OWC 12.4

Category Archives: 3D

Behind the Title: Design director Liron Eldar-Ashkenazi

NAME: Liron Eldar-Ashkenazi  (@iamlirona)

WHAT’S YOUR JOB TITLE?
Design Director

WHAT DOES THAT ENTAIL?
I help companies execute on their creative hopes and dreams, both hands-on and as a consultant and director.

WHAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE THE MOST ABOUT WHAT FALLS UNDER THAT TITLE?
Educating my clients about the lay of the land when it comes to getting what they want creatively. People typically think coming up with creative concepts is easy and quick. A big part of my job is helping companies see the full scope of taking a project from beginning to end with success while being mindful of timeline and budget.

HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN WORKING IN MOTION GRAPHICS?
I was accepted to the prestigious position of motion graphics artist in the Israeli defense force when I was 18 — all women and men have to serve in the military. It’s now been about 12 years that I’ve been creating and animating.

HOW HAS THE INDUSTRY CHANGED IN THE TIME YOU’VE BEEN WORKING? WHAT’S BEEN GOOD, WHAT’S BEEN BAD?
I see a lot more women 3D artists and animators. It’s so refreshing! It used to be a man’s world and I’m so thrilled to see the shift. Overall, it’s becoming a bit more challenging as screens are changing so fast and there are so many of them. Everything you create has to suit a thousand different use-cases and coming up with the right strategy for that takes longer than it did when we were only thinking in 15’s and 30’s 16:9.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
I love that there are so many facets to my work under one title. Coming up with concepts, designing, animating, creating prints and artworks, working with typography is just so much more rewarding than in the days when you only had one job — lighting, texturing, animating, designing. Now an artist is free to do multiple things, and it’s well appreciated.

WHAT’S YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?
Long rendering times. I think computers are becoming stronger, but we also demand more and more from them. I still hate sitting and waiting for a computer to show me what I’m working on.

WHAT IS YOUR MOST PRODUCTIVE TIME OF THE DAY?
Morning! I’m a morning person who loves to start early and finish when there’s still light out.

WHY DID YOU CHOOSE THIS PROFESSION?
I didn’t really choose it; it chose me.

HOW EARLY ON DID YOU KNOW THIS WOULD BE YOUR PATH?
At age 16 I knew I would never be great at sitting on my behind and just studying the text. I knew I needed to create in order to succeed. It’s my safe space and what I do best.

IF YOU DIDN’T HAVE THIS JOB, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING INSTEAD?
Some other form of visual artist, or a psychologist.

CAN YOU NAME SOME RECENT PROJECTS YOU HAVE WORKED ON?
Right before I left The-Artery as a design director, where I’d been working the past three years, we created visuals for a really interesting documentary. All the content was created in 3D using Cinema 4D and Octane. We produced about 18 different spots explaining different concepts. My team and I did everything from concept to rendering. It’ll be amazing to see it when it comes out.

WHAT IS THE PROJECT THAT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?
At The-Artery, I was in charge of a really interesting branding project for a Fin-tech company. We created an entire visual language in 3D for their everyday marketing, website, and blog use. All content was designed and rendered using Cinema 4D and it was so great combining a branding exercise with motion graphics to bring all the visuals to life.

YOU HAVE RECENTLY PRESENTED YOUR WORKFLOW AT TRADES SHOWS AND ROAD TOURS. TELL US ABOUT SHARING YOUR WORK PUBLICLY.
I’ve was invited by Maxon, the developers of Cinema 4D, to give a live-demo presentation at SIGGRAPH 2019. It was an exceptional experience, and I received really lovely responses from the community and artists looking to combine more graphic design into their motion graphics and 3D pipeline. I’ve shared some cool methods I’ve developed in Cinema 4D for creating fine-art looks for renders.

PRESENTLY, YOU ARE WORKING AS ARTIST IN RESIDENCE AT FACEBOOK. HOW DID THIS COME ABOUT AND WHAT KIND OF WORK ARE YOU DOING?
Facebook somehow found me. I assume it was through my Instagram account, where I share my wild, creative experiments. The program is a six-week residency at their New York office, where I get to flex my analog muscles and create prints at their Analog lab. In the lab, they have all the art supplies you can ask for along with an amazing Risograph printer. I’ve been creating posters and zines from my 3D rendered illustrations.

WHAT SOFTWARE TOOLS DO YOU USE DAY-TO-DAY?
Maxon Cinema 4D is my primary tool. I design almost everything I create in it, including work that seems to be flat and graphic.

WHERE DO YOU FIND INSPIRATION NOW?
I find talking to people and brainstorming has always been the thing that sparks the most creativity in me. Solving problems is another way I tackle every design assignment. I always need to figure out what needs to be fixed, be better or change completely, and that’s what I find most inspires me to create.

THIS IS A HIGH-STRESS JOB WITH DEADLINES AND CLIENT EXPECTATIONS. WHAT DO YOU DO TO DE-STRESS FROM IT ALL?
Planning is critical for me to feel confident about projects and helps me avoid stress in general. Giving my work 100% and not promising any false expectations to my clients also helps limit stress. It’s key to be honest from the get-go if I think something wouldn’t work in the timeline, or if late changes would hurt the final product. If I do get to a point that I’m really stressed, I find that running, going out dancing or dancing to my favorite music at home, and generally listening to music are all helpful.

Picture Shop VFX acquires Denmark’s Ghost VFX

Burbank’s Picture Shop VFX has acquired Denmark’s Ghost VFX. This Copenhagen-base studio, founded in 1999, provides high-end visual work for film, television and several streaming platforms. The move helps Picture Shop “increase its services worldwide and broaden its talent and expertise,” according to Picture Shop VFX’s president Tom Kendall.

Over the years, Ghost has contributed to more than 70 feature films and titles. Some of Ghost’s work includes Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, The Mandalorian, The Walking Dead, See, Black Panther and Star Trek Discovery.

“As we continue to expand our VFX footprint into the international market, I am extremely excited to have Ghost join Picture Shop VFX,” says Bill Romeo, president of Picture Head Holdings.

Christensen says the studio takes up three floors and 13,000 square feet in a “vintage and beautifully renovated office building” in Copenhagen. Their main tools are Autodesk Maya, Foundry Nuke and SideFX Houdini.

“We are really looking forward to a tight-nit collaboration with all the VFX teams in the Picture Shop group,” says Christensen. “Right now Ghost will continue servicing current clients and projects, but we’re really looking forward to exploring the massive potential of being part of a larger and international family.”

Picture Shop VFX is a division of Picture Head Holdings. Picture Head Holdings has locations in Los Angeles, Vancouver, the United Kingdom, and Denmark.

Main Image: Ghost artists at work.

OWC 12.4

Conductor Companion app targets VFX boutiques and freelancers

Conductor Technologies has introduced Conductor Companion, a desktop app designed to simplify the use of the cloud-based rendering service. Tailored for boutique studios and freelance artists, Companion streamlines the Conductor on-ramp and rendering experience, allowing users to easily manage and download files, write commands and handle custom submissions or plug-ins from their laptops or workstations. Along with this release, Conductor has added initial support for Blender creative software.

“Conductor was originally designed to meet the needs of larger VFX studios, focusing our efforts on maximizing efficiency and scalability when many artists simultaneously leverage the platform and optimizing how Conductor hooks into those pipelines,” explains CEO Mac Moore. “As Conductor’s user base has grown, we’ve been blown away by the number of freelance artists and small studios that have come to us for help, each of which has their own unique needs. Conductor Companion is a nod to that community, bringing all the functionality and massive render resource scale of Conductor into a user-friendly app, so that artists can focus on content creation versus pipeline management. And given that focus, it was a no-brainer to add Blender support, and we are eager to serve the passionate users of that product.”

Moore reports that this app will be the foundation of Conductor’s Intelligence Hub in the near future, “acting as a gateway to more advanced functionality like Shot Analytics and Intelligent Bid Assist. These features will leverage AI and Conductor’s cloud knowledge to help owners and freelancers make more informed business decisions as it pertains to project-to-project rendering financials.”

Conductor Companion is currently in public beta. You can download the app here.

In addition to Blender, applications currently supported by Conductor include Autodesk Maya and Arnold; Foundry’s Nuke, Cara VR, Katana, Modo and Ocula; Chaos Group’s V-Ray; Pixar’s RenderMan; Isotropix’s Clarisse; Golaem; Ephere’s Ornatrix; Yeti; and Miarmy.


The Mill opens boutique studio in Berlin

Technicolor’s The Mill has officially launched in Berlin. This new boutique studio is located in the heart of Berlin, situated in the creative hub of Mitte, near many of Germany’s agencies, production companies and brands.

The Mill has been working with German clients for years. Recent projects include the Mercedes’ Bertha Benz spot with director Sebastian Strasser; Netto’s The Easter Surprise, directed in-house by The Mill; and BMW The 8 with director Daniel Wolfe. The new studio will bring The Mill’s full range of creative services from color to experiential and interactive, as well as visual effects and design.

The Mill Berlin crew

Creative director Greg Spencer will lead the creative team. He is a multi-award winning creative, having won several VES, Cannes Lions and British Arrow awards. His recent projects include Carlsberg’s The Lake, PlayStation’s This Could Be You and Eve Cuddly Toy. Spencer also played a role in some of Mill Film’s major titles. He was the 2D supervisor for Les Misérables and also worked on the Lord of the Rings trilogy. His resume also includes campaigns for brands such as Nike and Samsung.

Executive producer Justin Stiebel moves from The Mill London, where he has been since early 2014, to manage client relationships and new business. Since joining the company, Stiebel has produced spots such as Audi’s Next Level and the Mini’s “The Faith of a Few” campaign. He has also collaborated with directors such as Sebastian Strasser, Markus Walter and Daniel Wolfe while working on brands like Mercedes, Audi and BMW.

Sean Costelloe is managing director of The Mill London and The Mill Berlin.

Main Image Caption: (L-R) Justin Stiebel and Greg Spencer


VES Awards: The Lion King and Alita earn five noms each

The Visual Effects Society (VES) has announced its nominees for the 18th Annual VES Awards, which recognize outstanding visual effects artistry and innovation in film, animation, television, commercials and video games and the VFX supervisors, VFX producers and hands-on artists who bring this work to life. Alita: Battle Angel and The Lion King both have five nominations each; Toy Story 4 is the top animated film contender with five nominations, and Game of Thrones and The Mandalorian tie to lead the broadcast field with six nominations each.

Nominees in 25 categories were selected by VES members via events hosted by 11 VES sections, including Australia, the Bay Area, Germany, London, Los Angeles, Montreal, New York, New Zealand, Toronto, Vancouver and Washington.

The VES Awards will be held on January 29 at the Beverly Hilton Hotel. The VES Lifetime Achievement Award will be presented to Academy, DGA and Emmy-Award winning director-producer-screenwriter Martin Scorsese. The VES Visionary Award will be presented to director-producer-screenwriter Roland Emmerich. And the VES Award for Creative Excellence will be given to visual effects supervisor Sheena Duggal. Award-winning actor-comedian-author Patton Oswalt will once again host the event.

The nominees for the 18th Annual VES Awards in 25 categories are:

 

Outstanding Visual Effects in a Photoreal Feature

 

ALITA: BATTLE ANGEL

Richard Hollander

Kevin Sherwood

Eric Saindon

Richard Baneham

Bob Trevino

 

AVENGERS: ENDGAME

Daniel DeLeeuw

Jen Underdahl

Russell Earl

Matt Aitken

Daniel Sudick

 

GEMINI MAN

Bill Westenhofer

Karen Murphy-Mundell

Guy Williams

Sheldon Stopsack

Mark Hawker

 

STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER

Roger Guyett

Stacy Bissell

Patrick Tubach

Neal Scanlan

Dominic Tuohy

 

THE LION KING

Robert Legato

Tom Peitzman

Adam Valdez

Andrew R. Jones

 

Outstanding Supporting Visual Effects in a Photoreal Feature

 

1917

Guillaume Rocheron

Sona Pak

Greg Butler

Vijay Selvam

Dominic Tuohy

 

FORD V FERRARI

Olivier Dumont

Kathy Siegel

Dave Morley

Malte Sarnes

Mark Byers

 

JOKER

Edwin Rivera

Brice Parker

Mathew Giampa

Bryan Godwin

Jeff Brink

 

THE AERONAUTS

Louis Morin

Annie Godin

Christian Kaestner

Ara Khanikian

Mike Dawson

 

THE IRISHMAN

Pablo Helman

Mitch Ferm

Jill Brooks

Leandro Estebecorena

Jeff Brink

 

Outstanding Visual Effects in an Animated Feature

 

FROZEN 2

Steve Goldberg

Peter Del Vecho

Mark Hammel

Michael Giaimo

 

KLAUS

Sergio Pablos

Matthew Teevan

Marcin Jakubowski

Szymon Biernacki

 

MISSING LINK

Brad Schiff

Travis KnightSteve Emerson

Benoit Dubuc

 

THE LEGO MOVIE 2

David Burgess

Tim Smith

Mark Theriault

John Rix

 

TOY STORY 4

Josh Cooley

Mark Nielsen

Bob Moyer

Gary Bruins

 

Outstanding Visual Effects in a Photoreal Episode

 

GAME OF THRONES; The Bells

Joe Bauer

Steve Kullback

Ted Rae

Mohsen Mousavi

Sam Conway

 

HIS DARK MATERIALS; The Fight to the Death

Russell Dodgson

James Whitlam

Shawn Hillier

Robert Harrington

 

LADY AND THE TRAMP

Robert Weaver

Christopher Raimo

Arslan Elver

Michael Cozens

Bruno Van Zeebroeck

 

LOST IN SPACE – Episode: Ninety-Seven

Jabbar Raisani

Terron Pratt

Niklas Jacobson

Juri Stanossek

Paul Benjamin

 

STRANGER THINGS – Chapter Six: E Pluribus Unum

Paul Graff

Tom Ford

Michael Maher Jr.

Martin Pelletier

Andy Sowers

 

THE MANDALORIAN; The Child

Richard Bluff

Abbigail Keller

Jason Porter

Hayden Jones

Roy Cancinon

 

Outstanding Supporting Visual Effects in a Photoreal Episode

 

CHERNOBYL; 1:23:45

Max Dennison

Lindsay McFarlane

Clare Cheetham

Paul Jones

Claudius Christian Rauch

 

LIVING WITH YOURSELF; Nice Knowing You

Jay Worth

Jacqueline VandenBussche

Chris Wright

Tristan Zerafa

 

SEE; Godflame

Adrian de Wet

Eve Fizzinoglia

Matthew Welford

Pedro Sabrosa

Tom Blacklock

 

THE CROWN; Aberfan

Ben Turner

Reece Ewing

David Fleet

Jonathan Wood

 

VIKINGS; What Happens in the Cave

Dominic Remane

Mike Borrett

Ovidiu Cinazan

Tom Morrison

Paul Byrne

 

Outstanding Visual Effects in a Real-Time Project

 

Call of Duty Modern Warfare

Charles Chabert

Chris Parise

Attila Zalanyi

Patrick Hagar

 

Control

Janne Pulkkinen

Elmeri Raitanen

Matti Hämäläinen

James Tottman

 

Gears 5

Aryan Hanbeck

Laura Kippax

Greg Mitchell

Stu Maxwell

 

Myth: A Frozen Tale

Jeff Gipson

Nicholas Russell

Brittney Lee

Jose Luis Gomez Diaz

 

Vader Immortal: Episode I

Ben Snow

Mike Doran

Aaron McBride

Steve Henricks

 

Outstanding Visual Effects in a Commercial

 

Anthem Conviction

Viktor Muller

Lenka Likarova

Chris Harvey

Petr Marek

 

BMW Legend

Michael Gregory

Christian Downes

Tim Kafka

Toya Drechsler

 

Hennessy: The Seven Worlds

Carsten Keller

Selcuk Ergen

Kiril Mirkov

William Laban

 

PlayStation: Feel The Power of Pro

Sam Driscoll

Clare Melia

Gary Driver

Stefan Susemihl

 

Purdey’s: Hummingbird

Jules Janaud

Emma Cook

Matthew Thomas

Philip Child

 

Outstanding Visual Effects in a Special Venue Project

 

Avengers: Damage Control

Michael Koperwas

Shereif Fattouh

Ian Bowie

Kishore Vijay

Curtis Hickman

 

Jurassic World: The Ride

Hayden Landis

Friend Wells

Heath Kraynak

Ellen Coss

 

Millennium Falcon: Smugglers Run

Asa Kalama

Rob Huebner

Khatsho Orfali

Susan Greenhow

 

Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance

Jason Bayever

Patrick Kearney

Carol Norton

Bill George

 

Universal Sphere

James Healy

Morgan MacCuish

Ben West

Charlie Bayliss

 

Outstanding Animated Character in a Photoreal Feature

 

ALITA: BATTLE ANGEL; Alita

Michael Cozens

Mark Haenga

Olivier Lesaint

Dejan Momcilovic

 

AVENGERS: ENDGAME; Smart Hulk

Kevin Martel

Ebrahim Jahromi

Sven Jensen

Robert Allman

 

GEMINI MAN; Junior

Paul Story

Stuart Adcock

Emiliano Padovani

Marco Revelant

 

THE LION KING; Scar

Gabriel Arnold

James Hood

Julia Friedl

Daniel Fortheringham

 

 

 

 

Outstanding Animated Character in an Animated Feature

 

FROZEN 2; The Water Nøkk

Svetla Radivoeva

Marc Bryant

Richard E. Lehmann

Cameron Black

 

KLAUS; Jesper

Yoshimishi Tamura

Alfredo Cassano

Maxime Delalande

Jason Schwartzman

 

MISSING LINK; Susan

Rachelle Lambden

Brenda Baumgarten

Morgan Hay

Benoit Dubuc

 

TOY STORY 4; Bo Peep

Radford Hurn

Tanja Krampfert

George Nguyen

Becki Rocha Tower

 

Outstanding Animated Character in an Episode or Real-Time Project

 

LADY AND THE TRAMP; Tramp

Thiago Martins

Arslan Elver

Stanislas Paillereau

Martine Chartrand

 

STRANGER THINGS 3; Tom/Bruce Monster

Joseph Dubé-Arsenault

Antoine Barthod

Frederick Gagnon

Xavier Lafarge

 

THE MANDALORIAN; The Child; Mudhorn

Terry Bannon

Rudy Massar

Hugo Leygnac

 

THE UMBRELLA ACADEMY; Pilot; Pogo

Aidan Martin

Craig Young

Olivier Beierlein

Laurent Herveic

 

Outstanding Animated Character in a Commercial

 

Apex Legends; Meltdown; Mirage

Chris Bayol

John Fielding

Derrick Sesson

Nole Murphy

 

Churchill; Churchie

Martino Madeddu

Philippe Moine

Clement Granjon

Jon Wood

 

Cyberpunk 2077; Dex

Jonas Ekman

Jonas Skoog

Marek Madej

Grzegorz Chojnacki

 

John Lewis; Excitable Edgar; Edgar

Tim van Hussen

Diarmid Harrison-Murray

Amir Bazzazi

Michael Diprose

 

 

Outstanding Created Environment in a Photoreal Feature

 

ALADDIN; Agrabah

Daniel Schmid

Falk Boje

Stanislaw Marek

Kevin George

 

ALITA: BATTLE ANGEL; Iron City

John Stevenson-Galvin

Ryan Arcus

Mathias Larserud

Mark Tait

 

MOTHERLESS BROOKLYN; Penn Station

John Bair

Vance Miller

Sebastian Romero

Steve Sullivan

 

STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER; Pasaana Desert

Daniele Bigi

Steve Hardy

John Seru

Steven Denyer

 

THE LION KING; The Pridelands

Marco Rolandi

Luca Bonatti

Jules Bodenstein

Filippo Preti

 

 

Outstanding Created Environment in an Animated Feature

 

FROZEN 2; Giants’ Gorge

Samy Segura

Jay V. Jackson

Justin Cram

Scott Townsend

 

HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON: THE HIDDEN WORLD; The Hidden World

Chris Grun

Ronnie Cleland

Ariel Chisholm

Philippe Brochu

 

MISSING LINK; Passage to India Jungle

Oliver Jones

Phil Brotherton

Nick Mariana

Ralph Procida

 

TOY STORY 4; Antiques Mall

Hosuk Chang

Andrew Finley

Alison Leaf

Philip Shoebottom

 

 

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

 

GAME OF THRONES; The Iron Throne; Red Keep Plaza

Carlos Patrick DeLeon

Alonso Bocanegra Martinez

Marcela Silva

Benjamin Ross

 

LOST IN SPACE; Precipice; The Trench

Philip Engström

Benjamin Bernon

Martin Bergquist

Xuan Prada

 

THE DARK CRYSTAL: AGE OF RESISTANCE; The Endless Forest

Sulé Bryan

Charles Chorein

Christian Waite

Martyn Hawkins

 

THE MANDALORIAN; Nevarro Town

Alex Murtaza

Yanick Gaudreau

Marco Tremblay

Maryse Bouchard

 

Outstanding Virtual Cinematography in a CG Project

 

ALITA: BATTLE ANGEL

Emile Ghorayeb

Simon Jung

Nick Epstein

Mike Perry

 

THE LION KING

Robert Legato

Caleb Deschanel

Ben Grossmann

AJ Sciutto

 

THE MANDALORIAN; The Prisoner; The Roost

Richard Bluff

Jason Porter

Landis Fields IV

Baz Idione

 

 

TOY STORY 4

Jean-Claude Kalache

Patrick Lin

 

Outstanding Model in a Photoreal or Animated Project

 

LOST IN SPACE; The Resolute

Xuan Prada

Jason Martin

Jonathan Vårdstedt

Eric Andersson

 

MISSING LINK; The Manchuria

Todd Alan Harvey

Dan Casey

Katy Hughes

 

THE MAN IN THE HIGH CASTLE; Rocket Train

Neil Taylor

Casi Blume

Ben McDougal

Chris Kuhn

 

THE MANDALORIAN; The Sin; The Razorcrest

Doug Chiang

Jay Machado

John Goodson

Landis Fields IV

 

Outstanding Effects Simulations in a Photoreal Feature

 

DUMBO; Bubble Elephants

Sam Hancock

Victor Glushchenko

Andrew Savchenko

Arthur Moody

 

