Tag Archives: visual effects

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

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.

 

postPerspective Impact Award winners from SIGGRAPH 2017

Last April, postPerspective announced the debut of our Impact Awards, celebrating innovative products and technologies for the post production and production industries that will influence the way people work. We are now happy to present our second set of Impact Awards, celebrating the outstanding offerings presented at SIGGRAPH 2017.

Now that the show is over, and our panel of VFX/VR/post pro judges has had time to decompress, dig out and think about what impressed them, we are happy to announce our honorees.

And the winners of the postPerspective Impact Award from SIGGRAPH 2017 are:

  • Faceware Technologies for Faceware Live 2.5
  • Maxon for Cinema 4D R19
  • Nvidia for OptiX 5.0  

“All three of these technologies are very worthy recipients of our first postPerspective Impact Awards from SIGGRAPH,” said Randi Altman, postPerspective’s founder and editor-in-chief. “These awards celebrate companies that define the leading-edge of technology while producing tools that actually make users’ working lives easier and projects better, and our winners certainly fall into that category.

“While SIGGRAPH’s focus is on VFX, animation, VR/AR and the like, the types of gear they have on display vary. Some are suited for graphics and animation, while others have uses that slide into post production. We’ve tapped real-world users in these areas to vote for our Impact Awards, and they have determined what tools might be most impactful to their day-to-day work. That’s what makes our awards so special.”

There were many new technologies and products at SIGGRAPH this year, and while only three won an Impact Award, our judges felt there were other updates that it was important to let people know about as well.

Blackmagic Design’s Fusion 9 was certainly turning heads and Nvidia’s VRWorks 360 Video was called out as well. Chaos Group also caught our judges attention with V-Ray for Unreal Engine 4.

Stay tuned for future Impact Award winners in the coming months — voted on by users for users — from IBC.

Pixomondo streamlines compute management with Deadline

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

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

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

Power Rangers. Images courtesy of Pixomondo.

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

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

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

Lucasfilm and ILM release open source MaterialX library

Lucasfilm and ILM have launched the first open source release of the MaterialX library for computer graphics. MaterialX is an open standard developed by Lucasfilm’s Advanced Development Group and ILM engineers to facilitate the transfer of rich materials and look-development content between applications and renderers.

Originated at Lucasfilm in 2012, MaterialX has been used by ILM on features including Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, as well as realtime immersive experiences such as Trials On Tatooine.

Workflows at computer graphics production studios require multiple software tools for different parts of the production pipeline, and shared and outsourced work requires companies to hand off fully look-developed models to other divisions or studios which may use different software packages and rendering systems.

MaterialX addresses the current lack of a common, open standard for representing the data values and relationships required to transfer the complete look of a computer graphics model from one application or rendering platform to another, including shading networks, patterns and texturing, complex nested materials and geometric assignments. MaterialX provides a schema for describing material networks, shader parameters, texture and material assignments and color-space associations in a precise, application-independent and customizable way.

MaterialX is an open source project released under a modified Apache license.

Quick Chat: Filmmaker/DP/VFX artist Mihran Stepanyan

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mihran’s Flame tutorial on FXPHD.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Atomic Fiction hires Marc Chu to lead animation department

Atomic Fiction has welcomed animation expert Marc Chu to lead the studio’s animation efforts across its Oakland and Montreal locations. Chu joins Atomic Fiction from ILM, where he most recently served as animation director, bringing more than 20 years of experience animating and supervising the creation of everything from aliens and spaceships to pirates and superheroes.

Based out of Atomic Fiction’s Oakland office, Chu will oversee animation company-wide and serve as the principal architect of initial studio production, including the expansion of Atomic Fiction’s previs and digital creature offerings. He’s already begun work on The Predator and is ramping up activity on an upcoming Robert Zemeckis feature.

“Atomic Fiction is already well-established and known for its seamless work in environments, so this is an amazing opportunity to be a part of their journey into doing more animation-driven work,” said Chu. “My goal is to help grow an already-strong animation department to the next level, becoming a force that is able to tackle any challenge, notably high-level creature and character work.”

Chu established and built his career at ILM, creating and supervising work for some of the biggest film franchises of the last 20 years. For 2009’s Iron Man, he worked to define the characters and animation through the sequel and on the first two Avengers films. His extensive credits also include Star Wars franchise continuations The Force Awakens and Rogue One, and the original Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy, which earned Best VFX Oscar nominations, and won for Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men’s Chest.

Chu also has two VES Award wins for his Davy Jones CG character work.

