Category Archives: VFX

Disfiguring The Man in Black for HBO’s Westworld

If you watch HBO’s Westworld, you are familiar with the once-good guy turned bad guy The Man in Black. He is ruthless and easy to hate, so when Karma caught up to him audiences were not too upset about it.

Westworld doesn’t shy away from violence. In fact, it has a major role in the series. A recent example of an invisible effect displaying mutilation came during the show’s recent Season Two finale. CVD VFX, a boutique visual effects house based in Vancouver, was called on to create the intricate and gruesome result of what The Man in Black’s hand looked like after being blown to pieces.

During the long-awaited face-off between The Man in Black (Ed Harris) and Dolores Abernathy (Evan Rachel Wood), we see their long-simmering conflict culminate with his pistol pressed against her forehead, cocked and ready to fire. But when he pulls the trigger, the gun backfires and explodes in his hand, sending fingers flying into the sand and leaving horrifyingly bloody stumps.

CVD VFX’s team augmented the on-set footage to bring the moment to life in excruciating detail. Harris’ fingers were wrapped in blue in the original shot, and CVD VFX went to work removing his digits and replacing them with animated stubs, complete with the visceral details of protruding bone and glistening blood. The team used special effects makeup for reference on both blood and lighting, and were able to seamlessly incorporate the practical and digital elements.

The result was impressive, especially considering the short turnaround time that CVD had to create the effect.

“We were brought on a little late in the game as we had a couple weeks to turn it around,” explains Chris van Dyck, founder of CVD VFX, who worked with the show’s VFX supervisor, Jay Worth. “Our first task was to provide reference/style frames of what we’d be proposing. It was great to have relatively free reign to propose how the fingers were blown off. Ultimately, we had great direction and once we put the shots together, everyone was happy pretty quickly.”

CVD used Foundry’s Nuke and Autodesk’s Maya to create the effect.

CVD VFX’s work on Westworld wasn’t the first time they worked with Worth. They previously worked together on Syfy’s The Magicians and Fox’s Wayward Pines.

Behind the Title: Steelhead MD Ted Markovic

NAME: Ted Markovic

COMPANY: LA-based Steelhead

CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR COMPANY?
We are a content studio and cross-platform production company. You can walk through our front door with a script and out the back with a piece of content. We produce everything from social to Super Bowl.

WHAT’S YOUR JOB TITLE?
Managing Director

WHAT DOES THAT ENTAIL?
I am responsible for driving the overall culture and financial health of the organization. That includes building strong client relationships, new business development, operational oversight, marketing, recruiting and retaining talent and managing the profits and losses of all departments.

WHAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE THE MOST ABOUT WHAT FALLS UNDER THAT TITLE?
We all have a wide range of responsibilities and wear many hats. I occasionally find myself replacing the paper towels in the bathrooms because some days that’s what it takes.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
We are a very productive group that produces great work. I get a sense of accomplishment almost every day.

WHAT’S YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?
Replacing the paper towels in the bathrooms.

WHAT IS YOUR MOST PRODUCTIVE TIME OF THE DAY?
I get a lot more done while everyone else is busy eating their lunch or driving home.

IF YOU DIDN’T HAVE THIS JOB, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING INSTEAD?
Solving the traffic problem in Los Angeles. I see a lot of opportunities there.

HOW EARLY ON DID YOU KNOW THIS WOULD BE YOUR PATH?
I am a third-generation post production executive, and essentially grew up in a film lab in New York. I suspect the profession chose me.

CAN YOU NAME SOME RECENT PROJECTS YOU HAVE WORKED ON?
I am currently working on a Volkswagen Tier 2 project where we are shooting six cars over seven days on our stage at Steelhead. We’re incorporating dynamic camera shots of cars on a cyc with kinetic typography, motion graphics and VFX. It’s a great example of how we can do it all under one roof.

We recently worked with Nintendo and Interogate to bring the new Switch games to life in a campaign called Close Call. On set with rams, air mortars, lighting effects and lots of sawed-in-half furniture, we were able create real weight in-camera to layer with our VFX. We augmented the practical effects with HDR light maps, fire and debris simulations, as well as procedurally generated energy beams, 3D models, and 2D compositing to create a synergy between the practical and visual effects that really sells the proximity and sense of danger we were looking to create.

While the coordination of practical and post was no small chore, another interesting challenge we had to overcome was creating the CG weapons to mesh with the live-action plates. We started with low-resolution models directly from the games themselves, converted them and scrubbed in a good layer of detail and refined them to make them photoreal. We also had to conceptualize how some of the more abstract weapons would play with real-world physics.