SPIDER-MAN: FAR FROM HOME; Molten Man

Adam Gailey

Jacob Santamaria

Jacob Clark

Stephanie Molk

 

 

 

 

 

STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER

Don Wong

Thibault Gauriau

Goncalo Cababca

Francois-Maxence Desplanques

 

THE LION KING

David Schneider

Samantha Hiscock

Andy Feery

Kostas Strevlos

 

Outstanding Effects Simulations in an Animated Feature

 

ABOMINABLE

Alex Timchenko

Domin Lee

Michael Losure

Eric Warren

 

FROZEN 2

Erin V. Ramos

Scott Townsend

Thomas Wickes

Rattanin Sirinaruemarn

 

HOW TO TRAIN YOUR DRAGON: THE HIDDEN WORLD; Water and Waterfalls

Derek Cheung

Baptiste Van Opstal

Youxi Woo

Jason Mayer

 

TOY STORY 4

Alexis Angelidis

Amit Baadkar

Lyon Liew

Michael Lorenzen

 

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

 

GAME OF THRONES; The Bells

Marcel Kern

Paul Fuller

Ryo Sakaguchi

Thomas Hartmann

 

Hennessy: The Seven Worlds

Selcuk Ergen

Radu Ciubotariu

Andreu Lucio

Vincent Ullmann

 

LOST IN SPACE; Precipice; Water Planet

Juri Bryan

Hugo Medda

Kristian Olsson

John Perrigo

 

STRANGER THINGS 3; Melting Tom/Bruce

Nathan Arbuckle

Christian Gaumond

James Dong

Aleksandr Starkov

 

THE MANDALORIAN; The Child; Mudhorn

Xavier Martin Ramirez

Ian Baxter

Fabio Siino

Andrea Rosa

 

Outstanding Compositing in a Feature

 

ALITA: BATTLE ANGEL

Adam Bradley

Carlo Scaduto

Hirofumi Takeda

Ben Roberts

 

AVENGERS: ENDGAME

Tim Walker

Blake Winder

Tobias Wiesner

Joerg Bruemmer

 

CAPTAIN MARVEL; Young Nick Fury

Trent Claus

David Moreno Hernandez

Jeremiah Sweeney

Yuki Uehara

 

STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER

Jeff Sutherland

John Galloway

Sam Bassett

Charles Lai

 

THE IRISHMAN

Nelson Sepulveda

Vincent Papaix

Benjamin O’Brien

Christopher Doerhoff

 

 

Outstanding Compositing in an Episode

 

GAME OF THRONES; The Bells

Sean Heuston

Scott Joseph

James Elster

Corinne Teo

 

GAME OF THRONES; The Long Night; Dragon Ground Battle

Mark Richardson

Darren Christie

Nathan Abbott

Owen Longstaff

 

STRANGER THINGS 3; Starcourt Mall Battle

Simon Lehembre

Andrew Kowbell

Karim El-Masry

Miklos Mesterhazy

 

WATCHMEN; Pilot; Looking Glass

Nathaniel Larouche

Iyi Tubi

Perunika Yorgova

Mitchell Beaton

 

Outstanding Compositing in a Commercial

 

BMW Legend

Toya Drechsler

Vivek Tekale

Guillaume Weiss

Alexander Kulikov

 

Feeding America; I Am Hunger in America

Dan Giraldo

Marcelo Pasqualino

Alexander Koester

 

Hennessy; The Seven Worlds

Rod Norman

Guillaume Weiss

Alexander Kulikov

Alessandro Granella

 

PlayStation: Feel the Power of Pro

Gary Driver

Stefan Susemihl

Greg Spencer

Theajo Dharan

 

Outstanding Special (Practical) Effects in a Photoreal or Animated Project

 

ALADDIN; Magic Carpet

Mark Holt

Jay Mallet

Will Wyatt

Dickon Mitchell

 

GAME OF THRONES; The Bells

Sam Conway

Terry Palmer

Laurence Harvey

Alastair Vardy

 

TERMINATOR: DARK FATE

Neil Corbould

David Brighton

Ray Ferguson

Keith Dawson

 

THE DARK CRYSTAL: THE AGE OF RESISTANCE; She Knows All the Secrets

Sean Mathiesen

Jon Savage

Toby Froud

Phil Harvey

 

Outstanding Visual Effects in a Student Project

 

DOWNFALL

Matias Heker

Stephen Moroz

Bradley Cocksedge

 

LOVE AND FIFTY MEGATONS

Denis Krez

Josephine Roß

Paulo Scatena

Lukas Löffler

 

OEIL POUR OEIL

Alan Guimont

Thomas Boileau

Malcom Hunt

Robin Courtoise

 

THE BEAUTY

Marc Angele

Aleksandra Todorovic

Pascal Schelbli

Noel Winzen

 

 


Recreating the Vatican and Sistine Chapel for Netflix’s The Two Popes

The Two Popes, directed by Fernando Meirelles, stars Anthony Hopkins as Pope Benedict XVI and Jonathan Pryce as current pontiff Pope Francis in a story about one of the most dramatic transitions of power in the Catholic Church’s history. The film follows a frustrated Cardinal Bergoglio (the future Pope Francis) who in 2012 requests permission from Pope Benedict to retire because of his issues with the direction of the church. Instead, facing scandal and self-doubt, the introspective Benedict summons his harshest critic and future successor to Rome to reveal a secret that would shake the foundations of the Catholic Church.

London’s Union was approached in May 2017 and supervised visual effects on location in Argentina and Italy over several months. A large proportion of the film takes place within the walls of Vatican City. The Vatican was not involved in the production and the team had very limited or no access to some of the key locations.

Under the direction of production designer Mark Tildesley, the production replicated parts of the Vatican at Rome’s Cinecitta Studios, including a life-size, open ceiling, Sistine Chapel, which took two months to build.

The team LIDAR-scanned everything available and set about amassing as much reference material as possible — photographing from a permitted distance, scanning the set builds and buying every photographic book they could lay their hands on.

From this material, the team set about building 3D models — created in Autodesk Maya — of St. Peter’s Square, the Basilica and the Sistine Chapel. The environments team was tasked with texturing all of these well-known locations using digital matte painting techniques, including recreating Michelangelo’s masterpiece on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.

The story centers on two key changes of pope in 2005 and 2013. Those events attracted huge attention, filling St. Peter’s Square with people eager to discover the identity of the new pope and celebrate his ascension. News crews from around the world also camp out to provide coverage for the billions of Catholics all over the world.

To recreate these scenes, the crew shot at a school in Rome (Ponte Mammolo) that has the same pattern on its floor. A cast of 300 extras was shot in blocks in different positions at different times of day, with costume tweaks including the addition of umbrellas to build a library that would provide enough flexibility during post to recreate these moments at different times of day and in different weather conditions.

Union also called on Clear Angle Studios to individually scan 50 extras to provide additional options for the VFX team. This was an ambitious crowd project, so the team couldn’t shoot in the location, and the end result had to stand up at 4K in very close proximity to the camera. Union designed a Houdini-based system to deal with the number of assets and clothing in such a way that the studio could easily art-direct them as individuals, allow the director to choreograph them and deliver a believable result.

Union conducted several motion capture shoots inhouse at Union to provide some specific animation cycles that married with the occasions they were recreating. This provided even more authentic-looking crowds for the post team.

Union worked on a total of 288 VFX shots, including greenscreens, set extensions, window reflections, muzzle flashes, fog and rain and a storm that included a lightning strike on the Basilica.

In addition, the team did a significant amount of de-aging work to accommodate the film’s eight-year main narrative timeline as well as a long period in Pope Francis’ younger years.


Maxon and Red Giant to merge

Maxon, developers of pro 3D software solutions, and Red Giant, makers of tools for editors, VFX artists, and motion designers, have agreed to merge under the media and entertainment division of Nemetschek Group. The transaction is expected to close in January 2020, subject to regulatory approval and customary closing conditions.

Maxon, best known for its 3D product Cinema 4D, was formed in 1986 to provide high-end yet accessible 3D software solutions. Artists across the globe rely on Maxon products to create high-end visuals. In April of this year, Maxon acquired Redshift, developer of the GPU-accelerated Redshift render engine.

Since 2002, Red Giant has built its brand through products such as Trapcode, Magic Bullet, Universe, PluralEyes and its line of visual effects software. Its tools are used in the fields of film, broadcast and advertising.

The two companies provide tools for companies including ABC, CBS, NBC, HBO, BBC, Sky, Fox Networks, Turner Broadcasting, NFL Network, WWE, Viacom, Netflix, ITV Creative, Discovery Channel, MPC, Digital Domain, VDO, Sony, Universal, The Walt Disney Company, Blizzard Entertainment, BMW, Facebook, Apple, Google, Vitra, Nike and many more.

Main Photo: L-R: Maxon CEO Dave McGavran and Red Giant CEP Chad Bechert


Shape+Light VFX boutique opens in LA with Trent, Lehr at helm


Visual effects and design studio boutique Shape+Light has officially launched in Santa Monica. At the helm is managing director/creative director Rob Trent and executive producer Cara Lehr. Shape+Light provides visual effects, design and finishing services for agency and brand-direct clients. The studio, which has been quietly operating since this summer, has already delivered work for Nike, Apple, Gatorade, Lexus and Proctor & Gamble.

Gatorade

Trent is no stranger to running VFX boutiques. An industry veteran, he began his career as a Flame artist, working at studios including Imaginary Forces and Digital Domain, and then at Asylum VFX as a VFX supervisor/creative director before co-founding The Mission VFX in 2010. In 2015, he established Saint Studio. During his career he has worked on big campaigns, including the launch of the Apple iPhone with David Fincher, celebrating the NFL with Nike and Michael Mann, and honoring moms with Alma Har’el and P&G for the Olympics. He has also contributed to award-winning feature films such as The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Minority Report, X-Men and Zodiac.

Lehr is an established VFX producer with over 20 years of experience in both commercials and features. She has worked for many of LA’s leading VFX studios, including Zoic Studios, Asylum VFX, Digital Domain, Brickyard VFX and Psyop. She most recently served as EP at Method Studios, where she was on staff since 2012. She has worked on ad campaigns for brands including Apple, Microsoft, Nike, ESPN, Coca Cola, Taco Bell, AT&T, the NBA, Chevrolet and more.


Maya 2020 and Arnold 6 now available from Autodesk

Autodesk has released Autodesk Maya 2020 and Arnold 6 with Arnold GPU. Maya 2020 brings animators, modelers, riggers and technical artists a host of new tools and improvements for CG content creation, while Arnold 6 allows for production rendering on both the CPU and GPU.

Maya 2020 adds more than 60 new updates, as well as performance enhancements and new simulation features to Bifrost, the visual programming environment in Maya.

Maya 2020

Release highlights include:

— Over 60 animation features and updates to the graph editor and time slider.
— Cached Playback: New preview modes, layered dynamics caching and more efficient caching of image planes.
— Animation bookmarks: Mark, organize and navigate through specific events in time and frame playback ranges.
— Bifrost for Maya: Performance improvements, Cached Playback support and new MPM cloth constraints.
— Viewport improvements: Users can interact with and select dense geometry or a large number of smaller meshes faster in the viewport and UV editors.
— Modeling enhancements: New Remesh and Retopologize features.
— Rigging improvements: Matrix-driven workflows, nodes for precisely tracking positions on deforming geometry and a new GPU-accelerated wrap deformer.

The Arnold GPU is based on Nvidia’s OptiX framework and takes advantage of Nvidia RTX technology. Arnold 6 highlights include:

— Unified renderer— Toggle between CPU and GPU rendering.
— Lights, cameras and More— Support for OSL, OpenVDB volumes, on-demand texture loading, most LPEs, lights, shaders and all cameras.
— Reduced GPU noise— Comparable to CPU noise levels when using adaptive sampling, which has been improved to yield faster, more predictable results regardless of the renderer used.
— Optimized for Nvidia RTX hardware— Scale up rendering power when production demands it.
— New USD components— Hydra render delegate, Arnold USD procedural and USD schemas for Arnold nodes and properties are now available on GitHub.

Arnold 6

— Performance improvements— Faster creased subdivisons, an improved Physical Sky shader and dielectric microfacet multiple scattering.

Maya 2020 and Arnold 6 are available now as standalone subscriptions or with a collection of end-to-end creative tools within the Autodesk Media & Entertainment Collection. Monthly, annual and three-year single-user subscriptions of Arnold are available on the Autodesk e-store.

Arnold GPU is also available to try with a free 30-day trial of Arnold 6. Arnold GPU is available in all supported plug-ins for Autodesk Maya, Autodesk 3ds Max, SideFX Houdini, Maxon Cinema 4D and Foundry Katana.

Reallusion’s Headshot plugin for realistic digi-doubles via AI

Reallusion has introduced a plugin for Character Creator 3 to help create realistic-looking digital doubles. According to the company, the Headshot plugin uses AI technology to automatically generate a digital human in minutes from one single photo, and those characters are fully rigged for voice lipsync, facial expression and full body animation.

Headshot allows game developers and virtual production teams to quickly funnel a cast of digital doubles into iClone, Unreal, Unity, Maya, ZBrush and more. The idea is to allow the digital humans to go anywhere they like and give creators a solution to rapidly develop, iterate and collaborate in realtime.

The plugin has two AI modes: Auto Mode and Pro Mode. Auto Mode is a one-click solution for creating mid-rez digital human crowds. This process allows one-click head and hair creation for realtime 3D head models. It also generates a separate 3D hair mesh with alpha mask to soften edge lines. The 3D hair is fully compatible with Character Creator’s conformable hair format (.ccHair). Users can add them into their hair library, and apply them to other CC characters.

Headshot Pro Mode offers full control of the 3D head generation process with advanced features such as Image Matching, Photo Reprojection and Custom Mask with up to 4,096-texture resolution.

The Image Matching Tool overlays an image reference plane for advanced head shape refinement and lens correction. With Photo Reprojection, users can easily fix the texture-to-mesh discrepancies resulting from face morph change.

Using high-rez source images and Headshot’s 1,000-plus morphs, users can get a scan-quality digital human face in 4K texture details. Additional textures include normal, AO, roughness, metallic, SSS and Micro Normal for more realistic digital human rendering.

The 3D Head Morph System is designed to achieve the professional and detailed look of 3D scan models. The 3D sculpting design allow users to hover over a control area and use directional mouse drags to adjust the corresponding mesh shape, from full head and face sculpting to individual features — head contour, face, eyes, nose, mouth and ears with more than 1,000 head morphs. It is now free with a purchase of the Headshot plugin.

The Headshot plugin for Character Creator is $199 and comes with the content pack Headshot Morph 1,000+ ($99). Character Creator 3 Pipeline costs $199.

Redshift integrates Cinema 4D noises, nodes and more

Maxon and Redshift Rendering Technologies have released Redshift 3.0.12, which has native support for Cinema 4D noises and deeper integration with Cinema 4D, including the option to define materials using Cinema 4D’s native node-based material system.

Cinema 4D noise effects have been in demand within other 3D software packages because of their flexibility, efficiency and look. Native support in Redshift means that users of other DCC applications can now access Cinema 4D noises by using Redshift as their rendering solution. Procedural noise allows artists to easily add surface detail and randomness to otherwise perfect surfaces. Cinema 4D offers 32 different types of noise and countless variations based on settings. Native support for Cinema 4D noises means Redshift can preserve GPU memory while delivering high-quality rendered results.

Redshift 3.0.12 provides content creators deeper integration of Redshift within Cinema 4D. Redshift materials can now be defined using Cinema 4D’s nodal material framework, introduced in Release 20. As well, Redshift materials can use the Node Space system introduced in Release 21, which combines the native nodes of multiple render engines into a single material. Redshift is the first to take advantage of the new API in Cinema 4D to implement its own Node Spaces. Users can now also use any Cinema 4D view panel as a Redshift IPR (interactive preview render) window, making it easier to work within compact layouts and interact with a scene while developing materials and lighting.

Redshift 3.0.12 is immediately available from the Redshift website.

Maxon acquired RedShift in April of 2019.

London’s Freefolk beefs up VFX team

Soho-based visual effects studio Freefolk, which has seen growth in its commercials and longform work, has grown its staff to meet this demand. As part of the uptick in work, Freefolk promoted Cheryl Payne from senior producer to head of commercial production. Additionally, Laura Rickets has joined as senior producer, and 2D artist Bradley Cocksedge has been added to the commercials VFX team.

Payne, who has been with Freefolk since the early days, has worked on some of the studio’s biggest commercials, including; Warburtons for Engine, Peloton for Dark Horses and Cadburys for VCCP.

Rickets comes to Freefolk with over 18 years of production experience working at some of the biggest VFX houses in London, including Framestore, The Mill and Smoke & Mirrors, as well as agency side for McCann. Since joining the team, Rickets has VFX-produced work on the I’m A Celebrity IDs, a set of seven technically challenging and CG-heavy spots for the new series of the show as well as ads for the Rugby World Cup and Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?.

Cocksedge is a recent graduate who joins from Framestore, where he was working as an intern on Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald. While in school at the University of Hertfordshire, he interned at Freefolk and is happy to be back in a full-time position.

“We’ve had an exciting year and have worked on some really stand-out commercials, like TransPennine for Engine and the beautiful spot for The Guardian we completed with Uncommon, so we felt it was time to add to the Freefolk family,” says Fi Kilroe, Freefolk’s co-managing director/executive producer.

Main Image: (L-R) Cheryl Payne, Laura Rickets and Bradley Cocksedge

Alkemy X adds Albert Mason as head of production

Albert Mason has joined VFX house Alkemy X as head of production. He comes to Alkemy X with over two decades of experience in visual effects and post production. He has worked on projects directed by such industry icons as Peter Jackson on the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Tim Burton on Alice in Wonderland and Robert Zemeckis on The Polar Express. In his new role at Alkemy X, he will use his experience in feature films to target the growing episodic space.

A large part of Alkemy X’s work has been for episodic visual effects, with credits that include Amazon Prime’s Emmy-winning original series, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, USA’s Mr. Robot, AMC’s Fear the Walking Dead, Netflix’s Maniac, NBC’s Blindspot and Starz’s Power.

Mason began his career at MTV’s on-air promos department, sharpening his production skills on top series promo campaigns and as a part of its newly launched MTV Animation Department. He took an opportunity to transition into VFX, stepping into a production role for Weta Digital and spending three years working globally on the Lord of the Rings trilogy. He then joined Sony Pictures Imageworks, where he contributed to features including Spider-Man 3 and Ghost Rider. He has also produced work for such top industry shops as Logan, Rising Sun Pictures and Greymatter VFX.

“[Albert’s] expertise in constructing advanced pipelines that embrace emerging technologies will be invaluable to our team as we continue to bolster our slate of VFX work,” says Alkemy X president/CEO Justin Wineburgh.

Motorola’s next-gen Razr gets a campaign for today

Many of us have fond memories of our Razr flip phone. At the time, it was the latest and greatest. Then new technology came along, and the smartphone era was born. Now Motorola is asking, “Why can’t you have both?”

Available as of November 13, the new Razr fits in a palm or pocket when shut and flips open to reveal an immersive, full-length touch screen. There is a display screen called the Quick View when closed and the larger Flex View when open — and the two displays are made to work together. Whatever you see on Quick View then moves to the larger Flex View display when you flip it open.

In order to help tell this story, Motorola called on creative shop Los York to help relaunch the Razr. Los York created the new smartphone campaign to tap into the Razr’s original DNA and launch it for today’s user.

Los York developed a 360 campaign that included films, social, digital, TV, print and billboards, with visuals in stores and on devices (wallpapers, ringtones, startup screens). Los York treated the Razr as a luxury item and a piece of art, letting the device reveal itself unencumbered by taglines and copy. The campaign showcases the Razr as a futuristic, high-end “fashion accessory” that speaks to new industry conversations, such as advancing tech along a utopian or dystopian future.

The campaign features a mix of live action and CG. Los York shot on a Panavision DXL with Primo 70 lenses. CG was created using Maxon Cinema 4D with Redshift and composited in Adobe After Effects. The piece was edited in-house on Adobe Premiere.

We reached out to Los York CEO and founder Seth Epstein to find out more:

How much of this is live action versus CG?
The majority is CG, but, originally, the piece was intended to be entirely CG. Early in the creative process, we defined the world in which the new Razr existed and who would belong there. As we worked on the project, we kept feeling that bringing our characters to life in live action and blending the worlds. The proper live action was envisioned after the fact, which is somewhat unusual.

What were some of the most challenging aspects of this piece?
The most challenging part of the project was the fact that the project happened over a period of nine months. Wisely, the product release needed to push, and we continued to evolve the project over time, which is a blessing and a curse.

How did it feel taking on a product with a lot of history and then rebranding it for the modern day?
We felt the key was to relaunch an iconic product like the Razr with an eye to the future. The trap of launching anything iconic is falling back on the obvious retro throwback references, which can come across as too obvious. We dove into the original product and campaigns to extract the brand DNA of 2004 using archetype exercises. We tapped into the attitude and voice of the Razr at that time — and used that attitude as a starting point. We also wanted to look forward and stand three years in the future and imagine what the tone and campaign would be then. All of this is to say that we wanted the new Razr to extract the power of the past but also speak to audiences in a totally fresh and new way.

Check out the campaign here.

Carbon New York grows with three industry vets

Carbon in New York has grown with two senior hires — executive producer Nick Haynes and head of CG Frank Grecco — and the relocation of existing ECD Liam Chapple, who joins from the Chicago office.

Chapple joined Carbon in 2016, moving from Mainframe in London to open Carbon’s Chicago facility.  He brought in clients such as Porsche, Lululemon, Jeep, McDonald’s, and Facebook. “I’ve always looked to the studios, designers and directors in New York as the high bar, and now I welcome the opportunity to pitch against them. There is an amazing pool of talent in New York, and the city’s energy is a magnet for artists and creatives of all ilk. I can’t wait to dive into this and look forward to expanding upon our amazing team of artists and really making an impression in such a competitive and creative market.”

Chapple recently wrapped direction and VFX on films for Teflon and American Express (Ogilvy) and multiple live-action projects for Lululemon. The most recent shoot, conceived and directed by Chapple, was a series of eight live-action films focusing on Lululemon’s brand ambassadors and its new flagship store in Chicago.