Game of Thrones: VFX associate producer Adam Chazen

With excitement starting to build for the seventh season of HBO’s Game of Thrones, what better time to take a quick look back at last season’s VFX workflow. HBO associate VFX producer Adam Chazen was kind enough to spend some time answering questions after just wrapping Season 7.

Tell us about your background as a VFX associate producer and what led you to Game of Thrones.
I got my first job as a PA at VFX studio Pixomondo. I was there for a few years, working under my current boss Steve Kullback (visual effects producer on Game of Thrones). He took me with him when he moved to work on Yogi Bear, and then on Game of Thrones.

I’ve been with the show since 2011, so this is my sixth year on board. It’s become a real family at this point; lots of people have been on since the pilot.

From shooting to post, what is your role working on Game of Thrones?
As the VFX associate producer, in pre-production mode I assist with organizing our previs and concept work. I help run and manage our VFX database and I schedule reviews with producers, directors and heads of departments.

During production I make sure everyone has what they need on set in order to shoot for the various VFX requirements. Also during production, we start to post the show — I’m in charge of running review sessions with our VFX supervisor Joe Bauer. I make sure that all of his notes get across to the vendors and that the vendors have everything they need to put the shots together.

Season 7 has actually been the longest we’ve stayed on set before going back to LA for post. When in Belfast, it’s all about managing the pre-production and production process, making sure everything gets done correctly to make the later VFX adjustments as streamlined as possible. We’ll have vendors all over the world working on that next step — from Australia to Spain, Vancouver, Montreal, LA, Dublin and beyond. We like to say that the sun never sets on Game of Thrones.

What’s the process for bringing new vendors onto the show?
They could be vendors that we’ve worked with in the past. Other times, we employ vendors that come recommended by other people. We check out industry reels and have studios do testing for us. For example, when we have dragon work we ask around for vendors willing to run dragon animation tests for us. A lot of it is word of mouth. In VFX, you work with the people that you know will do great work.

What’s your biggest challenge in creating Game of Thrones?
We’re doing such complex work that we need to use multiple vendors. This can be a big hurdle. In general, whether it be film or TV, when you have multiple vendors working on the same shot, it becomes a potential issue.

Linking in with cineSync helps. We can have a vendor in Australia and a vendor in Los Angeles both working on the same shot, at exactly the same time. I first started using cineSync while at Pixomondo and found it makes the revision process a lot quicker. We send notes out to vendors, but most of the time it’s easier to get on cineSync, see the same image and draw on it.

Even the simple move of hovering a cursor over the frame can answer a million questions. We have several vendors who don’t use English as their first language, such as those in Spain. In these cases, communication is a lot easier via cineSync. By pointing to a single portion of a single frame, we completely bypass the language barrier. It definitely helps to see an image on screen versus just explaining it.

What is your favorite part of the cineSync toolkit?
We’ve seen a lot of cool updates to cineSync. Specifically, I like the notes section, where you can export a PDF to include whichever frame that note is attributed to.

Honestly, just seeing a cursor move on-screen from someone else’s computer is huge. It makes things so much easier to just point and click. If we’re talking to someone on the phone, trying to tell them about an issue in the upper left hand corner, it’s going to be hard to get our meaning across. cineSync takes away all of the guesswork.

Besides post, we also heavily use cineSync for shoot needs. We shoot the show in Northern Ireland, Iceland, Croatia, Spain and Calgary. With cineSync, we are able to review storyboards, previs, techvis and concepts with the producers, directors, HODs and others, wherever they are in the world. It’s crucial that everyone is on the same page. Being able to look at the same material together helps everyone get what they want from a day on set.

Is there a specific shot, effect or episode you’re particularly proud of?
The Battle of the Bastards — it was a huge episode. Particularly, the first half of the episode when Daenerys came in with her dragons at the battle of Meereen, showing those slavers who is boss. Meereen City itself was a large CG creation, which was unusual for Game of Thrones. We usually try to stay away from fully CG environments and like to get as much in-camera as possible.

For example, when the dragon breathes fire we used an actual flamethrower we shot. Back in Season 5, we started to pre-animate the dragon, translate it to a motion control rig, and attach a flamethrower to it. It moves exactly how the dragon would move, giving us a practical element to use in the shot. CG fire can be done but it’s really tricky. Real is real, so you can’t question it.

With multiple vendors working on the sequence, we had Rodeo FX do the environment while Rhythm & Hues did the dragons. We used cineSync a lot, reviewing shots between both vendors in order to point out areas of concern. Then in the second half of the episode, which was the actual Battle of the Bastards, the work was brilliantly done by Australian VFX studio Iloura.

