As a side note, many of those shots were added later in the production and filmed as reshoots.

What sort of CG enhancements did you bring to that scene?
For the warehouse sequence, we added digital Spider-Man, Vulture wings, CG destruction, enhanced any practical effects, and extended or repaired the plate as needed.The columns that the Vulture wings slice through as it circles Spider-Man were practically destroyed with small denoted charges. These explosives were rigged within cement that encased the actual warehouses steel girder columns. They had fans on set that were used to help mimic interaction from the turbulence that would be present from a flying wingsuit powered by turbines. These practical effects were immensely helpful for our effects artists as they provided the best-possible in-camera reference. We kept much of what was filmed, adding our fully reactive FX on top to help tie it into the motion of our CG wings.

There’s quite a bit of destruction when the Vulture wings blast through walls as well. For those shots we relied entirely on CG rigid body dynamic simulations for the CG effects, as filming it would have been prohibitive and unreliable. Though most of the shots in this sequence had photographed plates, there were still a few that required the background to be generated in CG. One shot in particular, with Spider-Man sliding back and rising up, stands out in particular. As the shot was conceived later in the production, there was no footage for us to use as our main plate. We did however have many tiles shot of the environment, which we were able to use to quickly reconstruct the entire set in CG.

I was particularly proud of our team for their work on the warehouse sequence. The quality of our CG performances and the look of the rendering is difficult to discern from the live action. Even the rare all-CG shots blended seamlessly between scenes.

When you were looking at that ending plane scene, what sort of challenges were there?
Since over 90 shots within the plane sequence were entirely CG we faced many challenges, for sure. With such a large number of shots without the typical constraints that practical plates impose, we knew a turnkey pipeline was needed. There just wouldn’t be time to have custom workflows for each shot type. This was something Janek, our client-side VFX supervisor, stressed from the onset, “show early, show often and be prepared to change constantly!”

To accomplish this, a balance of 3D and 2D techniques were developed to make the shot production as flexible as possible. Using our compositing software Nuke’s 3D abilities we were able to offload significant portions of the shot production into the compositor’s hands. For example: the city ground plane you see through the clouds, the projections of the imagery on the plane’s cloaking LED’s and the damaged flickering LED’s were all techniques done in the composite.

A unique challenge to the sequence that stands out is definitely the cloaking. Making an invisible jet was only half of the equation. The LEDs that made up the basis for the effect also needed to be able to illuminate our characters. This was true for wide and extreme close-up shots. We’re talking about millions of tiny light sources, which is a particularly expensive rendering problem to tackle. Mix in the fact that the design of these flashing light sources is highly subjective and thus prone to needing many revisions to get the look right.

Painting control texture maps for the location of these LEDs wouldn’t be feasible for the detail needed on our extreme close-up shots. Modeling them in would have been prohibitive as well, resulting in excessive geometric complexity. Instead, using Houdini, our effects software, we built algorithms to automate the distribution of point clouds of data to intelligently represent each LED position. This technique could be reprocessed as necessary without incurring the large amounts of time a texture or model solution would have required. As the plane base model often needed adjustments to accommodate design or performance changes, this was a real factor. The point cloud data was then used by our rendering software to instance geometric approximations of inset LED compartments on the surface.

Interestingly, this was a technique we adopted from rendering technology we use to create room interiors for our CG city buildings. When rendering large CG buildings we can’t afford to model the hundreds and sometimes thousands of rooms you see through the office windows. Instead of modeling the complex geometry you see through the windows, we procedurally generate small inset boxes for each window that have randomized pictures of different rooms. This is the same underlying technology we used to create the millions of highly detailed LEDs on our plane.

First our lighters supplied base renders to our compositors to work with inside of Nuke. The compositors quickly animated flashing damage to the LEDs by projecting animated imagery on the plane using Nuke’s 3D capabilities. Once we got buyoff on the animation of the imagery we’d pass this work back to the lighters as 2D layers that could be used as texture maps for our LED lights in the renderer. These images would instruct each LED when it was on and what color it needed to be. This back and forth technique allowed us to more rapidly iterate on the look of the LEDs in 2D before committing and submitting final 3D renders that would have all of the expensive interactive lighting.

Is that a proprietary system?
Yes, this is a shading system that was actually developed for our earlier Spider-Man films back when we used RenderMan. It has since been ported to work in our proprietary version of Arnold, our current renderer.