Haynes joins Carbon from his former role as EP of MPC, bringing over 20 years of experience earned at The Mill, MPC and Absolute. Haynes recently wrapped the launch film for the Google Pixel phone and the Chromebook, as well as an epic Middle Earth: Shadow of War Monolith Games trailer combining photo-real CGI elements with live-action shot on the frozen Black Sea in Ukraine.  “We want to be there at the inception of the creative and help steer it — ideally, lead it — and be there the whole way through the process, from concept and shoot to delivery. Over the years, whether working for the world’s most creative agencies or directly with prestigious clients like Google, Guinness and IBM, I aim to be as close to the project as possible from the outset, allowing my team to add genuine value that will garner the best result for everyone involved.”

Grecco joins Carbon from Method Studios, where he most recently led projects for Google, Target, Microsoft, Netflix and Marvel’s Deadpool 2.  With a wide range of experience from Emmy-nominated television title sequences to feature films and Super Bowl commercials, Grecco looks forward to helping Carbon continue to push its visuals beyond the high bar that has already been set.

In addition to New York and Chicago, Carbon has a studio in Los Angeles.

Main Image: (L-R) Frank Grecco, Liam Chapple, Nick Haynes

Behind the Title: Compadre’s Jessica Garcia-Scharer

NAME: Jessica Garcia-Scharer

COMPANY: Culver City’s Compadre

CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR COMPANY?
We are a creative marketing agency. We make strategically informed branding and creative — and then help to get it out to the world in memorable ways. And we use strategy, design, planning and technology to do it.

WHAT’S YOUR JOB TITLE?
Head of Production

WHAT DOES THAT ENTAIL?
Head of production means different things at different companies. I’m the three-ring binder with the special zip pack that helps to hold everything together in an organized manner. Everything from hearing and understanding client needs, creating proposals, managing budget projections/actuals/contracts, getting in the right talent for the job, all the way to making sure that everyone in-house is happy, balanced and supported.

WHAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE THE MOST ABOUT WHAT FALLS UNDER THAT TITLE?
Probably the proposals and planning charts. I’m also “Snack Mom!”

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
Snack Mom. Ha! My favorite part of the job is being part of a team and bringing something to the table that is useful. I like when my team feels like everything is being handled.

WHAT’S YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?
If and when there isn’t enough quiet time to get into the paperwork zone.

WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE TIME OF THE DAY?
At work: When I get in early and no one is in yet. I get the most work done during that time. Also lunch. I try to make it a point now to get out to lunch and take co-workers with me. It’s nice to be able to break up the day and be regular people for an hour.

Non-work-related: When the sun is just coming up and it’s still a little brisk outside, but the air is fresh and the birds are starting to wake up and chirp. Also, when the sun is starting to descend and it’s still a little warm as the cool ocean breeze starts to come in. The birds are starting to wind down after a hard day of being a bird, and families are coming together to make dinner and talk about their days (well… on the weekend anyway). I am obviously very lucky, and I know that. There are many that don’t get to experience that, and I think of them during that time as well.

IF YOU DIDN’T HAVE THIS JOB, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING INSTEAD?
It depends on if I were independently wealthy or not, and where I had been previously. Before going to college, I wanted to be a VFX make-up artist, a marine biologist working with dolphins or a park ranger in Yosemite.

If I were independently wealthy, I would complete a painting collection and put up an art show, start a female/those-who-identify-as-female agency, open up a vegan restaurant and be a hardcore animal activist.

HOW EARLY ON DID YOU KNOW THIS WOULD BE YOUR PATH?
I wish people thought about their careers as more than one path. I have many paths, and I don’t think I’m done just yet. You never know where life will take you from one day to the next, so it’s important to live for today.

CAN YOU NAME SOME RECENT PROJECTS YOU HAVE WORKED ON?
CNN 2020 Election promo package, ESPN 40th Anniversary and another that is pretty neat and a big puzzle to figure out, but I can’t tell you just yet…

WHAT IS THE PROJECT THAT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?
I technically work on everything, so they’re all my babies, and I’m proud of all of them for different reasons. Most, if not all, of the projects that we work on start out with a complex puzzle to solve. I work with the team to figure it out and present the solution to the client. That is where I thrive, and those documents are what I’m most proud of as far as my own personal accomplishments and physical contributions to the company.

NAME THREE PIECES OF TECHNOLOGY YOU CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT.
Water filtration systems, giant greenhouses and air conditioning will be vital because of global warming.

For work, it would be really hard to function without my mobile phone, laptop and headphones.

WHAT SOCIAL MEDIA CHANNELS DO YOU FOLLOW?
Mainly Instagram and Facebook. Facebook is where I learn about events/concerts/protests coming up, keep tabs on people’s birthdays, weddings, babies and share my thoughts on factory farming. Instagram is mindless eye candy for the most part, but I do love how close I feel to certain communities there.

DO YOU LISTEN TO MUSIC WHILE YOU WORK? CARE TO SHARE YOUR FAVORITE MUSIC TO WORK TO?
Usually binaural beats (for focus and clarity) and new age relaxation; but if I’m organizing and cleaning up, then The Cure, Bowie, Duran Duran, Radiohead and Bel Canto.

WHAT DO YOU DO TO DE-STRESS FROM IT ALL?
As I mentioned before, it’s important to take a lunch break and bond with co-workers and old friends. Taking a step away and remembering that I am a human being living a life that needs to be enjoyed is key to a happy work-life balance. We aren’t saving lives here; we are making fun things for fun people, so as long as you have the systems and resources in place, the stress is the excitement of making things that exceed expectations.

But if I do let things get to me, the best de-stressor is getting home and into my PJs and snuggling up with my family and animals… drowning myself in the escape of love. Oh, and dark chocolate (vegan, of course).

A post engineer’s thoughts on Adobe MAX, new offerings

By Mike McCarthy

Last week, I had the opportunity to attend Adobe’s MAX conference at the LA Convention Center. Adobe showed me, and 15,000 of my closest friends, the newest updates to pretty much all of its Creative Cloud applications, as well as a number of interesting upcoming developments. From a post production perspective, the most significant pieces of news are the release of Premiere Pro 14 and After Effects 17 (a.ka., the 2020 releases of those Creative Cloud apps).

The main show ran from Monday to Wednesday, with a number of pre-show seminars and activities the preceding weekend. My experience started off by attending a screening of the new Terminator Dark Fate film at LA Live, followed by Q&A with the director and post team. The new Terminator was edited in Premiere Pro, sharing the project assets between a large team of editors and assistants, with extensive use of After Effects, Adobe’s newly acquired Substance app and various other tools in the Creative Cloud.

The post team extolled the improvements in shared project support and project opening times since their last Premiere endeavor on the first Deadpool movie. Visual effects editor Jon Carr shared how they used the integration between Premiere and After Effects to facilitate rapid generation of temporary “postvis” effects. This helped the editors tell the story while they were waiting on the VFX teams to finish generating the final CGI characters and renders.

MAX
The conference itself kicked off with a keynote presentation of all of Adobe’s new developments and releases. The 150-minute presentation covered all aspects of the company’s extensive line of applications. “Creativity for All” is the primary message Adobe is going for, and they focused on the tension between creativity and time. So they are trying to improve their products in ways that give their users more time to be creative.

The three prongs of that approach for this iteration of updates were:
– Faster, more powerful, more reliable — fixing time-wasting bugs, improving hardware use.
– Create anywhere, anytime, with anyone — adding functionality via the iPad, and shared Libraries for collaboration.
– Explore new frontiers — specifically in 3D with Adobe’s Dimension, Substance and Aero)

Education is also an important focus for Adobe, with 15 million copies of CC in use in education around the world. They are also creating a platform for CC users to stream their working process to viewers who want to learn from them, directly from within the applications. That will probably integrate with the new expanded Creative Cloud app released last month. They also have released integration for Office apps to access assets in CC libraries.

The first application updates they showed off were in Photoshop. They have made the new locked aspect ratio scaling a toggle-able behavior, improved the warp tool and improved ways to navigate deep layer stacks by seeing which layers effect particular parts of an image. But the biggest improvement is AI-based object selection. This makes detailed maskings based on simple box selections or rough lassos. Illustrator now has GPU acceleration, improving performance of larger documents and a path simplifying tool to reduce the number of anchor points.

They released Photoshop for the iPad and announced that Illustrator will be following that path as well. Fresco is headed the other direction and now available on Windows. That is currently limited to Microsoft Surface products, but I look forward to being able to try it out on my ZBook-X2 at some point. Adobe XD has new features, and apparently is the best way to move complex Illustrator files into After Effects, which I learned at one of the sessions later.

Premiere
Premiere Pro 14 has a number of new features, the most significant one being AI-driven automatic reframe to allow you to automatically convert your edited project into other aspect ratios for various deliverables. While 16×9 is obviously a standard size, certain web platforms are optimized for square or tall videos. The feature can also be used to reframe content for 2.35 to 16×9 or 4×3, which are frequent delivery requirements for feature films that I work on. My favorite aspect of this new functionality is that the user has complete control over the results.

Unlike other automated features like warp stabilizer, which only offers on/off of applying the results, the auto-frame function just generates motion effect keyframes that can be further edited and customized by the user… once the initial AI pass is complete. It also has a nesting feature for retaining existing framing choices, that results in the creation of a new single-layer source sequence. I can envision this being useful for a number of other workflow processes — such as preparing for external color grading or texturing passes, etc.

They also added better support for multi-channel audio workflows and effects, improved playback performance for many popular video formats, better HDR export options and a variety of changes to make the motion graphics tools more flexible and efficient for users who use them extensively. They also increased the range of values available for clip playback speed and volume, and added support for new camera formats and derivations.

The brains behind After Effects have focused on improving playback and performance for this release and have made some significant improvements in that regard. The other big feature that actually may make a difference is content-aware fill for video. This was sneak previewed at MAX last year and first implemented in the NAB 2019 release of After Effects, but it should be greatly refined and improved in this version since it’s now twice as fast.

They also greatly improved support for OpenEXR frame sequences, especially with multiple render pass channels. The channels can be labeled; it creates a video contact sheet for viewing all the layers in thumbnail form. EXR playback performance is supposed to be greatly improved as well.

Character Animator is now at 3.0, and they have added keyframing of all editable values, trigger-able reposition “cameras” and trigger-able audio effects, among other new features. And Adobe Rush now supports publishing directly to TikTok.

Content Authenticity Initiative
Outside of individual applications, Adobe has launched the Content Authenticity Initiative in partnership with the NY Times and Twitter. It aims to fight fake news and restore consumer confidence in media. Its three main goals are: trust, attribution and authenticity. It aims to present end users with who created an image and who edited or altered it and, if so, in what ways. Seemingly at odds with that, they also released a new mobile app that edits images upon capture, using AI empowered “lenses” for highly stylized looks, even providing a live view.

This opening keynote was followed by a selection of over 200 different labs and sessions available over the next three days. I attended a couple sessions focused on After Effects, as that is a program I know I don’t use to its full capacity. (Does anyone, really?)

Partners
A variety of other partner companies were showing off their products in the community pavilion. HP was pushing 3D printing and digital manufacturing tools that integrate with Photoshop and Illustrator. Dell has a new 27-inch color accurate monitor with built-in colorimeter, presumably to compete with HP’s top end DreamColor displays. Asus also has some new HDR monitors that are Dolby Vision compatible. One is designed to be portable, and is as thin and lightweight as a laptop screen. I have always wondered why that wasn’t a standard approach for desktop displays.

Keynotes
Tuesday opened with a keynote presentation from a number of artists of different types, speaking or being interviewed. Jason Levine’s talk with M. Night Shyamalan was my favorite part, even though thrillers aren’t really my cup of tea. Later, I was able to sit down and talk with Patrick Palmer, Adobe’s Premiere Pro product manager about where Premiere is headed and the challenges of developing HDR creation tools when there is no unified set of standards for final delivery. But I am looking forward to being able to view my work in HDR while I am editing at some point in the future.

One of the highlights of MAX is the 90-minute Sneaks session on Tuesday night, where comedian John Mulaney “helped” a number of Adobe researchers demonstrate new media technologies they are working on. These will eventually improve audio quality, automate animation, analyze photographic authenticity and many other tasks once they are refined into final products at some point in the future.

This was only my second time attending MAX, and with Premiere Rush being released last year, video production was a key part of that show. This year, without that factor, it was much more apparent to me that I was an engineer attending an event catering to designers. Not that this is bad, but I mention it here because it is good to have a better idea of what you are stepping into when you are making decisions about whether to invest in attending a particular event.

Adobe focuses MAX on artists and creatives as opposed to engineers and developers, who have other events that are more focused on their interests and needs. I suppose that is understandable since it is not branded Creative Cloud for nothing. But it is always good to connect with the people who develop the tools I use, and the others who use them with me, which is a big part of what Adobe MAX is all about.


Mike McCarthy is an online editor/workflow consultant with over 10 years of experience on feature films and commercials. He has been involved in pioneering new solutions for tapeless workflows, DSLR filmmaking and multi-screen and surround video experiences. Check out his site.

Behind the Title: Sarofsky EP Steven Anderson

This EP’s responsibilities range gamut “from managing our production staff to treating clients to an amazing dinner.”

Company: Chicago’s Sarofsky

Can you describe your company?
We like to describe ourselves as a design-driven production company. I like to think of us as that but so much more. We can be a one-stop shop for everything from concept through finish, or we can partner with a variety of other companies and just be one piece of the puzzle. It’s like ordering from a Chinese menu — you get to pick what items you want.

What’s your job title, and what does the job entail?
I’m executive producer, and that means different things at different companies and industries. Here at Sarofsky, I am responsible for things that run the gamut from managing our production staff to treating clients to an amazing dinner.

Sarofsky

What would surprise people the most about what falls under that title?
I also run payroll, and I am damn good at it.

How has the VFX industry changed in the time you’ve been working?
It used to be that when you told someone, “This is going to take some time to execute,” that’s what it meant. But now, everyone wants everything two hours ago. On the flip side, the technology we now have access to has streamlined the production process and provided us with some terrific new tools.

Why do you like being on set for shoots? What are the benefits?
I always like being on set whenever I can because decisions are being made that are going to affect the rest of the production paradigm. It’s also a good opportunity to bond with clients and, sometimes, get some kick-ass homemade guacamole.

Did a particular film inspire you along this path in entertainment?
I have been around this business for quite a while, and one of the reasons I got into it was my love of film and filmmaking. I can’t say that one particular film inspired me to do this, but I remember being a young kid and my dad taking me to see The Towering Inferno in the movie theater. I was blown away.

What’s your favorite part of the job?
Choosing a spectacular bottle of wine for a favorite client and watching their face when they taste it. My least favorite has to be chasing down clients for past due invoices. It gets old very quickly.

What is your most productive time of the day?
It’s 6:30am with my first cup of coffee sitting at my kitchen counter before the day comes at me. I get a lot of good thinking and writing done in those early morning hours.

Original Bomb Pop via agency VMLY&R

If you didn’t have this job, what would you be doing instead?
I would own a combo bookstore/wine shop where people could come and enjoy two of my favorite things.

Why did you choose this profession?
I would say this profession chose me. I studied to be an actor and made my living at it for several years, but due to some family issues, I ended up taking a break for a few years. When I came back, I went for a job interview at FCB and the rest is history. I made the move from agency producing to post executive producer five years ago and have not looked back since.

Can you briefly explain one or more ways Sarofsky is addressing the issue of workplace diversity in its business?
We are a smallish women-owned business, and I am a gay man; diversity is part of our DNA. We always look out for the best talent but also try to ensure we are providing opportunities for people who may not have access to them. For example, one of our amazing summer interns came to us through a program called Kaleidoscope 4 Kids, and we all benefited from the experience.

Name some recent projects you have worked on, which are you most proud of, and why?
My first week here at EP, we went to LA for the friends and family screening of Guardians of the Galaxy, and I thought, what an amazing company I work for! Marvel Studios is a terrific production partner, and I would say there is something special about so many of our clients because they keep coming back. I do have a soft spot for our main title for Animal Kingdom just because I am a big Ellen Barkin fan.

Original Bomb Pop via agency VMLY&R

Name three pieces of technology you can’t live without.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t say my MacBook and iPhone, but I also wouldn’t want to live without my cooking thermometer, as I’ve learned how to make sourdough bread this year, and it’s essential.

What social media channels do you follow?
I am a big fan of Instagram; it’s just visual eye candy and provides a nice break during the day. I don’t really partake in much else unless you count NPR. They occupy most of my day.

Do you listen to music while you work? Care to share your favorite music to work to?
I go in waves. Sometimes I do but then I won’t listen to anything for weeks. But I recently enjoyed listening to “Ladies and Gentleman: The Best of George Michael.” It was great to listen to an entire album, a rare treat.

What do you do to de-stress from it all?
I get up early and either walk or do some type of exercise to set the tone for the day. It’s also so important to unplug; my partner and I love to travel, so we do that as often as we can. All that and a 2006 Chateau Margaux usually washes away the day in two delicious sips.

Bonfire adds Jason Mayo as managing director/partner

Jason Mayo has joined digital production company Bonfire in New York as managing director and partner. Industry veteran Mayo will be working with Bonfire’s new leadership lineup, which includes founder/Flame artist Brendan O’Neil, CD Aron Baxter, executive producer Dave Dimeola and partner Peter Corbett. Bonfire’s offerings include VFX, design, CG, animation, color, finishing and live action.

Mayo comes to Bonfire after several years building Postal, the digital arm of the production company Humble. Prior to that he spent 14 years at Click 3X, where he worked closely with Corbett as his partner. While there he also worked with Dimeola, who cut his teeth at Click as a young designer/compositor. Dimeola later went on to create The Brigade, where he developed the network and technology that now forms the remote, cloud-based backbone referred to as the Bonfire Platform.

Mayo says a number of factors convinced him that Bonfire was the right fit for him. “This really was what I’d been looking for,” he says. “The chance to be part of a creative and innovative operation like Bonfire in an ownership role gets me excited, as it allows me to make a real difference and genuinely effect change. And when you’re working closely with a tight group of people who are focused on a single vision, it’s much easier for that vision to be fully aligned. That’s harder to do in a larger company.”

O’Neil says that having Mayo join as partner/MD is a major move for the company. “Jason’s arrival is the missing link for us at Bonfire,” he says. “While each of us has specific areas to focus on, we needed someone who could both handle the day to day of running the company while keeping an eye on our brand and our mission and introducing our model to new opportunities. And that’s exactly his strong suit.”

For the most part, Mayo’s familiarity with his new partners means he’s arriving with a head start. Indeed, his connection to Dimeola, who built the Bonfire Platform — the company’s proprietary remote talent network, nicknamed the “secret sauce” — continued as Mayo tapped Dimeola’s network for overflow and outsourced work while at Postal. Their relationship, he says, was founded on trust.

“Dave came from the artist side, so I knew the work I’d be getting would be top quality and done right,” Mayo explains. “I never actually questioned how it was done, but now that he’s pulled back the curtain, I was blown away by the capabilities of the Platform and how it dramatically differentiates us.

“What separates our system is that we can go to top-level people around the world but have them working on the Bonfire Platform, which gives us total control over the process,” he continues. “They work on our cloud servers with our licenses and use our cloud rendering. The Platform lets us know everything they’re doing, so it’s much easier to track costs and make sure you’re only paying for the work you actually need. More importantly, it’s a way for us to feel connected – it’s like they’re working in a suite down the hall, except they could be anywhere in the world.”

Mayo stresses that while the cloud-based Platform is a huge advantage for Bonfire, it’s just one part of its profile. “We’re not a company riding on the backs of freelancers,” he points out. “We have great, proven talent in our core team who work directly with clients. What I’ve been telling my longtime client contacts is that Bonfire represents a huge step forward in terms of the services and level of work I can offer them.”

Corbett believes he and Mayo will continue to explore new ways of working now that he’s at Bonfire. “In the 14 years Jason and I built Click 3X, we were constantly innovating across both video and digital, integrating live action, post production, VFX and digital engagements in unique ways,” he observes. “I’m greatly looking forward to continuing on that path with him here.”

De-aging John Goodman 30 years for HBO’s The Righteous Gemstones

For HBO’s original series The Righteous Gemstones, VFX house Gradient Effects de-aged John Goodman using its proprietary Shapeshifter tool, an AI-assisted tool that can turn back the time on any video footage. With Shapeshifter, Gradient sidestepped the Uncanny Valley to shave decades off Goodman for an entire episode, delivering nearly 30 minutes of film-quality VFX in six weeks.

In the show’s fifth episode, “Interlude,” viewers journey back to 1989, a time when the Gemstone empire was still growing and Eli’s wife, Aimee-Leigh, was still alive. But going back also meant de-aging Goodman for an entire episode, something never attempted before on television. Gradient accomplished it using Shapeshifter, which allows artists to “reshape” an individual frame and the performers in it and then extend those results across the rest of a shot.

Shapeshifter worked by first analyzing the underlying shape of Goodman’s face. It then extracted important anatomical characteristics, like skin details, stretching and muscle movements. With the extracted elements saved as layers to be reapplied at the end of the process, artists could start reshaping his face without breaking the original performance or footage. Artists could tweak additional frames in 3D down the line as needed, but they often didn’t need to, making the de-aging process nearly automated.

“Shapeshifter an entirely new way to de-age people,” says Olcun Tan, owner and visual effects supervisor at Gradient Effects. “While most productions are limited by time or money, we can turn around award-quality VFX on a TV schedule, opening up new possibilities for shows and films.”

Traditionally, de-aging work for film and television has been done in one of two ways: through filtering (saves time, but hard to scale) or CG replacements (better quality, higher cost), which can take six months to a year. Shapeshifter introduces a new method that not only preserves the actor’s original performance, but also interacts naturally with other objects in the scene.

“One of the first shots of ‘Interlude’ shows stage crew walking in front of John Goodman,” describes Tan. “In the past, a studio would have recommended a full CGI replacement for Goodman’s character because it would be too hard or take too much time to maintain consistency across the shot. With Shapeshifter, we can just reshape one frame and the work is done.”

This is possible because Shapeshifter continuously captures the face, including all of its essential details, using the source footage as its guide. With the data being constantly logged, artists can extract movement information from anywhere on the face whenever they want, replacing expensive motion-capture stages, equipment and makeup teams.

Director Ang Lee: Gemini Man and a digital clone

By Iain Blair

Filmmaker Ang Lee has always pushed the boundaries in cinema, both technically and creatively. His film Life of Pi, which he directed and produced, won four Academy Awards — for Best Direction, Best Cinematography, Best Visual Effects and Best Original Score.