Exceptional Minds: Autistic students learn VFX, work on major feature films

After graduation, these artists have been working on projects for Marvel, Disney, Fox and HBO.

By Randi Altman

With an estimated 1 in 68 children in the US being born with some sort of autism spectrum disorder, according to the Centers for Disease Control’s Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring, I think it’s fair to say that most people have been touched in some way by a child on the spectrum.

As a parent of a teenager with autism, I can attest to the fact that one of our biggest worries, the thing that keeps us up at night, is the question of independence. Will he be able to make a living? Will there be an employer who can see beyond his deficits to his gifts and exploit those gifts in the best possible way?

Enter Exceptional Minds, a school in Los Angeles that teaches young adults with autism how to create visual effects and animation while working as part of a team. This program recognizes how bright these young people are and how focused they can be, surrounds them with the right teachers and behavioral therapists, puts the right tools in their hands and lets them fly.

The school, which also has a VFX and animation studio that employs its graduates, was started in 2011 by a group of parents who have children on the spectrum. “They were looking for work opportunities for their kids, and quickly discovered they couldn’t find any. So they decided to start Exceptional Minds and prepare them for careers in animation and visual effects,” explains Susan Zwerman, the studio executive producer at Exceptional Minds and a long-time VFX producer whose credits include Broken Arrow, Alien Resurrection, Men of Honor, Around the World in 80 Days and The Guardian.

Since the program began, these young people have had the opportunity to work on some very high-profile films and TV programs. Recent credits include Game of Thrones, The Fate of the Furious and Doctor Strange, which was nominated for an Oscar for visual effects this year.

We reached out to Zwerman to find out more about this school, its studio and how they help young people with autism find a path to independence.

The school came first and then the studio?
Yes. We started training them for visual effects and animation and then the conversation turned to, “What do they do when they graduate?” That led to the idea to start a visual effects studio. I came on board two years ago to organize and set it up. It’s located downstairs from the school.

How do you pick who is suitable for the program?
We can only take 10 students each year, and unfortunately, there is a waiting list because we are the only program of its kind anywhere. We have a review process that our educators and teachers have in terms of assessing the student’s ability to be able to work in this area. You know, not everybody can function working on a computer for six or eight hours. There are different levels of the spectrum. So the higher functioning and the medium functioning are more suited for this work, which takes a lot of focus.

Students are vetted by our teachers and behavioral specialists, who take into account the student’s ability, as well as their enthusiasm for visual effects and animation — it’s very intense, and they have to be motivated.

Susie Zwerman (in back row, red hair) with artists in the Exceptional Minds studio.

I know that kids on the spectrum aren’t necessarily social butterflies, how do you teach them to work as a team?
Oh, that’s a really good question. We have what’s called our Work Readiness program. They practice interviewing, they practice working as a team, they learn about appearance, attitude, organization and how to problem solve in a work place.

A lot of it is all about working in a team, and developing their social skills. That’s something we really stress in terms of behavioral curriculum.

Can you describe how the school works?
It’s a three-year program. In the first year, they learn about the principles of design and using programs like Adobe’s Flash and Photoshop. In Flash, they study 2D animation and in Photoshop they learn how to do backgrounds for their animation work.

During year two, they learn how to work in a production pipeline. They are given a project that the class works on together, and then they learn how to edit using Adobe Premiere Pro and compositing on Adobe After Effects.

In the third year, they are developing their skills in 3D via Autodesk Maya and compositing with The Foundry’s Nuke. So they learn the way we work in the studio and our pipeline, as well as preparing their portfolios for the workplace. At the end of three years, each student completes their training with a demo reel and resume of their work.

Who helps with the reels and resumes?
Their teachers supervise that process and help them with editing and picking the best pieces for their reel. Having a reel is important for many reasons. While many students will work in our studio for a year after graduation, I was able to place some directly into the work environment because their talent was so good… and their reel was so good.

What is the transition like from school to studio?
They graduate in June and we transition many of them to the studio, where they learn about deadlines and get paid for their work. Here, many experience independence for the first time. We do a lot of 2D-type visual effects clean-up work. We give them shots to work on and test them for the first month to see how they are doing. That’s when we decide if they need more training.

The visual effects side of the studio deals with paint work, wire and rod removal and tracker or marker removals — simple composites — plus a lot of rotoscoping and some greenscreen keying. We also do end title credits for the major movies.