Lee’s Brokeback Mountain won three Academy Awards, including Best Direction, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Original Score. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was nominated for 10 Academy Awards and won four, including Best Foreign Language Film for Lee, Best Cinematography, Best Original Score and Best Art Direction/Set Decoration.

His latest, Paramount’s Gemini Man, is another innovative film, this time disguised as an action-thriller. It stars Will Smith in two roles — first, as Henry Brogan, a former Special Forces sniper-turned-assassin for a clandestine government organization; and second (with the assistance of ground-breaking visual effects) as “Junior,” a cloned younger version of himself with peerless fighting skills who is suddenly targeting him in a global chase. The chase takes them from the estuaries of Georgia to the streets of Cartagena and Budapest.

Rounding out the cast is Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Danny Zakarweski, a DIA agent sent to surveil Henry; Golden Globe Award-winner Clive Owen as Clay Verris, a former Marine officer now seeking to create his own personal military organization of elite soldiers; and Benedict Wong as Henry’s longtime friend, Baron.

Lee’s creative team included director of photography Dion Beebe (Memoirs of a Geisha, Chicago), production designer Guy Hendrix Dyas (Inception, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull), longtime editor Tim Squyres (Life of Pi and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) and composer Lorne Balfe (Mission: Impossible — Fallout, Terminator Genisys).

The groundbreaking visual effects were supervised by Bill Westenhofer, Academy Award-winner for Life of Pi as well as The Golden Compass, and Weta  Digital’s Guy Williams, an Oscar-nominee for The Avengers, Iron Man 3 and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.

Will Smith and Ang Lee on set

I recently talked to Lee — whose directing credits include Taking Woodstock, Hulk, Ride With the Devil, The Ice Storm and Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk — about making the film, which has already generated a lot of awards talk about its cutting-edge technology, the workflow and his love of editing and post.

Hollywood’s been trying to make this for over two decades now, but the technology just wasn’t there before. Now it’s finally here!
It was such a great idea, if you can visualize it. When I was first approached about it by Jerry Bruckheimer and David Ellison, they said, “We need a movie star who’s been around a long time to play Henry, and it’s an action-thriller and he’s being chased by a clone of himself,” and I thought the whole clone idea was so fascinating. I think if you saw a young clone version of yourself, you wouldn’t see yourself as special anymore. It would be, “What am I?” That also brought up themes like nature versus nurture and how different two people with the same genes can be. Then the whole idea of what makes us human? So there was a lot going on, a lot of great ideas that intrigued me. How does aging work and affect you? How would you feel meeting a younger version of yourself? I knew right away it had to be a digital clone.

You certainly didn’t make it easy for yourself as you also decided to shoot it in 120fps at 4K and in 3D.
(Laughs) You’re right, but I’ve been experimenting with new technology for the past decade, and it all started with Life of Pi. That was my first taste of 3D, and for 3D you really need to shoot digitally because of the need for absolute precision and accuracy in synchronizing the two cameras and your eyes. And you need a higher frame rate to get rid of the strobing effect and any strangeness. Then when you go to 120 frames per second, the image becomes so clear and far smoother. It’s like a whole new kind of moviemaking, and that’s fascinating to me.

Did you shoot native 3D?
Yes, even though it’s still so clumsy, and not easy, but for me it’s also a learning process on the set which I enjoy.

Junior

There’s been a lot of talk about digital de-aging use, especially in Scorsese’s The Irishman. But you didn’t use that technique for Will’s younger self, right?
Right. I haven’t seen The Irishman so I don’t know exactly what they did, but this was a total CGI creation, and it’s a lead character where you need all the details and performance. Maybe the de-aging is fine for a quick flashback, but it’s very expensive to do, and it’s all done manually. This was also quite hard to do, and there are two parts to it: Scientifically, it’s quite mind-boggling, and our VFX supervisor Bill Westenhofer and his team worked so hard at it, along with the Weta team headed by VFX supervisor Guy Williams. So did Will. But then the hardest part is dealing with audiences’ impressions of Junior, as you know in the back of your mind that a young Will Smith doesn’t really exist. Creating a fully digital believable human being has been one of the hardest things to do in movies, but now we can.

How early on did you start integrating post and all the VFX?
Before we even started anything, as we didn’t have unlimited money, a big part of the budget went to doing a lot of tests, new equipment, R&D and so on, so we had to be very careful about planning everything. That’s the only way you can reduce costs in VFX. You have to be a good citizen and very disciplined. It was a two-year process, and you plan and shoot layer by layer, and you have to be very patient… then you start making the film in post.

I assume you did a lot of previz?
(Laughs) A whole lot, and not only for all the obvious action scenes. Even for the non-action stuff, we designed and made the cartoons and did previz and had endless meetings and scouted and measured and so on. It was a lot of effort.

How tough was the shoot?
It was very tough and very slow. My last three movies have been like this since the technology’s all so new, so it’s a learning process as you’re figuring it all out as you go. No matter how much you plan, new stuff comes up all the time and equipment fails. It feels very fragile and very vulnerable sometimes. And we only had a budget for a regular movie, so we could only shoot for 80 days, and we were on three continents and places like Budapest and Cartagena as well as around Savannah in the US. Then I insist on doing all the second unit stuff as well, apart from a few establishing shots and sunsets. I have to shoot everything, so we had to plan very carefully with the sound team as every shot is a big deal.

Where did you post?
All in New York. We rented space at Final Frame, and then later we were at Harbor. The thing is, no lab could process our data since it was so huge, so when we were based in Savannah we just built our own technology base and lab so we could process all our dailies and so on — and we bought all our servers, computers and all the equipment needed. It was all in-house, and our technical supervisor Ben Gervais oversaw it all. It was too difficult to take all that to Cartagena, but we took it all to Budapest and then set it all up later in New York for post.

Do you like the post process?
I like the first half, but then it’s all about previews, getting notes, changing things. That part is excruciating. Although I have to give a lot of credit to Paramount as they totally committed to all the VFX quite early and put the big money there before they even saw a cut so we had time to do them properly.

Junior

Talk about editing with Tim Squyres. How did that work?
We sent him dailies. When I’m shooting, I just want to live in my dreams, unless something alarms me, and he’ll let me know. Otherwise, I prefer to work separately. But on this one, since we had to turn over some shots while we were shooting, he came to the set in Budapest, and we’d start post already, which was new to me. Before, I always liked to cut separately.

What were the big editing challenges?
Trying to put all the complex parts together, dealing with the rhythm and pace, going from quiet moments to things like the motorcycle chase scenes and telling the story as effectively as we could —all the usual things. In this medium, everything is more critical visually.

All the VFX play a big role. How many were there?
Over 1,000, but then Junior alone is a huge visual effect in every scene he’s in. Weta did all of him and complained that they got the hardest and most expensive part. (Laughs) The other, easier stuff was spread out to several companies, including Scanline and Clear Angle.

Ang Lee and Iain Blair

Talk about the importance of sound and music.
We did the mix at Harbor on its new stage, and it’s always so important. This time we did something new. Typically, you do Atmos at the final mix and mix the music along with all the rest, but our music editor did an Atmos mix on all the music first and then brought it to us for the final mix. That was very special.

Where did you do the DI and how important is it to you?
It’s huge on a movie like this. We set up our own DI suite in-house at Final Frame with the latest FilmLight Baselight, which is amazing. Our colorist Marcy Robinson had trained on it, and it was a lot easier than on the last film. Dion came in a lot and they worked together, and then I’d come in. We did a lot of work, especially on all the night scenes, enhancing moonlight and various elements.

I think the film turned out really well and looks great. When you have the combination of these elements like 3D, digital cinematography, high frame rate and high resolution, you really get “new immersive cinema.” So for me, it’s a new and different way of telling stories and processing them in your head. The funny thing is, personally I’m a very low-tech person, but I’ve been really pursuing this for the last few years.


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.

Behind the Title: Title Designer Nina Saxon

For 40 years, Nina Saxon has been a pioneer in the area of designing movie titles. She is still one of the few women working in this part of the industry.

NAME: Nina Saxon

COMPANY: Nina Saxon Design

CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR COMPANY?
We design main and end titles for film and television as well as branding for still and moving images.

WHAT’S YOUR JOB TITLE?
Title Designer

WHAT DOES THAT ENTAIL?
Making a moving introduction for films, like a book cover, that introduces a film. Or it might be simple type over picture. Also watching a film and showing the director samples or storyboards of what I think should be used for the film.

WHAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE THE MOST ABOUT WHAT FALLS UNDER THAT TITLE?
That I’m one of only a few women in this field and have worked for 40 years, hiring others to help me only if necessary.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
When my project is done and I get to see my finished work up on the screen.

WHAT’S YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?
Waiting to be paid.

WHAT IS YOUR MOST PRODUCTIVE TIME OF THE DAY?
Morning

IF YOU DIDN’T HAVE THIS JOB, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING INSTEAD?
I’d probably be a psychologist.

HOW EARLY ON DID YOU KNOW THIS WOULD BE YOUR PATH?
In 1975, I was in the film department at UCLA and decided I was determined to work in the film business.

CAN YOU NAME SOME RECENT PROJECTS YOU HAVE WORKED ON?
The upcoming documentary on Paul McCartney called Here, There and Everywhere, and upcoming entertainment industry corporate logos that will be revealed in October. In the past, I did the movie Salt with Angeline Jolie and the movie Flight with Denzel Washington.

WHAT IS THE PROJECT THAT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?
Working on the main title open for Forrest Gump.

NAME THREE PIECES OF TECHNOLOGY YOU CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT.
My iPad, iPhone and computer

WHAT DO YOU DO TO DE-STRESS FROM IT ALL?
I exercise a lot, five to six days a week; drink a nice glass of wine; try to get enough sleep; listen to music while meditating before sleep; and make sure I know what I need to do the next day before I go to bed.

Ziva VFX 1.7 helps simplify CG character creation


Ziva Dynamics has introduced Ziva VFX 1.7, designed to make CG character creation easier thanks to the introduction of Art Directable Rest Shapes (ADRS). This tool allows artists to make characters conform to any shape without losing its dynamic properties, opening up a faster path to cartoons and digi-doubles.

Users can now adjust a character’s silhouette with simple sculpting tools. Once the goal shape is established, Ziva VFX can morph to match it, maintaining all of the dynamics embedded before the change. Whether unnatural or precise, ADRS works with any shape, removing the difficulty of both complex setups and time-intensive corrective work.

The Art Directable Rest Shapes feature has been in development for over a year and was created in collaboration with several major VFX and feature animation studios. According to Ziva, while outputs and art styles differed, each group essentially requested the same thing: extreme accuracy and more control without compromising the dynamics that sell a final shot.

For feature animation characters not based on humans or nature, ADRS can rapidly alter and exaggerate key characteristics, allowing artists to be expressive and creative without losing the power of secondary physics. For live-action films, where the use of digi-doubles and other photorealistic characters is growing, ADRS can minimize the setup process when teams want to quickly tweak a silhouette or make muscles fire in multiple ways during a shot.

According to Josh diCarlo, head of rigging at Sony Pictures Imageworks, “Our creature team is really looking forward to the potential of Art Directable Rest Shapes to augment our facial and shot-work pipelines by adding quality while reducing effort. Ziva VFX 1.7 holds the potential to shave weeks of work off of both processes while simultaneously increasing the quality of the end results.”

To use Art Directable Rest Shapes, artists must duplicate a tissue mesh, sculpt their new shape onto the duplicate and add the new geometry as a Rest Shape over select frames. This process will intuitively morph the character, creating a smooth, novel deformation that adheres to any artistic direction a creative team can think up. On top of ADRS, Ziva VFX 1.7 will also include a new zRBFWarp feature, which can warp NURBS surfaces, curves and meshes.

For a free 60-day trial, click here. Ziva VFX 1.7 is available now as an Autodesk Maya plugin for Windows and Linux users. Ziva VFX 1.7 can be purchased in monthly or yearly installments, depending on user type.

According to Michael Smit, chief commercial officer at Ziva Dynamics, “Ziva is working towards a new platform that will more easily allow us to deploy the software into other software packages, operating systems, and different network architectures. As an example we are currently working on our integrations into iOS and Unreal, both of which have already been used in limited release for production settings. We’re hopeful that once we launch the new platform commercially there will be an opportunity to deploy tools for macOS users.”

Flavor adds Joshua Studebaker as CG supervisor

Creative production house Flavor has added CG supervisor Joshua Studebaker to its Los Angeles studio. For more than eight years, Studebaker has been a freelance CG artist in LA, specializing in design, animation, dynamics, lighting/shading and compositing via Maya, Cinema 4D, Vray/Octane, Nuke and After Effects.

A frequent collaborator with Flavor and its brand and agency partners, Studebaker has also worked with Alma Mater, Arsenal FX, Brand New School, Buck, Greenhaus GFX, Imaginary Forces and We Are Royale in the past five years alone. In his new role with Flavor, Studebaker oversees visual effects and 3D services across the company’s global operations. Flavor’s Chicago, Los Angeles and Detroit studios offer color grading, VFX and picture finishing using tools like Autodesk Lustre and Flame Premium.

Flavor creative director Jason Cook also has a long history of working with Studebaker and deep respect for his talent. “What I love most about Josh is that he is both technical and a really amazing artist and designer. Adding him is a huge boon to the Flavor family, instantly elevating our production capabilities tenfold.”

Flavor has always emphasized creativity as a key ingredient, and according to Studebaker, that’s what attracted him. “I see Flavor as a place to grow my creative and design skills, as well as help bring more standardization to our process in house,” he explained. “My vision is to help Flavor become more agile and more efficient and to do our best work together.”

Boris FX beefs up film VFX arsenal, buys SilhouetteFX, Digital Film Tools

Boris FX, a provider of integrated VFX and workflow solutions for video and film, has bought SilhouetteFX (SFX) and Digital Film Tools (DFT). The two companies have a long history of developing tools used on Hollywood blockbusters and experience collaborating with top VFX studios, including Weta Digital, Framestore, Technicolor and Deluxe.

This is the third acquisition by Boris FX in recent years — Imagineer Systems (2014) and GenArts (2016) — and builds upon the company’s editing, visual effects, and motion graphics solutions used by post pros working in film and television. Silhouette and Digital Film Tools join Boris FX’s tools Sapphire, Continuum and Mocha Pro.

Silhouette’s groundbreaking non-destructive paint and advanced rotoscoping technology was recognized earlier this year by the Academy of Motion Pictures (Technical Achievement Award). It first gained prominence after Weta Digital used the rotoscoping tools on King Kong (2005). Now the full-fledged GPU-accelerated node-based compositing app features over 100 VFX nodes and integrated Boris FX Mocha planar tracking. Over the last 15 years, feature film artists have used Silhouette on films including Avatar (2009), The Hobbit (2012), Wonder Woman (2017), Avengers: End Game (2019) and Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw (2019).

Avengers: End Game courtesy of Marvel

Digital Film Tools (DFT) emerged as an off-shoot of a LA-based motion picture visual effects facility whose work included hundreds of feature films, commercials and television shows.

The Digital Film Tools portfolio includes standalone applications as well as professional plug-in collections for filmmakers, editors, colorists and photographers. The products offer hundreds of realistic filters for optical camera simulation, specialized lenses, film stocks and grain, lens flares, optical lab processes, color correction, keying and compositing, as well as natural light and photographic effects. DFT plug-ins support Adobe’s Photoshop, Lightroom, After Effects and Premiere Pro; Apple’s Final Cut Pro X and Motion; Avid’s Media Composer; and OFX hosts, including Foundry Nuke and Blackmagic DaVinci Resolve.

“This acquisition is a natural next step to our continued growth strategy and singular focus on delivering the most powerful VFX tools and plug-ins to the content creation market,”
“Silhouette fits perfectly into our product line with superior paint and advanced roto tools that highly complement Mocha’s core strength in planar tracking and object removal,” says Boris Yamnitsky, CEO/founder of Boris FX. “Rotoscoping, paint, digital makeup and stereo conversion are some of the most time-consuming, labor-intensive aspects of feature film post. Sharing technology and tools across all our products will make Silhouette even stronger as the leader in these tasks. Furthermore, we are very excited to be working with such an accomplished team [at DFT] and look forward to collaborating on new product offerings for photography, film and video.”

Silhouette founders, Marco Paolini, Paul Miller and Peter Moyer, will continue in their current leadership roles and partner with the Mocha product development team to collaborate on delivering next-generation tools. “By joining forces with Boris FX, we are not only dramatically expanding our team’s capabilities, but we are also joining a group of like-minded film industry pros to provide the best solutions and support to our customers,” says Marco Paolini, Product Designer. “The Mocha planar tracking option we currently license is extremely popular with Silhouette paint and roto artists, and more recently through OFX, we’ve added support for Sapphire plug-ins. Working together under the Boris FX umbrella is our next logical step and we are excited to add new features and continue advancing Silhouette for our user base.”

Both Silhouette and Digital Film Tool plug-ins will continue to be developed and sold under the Boris FX brand. Silhouette will adopt the Boris FX commitment to agile development with annual releases, annual support and subscription options.

Main Image: Silhouette

3D Design + Motion Tour to visit 26 cities, 3D artists presenting

The 3D Design + Motion Tour will hit the road September 2 through December 10, making stops in 26 cities throughout North America and Europe. Artists who want to break into high-end 3D digital production will have the chance to learn from VIPs in the motion design and visual effects industry, including Andrew Kramer from Video Copilot, Nick Campbell from Greyscalegorilla, EJ Hassenfratz with Eyedesyn, Chris Schmidt with Rocket Lasso and Thanassis Pozantzis with Noseman. The tour is sponsored by Maxon, Adobe, Nvidia and Dell and produced by Future Media Conferences with partnership support from NAB Show.

At each 3D Design + Motion Tour stop, attendees will learn how to create a state-of-the-art production company vanity logo animation. Event organizers have tapped the creative team at Perception — the motion graphics design studio recognized for redesigning the Marvel Studios logo and opening animation and visual effects for Black Panther, Ant-Man and the Wasp, Thor: Ragnarok and Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice —to design and execute an exclusive project for the tour. Industry-leading guest artists will break down key project elements and share motion design techniques that highlight the integration and performance between Maxon’s Cinema 4D application, Adobe’s Creative Suite and the Redshift GPU-accelerated renderer for unlimited creative capabilities.

The $95 cost to attend the 3D Design + Motion Tour includes software apps to help artists sharpen their 3D skillsets:
• Adobe CC 30-day license
• Cinema 4D 90-day license
• Redshift 90-day license
• Sketchfab 90-day license
• Project files and resources
• Inclusion in event drawings

Tour registration also includes networking with local artists and VIP presenters, access to tutorials and project files, and follow-up webinars. Space is limited. Registration details are here.

Additional details on the 3D Design + Motion Tour, including tour stops and guest presenters, are available here.

Roger and Big Machine merge, operate as Roger

Creative agency Roger and full-service production company Big Machine have merged — a move that will expand the creative capabilities for their respective agency, brand and entertainment clients. The studios will retain the Roger name and operate at Roger’s newly renovated facility in Los Angeles.

The combined management team includes CD Terence Lee, CD Dane Macbeth, EP Josh Libitsky, director Steve Petersen, CD Ken Carlson and Sean Owolo, who focuses on business development.

Roger now offers expanded talent and resources for projects that require branding, design, animation, VFX, VR/AR, live action and content development. Roger uses Adobe Creative Cloud for most of its workflows. The tools vary from project to project, but outside of the Adobe Suite, they also use Maxon Cinema4D, Autodesk Maya, Blackmagic DaVinci Resolve and Foundry Nuke.

Since the merger, the studio is already embarking on a number of projects, including major creative campaigns for Disney and Sony Pictures.

Roger’s new 6,500-square-foot studio includes four private offices, three editing suites, two conference rooms, an empty shooting space for greenscreen work, a kitchen and a lounge.

Technicolor adds Patrick Smith, Steffen Wild to prepro studio

Technicolor has added Patrick Smith to head its visualization department, partnering with filmmakers to help them realize their vision in a digital environment before they hit the set. By helping clients define lensing, set dimensions, asset placement and even precise on-set camera moves, Smith and his team will play a vital role in helping clients plan their shoots in the virtual environment in ways that feel completely natural and intuitive to them. He reports to Kerry Shea, who heads Technicolor’s Pre-Production Studio.

“By enabling clients to leverage the latest visualization technologies and techniques while using hardware similar to what they are already familiar with, Patrick and his team will empower filmmakers by ensuring their creative visions are clearly defined at the very start of their projects — and remain at the heart of everything they do from their first day on set to take their stories to the next level,” explains Shea. “Bringing visualization and the other areas of preproduction together under one roof removes redundancy from the filmmaking process which, in turn, reduces stress on the storytellers and allows them as much time as possible to focus on telling their story. Until now, the process of preproduction has been a divided and inefficient process involving different vendors and repeated steps. Bringing those worlds together and making it a seamless, start-to-finish process is a game changer.”

Smith has held a number of senior positions within the industry, including most recently as creative director/senior visualization supervisor at The Third Floor. He has worked on titles such as Bumblebee, Avengers: Infinity War, Spider-Man: Homecoming, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and The Secret Life of Walter Mitty.

“Visualization used to involve deciding roughly what you plan to do on set. Today, you can plan out precisely how to achieve your vision on set down to the inch – from the exact camera lens to use, to exactly how much dolly track you’ll need, to precisely where to place your actors,” he says. “Visualization should be viewed as the director’s paint brush. It’s through the process of visualization that directors can visually explore and design their characters and breathe life into their story. It’s a sandbox where they can experiment, play and perfect their vision before the pressure of being on set.”

In other Technicolor news, last week the studio announced that Steffen Wild has joined as head of its virtual production department. “As head of virtual production, Wild will help drive the studio’s approach to efficient filmmaking by bringing previously separate departments together into a single pipeline,” says Shea. “We currently see what used to be separate departments merge together. For example, previz, techviz and postviz, which were all separate ways to find answers to production questions, are now in the process of collaborating together in virtual production.”