We just opened the animation side of the studio in 2016, so it’s still in the beginning stages, but we’re doing 2D animation. We are not a 3D studio… yet! The 2D work we’ve done includes music videos, Websites, Power Points and some stuff for the LA Zoo. We are gearing up for major projects.

How many work in the studio?
Right now, we have about 15 artists at workstations in our current studio. Some of these will be placed on the outside, but that’s part of using strategic planning in the future to figure out how much expansion we want to do over the next five years.

Thanks to your VFX background, you have many existing relationships with the major studios. Can you talk about how that has benefitted Exceptional Minds?
We have had so much support from the studios; they really want to help us get work for the artists. We started out with Fox, then Disney and then HBO for television. Marvel Studios is one of our biggest fans. Marvel’s Victoria Alonso is a big supporter, so much so that we gave her our Ed Asner Award last June.

Once we started to do tracker marker and end title credits for Marvel, it opened doors. People say, “Well, if you work for Marvel, you could work for us.” So she has been so instrumental in our success.

What were the Fox and Marvel projects?
Our very first client was Fox and we did tracker removals for Dawn of the Planet of the Apes — that was about three years ago. Marvel happened about two years ago and our first job for them was on Avengers: Age of Ultron.

What are some of the other projects Exceptional Minds has worked on?
We worked on Doctor Strange, providing tracker marker removals and end credits. We worked on Ant-Man, Captain America: Civil War, Pete’s Dragon, Alvin & the Chipmunks: The Road Chip and X-Men: Apocalypse.

Thanks to HBO’s Holly Schiffer we did a lot of Game of Thrones work. She has also been a huge supporter of ours.

It’s remarkable how far you guys have come in a short amount of time. Can you talk about how you ended up at Exceptional Minds?
I used to be DGA production manager/location manager and then segued into visual effects as a freelance VFX producer for all the major studios. About three years ago, my best friend Yudi Bennett, who is one of the founders of Exceptional Minds, convinced me to leave my career and  come here to help set up the studio. I was also tasked with producing, scheduling and budgeting work to come into the studio. For me, personally, this has been a spiritual journey. I have had such a good career in the industry, and this is my way of giving back.

So some of these kids move on to other places?
After they have worked in the studio for about a year, or sometimes longer, I look to have them placed at an outside studio. Some of them will stay here at our studio because they may not have the social skills to work on the outside.

Five graduates have been placed so far and they are working full time at various productions studios and visual effects facilities in Los Angeles. We have also had graduates in internships at Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon.

One student is at Marvel, and others are at Stargate Studios, Mr. Wolf and New Edit. To be able to place our artists on the outside is our ultimate goal. We love to place them because it’s sort of life changing. For example, one of the first students we placed, Kevin, is at Stargate. He moved out of his parents’ apartment, he is traveling by himself to and from the studio, he is getting raises and he is moving up as a rotoscope artist.

What is the tuition like?
Students pay about 50 percent and we fundraise the other 50 percent. We also have scholarships for those that can’t afford it. We have to raise a lot of money to support the efforts of the school and studio.

Do companies donate gear?
When we first started, Adobe donated software. That’s how we were able to fund the school before the studio was up and running. Now we’re on an educational plan with them where we pay the minimum. Autodesk and The Foundry also give us discounts or try to donate licenses to us. In terms of hardware, we have been working with Melrose Mac, who is giving us discounts on computers for the school and studio.


Check out Exceptional Minds Website for more info.

The A-list — Kong: Skull Island director Jordan Vogt-Roberts

By Iain Blair

Plucky explorers! Exotic locations! A giant ape! It can only mean one thing: King Kong is back… again. This time, the new Warner Bros. and Legendary Pictures’ Kong: Skull Island re-imagines the origin of the mythic Kong in an original adventure from director Jordan Vogt-Roberts (The Kings of Summer).

Jordan Vogt-Roberts

With an all-star cast that includes Tom Hiddleston, Samuel L. Jackson, Oscar-winner Brie Larson, John Goodman and John C. Reilly, it follows a diverse team of explorers as they venture deep into an uncharted island in the Pacific — as beautiful as it is treacherous — unaware that they’re crossing into the domain of the mythic Kong.

The legendary Kong was brought to life on a whole new scale by Industrial Light & Magic, with two-time Oscar-winner Stephen Rosenbaum (Avatar, Forrest Gump) serving as visual effects supervisor.

To fully immerse audiences in the mysterious Skull Island, Vogt-Roberts, his cast and filmmaking team shot across three continents over six months, capturing its primordial landscapes on Oahu, Hawaii — where shooting commenced on October 2015 — on Australia’s Gold Coast and, finally, in Vietnam, where production took place across multiple locations, some of which have never before been seen on film. Kong: Skull Island was released worldwide in 2D, 3D and IMAX beginning March 10.

I spoke with Vogt-Roberts about making the film and his love of post.

What’s the eternal appeal of doing a King Kong movie?
He’s King Kong! But the appeal is also this burden, as you’re playing with film history and this cinematic icon of pop culture. Obviously, the 1933 film is this impeccable genre story, and I’m a huge fan of creature features and people like Ray Harryhausen. I liked the idea of taking my love for all that and then giving it my own point of view, my sense of style and my voice.

With just one feature film credit, you certainly jumped in the deep end with this — pun intended — monster production, full of complex moving parts and cutting-edge VFX. How scary was it?
Every movie is scary because I throw myself totally into it. I vanish from the world. If you asked my friends, they would tell you I completely disappear. Whether it’s big or small, any film’s daunting in that sense. When I began doing shorts and my own stuff, I did shooting, the lighting, the editing and so on, and I thrived off all that new knowledge, so even all the complex VFX stuff wasn’t that scary to me. The truly daunting part is that a film like this is two and a half years of your life! It’s a big sacrifice, but I love a big challenge like this was.

What were the biggest challenges, and how did you prepare?
How do you make it special —and relevant in 2017? I’m a bit of a masochist when it comes to a challenge, and when I made the jump to The Kings of Summer it really helped train me. But there are certain things that are the same as they always are, such as there’s never enough time or money or daylight. Then there are new things on a movie of this size, such as the sheer endurance you need and things you simply can’t prepare yourself for, like the politics involved, all the logistics and so on. The biggest thing for me was, how do I protect my voice and point of view and make sure my soul is present in the movie when there are so many competing demands? I’m proud of it, because I feel I was able to do that.

How early on did you start integrating post and all the VFX?
Very early on — even before we had the script ready. We had concept artists and began doing previs and discussing all the VFX.

Did you do a lot of previs?
I’m not a huge fan of it. Third Floor did it and it’s a great tool for communicating what’s happening and how you’re going to execute it, but there’s also that danger of feeling like you’re already making the movie before you start shooting it. Think of all the great films like Blade Runner and the early Star Wars films, all shot before they even had previs, whereas now it’s very easy to become too reliant on it; you can see a movie sequence where it just feels like you’re watching previs come to life. It’s lost that sense of life and spontaneity. We only did three previs sequences — some only partially — and I really stressed with the crew that it was only a guide.

Where did you do the post?
It was all done at Pivotal in Burbank, and we began cutting as we shot. The sound mix was done at Skywalker and we did our score in London.

Do you like the post process?
I love post. I love all aspects of production, but post is where you write the film again and where it ceases being what was on the page and what you wanted it to be. Instead you have to embrace what it wants to be and what it needs to be. I love repurposing things and changing things around and having those 3am breakthroughs! If we moved this and use that shot instead, then we can cut all that.

You had three editors — Richard Pearson, Bob Murawski and Josh Schaeffer. How did that work?
Rick and Bob ran point, and Rick was the lead. Josh was the editor who had done The Kings of Summer with me, and my shorts. He really understands my montages and comedy. It was so great that Rick and Bob were willing to bring him on, and they’re all very different editors with different skills — and all masters of their craft. They weren’t on set, except for Hawaii. Once we were really globe-trotting, they were in LA cutting.

VFX play a big role. Can you talk about working on them with VFX supervisor Jeff White and ILM, who did the majority of the effects work?
He ran the team there, and they’re all amazing. It was a dream come true for me. They’re so good at taking kernels of ideas and turning them into reality. I was able to do revisions as I got new ideas. Creating Kong was the big one, and it was very tricky because the way he moves isn’t totally realistic. It’s very stylized, and Jeff really tapped into my animé and videogame sensibility for all that. We also used Hybride and Rodeo for some shots.

What was the hardest VFX sequence to do?
The helicopter sequence was really very difficult, juggling the geography of that, with this 100-foot creature and people spread all over the island, and also the final battle sequence. The VFX team and I constantly asked ourselves, “Have we seen this before? Is it derivative? Is it redundant?” The goal was to always keep it fresh and exciting.

Where did you do the DI?
At Fotokem with colorist Dave Cole who worked on The Lord of the Rings and so many others. I love color, and we did a lot of very unusual stuff for a movie like this, with a lot of saturation.

Did the film turn out the way you hoped?
A movie never quite turns out the way you hope or think it will, but I love the end result and I feel it represents my voice. I’m very proud of what we did.


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.