Wild has over 20 years of experience, including 10 years spearheading Jim Henson’s Creature Shop’s expending efforts in innovative animation technologies, virtual studio productions and new ways of visual storytelling. As SVP of digital puppetry and visual effects at the Creature Shop, Wild crafted new production techniques using proprietary game engine technologies. He brings with him in-depth knowledge of global and local VFX and animation production, rapid prototyping and cloud-based entertainment projects. In addition to his role in the development of next-generation cinematic technologies, he has set up VFX/animation studios in the US, China and southeast Europe.

Main Image: (L-R) Patrick Smith and Steffen Wild

An artist’s view of SIGGRAPH 2019

By Andy Brown

While I’ve been lucky enough to visit NAB and IBC several times over the years, this was my first SIGGRAPH. Of course, there are similarities. There are lots of booths, lots of demos, lots of branded T-shirts, lots of pairs of black jeans and a lot of beards. I fit right in. I know we’re not all the same, but we certainly looked like it. (The stats regarding women and diversity in VFX are pretty poor, but that’s another topic.)

Andy Brown

You spend your whole career in one industry and I guess you all start to look more and more like each other. That’s partly the problem for the people selling stuff at SIGGRAPH.

There were plenty of compositing demos from of all sorts of software. (Blackmagic was running a hands-on class for 20 people at a time.) I’m a Flame artist, so I think that Autodesk’s offering is best, obviously. Everyone’s compositing tool can play back large files and color correct, composite, edit, track and deliver, so in the midst of a buzzy trade show, the differences feel far fewer than the similarities.

Mocap
Take the world of tracking and motion capture as another example. There were more booths demonstrating tracking and motion capture than anything in the main hall, and all that tech came in different shapes and sizes and an interesting mix of hardware and software.

The motion capture solution required for a Hollywood movie isn’t the same as the one to create a live avatar on your phone, however. That’s where it gets interesting. There are solutions that can capture and translate the movement of everything from your fingers to your entire body using hardware from an iPhone X to a full 360-camera array. Some solutions used tracking ball markers, some used strips in the bodysuit and some used tiny proximity sensors, but the results were all really impressive.

Vicon

Vicon

Some tracking solution companies had different versions of their software and hardware. If you don’t need all of the cameras and all of the accuracy, then there’s a basic version for you. But if you need everything to be perfectly tracked in real time, then go for the full-on pro version with all the bells and whistles. I had a go at live-animating a monkey using just my hands, and apart from ending with him licking a banana in a highly inappropriate manner, I think it worked pretty well.

AR/VR
AR and VR were everywhere, too. You couldn’t throw a peanut across the room without hitting someone wearing a VR headset. They’d probably be able to bat it away whilst thinking they were Joe Root or Max Muncy (I had to Google him), with the real peanut being replaced with a red or white leather projectile. Haptic feedback made a few appearances, too, so expect to be able to feel those virtual objects very soon. Some of the biggest queues were at the North stand where the company had glasses that looked like the glasses everyone was wearing already (like mine, obviously) except the glasses incorporated a head-up display. I have mixed feelings about this. Google Glass didn’t last very long for a reason, although I don’t think North’s glasses have a camera in them, which makes things feel a bit more comfortable.

Nvidia

Data
One of the central themes for me was data, data and even more data. Whether you are interested in how to capture it, store it, unravel it, play it back or distribute it, there was a stand for you. This mass of data was being managed by really intelligent components and software. I was expecting to be writing all about artificial intelligence and machine learning from the show, and it’s true that there was a lot of software that used machine learning and deep neural networks to create things that looked really cool. Environments created using simple tools looked fabulously realistic because of deep learning. Basic pen strokes could be translated into beautiful pictures because of the power of neural networks. But most of that machine learning is in the background; it’s just doing the work that needs to be done to create the images, lighting and physical reactions that go to make up convincing and realistic images.

The Experience Hall
The Experience Hall was really great because no one was trying to sell me anything. It felt much more like an art gallery than a trade show. There were long waits for some of the exhibits (although not for the golf swing improver that I tried), and it was all really fascinating. I didn’t want to take part in the experiment that recorded your retina scan and made some art out of it, because, well, you know, its my retina scan. I also felt a little reluctant to check out the booth that made light-based animated artwork derived from your date of birth, time of birth and location of birth. But maybe all of these worries are because I’ve just finished watching the Netflix documentary The Great Hack. I can’t help but think that a better source of the data might be something a little less sinister.

The walls of posters back in the main hall described research projects that hadn’t yet made it into full production and gave more insight into what the future might bring. It was all about refinement, creating better algorithms, creating more realistic results. These uses of deep learning and virtual reality were applied to subjects as diverse as translating verbal descriptions into character design, virtual reality therapy for post-stroke patients, relighting portraits and haptic feedback anesthesia training for dental students. The range of the projects was wide. Yet everyone started from the same place, analyzing vast datasets to give more useful results. That brings me back to where I started. We’re all the same, but we’re all different.

Main Image Credit: Mike Tosti


Andy Brown is a Flame artist and creative director of Jogger Studios, a visual effects studio with offices in Los Angeles, New York, San Francisco and London.

Autodesk intros Bifrost for Maya at SIGGRAPH

At SIGGRAPH, Autodesk announced a new visual programming environment in Maya called Bifrost, which makes it possible for 3D artists and technical directors to create serious effects quickly and easily.

“Bifrost for Maya represents a major development milestone for Autodesk, giving artists powerful tools for building feature-quality VFX quickly,” says Chris Vienneau, senior director, Maya and Media & Entertainment Collection. “With visual programming at its core, Bifrost makes it possible for TDs to build custom effects that are reusable across shows. We’re also rolling out an array of ready-to-use graphs to make it easy for artists to get 90% of the way to a finished effect fast. Ultimately, we hope Bifrost empowers Maya artists to streamline the creation of anything from smoke, fire and fuzz to high-performance particle systems.”

Bifrost highlights include:

  • Ready-to-Use Graphs: Artists can quickly create state-of-the-art effects that meet today’s quality demands.
  • One Graph: In a single visual programming graph, users can combine nodes ranging from math operations to simulations.
  • Realistic Previews: Artists can see exactly how effects will look after lighting and rendering right in the Arnold Viewport in Maya.
  • Detailed Smoke, Fire and Explosions: New physically-based solvers for aerodynamics and combustion make it easy to create natural-looking fire effects.
  • The Material Point Method: The new MPM solver helps artists tackle realistic granular, cloth and fiber simulations.
  • High-Performance Particle System: A new particle system crafted entirely using visual programming adds power and scalability to particle workflows in Maya.
  • Artistic Effects with Volumes: Bifrost comes loaded with nodes that help artists convert between meshes, points and volumes to create artistic effects.
  • Flexible Instancing: High-performance, rendering-friendly instancing empowers users to create enormous complexity in their scenes.
  • Detailed Hair, Fur and Fuzz: Artists can now model things consisting of multiple fibers (or strands) procedurally.

Bifrost is available for download now and works with any version of Maya 2018 or later. It will also be included in the installer for Maya 2019.2 and later versions. Updates to Bifrost between Maya releases will be available for download from Autodesk AREA.

In addition to the release of Bifrost, Autodesk highlighted the latest versions of Shotgun, Arnold, Flame and 3ds Max. The company gave a tech preview of a new secure enterprise Shotgun that supports network segregation and customer-managed media isolation on AWS, making it possible for the largest studios to collaborate in a closed-network pipeline in the cloud. Shotgun Create, now out of beta, delivers a cloud-connected desktop experience, making it easier for artists and reviewers to see which tasks demand attention while providing a collaborative environment to review media and exchange feedback accurately and efficiently. Arnold 5.4 adds important updates to the GPU renderer, including OSL and OpenVDB support, while Flame 2020.1 introduces more uses of AI with new Sky Extraction tools and specialized image segmentation features. Also on display, the 3ds Max 2020.1 update features modernized procedural tools for 3D modeling.

Maxon intros Cinema 4D R21, consolidates versions into one offering

By Brady Betzel

At SIGGRAPH 2019, Maxon introduced the next release of its graphics software, Cinema 4D R21. Maxon also announced a subscription-based pricing structure as well as a very welcomed consolidation of its Cinema 4D versions into a single version, aptly titled Cinema 4D.

That’s right, no more Studio, Broadcast or BodyPaint. It all comes in one package at one price, and that pricing will now be subscription-based — but don’t worry, the online anxiety over this change seems to have been misplaced.

The cost has been substantially dropped for Cinema 4D R21, leading the way to start what Maxon is calling the “3D for the Real World” initiative. Maxon wants it to be the tool you choose for your graphics needs.

If you plan on upgrading every year or two, the new subscription-based model seems to be a great deal:

– Cinema 4D subscription paid annually: $59.99/month
– Cinema 4D subscription paid monthly: $94.99/month
– Cinema 4D subscription with Redshift paid annually: $81.99/month
– Cinema 4D subscription with Redshift paid monthly: $116.99/month
– Cinema 4D perpetual pricing: $3,495 (upgradeable)

Maxon did mention that if you have previously purchased Cinema 4D, there will be subscription-based upgrade/crossgrade deals coming.

The Updates
Cinema 4D R21 includes some great updates that will be welcomed by many users, both new and experienced. The new Field Force dynamics object allows the use of dynamic forces in modeling and animation within the MoGraph toolset. Caps and bevels have an all-new system that not only allows the extrusion of 3D logos and text effects but also means caps and bevels are integrated on all spline-based objects.

Furthering Cinema 4D’s integration with third-party apps, there is an all-new Mixamo Control rig allowing you to easily control any Mixamo characters. (If you haven’t checked out the models from Mixamo, you should. It’s a great way to find character rigs fast.)

An all-new Intel Open Image Denoise integration has been added to R21 in what seems like part of a rendering revolution for Cinema 4D. From the acquistion of Redshift to this integration, Maxon is expanding its third-party reach and doesn’t seem scared.

There is a new Node Space, which shows what materials are compatible with chosen render engines, as well as a new API available to third-party developers that allows them to integrate render engines with the new material node system. R21 has overall speed and efficiency improvements, with Cinema 4D supporting the latest processor optimizations from both Intel and AMD.

All this being said, my favorite update — or map toward the future — was actually announced last week. Unreal Engine added Cinema 4D .c4d file support via the Datasmith plugin, which is featured in the free Unreal Studio beta.

Today, Maxon is also announcing its integration with yet another game engine: Unity. In my opinion, the future lies in this mix of real-time rendering alongside real-world television and film production as well as gaming. With Cinema 4D, Maxon is bringing all sides to the table with a mix of 3D modeling, motion-graphics-building support, motion tracking, integration with third-party apps like Adobe After Effects via Cineware, and now integration with real-time game engines like Unreal Engine. Now I just have to learn it all.

Cinema 4D R21 will be available on both Mac OS and Windows on Tuesday, Sept. 3. In the meantime, watch out for some great SIGGRAPH presentations, including one from my favorite, Mike Winkelmann, better known as Beeple. You can find some past presentations on how he uses Cinema 4D to cover his “Everydays.”

Virtual Production Field Guide: Fox VFX Lab’s Glenn Derry

Just ahead of SIGGRAPH, Epic Games has published a resource guide called “The Virtual Production Field Guide”  — a comprehensive look at how virtual production impacts filmmakers, from directors to the art department to stunt coordinators to VFX teams and more. The guide is workflow-agnostic.

The use of realtime game engine technology has the potential to impact every aspect of traditional filmmaking, and the trend is increasingly being used in productions ranging from films like Avengers: Endgame and the upcoming Artemis Fowl to TV series like Game of Thrones.

The Virtual Production Field Guide offers an in-depth look at different types of techniques from creating and integrating high-quality CG elements live on set to virtual location scouting to using photoreal LED walls for in-camera VFX. It provides firsthand insights from award-winning professionals who have used these techniques – including directors Kenneth Branagh and Wes Ball, producers Connie Kennedy and Ryan Stafford, cinematographers Bill Pope and Haris Zambarloukos, VFX supervisors Ben Grossmann and Sam Nicholson, virtual production supervisors Kaya Jabar and Glenn Derry, editor Dan Lebental, previs supervisor Felix Jorge, stunt coordinators Guy and Harrison Norris, production designer Alex McDowell, and grip Kim Heath.

As mentioned, the guide is dense with information, so we decided to run an excerpt to give you an idea of what it covers.

Glenn DerryHere is an interview with Glenn Derry, founder and VP of visual effects at Fox VFX Lab, which offers a variety of virtual production services with a focus on performance capture. Derry is known for his work as a virtual production supervisor on projects like Avatar, Real Steel and The Jungle Book.

Let’s find out more.

How has performance capture evolved since projects such as The Polar Express?
In those earlier eras, there was no realtime visualization during capture. You captured everything as a standalone piece, and then you did what they called the director layout. After-the-fact, you would assemble the animation sequences from the motion data captured. Today, we’ve got a combo platter where we’re able to visualize in realtime.
When we bring a cinematographer in, he can start lining up shots with another device called the hybrid camera. It’s a tracked reference camera that he can hand hold. I can immediately toggle between an Unreal overview or a camera view of that scene.The earlier process was minimal in terms of aesthetics. We did everything we could in MotionBuilder, and we made it look as good as it could. Now we can make a lot more mission-critical decisions earlier in the process because the aesthetics of the renders look a lot better.

What are some additional uses for performance capture?
Sometimes we’re working with a pitch piece, where the studio is deciding whether they want to make a movie at all. We use the capture stage to generate what the director has in mind tonally and how the project could feel. We could do either a short little pitch piece or, for something like Call of the Wild, we created 20 minutes and three key scenes from the film to show the studio we could make it work.

The second the movie gets greenlit, we flip over into preproduction. Now we’re breaking down the full script and working with the art department to create concept art. Then we build the movie’s world out around those concepts.

We have our team doing environmental builds based on sketches. Or in some cases, the concept artists themselves are in Unreal Engine doing the environments. Then our virtual art department (VAD) cleans those up and optimizes them for realtime.

Are the artists modeling directly in Unreal Engine?
The artists model in Maya, Modo, 3ds Max, etc. — we’re not particular about the application as long as the output is FBX. The look development, which is where the texturing happens, is all done within Unreal. We’ll also have artists working in Substance Painter and it will auto-update in Unreal. We have to keep track of assets through the entire process, all the way through to the last visual effects vendor.

How do you handle the level of detail decimation so realtime assets can be reused for visual effects?
The same way we would work on AAA games. We begin with high-resolution detail and then use combinations of texture maps, normal maps and bump maps. That allows us to get high-texture detail without a huge polygon count. There are also some amazing LOD [level of detail] tools built into Unreal, which enable us to take a high-resolution asset and derive something that looks pretty much identical unless you’re right next to it, but runs at a much higher frame rate.

Do you find there’s a learning curve for crew members more accustomed to traditional production?
We’re the team productions come to do realtime on live-action sets. That’s pretty much all we do. That said, it requires prep, and if you want it to look great, you have to make decisions. If you were going to shoot rear projection back in the 1940s or Terminator 2 with large rear projection systems, you still had to have all that material pre-shot to make it work.
It’s the same concept in realtime virtual production. If you want to see it look great in Unreal live on the day, you can’t just show up and decide. You have to pre-build that world and figure out how it’s going to integrate.

The visual effects team and the virtual production team have to be involved from day one. They can’t just be brought in at the last minute. And that’s a significant change for producers and productions in general. It’s not that it’s a tough nut to swallow, it’s just a very different methodology.

How does the cinematographer collaborate with performance capture?
There are two schools of thought: one is to work live with camera operators, shooting the tangible part of the action that’s going on, as the camera is an actor in the scene as much as any of the people are. You can choreograph it all out live if you’ve got the performers and the suits. The other version of it is treated more like a stage play. Then you come back and do all the camera coverage later. I’ve seen DPs like Bill Pope and Caleb Deschanel pick this right up.

How is the experience for actors working in suits and a capture volume?
One of the harder problems we deal with is eye lines. How do we assist the actors so that they’re immersed in this, and they don’t just look around at a bunch of gray box material on a set. On any modern visual effects movie, you’re going to be standing in front of a 50-foot-tall bluescreen at some point.

Performance capture is in some ways more actor-centric versus a traditional set because there aren’t all the other distractions in a volume such as complex lighting and camera setup time. The director gets to focus in on the actors. The challenge is getting the actors to interact with something unseen. We’ll project pieces of the set on the walls and use lasers for eye lines. The quality of the HMDs today are also excellent for showing the actors what they would be seeing.

How do you see performance capture tools evolving?
I think a lot of the stuff we’re prototyping today will soon be available to consumers, home content creators, YouTubers, etc. A lot of what Epic develops also gets released in the engine. Money won’t be the driver in terms of being able to use the tools, your creative vision will be.

My teenage son uses Unreal Engine to storyboard. He knows how to do fly-throughs and use the little camera tools we built — he’s all over it. As it becomes easier to create photorealistic visual effects in realtime with a smaller team and at very high fidelity, the movie business will change dramatically.

Something that used to cost $10 million to produce might be a million or less. It’s not going to take away from artists; you still need them. But you won’t necessarily need these behemoth post companies because you’ll be able to do a lot more yourself. It’s just like desktop video — what used to take hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of Flame artists, you can now do yourself in After Effects.

Do you see new opportunities arising as a result of this democratization?
Yes, there are a lot of opportunities. High-quality, good-looking CG assets are still expensive to produce and expensive to make look great. There are already stock sites like TurboSquid and CGTrader where you can purchase beautiful assets economically.

But with the final assembly and coalescing of environments and characters there’s still a lot of need for talented people to do it effectively. I can see companies emerging out of that necessity. We spend a lot of time talking about assets because it’s the core of everything we do. You need to have a set to shoot on and you need compelling characters, which is why actors won’t go away.

What’s happening today isn’t even the tip of the iceberg. There are going to be 50 more big technological breakthroughs along the way. There’s tons of new content being created for Apple, Netflix, Amazon, Disney+, etc. And they’re all going to leverage virtual production.
What’s changing is previs’ role and methodology in the overall scheme of production.
While you might have previously conceived of previs as focused on the pre-production phase of a project and less integral to production, that conception shifts with a realtime engine. Previs is also typically a hands-off collaboration. In a traditional pipeline, a previs artist receives creative notes and art direction then goes off to create animation and present it back to creatives later for feedback.

In the realtime model, because the assets are directly malleable and rendering time is not a limiting factor, creatives can be much more directly and interactively involved in the process. This leads to higher levels of agency and creative satisfaction for all involved. This also means that instead of working with just a supervisor you might be interacting with the director, editor and cinematographer to design sequences and shots earlier in the project. They’re often right in the room with you as you edit the previs sequence and watch the results together in realtime.

Previs image quality has continued to increase in visual fidelity. This means a greater relationship between previs and final pixel image quality. When the assets you develop as a previs artist are of a sufficient quality, they may form the basis of final models for visual effects. The line between pre and final will continue to blur.

The efficiency of modeling assets only once is evident to all involved. By spending the time early in the project to create models of a very high quality, post begins at the outset of a project. Instead of waiting until the final phase of post to deliver the higher-quality models, the production has those assets from the beginning. And the models can also be fed into ancillary areas such as marketing, games, toys and more.

Conductor boosts its cloud rendering with Amazon EC2

Conductor Technologies’ cloud rendering platform will now support Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (Amazon EC2), bringing the virtual compute resources of AWS to Conductor customers. This new capability will provide content production studios working in visual effects, animation and immersive media access to new, secure, powerful resources that will allow them — according to the company — to quickly and economically scale render capacity. Amazon EC2 instances, including cost-effective Spot Instances, are expected to be available via Conductor this summer.

“Our goal has always been to ensure that Conductor users can easily access reliable, secure instances on a massive scale. AWS has the largest and most geographically diverse compute, and the AWS Thinkbox team, which is highly experienced in all facets of high-volume rendering, is dedicated to M&E content production, so working with them was a natural fit,” says Conductor CEO Mac Moore. “We’ve already been running hundreds of thousands of simultaneous cores through Conductor, and with AWS as our preferred cloud provider, I expect we’ll be over the million simultaneous core mark in no time.”

Simple to deploy and highly scalable, Conductor is equally effective as an off-the-shelf solution or customized to a studio’s needs through its API. Conductor’s intuitive UI and accessible analytics provide a wealth of insightful data for keeping studio budgets on track. Apps supported by Conductor include Autodesk Maya and Arnold; Foundry’s Nuke, Cara VR, Katana, Modo and Ocula; Chaos Group’s V-Ray; Pixar’s RenderMan; Isotropix’s Clarisse; Golaem; Ephere’s Ornatrix; Yeti; and Miarmy. Additional software and plug-in support are in progress, and may be available upon request.

Some background on Conductor: it’s a secure cloud-based platform that enables VFX, VR/AR and animation studios to seamlessly offload rendering and simulation workloads to the public cloud. As the only rendering service that is scalable to meet the exact needs of even the largest studios, Conductor easily integrates into existing workflows, features an open architecture for customization, provides data insights and can implement controls over usage to ensure budgets and timelines stay on track.

Technicolor opens prepro studio in LA

Technicolor is opening a new studio in Los Angeles dedicated to creating a seamless pipeline for feature projects — from concept art and visualization through virtual production, production and into final VFX.

As new distribution models increase the demand for content, Technicolor Pre-Production will provide the tools, the talent and the space for creatives to collaborate from day one of their project – from helping set the vision at the start of a job to ensuring that the vision carries through to production and VFX. The result is a more efficient filmmaking process.

Technicolor Pre-Production studio is headed by Kerry Shea, an industry veteran with over 20 years of experience. She is no stranger to this work, having held executive positions at Method Studios, The Third Floor, Digital Domain, The Jim Henson Company, DreamWorks Animation and Sony Pictures Imageworks.

Kerry Shea

Credited on more than 60 feature films including The Jungle Book, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Shea has an extensive background in VFX and post production, as well as live action, animatronics and creature effects.

While the Pre-Production studio stands apart from Technicolor’s visual effects studios — MPC Film, Mill Film, MR. X and Technicolor VFX — it can work seamlessly in conjunction with one or any combination of them.

The Technicolor Pre-Production Studio will comprise of key departments:
– The Business Development Department will work with clients, from project budgeting to consulting on VFX workflows, to help plan and prepare projects for a smooth transition into VFX.
– The VFX Supervisors Department will offer creative supervision across all aspects of VFX on client projects, whether delivered by Technicolor’s studios or third-party vendors.
– The Art Department will work with clients to understand their vision – including characters, props, technologies, and environments – creating artwork that delivers on that vision and sets the tone for the rest of the project.
– The Virtual Production Department will partner with filmmakers to bridge the gap between them and VFX through the production pipeline. Working on the ground and on location, the department will deliver a fully integrated pipeline and shooting services with the flexibility of a small, manageable team — allowing critical players in the filmmaking process to collaborate, view and manipulate media assets and scenes across multiple locations as the production process unfolds.
– The Visualization Department will deliver visualizations that will assist in achieving on screen exactly what clients envisioned.

“With the advancements of tools and technologies, such as virtual production, filmmaking has reached an inflection point, one in which storytellers can redefine what is possible on-set and beyond,” says Shea. “I am passionate about the increasing role and influence that the tools and craft of visual effects can have on the production pipeline and the even more important role in creating more streamlined and efficient workflows that create memorable stories.”

EP Nick Litwinko leads Nice Shoes’ new long-form VFX arm

NYC-based creative studio Nice Shoes has hired executive producer Nick Litwinko to lead its new film and episodic VFX division. Litwinko, who has built a career on infusing a serial entrepreneur approach to the development of creative studios, will grow the division, recruiting talent to bring a boutique, collaborative approach to visual effects for long-form entertainment projects. The division will focus on feature film and episodic projects.

Since coming on board with Nice Shoes, Litwinko and his team already have three long-form projects underway and will continue working to sign on new talent.

Litwinko launched his career at MTV during the height of its popularity, working as a senior producer for MTV Promos/Animation before stepping up as executive producer/director for MTV Commercials. His decade-long tenure led him to launch his own company, Rogue Creative, where he served dual roles as EP and director and oversaw a wide range of animated, live-action and VFX-driven branded campaigns. He was later named senior producer for Psyop New York before launching the New York office of Blind. He moved on to join the team at First Avenue Machine as executive producer/head of production. He was then recruited to join Shooters Inc. as managing director, leading a strategic rebrand, building the company’s NYC offices and playing an instrumental part in the rebrand to Alkemy X.

Behind the Title: Neko founder Lirit Rosenzweig Topaz

NAME: Lirit Rosenzweig Topaz

COMPANY: Burbank’s Neko Productions

CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR COMPANY?
We are an animation studio working on games, TV, film, digital, AR, VR and promotional projects in a variety of styles, including super-cartoony and hyper-realistic CG and 2D. We believe in producing the best product for the budget, and giving our clients and partners peace of mind.

WHAT’S YOUR JOB TITLE?
Founder/Executive Producer

WHAT DOES THAT ENTAIL?
I established the company and built it from scratch. I am the face of the company and the force behind it. I am in touch with our clients and potential clients to make sure all are getting the best service possible.

Dr. Ruth doc

I am a part of the hiring process, making sure our team meets the standards of creativity, communication ability, responsibility and humanness. It is important for me to make sure all of our team members are great human beings, as well as being amazing and talented artists. I oversee all projects and make sure the machine is working smoothly to everyone’s satisfaction.

WHAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE THE MOST ABOUT WHAT FALLS UNDER THAT TITLE?
I am always looking at the big picture, from the macro to the micro, as well. I need to be aware of so many of the smaller details making sure everything is running smoothly for both sides, employees and clients.

WHAT HAVE YOU LEARNED OVER THE YEARS ABOUT RUNNING A BUSINESS?
I have learned that it is a roller coaster and one should enjoy the ride, and that one day doesn’t look like another day. I learned that if you are true to yourself, stick to your objectives and listen to your inner voice while doing a great job, things will work out. I always remember we are all human beings; you can succeed as a business person and have people and clients love working with you at the same time.

A LOT OF IT MUST BE ABOUT TRYING TO KEEP EMPLOYEES AND CLIENTS HAPPY. HOW DO YOU BALANCE THAT?
For sure! That is the key for everything. When employees are happy, they give their heart and soul. As a result, the workplace becomes a place they appreciate, not just a place they need to go to earn a living. Happy clients mean that you did your job well. I balance it by checking in with my team to make sure all is well by asking them to share with me any concerns they may have. At the end of the day, when the team is happy, they do a good job, and that results in satisfied clients.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
It is important for me that everybody comes to work with a smile on their face and to be a united team with the goal to create great projects. This usually results in their thinking out of the box and looking for ways to be efficient, to push the envelope and to make sure creativity is always at the highest level. Working on projects similar to ones we did in the past, but also to work on projects and styles we haven’t done before.

Dr. Ruth doc

I like the fact that I am a woman running a company. Being a woman allows me to juggle well, be on top of a few things at the same time and still be caring and loving.

WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE TIME OF THE DAY?
I have two. One is the beginning of the day when I know I have a full day ahead of me to create work, influence, achieve and do many things. Two is the evening, when I am back home with my family.

CAN YOU NAME SOME RECENT CLIENTS?
Sega, Wayforward and the recent Ask Dr Ruth documentary.

NAME THREE PIECES OF TECHNOLOGY YOU CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT.
My iPhone, my iPad and my computer.

Bipolar Studio gives flight to Uber Air campaign

Tech company Uber has announced their latest transportation offering — an aerial ride-sharing service. With plans to begin service within cities as soon as 2023, Uber Elevate launched their marketing campaign today at the Uber Elevate Summit. Uber Elevate picked LA-based creative and production boutique Bipolar Studio to create their integrated campaign, which includes a centerpiece film, experiential VR installation, print stills and social content.

The campaign’s centerpiece film Airborne includes stunning imagery that is 100 percent CGI. Beginning on an aerial mass transit platform at Mission Bay HQ, the flight travels across the city of San Francisco, above landmarks like where the Warriors play and Transamerica Tower. Lights blink on the ground below and buildings appear as silhouettes in the far background. The Uber Air flight lands in Santa Clara on Uber’s skytower with a total travel time of 18 minutes — compared to an hour or more driving through rush hour traffic. Multi-floor docking will allow Uber Air to land up to 1000 eVTOLs (those futuristic-looking vehicles that hover, take off and land vertically) per hour.

At the Uber Elevate Summit, attendees had the opportunity to experience a full flight inside a built-out physical cabin via a high-fidelity four-minute VR installation. After the Summit, the installation will travel to Uber events globally. Still images and social media content will further extend the campaign’s reach.

Uber Elevates head of design, John Badalamenti, explains, “We worked shoulder-to-shoulder with Bipolar Studio to create an entirely photoreal VR flight experience, detailed at a high level of accuracy from the physics of flight and advanced flight patterns, down to the dust on the windows. This work represents a powerful milestone in communicating our vision through immersive storytelling and creates a foundation for design iteration that advances our perspective on the rider experience. Bipolar took things a step beyond that as well, creating Airborne, our centerpiece 2D film, enabling future Uber Air passengers to take in the breadth and novelty of the journey outside the cabin from the perspective of the skyways.”

Bipolar developed a bespoke AI-fueled pipeline that could capture, manage and process miles and miles of actual data, then faithfully mirror the real terrain, buildings, traffic and scattered people in cities. They then re-used the all-digital assets, which gave them full freedom to digitally scout the city for locations for “Airborne.” Shooting the spot, as with live-action production, they were able to place the CG camera anywhere in the digital city to capture the aircraft. This gave the team a lot of room to play.

For the animation work, they built a new system through Side Effects Houdini where the flight of the vehicle wasn’t animated but rather simulated with real physics. The team coded a custom plugin to be able to punch in a number for the speed of the aircraft, its weight, and direction, then have AI do everything else. This allowed them to see it turn on the flight path, respond to wind turbulence and even oscillate when taking off. It also allowed them to easily iterate, change variables and get precise dynamics. They could then watch the simulations play out and see everything in realtime.

City Buildings
To bring this to life, Bipolor had to entirely digitize San Francisco. They spent a lot of time creating a pipeline and built the entire city with miles and miles of actual data that matched the terrain and buildings precisely. They then detailed the buildings and used AI to generate moving traffic — and even people, if you can spot them — to fill the streets. Some of the areas required a LIDAR scan for rebuilding. The end result is an incredibly detailed digital recreation of San Francisco. Each of the houses is a full model with windows, walls and doors. Each of the lights in the distance is a car. Even Alcatraz is there. They took the same approach to Santa Clara.

Data Management
Bipolar rendered out 32-bit EXRs in 4K, with each frame having multiple layers for maximum control by the client in the comp stage. That gave them a ton of data and raw number of files to deal with. Thankfully, it wasn’t the studio’s first time dealing with massive amounts of data — their internal infrastructure is already setup to handle a high volume of data being worked on simultaneously. They were also able to use the SSDs on their servers, in certain cases, for a faster time in rendering comps and pre-comps.

Review: Red Giant’s VFX Suite plugins

By Brady Betzel

If you have ever watched After Effects tutorials, you are bound to have seen the people who make up Red Giant. There is Aharon Rabinowitz, who you might mistake for a professional voiceover talent; Seth Worley, who can combine a pithy sense of humor and over-the-top creativity seamlessly; and my latest man-crush Daniel Hashimoto, better known as “Action Movie Dad” of Action Movie Kid.

In these videos, these talented pros show off some amazing things they created using Red Giant’s plugin offerings, such as the Trapcode Suite, the Magic Bullet Suite, Universe and others.

Now, Red Giant is trying to improve your visual effects workflow even further with the new VFX Suite for Adobe After Effects (although some work in Adobe Premiere as well).

The new VFX Suite is a compositing focused toolkit that will complement many aspects of your work, from green screen keying to motion graphics compositing with tools such as Video Copilot’s Element 3D. Whether you want to seamlessly composite light and atmospheric fog with fewer pre-composites, add a reflection to an object easily or even just have a better greenscreen keyer, the VFX Suite will help.

The VFX Suite includes Supercomp, Primatte Keyer 6, King Pin Tracker, Spot Clone Tracker, Optical Glow; Chromatic Displacement, Knoll Light Factory 3.1, Shadow and Reflection. The VFX Suite is priced at $999 unless you qualify for the academic discount, which means you can get it for $499.

In this review, I will go over each of the plugins within the VFX Suite. Up first will be Primatte Keyer 6.

Overall, I love Red Giant’s GUIs. They seem to be a little more intuitive, allowing me to work more “creatively” as opposed to spending time figuring out technical issues.

I asked Red Giant what makes VFX Suite so powerful and Rabinowitz, head of marketing for Red Giant and general post production wizard, shared this: “Red Giant has been helping VFX artists solve compositing challenges for over 15 years. For VFX suite, we looked at those challenges with fresh eyes and built new tools to solve them with new technologies. Most of these tools are built entirely from scratch. In the case of Primatte Keyer, we further enhanced the UI and sped it up dramatically with GPU acceleration. Primatte Keyer 6 becomes even more powerful when you combine the keying results with Supercomp, which quickly turns your keyed footage into beautifully comped footage.”

Primatte Keyer 6
Primatte is a chromakey/single-color keying technology used in tons of movies and television shows. I got familiar with Primatte when BorisFX included it in its Continuum suite of plugins. Once I used Primatte and learned the intricacies of extracting detail from hair and even just using their auto-analyze function, I never looked back. On occasion, Primatte needs a little help from others, like Keylight, but I can usually pull easy and tough keys all within one or two instances of Primatte.

If you haven’t used Primatte before, you essentially pick your key color by drawing a line or rectangle around the color, adjust the detail and opacity of the matte, and — boom — you’re done. With Primatte 6 you now also get Core Matte, a new feature that draws an inside mask automatically while allowing you to refine the edges — this is a real time-saver when doing hundreds of interview greenscreen keys, especially when someone decides to wear a reflective necklace or piece of jewelry that usually requires an extra mask and tracking. Primatte 6 also adds GPU optimization, gaining even more preview and rendering speed than previous versions.

Supercomp
If you are an editor like me — who knows enough to be dangerous when compositing and working within After Effects — sometimes you just want (or need) a simpler interface without having to figure out all the expressions, layer order, effects and compositing modes to get something to look right. And if you are an Avid Media Composer user, you might have encountered the Paint Effect Tool, which is one of those one-for-all plugins. You can paint, sharpen, blur and much more from inside one tool, much like Supercomp. Think of the Supercomp interface as a Colorista or Magic Bullet Looks-type interface, where you can work with composite effects such as fog, glow, lights, matte chokers, edge blend and more inside of one interface with much less pre-composing.

The effects are all GPU-accelerated and are context-aware. Supercomp is a great tool to use with your results from the Primatte Keyer, adding in atmosphere and light wraps quickly and easily inside one plugin instead of multiple.

King Pin Tracker and Spot Clone Tracker
As an online editor, I am often tasked with sign replacements, paint-out of crew or cameras in shots, as well as other clean-ups. If I can’t accomplish what I want with BorisFX Continuum while using Mocha inside of Media Composer or Blackmagic’s DaVinci Resolve, I will jump over to After Effects and try my hand there. I don’t practice as much corner pinning as I would like, so I often forget the intricacies when tracking in Mocha and copying Corner Pin or Transform Data to After Effects. This is where the new King Pin Tracker can ease any difficulties, especially when performing corner pinning on relatively simple objects but still need to keyframe positions or perform a planar track without using multiple plugins or applications.

The Spot Clone Tracker is exactly what is says it is. Much like Resolve’s Patch Replace, Spot Clone Tracker allows you to track one area while replacing that same area with another area from the screen. In addition, Spot Clone Tracker has options to flip vertical, flip horizontal, add noise, and adjust brightness and color values. For such a seemingly simple tool, the Spot Clone Tracker is the darkhorse in this race. You’d be surprised how many clone and paint tools don’t have adjustments, like flipping and flopping or brightness changes. This is a great tool for quick dead-pixel fixes and painting out GoPros when you don’t need to mask anything out. (Although there is an option to “Respect Alpha.”)

Optical Glow and Knoll Light Factory 3.1
Have you ever been in an editing session that needed police lights amplified or a nice glow on some text but the stock plugins just couldn’t get it right? Optical Glow will solve this problem. In another amazing, simple-yet-powerful Red Giant plugin, Optical Glow can be applied and gamma-adjusted for video, log and linear levels right off the bat.

From there you can pick an inner tint, outer tint and overall glow color via the Colorize tool and set the vibrance. I really love the Falloff, Highlight Rolloff, and Highlights Only functions, which allow you to fine-tune the glow and just how much it shows what it affects. It’s so simple that it is hard to mess up, but the results speak for themselves and render out quicker than with other glow plugins I am using.

Knoll Light Factory has been newly GPU-accelerated in Version 3.1 to decrease render times when using its more than 200 presets or when customizing your own lens flares. Optical Glow and Knoll Light Factory really complement each other.

Chromatic Displacement
Since watching an Andrew Kramer tutorial covering displacement, I’ve always wanted to make a video that showed huge seismic blasts but didn’t really want to put the time into properly making chromatic displacement. Lucky for me, Red Giant has introduced Chromatic Displacement! Whether you want to make rain drops appear on the camera lens or add a seismic blast from a phaser, Chromatic Displacement will allow you to offset your background with a glass-, mirror- or even heatwave-like appearance quickly. Simply choose the layer you want to displace from and adjust parameters such as displacement amount, spread and spread chroma, and whether you want to render using the CPU or GPU.

Shadow and ReflectionRed Giant packs Shadow and Reflection plugins into the VFX Suite as well. The Shadow plugin not only makes it easy to create shadows in front of or behind an object based on alpha channel or brightness, but, best of all, it gives you an easy way to identify the point where the shadow should bend. The Shadow Bend option lets you identify where the bend exists, what color the bend axis should be, the type of seam and seam the size, and even allows for motion blur.

The Reflection plugin is very similar to the Shadow plugin and produces quick and awesome reflections without any After Effects wizardry. Just like Shadow, the Reflection plugin allows you to identify a bend. Plus, you can adjust the softness of the reflection quickly and easily.

Summing Up
In the end, Red Giant always delivers great and useful plugins. VFX Suite is no different, and the only downside some might point to is the cost. While $999 is expensive, if compositing is a large portion of your business, the efficiency you gain might outweigh the cost.

Much like Shooter Suite does for online editors, Trapcode Suite does for VFX masters and Universe does for jacks of all trades, VFX Suite will take all of your ideas and help them blend seamlessly into your work.


Brady Betzel is an Emmy-nominated online editor at Margarita Mix in Hollywood, working on Life Below Zero and Cutthroat Kitchen. You can email Brady at bradybetzel@gmail.com. Follow him on Twitter @allbetzroff.

Quick Chat: Sinking Ship’s Matt Bishop on live-action/CG series

By Randi Altman

Toronto’s Sinking Ship Entertainment is a production, distribution and interactive company specializing in children’s live-action and CGI-blended programming. The company has 13 Daytime Emmys and a variety of other international awards on its proverbial mantel. Sinking Ship has over 175 employees across all its divisions, including its VFX and interactive studio.

Matt Bishop

Needless to say, the company has a lot going on. We decided to reach out to Matt Bishop, founding partner at Sinking Ship, to find out more.

Sinking Ship produces, creates visual effects and posts its own content, but are you also open to outside projects?
Yes, we do work in co-production with other companies or contract our post production service to shows that are looking for cutting-edge VFX.

Have you always created your own content?
Sinking Ship has developed a number of shows and feature films, as well as worked in co-production with production companies around the world.

What came first, your post or your production services? Or were they introduced in tandem?
Both sides of company evolved together as a way to push our creative visions. We started acquiring equipment on our first series in 2004, and we always look for new ways to push the technology.

Can you mention some of your most recent projects?
Some of our current projects include Dino Dana (Season 4), Dino Dana: The Movie, Endlings and Odd Squad Mobile Unit.

What is your typical path getting content from set to post?
We have been working with Red cameras for years, and we were the first company in Canada to shoot in 4K over a decade ago. We shoot a lot of content, so we create backups in the field before the media is sent to the studio.

Dino Dana

You work with a lot of data. How do you manage and keep all of that secure?
Backups, lots of backups. We use a massive LTO-7 tape robot and we have over a 2PB of backup storage on top of that. We recently added Qumulo to our workflow to ensure the most secure method possible.

What do you use for your VFX work? What about your other post tools?
We use a wide range of software, but our main tools in our creature department are Pixologic Zbrush and Foundry Mari, with all animation happening inside Autodesk Maya.

We also have a large renderfarm to handle the amount of shots, and our render engine of choice is Arnold, which is now an Autodesk project.  In post we use an Adobe Creative Cloud pipeline with 4K HDR color grading happening in DaVinci Resolve. Qumulo is going to be a welcome addition as we continue to grow and our outputs become more complex.


Randi Altman is the founder and editor-in-chief of postPerspective. She has been covering production and post production for more than 20 years. 

Axis provides 1,000 VFX shots for the TV series Happy!

UK-based animation and visual effects house Axis Studios has delivered 1,000 shots across 10 episodes on the second series of the UCP-produced hit Syfy show Happy!.

Based on Grant Morrison and Darick Robertson’s graphic novel, Happy! follows alcoholic ex-cop turned hitman Nick Sax (Christopher Meloni), who teams up with imaginary unicorn Happy (voiced by Patton Oswalt). In the second season, the action moves from Christmastime to “the biggest holiday rebranding of all time” and a plot to “make Easter great again,” courtesy of last season’s malevolent child-kidnapper, Sonny Shine (Christopher Fitzgerald).

Axis Studios, working across its three creative sites in Glasgow, Bristol, and London, collaborated with executive producer and director Brian Taylor and showrunner Patrick Macmanus to raise the bar on the animation of the fully CG character. The studio also worked on a host of supporting characters, including a “chain-smoking man-baby,” a gimp-like Easter Bunny and even a Jeff Goldblum-shaped cloud. Alongside the extensive animation work, the team’s VFX workload greatly increased from the first season — including two additional episodes, creature work, matte painting, cloud simulations, asset building and extensive effects and clean-up work.

Building on the success of the first season, the 100-person team of artists further developed the animation of the lead character, Happy!, improving the rig, giving more nuanced emotions and continually working to integrate him more in the real-world environments.

RPS editors talk workflow, creativity and Michelob Ultra’s Robots

By Randi Altman

Rock Paper Scissors (RPS) is a veteran editing house specializing in commercials, music videos and feature films. Founded by Oscar-winning editor Angus Wall (The Social Network, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo), RPS has a New York office as well as a main Santa Monica location that it shares with sister companies A52, Elastic and Jax.

We recently reached out to RPS editor Biff Butler and his assistant editor Alyssa Oh (both Adobe Premiere users) to find out about how they work, their editing philosophy and their collaboration on the Michelob Ultra Robots spot that premiered during this year’s Super Bowl.

Let’s find out more about their process…

Rock Paper Scissors, Santa Monica

What does your job entail?
Biff Butler: Simply put, someone hands us footage (and a script) and we make something out of it. The job is to act as cheerleader for those who have been carrying the weight of a project for weeks, maybe months, and have just emerged from a potentially arduous shoot.

Their job is to then sell the work that we do to their clients, so I must hold onto and protect their vision, maintaining that initial enthusiasm they had. If the agency has written the menu, and the client has ordered the meal, then a director is the farmer and the editor the cook.

I frequently must remind myself that although I might have been hired because of my taste, I am still responsible for feeding others. Being of service to someone else’s creative vision is the name of the game.

What’s your workflow like?
Alyssa Oh: At the start of the project, I receive the footage from production and organize it to Biff’s specs. Once it’s organized, I pass it off and he watches all the footage and assembles an edit. Once we get deeper into the project, he may seek my help in other aspects of the edit, including sound design, pulling music, creating graphics, temporary visual effects and creating animations. At the end of the project, I prep the edits for finishing color, mix, and conform.

What would surprise people about being an editor?
Oh: When I started, I associated editorial with “footage.” It surprised me that, aside from editing, we play a large part in decision-making for music and developing sound design.

Butler: I’ve heard the editor described as the final writer in the process. A script can be written and rewritten, but a lot happens in the edit room once shots are on a screen. The reality of seeing what actually fits within the allotted time that the format allows for can shape decisions as can the ever-evolving needs of the client in question. Another aspect we get involved with is the music — it’s often the final ingredient to be considered, despite how important a role it plays.

Robots

What do you enjoy the most about your job?
Oh: By far, my favorite part is the people that I work with. We spend so much time together; I think it’s important to not just get along, but to also develop close relationships. I’m so grateful to work with people who I look forward to spending the day with.

At RPS, I’ve gained so many great friendships over the years and learn a lot from everyone around me —- not just in the aspect of editorial, but also from the people at companies that work alongside us — A52, Elastic and Jax.

Butler: At the risk of sounding corny, what turns me on most is collaboration and connection with other creative talents. It’s a stark contrast to the beginning of the job, which I also very much adore — when it’s just me and my laptop, watching footage and judging shots.

Usually we get a couple days to put something together on our own, which can be a peaceful time of exploration and discovery. This is when I get to formulate my own opinions and points of view on the material, which is good to establish but also is something I must be ready to let go of… or at least be flexible with. Once the team gets involved in the room — be it the agency or the director — the real work begins.

As I said before, being of service to those who have trusted me with their footage and ideas is truly an honorable endeavor. And it’s not just those who hire us, but also talents we get to join forces with on the audio/music side, effects, etc. On second thought, the free supply of sparkly water we have on tap is probably my favorite part. It’s all pretty great.

What’s the hardest part of the job?
Oh: For me, the hardest part of our job are the “peaks and valleys.” In other words, we don’t have a set schedule, and with each project, our work hours will vary.

Robots

Butler: I could complain about the late nights or long weekends or unpredictable schedules, but those are just a result of being employed, so I count myself fortunate that I even get to moan about that stuff. Perhaps one of the trickiest parts is in dealing with egos, both theirs and mine.

Inevitably, I serve as mediator between a creative agency and the director they hired, and the client who is paying for this whole project. Throw in the mix my own sense of ownership that develops, and there’s a silly heap of egos to manage. It’s a joy, but not everyone can be fully satisfied all the time.

If you couldn’t edit for a living, what would you do?
Oh: I think I would definitely be working in a creative field or doing something that’s hands-on (I still hope to own a pottery studio someday). I’ve always had a fondness for teaching and working with kids, so perhaps I’d do something in the teaching field.

Butler: I would be pursuing a career in directing commercials and documentaries.

Did you know from a young age that you would be involved in this industry?
Oh: In all honesty, I didn’t know that this would be my path. Originally, I wanted to go into
broadcast, specifically sports broadcasting. I had an interest in television production since
high school and learned a bit about editing along the way.

However, I had applied to work at RPS as a production assistant shortly after graduating and quickly gained interest in editing and never looked back!
Butler : I vividly recall seeing the movie Se7en in the cinema and being shell-shocked by the opening title sequence. The feeling I was left with was so raw and unfiltered, I remember thinking, “That is what I want to do.” I wasn’t even 100 percent sure what that was. I knew I wanted to put things together! It wasn’t even so much a mission to tell stories, but to evoke emotion — although storytelling is most often the way to get there.

Robots

At the same time, I was a kid who grew up under the spell of some very effective marketing campaigns — from Nike, Jordan, Gatorade — and knew that advertising was a field I would be interesting in exploring when it came time to find a real job.

As luck would have it, in 2005 I found myself living in Los Angeles after the rock band I was in broke up, and I walked over to a nearby office an old friend of mine had worked at, looking for a job. She’d told me it was a place where editors worked. Turns out, that place was where many of my favorite ads were edited, and it was founded by the guy who put together that Se7en title sequence. That place was Rock Paper Scissors, and it’s been my home ever since.

Can you guys talk about the Michelob Ultra Robots spot that first aired during the Super Bowl earlier this year? What was the process like?
Butler: The process involved a lot of trust, as we were all looking at frames that didn’t have any of the robots in — they were still being created in CG — so when presenting edits, we would have words floating on screen reading “Robot Here” or “Robot Runs Faster Now.”

It says a lot about the agency in that it could hold the client’s hand through our rough edit and have them buy off on what looked like a fairly empty edit. Working with director Dante Ariola at the start of the edit helped to establish the correct rhythm and intention of what would need to be conveyed in each shot. Holding on to those early decisions was paramount, although we clearly had enough human performances to rest are hats on too.

Was there a particular cut that was more challenging than the others?
Butler: The final shot of the spot was a battle I lost. I’m happy with the work, especially the quality of human reactions shown throughout. I’m also keen on the spot’s simplicity. However, I had a different view of how the final shot would play out — a closer shot would have depicted more emotion and yearning in the robot’s face, whereas where we landed left the robot feeling more defeated — but you can’t win them all.

Robots

Did you feel extra stress knowing that the Michelob spot would air during the Super Bowl?
Butler: Not at all. I like knowing that people will see the work and having a firm airdate reduces the likelihood that a client can hem and haw until the wheels fall off. Thankfully there wasn’t enough time for much to go wrong!

You’ve already talked about doing more than just editing. What are you often asked to do in addition to just editing?
Butler: Editors are really also music supervisors. There can be a strategy to it, also knowing when to present a track you really want to sell through. But really, it’s that level of trust between myself and the team that can lead to some good discoveries. As I mentioned before, we are often tasked with just providing a safe and nurturing environment for people to create.

Truly, anybody can sit and hit copy and paste all day. I think it’s my job to hold on to that initial seed or idea or vision, and protect it through the final stages of post production. This includes ensuring the color correction, finishing and sound mix all reflect intentions established days or weeks ahead when we were still fresh enough in our thinking to be acting on instinct.

I believe that as creative professionals, we are who we are because of our instincts, but as a job drags on and on, we are forced to act more with our heads than our hearts. There is a stamina that is required, making sure that what ends up on the TV is representative of what was initially coming out of that instinctual artistic expression.

Does your editing hat change depending on the type of project you are cutting?
Butler: No, not really. An edit is an edit. All sessions should involve laughter and seriousness and focus and moments to unwind and goof off. Perhaps the format will determine the metaphorical hat, or to be more specific, the tempo.

Selecting shots for a 30- or 60-second commercial is very different than chasing moments for a documentary or long-form narrative. I’ll often remind myself to literally breathe slower when I know a shot needs to be long, and the efficiency with which I am telling a story is of less importance than the need to be absorbed in a moment.

Can you name some of your favorite technology?
Oh: My iPhone and all the apps that come with it; my Kindle, which allows me to be as indecisive as I want when it comes to picking a book and traveling; my laptop; and noise-cancelling headphones!

Butler: The carbonation of water, wireless earphones and tiny solid-state hard drives.

Zoic in growth mode, adds VFX supervisor Wanstreet, ups Overstrom

VFX house Zoic Studios has made changes to its creative team, adding VFX supervisor Chad Wanstreet to its Culver City studio and promoting Nate Overstrom to creative director in its New York studio.

Wanstreet has nearly 15 years of experience in visual effects, working across series, feature film, commercial and video game projects. He comes to Zoic from FuseFX, where he worked on television series including NBC’s Timeless, Amazon Prime’s The Tick, Marvel Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. for ABC and Starz’s Emmy-winning series Black Sails.

Overstrom has spent over 15 years of his career with Zoic, working across the Culver City and New York City studios, earning two Emmy nominations and working on top series including Banshee, Maniac and Iron Fist. He is currently the VFX supervisor on Cinemax’s Warrior.

The growth of the creative department is accompanied by the promotion of several Zoic lead artists to VFX supervisors, with Andrew Bardusk, Matt Bramante, Tim Hanson and Billy Spradlin stepping up to lead teams on a wide range of episodic work. Bardusk just wrapped Season 4 of DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, Bramante just wrapped Noah Hawley’s upcoming feature film Lucy in the Sky, Hanson just completed Season 2 of Marvel’s Cloak & Dagger, and Spradlin just wrapped Season 7 of CW’s Arrow.

This news comes on the heels of a busy start of the year for Zoic across all divisions, including the recent announcement of the company’s second development deal — optioning New York Times best-selling author Michael Johnston’s fantasy novel Soleri for feature film and television adaptation. Zoic also added Daniel Cohen as executive producer, episodic and series in New York City, and Lauren F. Ellis as executive producer, episodic and series in Culver City.

Main Image Caption: (L-R) Chad Wanstreet and Nate Overstrom

UK’s Jellyfish adds virtual animation studio and Kevin Spruce

London-based visual effects and animation studio Jellyfish Pictures is opening of a new virtual animation facility in Sheffield. The new site is the company’s fifth studio in the UK, in addition to its established studios in Fitzrovia, Central London; Brixton; South London; and Oval, South London. This addition is no surprise considering Jellyfish created one of Europe’s first virtual VFX studios back in 2017.

With no hardware housed onsite, Jellyfish Pictures’ Sheffield studio — situated in the city center within the Cooper Project Complex — will operate in a completely PC-over-IP environment. With all technology and pipeline housed in a centrally-based co-location, the studio is able to virtualize its distributed workstations through Teradici’s remote visualization solution, allowing for total flexibility and scalability.

The Sheffield site will sit on the same logical LAN as the other four studios, providing access to the company’s software-defined storage (SDS) from Pixit Media, enabling remote collaboration and support for flexible working practices. With the rest of Jellyfish Pictures’ studios all TPN-accredited, the Sheffield studio will follow in their footsteps, using Pixit Media’s container solution within PixStor 5.

The innovative studio will be headed up by Jellyfish Pictures’ newest appointment, animation director Kevin Spruce. With a career spanning over 30 years, Spruce joins Jellyfish from Framestore, where he oversaw a team of 120 as the company’s head of animation. During his time at Framestore, Spruce worked as animation supervisor on feature films such as Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, The Legend of Tarzan and Guardians of the Galaxy. Prior to his 17-year stint at Framestore, Spruce held positions at Canadian animation company, Bardel Entertainment and Spielberg-helmed feature animation studio Amblimation.

Jellyfish Pictures’ northern presence will start off with a small team of animators working on the company’s original animation projects, with a view to expand its team and set up with a large feature animation project by the end of the year.

“We have multiple projects coming up that will demand crewing up with the very best talent very quickly,” reports Phil Dobree, CEO of Jellyfish Pictures. “Casting off the constraints of infrastructure, which traditionally has been the industry’s way of working, means we are not limited to the London talent pool and can easily scale up in a more efficient and economical way than ever before. We all know London, and more specifically Soho, is an expensive place to play, both for employees working here and for the companies operating here. Technology is enabling us to expand our horizon across the UK and beyond, as well as offer talent a way out of living in the big city.”

For Spruce, the move made perfect sense: “After 30 years working in and around Soho, it was time for me to move north and settle in Sheffield to achieve a better work life balance with family. After speaking with Phil, I was excited to discover he was interested in expanding his remote operation beyond London. With what technology can offer now, the next logical step is to bring the work to people rather than always expecting them to move south.

“As animation director for Jellyfish Pictures Sheffield, it’s my intention to recruit a creative team here to strengthen the company’s capacity to handle the expanding slate of work currently in-house and beyond. I am very excited to be part of this new venture north with Jellyfish. It’s a vision of how creative companies can grow in new ways and access talent pools farther afield.”

 

Amazon’s Good Omens: VFX supervisor Jean-Claude Deguara

By Randi Altman

Good versus evil. It’s a story that’s been told time and time again, but Amazon’s Good Omens turns that trope on its head a bit. With Armageddon approaching, two unlikely heroes and centuries-long frenemies— an angel (Michael Sheen) and demon (David Tennant) — team up to try to fight off the end of the world. Think buddy movie, but with the fate of the world at stake.

In addition to Tennant and Sheen, the Good Omens cast is enviable — featuring Jon Hamm, Michael McKean, Benedict Cumberbatch and Nick Offerman, just to name a few. The series is based on the 1990 book by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman.

Jean-Claude Degaura

As you can imagine, this six-part end-of-days story features a variety of visual effects, from creatures to environments to particle effects and fire. London’s Milk was called on to provide 650 visual effects shots, and its co-founder Jean-Claude Deguara supervised all.

He was also able to talk directly with Gaiman, which he says was a huge help. “Having access to Neil Gaiman as the author of Good Omens was just brilliant, as it meant we were able to ask detailed questions to get a more detailed brief when creating the VFX and receive such insightful creative feedback on our work. There was never a question that couldn’t be answered. You don’t often get that level of detail when you’re developing the VFX.”

Let’s find out more about Deguara’s process and the shots in the show as he walks us through his collaboration and creating some very distinctive characters.

Can you talk about how early you got involved on Good Omens?
We were involved right at the beginning, pre-script. It’s always the best scenario for VFX to be involved at the start, to maximize planning time. We spent time with director Douglas Mackinnon, breaking down all six scripts to plan the VFX methodology — working out and refining how to best use VFX to support the storytelling. In fact, we stuck to most of what we envisioned and we continued to work closely with him throughout the project.

How did getting involved when you did help the process?
With the sheer volume and variety of work — 650 shots, a five-month post production turnaround and a crew of 60 — the planning and development time in preproduction was essential. The incredibly wide range of work spanned multiple creatures, environments and effects work.

Having constant access to Neil as author and showrunner was brilliant as we could ask for clarification and more details from him directly when creating the VFX and receive immediate creative feedback. And it was invaluable to have Douglas working with us to translate Neil’s vision in words onto the screen and plan out what was workable. It also meant I was able to show them concepts the team were developing back in the studio while we were on set in South Africa. It was a very collaborative process.

It was important to have strong crew across all VFX disciplines as they worked together on multiple sequences at the same time. So you’re starting in tracking on one, in effects on another and compositing and finishing everything off on another. It was a big logistical challenge, but certainly the kind that we relish and are well versed in at Milk.

Did you do previs? If so, how did that help and what did you use?
We only used previs to work out how to technically achieve certain shots or to sell an idea to Douglas and Neil. It was generally very simple, using gray scale animation with basic geometry. We used it to do a quick layout of how to rescale the dog to be a bigger hellhound, for example.

You were on set supervising… can you talk about how that helped?
It was a fast-moving production with multiple locations in the UK over about six months, followed by three months in South Africa. It was crucial for the volume and variety of VFX work required on Good Omens that I was across all the planning and execution of filming for our shots.

Being on set allowed me to help solve various problems as we went along. I could also show Neil and Douglas various concepts that were being developed back in the studio, so that we could move forward more quickly with creative development of the key sequences, particularly the challenging ones such as Satan and the Bentley.

What were the crucial things to ensure during the shoot?
Making sure all the preparation was done meticulously for each shot — given the large volume and variety of the environments and sets. I worked very closely with Douglas on the shoot so we could have discussions to problem-solve where needed and find creative solutions.

Can you point to an example?
We had multiple options for shots involving the Bentley, so our advance planning and discussions with Douglas involved pulling out all the car sequences in the series scripts and creating a “mini script” specifically for the Bentley. This enabled us to plan which assets (the real car, the art department’s interior car shell or the CG car) were required and when.

You provided 650 VFX shots. Can you describe the types of effects?
We created everything from creatures (Satan exploding up out of the ground; a kraken; the hellhound; a demon and a snake) to environments (heaven – a penthouse with views of major world landmarks, a busy Soho street); feathered wings for Michael Sheen’s angel Aziraphale and David Tennant’s demon Crowley, and a CG Bentley in which Tennant’s Crowley hurtles around London.

We also had a large effects team working on a whole range of effects over the six episodes — from setting the M25 and the Bentley on fire to a flaming sword to a call center filled with maggots to a sequence in which Crowley (Tennant) travels through the internet at high speed.

Despite the fantasy nature of the subject matter, it was important to Gaiman that the CG elements did not stand out too much. We needed to ensure the worlds and characters were always kept grounded in reality. A good example is how we approached heaven and hell. These key locations are essentially based around an office block. Nothing too fantastical, but they are, as you would expect, completely different and deliberately so.

Hell is the basement, which was shot in a disused abattoir in South Africa, whilst heaven is a full CG environment located in the penthouse with a panoramic view over a cityscape featuring landmarks such as the Eiffel Tower, The Shard and the Pyramids.

You created many CG creatures. Can you talk about the challenges of that and how you accomplished them?
Many of the main VFX features, such as Satan (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch), appear only once in the six-part series as the story moves swiftly toward the apocalypse. So we had to strike a careful balance between delivering impact yet ensuring they were immediately recognizable and grounded in reality. Given our fast five-month post- turnaround, we had our key teams working concurrently on creatures such as a kraken; the hellhound; a small, portly demon called Usher who meets his demise in a bath of holy water; and the infamous snake in the Garden of Eden.

We have incorporated Ziva VFX into our pipeline, which ensured our rigging and modeling teams maximized the development and build phases in the timeframe. For example, the muscle, fat and skin simulations are all solved on the renderfarm; the animators can publish a scene and then review the creature effects in dailies the next day.

We use our proprietary software CreatureTools for rigging all our creatures. It is a modular rigging package, which allows us to very quickly build animation rigs for previs or blocking and we build our deformation muscle and fat rigs in Ziva VFX. It means the animators can start work quickly and there is a lot of consistency between the rigs.

Can you talk about the kraken?
The kraken pays homage to Ray Harryhausen and his work on Clash of the Titans. Our team worked to create the immense scale of the kraken and take water simulations to the next level. The top half of the kraken body comes up out of the water and we used a complex ocean/water simulation system that was originally developed for our ocean work on the feature film Adrift.

Can you dig in a bit more about Satan?
Near the climax of Good Omens, Aziraphale, Crowley and Adam witness the arrival of Satan. In the early development phase, we were briefed to highlight Satan’s enormous size (about 400 feet) without making him too comical. He needed to have instant impact given that he appears on screen for just this one long sequence and we don’t see him again.

Our first concept was pretty scary, but Neil wanted him simpler and more immediately recognizable. Our concept artist created a horned crown, which along with his large, muscled, red body delivered the look Neil had envisioned.

We built the basic model, and when Cumberbatch was cast, the modeling team introduced some of his facial characteristics into Satan’s FACS-based blend shape set. Video reference of the actor’s voice performance, captured on a camera phone, helped inform the final keyframe animation. The final Satan was a full Ziva VFX build, complete with skeleton, muscles, fat and skin. The team set up the muscle scene and fat scene in a path to an Alembic cache of the skeleton so that they ended up with a blended mesh of Satan with all the muscle detail on it.

We then did another skin pass on the face to add extra wrinkles and loosen things up. A key challenge for our animation team — lead by Joe Tarrant — lay in animating a creature of the immense scale of Satan. They needed to ensure the balance and timing of his movements felt absolutely realistic.

Our effects team — lead by James Reid — layered multiple effects simulations to shatter the airfield tarmac and generate clouds of smoke and dust, optimizing setups so that only those particles visible on camera were simulated. The challenge was maintaining a focus on the enormous size and impact of Satan while still showing the explosion of the concrete, smoke and rubble as he emerges.

Extrapolating from live-action plates shot at an airbase, the VFX team built a CG environment and inserted live action of the performers into otherwise fully digital shots of the gigantic red-skinned devil bursting out of the ground.

And the hellhound?
Beelzebub (Anna Maxwell Martin) sends the antichrist (a boy named Adam) a giant hellhound. By giving the giant beast a scary name, Adam will set Armageddon in motion. In reality, Adam really just wants a loveable pet and transforms the hellhound into a miniature hound called, simply, Dog.

A Great Dane performed as the hellhound, photographed in a forest location while a grip kept pace with a small square of bluescreen. The Milk team tracked the live action and performed a digital head and neck replacement. Sam Lucas modeled the head in Autodesk Maya, matching the real dog’s anatomy before stretching its features into grotesquery. A final round of sculpting followed in Pixologic ZBrush, with artists refining 40-odd blend shapes for facial expression.

Once our rigging team got the first iteration of the blend shapes, they passed the asset off to animation for feedback. They then added an extra level of tweaking around the lips. In the creature effects phase, they used Ziva VFX to add soft body jiggle around the bottom of the lips and jowls.

What about creating the demon Usher?
One of our favorite characters was the small, rotund, quirky demon creature called Usher. He is a fully rigged CG character. Our team took a fully concepted image and adapted it to the performance and physicality of the actor. To get the weight of Usher’s rotund body, the rigging team — lead by Neil Roche — used Ziva VFX to run a soft body simulation on the fatty parts of the creature, which gave him a realistic jiggle. They then added a skin simulation using Ziva’s cloth solver to give an extra layer of wrinkling across Usher’s skin. Finally they used nCloth in Maya to simulate his sash and medals.

Was one more challenging/rewarding than the others?
Satan, because of his huge scale and the integrated effects.

Out of all of the effects, can you talk about your favorite?
The CG Bentley without a doubt! The digital Bentley featured in scenes showing the car tearing around London and the countryside at 90 miles per hour. Ultimately, Crowley drives through hell fire on the M25, it catches fire and burns continuously as he heads toward the site of Armageddon. The production located a real Bentley 3.5 Derby Coupe Thrupp & Maberly 1934, which we photo scanned and modeled in intricate detail. We introduced subtle imperfections to the body panels, ensuring the CG Bentley had the same handcrafted appearance as the real thing and would hold up in full-screen shots, including continuous transitions from the street through a window to the actors in an interior replica car.

In order to get the high speed required, we shot plates on location from multiple cameras, including on a motorbike to achieve the high-speed bursts. Later, production filled the car with smoke and our effects team added CG fire and burning textures to the exterior of our CG car, which intensified as he continued his journey.

You’ve talked about the tight post turnaround? How did you show the client shots for approval?
Given the volume and wide range of work required, we were working on a range of sequences concurrently to maximize the short post window — and align our teams when they were working on similar types of shot.

We had constant access to Neil and Douglas throughout the post period, which was crucial for approvals and feedback as we developed key assets and delivered key sequences. Neil and Douglas would visit Milk regularly for reviews toward delivery of the project.

What tools did you use for the VFX?
Amazon (AWS) for cloud rendering, Ziva for creature rigging, Maya, Nuke, Houdini for effects and Arnold for rendering.

What haven’t I asked that is important to touch on?
Our work on Soho, in which Michael Sheen’s Aziraphale bookshop is situated. Production designer Michael Ralph created a set based on Soho’s Berwick Street, comprising a two-block street exterior constructed up to the top of the first story, with the complete bookshop — inside and out — standing on the corner.

Four 20-x-20-foot mobile greenscreens helped our environment team complete the upper levels of the buildings and extend the road into the far distance. We photo scanned both the set and the original Berwick Street location, combining the reference to build digital assets capturing the district’s unique flavor for scenes during both day and nighttime.


Before and After: Soho

Mackinnon wanted crowds of people moving around constantly, so on shooting days crowds of extras thronged the main section of street and a steady stream of vehicles turned in from a junction part way down. Areas outside this central zone remained empty, enabling us to drop in digital people and traffic without having to do takeovers from live-action performers and cars. Milk had a 1,000-frame cycle of cars and people that it dropped into every scene. We kept the real cars always pulling in round the corner and devised it so there was always a bit of gridlock going on at the back.

And finally, we relished the opportunity to bring to life Neil Gaiman and Douglas Mackinnon’s awesome apocalyptic vision for Good Omens. It’s not often you get to create VFX in a comedy context. For example, the stuff inside the antichrist’s head: whatever he thinks of becomes reality. However, for a 12-year-old child, this means reality is rather offbeat.


Randi Altman is the founder and editor-in-chief of postPerspective. She has been covering production and post production for more than 20 years. 

Behind the Title: Ntropic Flame artist Amanda Amalfi

NAME: Amanda Amalfi

COMPANY: Ntropic (@ntropic)

CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR COMPANY?
Ntropic is a content creator producing work for commercials, music videos and feature films as well as crafting experiential and interactive VR and AR media. We have offices in San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York City and London. Some of the services we provide include design, VFX, animation, color, editing, color grading and finishing.

WHAT’S YOUR JOB TITLE?
Senior Flame Artist

WHAT DOES THAT ENTAIL?
Being a senior Flame artist involves a variety of tasks that really span the duration of a project. From communicating with directors, agencies and production teams to helping plan out any visual effects that might be in a project (also being a VFX supervisor on set) to the actual post process of the job.

Amanda worked on this lipstick branding video for the makeup brand Morphe.

It involves client and team management (as you are often also the 2D lead on a project) and calls for a thorough working knowledge of the Flame itself, both in timeline management and that little thing called compositing. The compositing could cross multiple disciplines — greenscreen keying, 3D compositing, set extension and beauty cleanup to name a few. And it helps greatly to have a good eye for color and to be extremely detail-oriented.

WHAT MIGHT SURPRISE PEOPLE ABOUT YOUR ROLE?
How much it entails. Since this is usually a position that exists in a commercial house, we don’t have as many specialties as there would be in the film world.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
First is the artwork. I like that we get to work intimately with the client in the room to set looks. It’s often a very challenging position to be in — having to create something immediately — but the challenge is something that can be very fun and rewarding. Second, I enjoy being the overarching VFX eye on the project; being involved from the outset and seeing the project through to delivery.

WHAT’S YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?
We’re often meeting tight deadlines, so the hours can be unpredictable. But the best work happens when the project team and clients are all in it together until the last minute.

WHAT IS YOUR MOST PRODUCTIVE TIME OF THE DAY?
The evening. I’ve never been a morning person so I generally like the time right before we leave for the day, when most of the office is wrapping up and it gets a bit quieter.

IF YOU DIDN’T HAVE THIS JOB, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING INSTEAD?
Probably a tactile art form. Sometimes I have the urge to create something that is tangible, not viewed through an electronic device — a painting or a ceramic vase, something like that.

HOW EARLY ON DID YOU KNOW THIS WOULD BE YOUR PATH?
I loved films that were animated and/or used 3D elements growing up and wanted to know how they were made. So I decided to go to a college that had a computer art program with connections in the industry and was able to get my first job as a Flame assistant in between my junior and senior years of college.

ANA Airlines

CAN YOU NAME SOME RECENT PROJECTS YOU HAVE WORKED ON?
Most recently I worked on a campaign for ANA Airlines. It was a fun, creative challenge on set and in post production. Before that I worked on a very interesting project for Facebook’s F8 conference featuring its AR functionality and helped create a lipstick branding video for the makeup brand Morphe.

IS THERE A PROJECT THAT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?
I worked on a spot for Vaseline that was a “through the ages” concept and we had to create looks that would read as from 1880s, 1900, 1940s, 1970s and present day, in locations that varied from the Arctic to the building of the Brooklyn Bridge to a boxing ring. To start we sent the digitally shot footage with our 3D and comps to a printing house and had it printed and re-digitized. This worked perfectly for the ’70s-era look. Then we did additional work to age it further to the other eras — though my favorite was the Arctic turn-of-the-century look.

NAME SOME TECHNOLOGY YOU CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT.
Flame… first and foremost. It really is the most inclusive software — I can grade, track, comp, paint and deliver all in one program. My monitors — the 4K Eizo and color-calibrated broadcast monitor, are also essential.

WHAT SOCIAL MEDIA CHANNELS DO YOU FOLLOW?
Mostly Instagram.

DO YOU LISTEN TO MUSIC WHILE YOU WORK? 
I generally have music on with clients, so I will put on some relaxing music. If I’m not with clients, I listen to podcasts. I love How Did This Get Made and Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend.

WHAT DO YOU DO TO DE-STRESS FROM IT ALL?
Hiking and cooking are two great de-stressors for me. I love being in nature and working out and then going home and making a delicious meal.

NYC’s The-Artery expands to larger space in Chelsea

The-Artery has expanded and moved into a new 7,500-square-foot space in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood. Founded by chief creative officer Vico Sharabani, The-Artery will use this extra space while providing visual effects, post supervision, offline editorial, live action and experience design and development across multiple platforms.

According to Sharabani, the new space is not only a response to the studio’s growth, but allows The-Artery to foster better collaboration and reinforce its relationships with clients and creative partners. “As a creative studio, we recognize how important it is for our artists, producers and clients to be working in a space that is comfortable and supportive of our creative process,” he says. “The extraordinary layout of this new space, the size, the lighting and even our location, allows us to provide our clients with key capabilities and plays an important part in promoting our mission moving forward.”

Recent The-Artery projects include 2018’s VR-enabled production for Mercedez-Benz, their work on Under Armour’s “Rush” campaign and Beyonce’s Coachella documentary, Homecoming.

They have also worked on feature films like Netflix’s Beasts of No Nation, Wes Anderson’s Oscar-winning Grand Budapest Hotel and the crime caper Ocean’s 8.

The-Artery’s new studio features a variety of software including Flame, Houdini, Cinema 4D, 3ds Max, Maya, the Adobe Creative Cloud suite of tools, Avid Media Composer, Shotgun for review and approval and more.

The-Artery features a veteran team of talented team of artists and creative collaborators, including a recent addition — editor and former Mad River Post owner Michael Elliot. “Whether they are agencies, commercial and film directors or studios, our clients always work directly with our creative directors and artists, collaborating closely throughout a project,” says Sharabani.

Main Image: Vico Sharabani (far right) and team in their new space.

Phosphene’s visual effects for Showtime’s Escape at Dannemora

By Randi Altman

The Showtime limited series Escape at Dannemora is based on the true story of two inmates (David Sweat and Richard Matt) who escape from an Upstate New York prison. They were aided by Tilly, a female prison employee, whose husband also worked at Clinton Correctional Facility. She helped run the tailor shop where both men worked and had an intimate relationship with both men.

Matt Griffin

As we approach Emmy season, we thought it was a good time to reach out to the studio that provided visual effects for the Ben Stiller-directed miniseries, which was nominated for a Golden Globe for best television limited series or movie. Escape at Dannemora stars Patricia Arquette, Benicio Del Toro and Paul Dano.

New York City-based Phosphene was called on to create a variety of visual effects, including turning five different locations into the Clinton Correctional Facility, the maximum security prison where the escape took place. The series was also nominated for an Emmy for its Outstanding Visual Effects in A Supporting Role.

We recently spoke with VFX producer Matt Griffin and VFX supervisor Djuna Wahlrab to find out more.

How early did you guys get involved in the project? Were there already set plans for the types of VFX needed? How much input did Phosphene have?
Matt Griffin: There were key sequences that were discussed with us very early on. The most crucial among them were Sweat’s Run, which was a nine-minute “oner” that opened Episode 5; the gruesome death scene of Broome County Sheriff’s Deputy Kevin Tarsia and an ambitious crane shot that revealed the North Yard in the prison.

Djuna Wahlrab

What were the needs of the filmmakers and how did your studio fill that need?
Were you on set supervising?
Griffin: Ben Stiller and the writers had a very clear vision for these challenging sequences, and therefore had a very realistic understanding of how ambitious the VFX would be. They got us involved right at the start so we could be as collaborative as possible with production in preparing the methodology for execution.

In that same spirit, they had us supervise the majority of the shoot, which positioned us to be involved as the natural shifts and adjustments of production arose day to day. It was amazing to be creative problem solvers with the whole team and not just reacting to what happened once in post.

I know that creating the prison was a big part — taking pieces of a few different prisons to make one?
Djuna Wahlrab: Clinton Correctional is a functioning prison, so we couldn’t shoot the whole series within its premises — instead we filmed in five different locations. We shot at a decommissioned prison in Pittsburgh, the prison’s tailor shop was staged in an old warehouse in Brooklyn, and the Honor Block (where our characters were housed) and parts of the prison bowels were built on a stage in Queens. Remaining pieces under the prison were shot in Yonkers, New York in an active water treatment plant. Working closely with production designer Mark Ricker, we tackled the continuity across all these locations.

The upper courts overlook the town.

We knew the main guard tower visible from the outside of Clinton Correctional was crucial, so we always planned to carry that through to Pittsburgh. Scenes taking place just inside the prison wall were also shot in Pittsburgh, and it was not as long as Clinton so we extended the depth of those shots.

While the surrounding mountainside terrain is on beautiful display from the North Yard, it’s also felt from the ground among the buildings within the prison. When looking down the length of the streets, you can see the sloping side of the mountain just over the wall. These scenes were filmed in Pittsburgh, so what you see beyond those walls is actually a bustling hilly city with water towers and electric lines and highways, so we had to adjust to match the real location.

Can you talk about the shot that had David Sweat crawling through pipes in the basement of the prison?
Wahlrab: For what we call Sweat’s Run — because we were creating a “oner” out of 17 discrete pieces — preproduction was crucial. The previs went far beyond a compositional guide. Using blueprints from three different locations and plans for the eventual stage set, orthographic views were created with extremely detailed planning for camera rigging and hand-off points. Drawing on this early presentation, Matt Pebler and the camera department custom-built many of the rigs required for our constricted spaces and meticulous overlapping sections.

The previs was a common language for all departments at the start, but as each piece of the run was filmed, the previs was updated with completed runs and the requirements would shift. Shooting one piece of the run would instantly lock in requirements for the other connecting pieces, and we’d have to determine a more precise plan moving forward from that point. It took a high level of collaboration and flexibility from all departments to constantly narrow the margin for what level of precision was required from everyone.

Sweat preparing for escape.

Can you talk about the scene where Sweat runs over the sheriff’s deputy Tarsia?
Wahlrab: Special effects had built a rig for a partial car that would be safe to “run over” a stunt man. A shell of a vehicle was suspended from an arm off a rigged tactical truck, so that they moved in parallel. Sweat’s stunt car floated a few feet off the ground. The shell had a roof, windows, a windshield, a hood and a driver’s seat. Below that the sides, grill and wheels of the car were constructed of a soft foam. The stunt man for Tarsia was rigged with wires so they could control his drag beneath the car.

In this way, we were able to get the broad strokes of the stunt in-camera. Though the car needed to be almost completely replaced with CG, its structure took the first steps to inform the appropriate environmental re-lighting needed for the scene. The impact moment was a particular challenge because, of course, the foam grill completely gave way to Tarsia’s body. We had to simulate the cracking of the bumper and the stamp of the blood from Tarsia’s wounds. We also had to reimagine how Tarsia’s body would have moved with this rigid impact.

Tarsia’s death: Replaced stunt car, added blood and re-animated the victim.

For Tarsia himself, in addition to augmenting the chosen take, we used alt takes from the shoot for various parts of the body to recreate a Tarsia with more appropriate physical reactions to the trauma we were simulating. There was also a considerable amount of hand painting this animation to help it all mesh together. We added blood on the wheels, smok,  and animated pieces of the broken bumper, all of which helped to ground Tarsia in the space.

You also made the characters look younger. Can you talk about what tools you used for this particular effect?
Wahlrab: Our goal was to support this jump in time, but not distract by going too far. Early on, we did tests where we really studied the face of each actor. From this research, we determined targeted areas for augmentation, and the approach really ended up being quite tailored for each character.

We broke down the individual regions of the face. First, we targeted wrinkles with tailored defocusing. Second, we reshaped recessed portions of the face, mostly with selective grading. In some cases, we retextured the skin on top of this work. At the end of all of this, we had to reintegrate this into the grainy 16mm footage.

Can you talk about all the tools you used?
Griffin: At Phosphene, we use Foundry Nuke Studio and Autodesk 3ds Max. For additional support, we rely on Mocha Pro, 3DEqualizer and PF Track, among many others.


Added snow, cook fire smoke and inmates to upper tier.

Any other VFX sequences that you can talk about?
Wahlrab: As with any project, weather continuity was a challenge. Our prison was represented by five locations, but it took many more than that to fill out the lives of Tilly and Lyle beyond their workplace. Because we shot a few scenes early on with snow, we were locked into that reality in every single location going forward. The special FX team would give us practical snow in the areas with the most interaction, and we were charged with filling out much of the middle and background. For the most part, we relied on photography, building custom digital matte paintings for each shot. We spent a lot of time upstate in the winter, so I found myself pulling off the road in random places in search of different kinds of snow coverage. It became an obsession, figuring out the best way to shoot the same patch of snow from enough angles to cover my needs for different shots, at different times of day, not entirely knowing where we’d need to use it.

What was the most challenging shots?
Wahlrab: Probably the most challenging location to shoot was the North Yard within the prison. Clinton Correctional is a real prison in Dannemora, New York. It’s about 20 miles south of the Canadian border, set into the side of this hill in what is really a beautiful part of the country.This was the inmates outdoor space, divided into terraces overlooking the whole town of Dannemora and the valley beyond. Though the production value of shooting in an active prison was amazing, it also presented quite a few logistical challenges. For safety (ours as well as the prisoners), the gear allowed in was quite restricted. Many of the tools I rely on had to be left behind. Then, load-in required a military grade inspection by the COs, who examined every piece of our equipment before it could enter or exit. The crew was afforded no special privileges for entering the prison and we were shuffled through the standard intake. It was time consuming, and very much limited how long we’d be able to shoot that day once inside.


Before and After: Cooking fires in the upper courts.

Production did the math and balanced the crew and cast load-in with the coverage required. We had 150 background extras for the yard, but in reality, the average number of inmates, even on the coldest of days, was 300. Also, we needed the yard to have snow on the ground for continuity. Unfortunately it was an unseasonably warm day, and after the first few hours, the special effects snow that was painstakingly created and placed during the night was completely melted. Special effects was also charged with creating cook fire for the stoves in each court, but they could only bring in so much fuel. Our challenge was clear — fill out the background inmate population, add snow and cook fire smoke… everywhere.

The biggest challenge in this location was the shot Ben conceived of that would reveal of the enormity of the North Yard. It was this massive crane shot that began at the lowest part of the yard and panned to the upper courts. It slowly pulls out and cranes up to reveal the entire outdoor space. It’s really a beautiful way to introduce us to the North Yard, revealing one terraced level at a time until you have the whole space in view. It’s one of my favorite moments in the show.

Some shots outside the prison involved set extensions.

There’s this subtext about the North Yard and its influence on Sweat and Matt. Out in the yard, the inmates have a bit more autonomy. With good behavior, they have some ownership over the courts and are given the opportunity to curate these spaces. Some garden, many cook meals, and our characters draw and paint. For those lucky enough to be in the upper courts, they have this beautiful view beyond the walls of the prison, and you can almost forget you are locked up.

I think we’re meant to wonder, was it this autonomy or this daily reminder of the outside world beyond the prison walls that fueled their intense devotion to the escape? This location is a huge story piece, and I don’t think it would have been possible to truly render the scale of it all without the support of visual effects.


Randi Altman is the founder and editor-in-chief of postPerspective. She has been covering production and post production for more than 20 years. 

Sydney’s Fin creates CG robot for Netflix film I Am Mother

Fin Design + Effects, an Australian-based post production house with studios in Melbourne and Sydney, brings its VFX and visual storytelling expertise to the upcoming Netflix film I Am Mother. Directed by Grant Sputore, the post-apocalyptic film stars Hilary Swank, Rose Byrne and Clara Rugaard.

In I Am Mother, a teenage girl (Rugaard) is raised underground by the robot “Mother” (voiced by Byrne), designed to repopulate the earth following an extinction event. But their unique bond is threatened when an inexplicable stranger (Swank) arrives with alarming news.

Working closely with the director, Fin Design’s Sydney office built a CG version of the AI robot Mother to be used interchangeably with the practical robot suit built by New Zealand’s Weta Workshop. Fin was involved from the early stages of the process to help develop the look of Mother, completing extensive design work and testing, which then fed back into the practical suit.

In total, Fin produced over 220 VFX shots, including the creation of a menacing droid army as well as general enhancements to the environments and bunker where this post-apocalyptic story takes place.

According to Fin Australia’s managing director, Chris Spry, “Grant was keen on creating an homage of sorts to old-school science-fiction films and embracing practical filmmaking techniques, so we worked with him to formulate the best approach that would still achieve the wow factor — seamlessly combining CG and practical effects. We created an exact CG copy of the suit, visualizing high-action moments such as running, or big stunt scenes that the suit couldn’t perform in real life, which ultimately accounted for around 80 shots.”

Director Sputore on working with Fin: “They offer suggestions and bust expectations. In particular, they delivered visual effects magic with our CG Mother, one minute having her thunder down bunker corridors and in the next moment speed-folding intricate origami creations. For the most part, the robot at the center of our film was achieved practically. But in those handful of moments where a practical solution wasn’t possible, it was paramount that the audience was not be bumped from the film by a sudden transition to a VFX version of one of our central characters. In the end, even I can’t tell which shots of Mother are CG and which are practical, and, crucially, neither can the audience.”

To create the CG replica, the Fin team paid meticulous attention to detail, ensuring the material, shaders and textures perfectly matched photographs and laser scans of the practical suit. The real challenge, however, was in interpreting the nuances of the movements.

“Precision was key,” explains VFX supervisor Jonathan Dearing. “There are many shots cutting rapidly between the real suit and CG suit, so any inconsistencies would be under a spotlight. It wasn’t just about creating a perfect CG replica but also interpreting the limitations of the suit. CG can actually depict a more seamless movement, but to make it truly identical, we needed to mimic the body language and nuances of the actor in the suit [Luke Hawker]. We did a character study of Luke and rigged it to build a CG version of the suit that could mimic him precisely.”

Fin finessed its robust automation pipeline for this project. Built to ensure greater efficiency, the system allows animators to push their work through lighting and comp at the click of a button. For example, if a shot didn’t have a specific light rig made for it, animators could automatically apply a generic light rig that suits the whole film. This tightly controlled system meant that Fin could have one lighter and one animator working on 200 shots without compromising on quality.

The studio used Autodesk Maya, Side Effects Houdini, Foundry Nuke and Redshift on this project.

I Am Mother premiered at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival and is set to stream on Netflix on June 7.

Wacom updates its Intuos Pro Small tablet

Wacom has introduced a new Intuos Pro pen and touch tablet Small model to its advanced line of creative pen tablets. The new Intuos Pro Small joins the Intuos Pro Medium and Intuos Pro Large sizes already available.

Featuring Wacom’s precise Pro Pen 2 technology with over 8K pen pressure levels, pen tilt sensitivity, natural pen-on-paper feel and battery-free performance, artists now can choose the size — small, medium or large — that best fits their way of working.

The new small size features the same tablet working area as the previous model of Intuos Pro Small and targets on-the go creatives, whose Wacom tablet and PC or Mac laptops are always nearby. The space-saving tablet’s small footprint, wireless connectivity and battery-free pen technology that never needs charging makes setting makes working anywhere easy.

Built for pros, all three sizes of Intuos Pro tablets feature a TouchRing and ExpressKeys, six on the Small and eight on the Medium and Large, for the creation of customized shortcuts to speed up the creative workflow. In addition, incorporating both pen and touch on the tablet allows users to explore new ways to navigate and helps the whole creative experience become more interactive. The slim tablets, also feature a durable anodized aluminum back case and come with a desktop pen stand containing 10 replacement pen nibs.

The Wacom Pro Pen 2 features Wacom’s most advanced creative pen technology to date, with four times the pressure sensitivity as the original Pro Pen. 8,192 levels of pressure, tilt recognition and lag-free tracking effectively emulate working with traditional media by offering a natural drawing experience. Additionally, the pen’s customizable side switch allows one to easily access commonly used shortcuts, greatly speeding production.

Wacom offers two helpful accessory pens (purchased separately). The Pro Pen 3D, features a third button which can be set to perform typical 3D tasks such as tumbling objects in commonly used 3D creative apps. The newly released Pro Pen slim, supports some artists ergonomic preferences for a slimmer pen with a more pencil-like feel. Both are compatible with the Intuos Pro family and can help customize and speed the creative experience.

Intuos Pro is Bluetooth-enabled and compatible with Macs and PCs. All three sizes come with the Wacom Pro Pen 2, pen stand and feature ExpressKeys, TouchRing and multi-touch gesture control. The Intuos Pro Small ($249.95), Intuos Pro Medium ($379.95) and Intuos Pro Large ($499.95) are available now.

2 Chainz’s 2 Dolla Bill gets VFX from Timber

Santa Monica’s Timber, known for its VMA-winning work on the Kendrick Lamar music video “Humble, provided visual effects and post production for the latest music video from 2 Chainz, featuring E-40 and Lil Wayne — 2 Dolla Bill.

The video begins with a group of people in a living room with the artist singing, “I’m rare” while holding a steak. It transitions to a poker game where the song continues with “I’m rare, like a two dollar bill.” We then see a two dollar bill with Thomas Jefferson singing the phrase as well. The video takes us back to the living room, the poker game, an operating room, a kitchen and other random locations.

Artists at collaborating company Kevin provided 2D visual effects for the music video, including the scene with the third eye.

According to Timber creative director/partner Kevin Lau, “The main challenge for this project was the schedule. It was a quick turnaround initially, so it was great to be able to work in tandem with offline to get ahead of the schedule. This also allowed us to work closely with the director and implement some his requests to enhance the video after it was shot.”

Timber got involved early on in the project and was on set while they shot the piece. The studio called on Autodesk Flame for clean-up, compositing and enhancement work, as well as the animation of the talking money.

Lau was happy Timber got the chance to be on set. “It was very useful to have a VFX supervisor on set for this project, given the schedule and scope of work. We were able to flag any concerns/issues right away so they didn’t become bigger problems in post.”

Arcade Edit’s Geoff Hounsell edited the piece. Daniel de Vue from A52 provided the color grade.