Another project worth mentioning was a piece we created for Volkswagen called Strange Terrains. The challenge was to create 360-degree timelapse video from day-to-night. Something that’s never been done before. And in order to get this unique footage, we had to build an equally unique rigging system. We partnered with Supply Frame to design and build a custom-milled aluminum head to support four 50.6 megapixel Canon EOS 5DS cameras.

The “holy grail” of timelapse photography is getting the cameras to ramp the exposure over broad light changes. This was especially challenging to capture due to the massive exposure changes in the sky and the harshness of the white salt. After capturing around approximately 2,000 frames per camera — 9TB of working storage — we spent countless hours stitching, compositing, computing and rendering to get a fluid final product.

WHAT IS THE PROJECT THAT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?
About eight years ago, I created a video for my parents’ 40th wedding anniversary. My mother still cries when she watches it.

NAME THREE PIECES OF TECHNOLOGY YOU CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT.
The wheel is a pretty essential piece of technology that I’m not sure I could live without. My smartphone is as expected as well as my Sleepwell device for apnea. That device changed my life.

DO YOU LISTEN TO MUSIC WHILE YOU WORK? CARE TO SHARE YOUR FAVORITE MUSIC TO WORK TO?
I can work listening to anything but reggae.

WHAT DO YOU DO TO DE-STRESS FROM IT ALL?
Exercise.

DG 7.9.18

Framestore Chicago adds compositing lead Chris Beers

Framestore Chicago has added Chris Beers as compositing lead. He will be working across a variety of clients with the Chicago team, as well as diving into Nuke projects of his own.

Beers attended The Illinois Institute of Art, where he earned a BFA in visual effects and motion graphics. After graduation he honed his skills as a junior motion graphics artist at Leviathan in Chicago, and has since worked on projects of all sizes.

Beers’ career highlights include working as an After Effects artist on an expansive projection mapping project for Brazilian musician Amon Tobin’s ISAM world tour, and as a Nuke compositor for the title sequences on Marvel films Ant-Man, Captain America: Civil War and Doctor Strange. Beers was lead compositor on the series finale of Netflix science-fiction drama Sense8, having worked with the team as a Nuke compositor across both seasons of the show.

“As we recently celebrated our office’s official first year and continue to expand, it’s talent like Chris that makes our studio what it is: a creative hub with a strong sense of community, but the firepower of an integrated, global studio,” says Framestore Chicago’s MD Krystina Wilson.


Eli Rotholz joins Alkemy X as VP of biz dev

Creative content company Alkemy X has added Eli Rotholz as VP of business development,. He will be based in the company’s New York headquarters.

Rotholz brings more than 12 years of sales/business development, strategy and production experience, having begun his career as an independent sales rep for Ziegler/Jakubowicz and Moustache NYC. From there, he worked in his first in-house position at Click3X, where he built and managed a diverse roster of directorial talent, as well as the company’s first integrated production offering focusing on live-action, VFX/design/animation and editorial.

Rotholz then founded Honor Society Films. He later joined Hone Production, a brand-direct-focused production company and consultancy, as director of business development/content EP.

“Very few companies in the industry can boast the strong directorial roster and VFX capabilities as Alkemy X,” says Rotholz. “In addition to the amazing entertainment work that Alkemy does, there’s definitely a trend in high-end ‘package’ productions where one company can do both live-action shoots with their directors, as well as editorial and VFX.”


The Orville VFX supervisor on mixing practical and visual effects

By Barry Goch

What do you get when you mix Family Guy and Ted creator Seth MacFarlane with science fiction? The most dysfunctional spaceship in the galaxy, that’s what. What is the Fox series The Orville? Well, it’s more Galaxy Quest/Space Balls than it is Star Trek/Star Wars.

Set 400 years in the future, The Orville is a spaceship captained by MacFarlane’s Ed Mercer, who has to work alongside his ex-wife as they wing their way through space on a science mission. As you might imagine with a show that is set in space, The Orville features a large amount of visual and practical effects shots, including real and CG models of The Orville.

Luke McDonald

We reached out to the show’s VFX supervisor Luke McDonald to find out more.

How did the practical model of The Orville come about?
Jon Favreau was directing the pilot, and he and Seth MacFarlane had been kidding around about doing a practical model of The Orville. I jumped at the chance. In this day and age, visual effects supervisors shooting models is an unheard of thing to do, but something I was absolutely thrilled about.

Favreau’s visual effects supervisor is Rob Legato. I have worked with Rob on many projects, including Martin Scorsese’s Aviator, Shine a Light and Shutter Island, so I was very familiar with how Rob works. The only other chance that I had had to shoot models was with Rob during Shutter Island and Aviator, so in a sense, whenever Rob Legato shows up it’s model time (he laughs). It’s so amazing because it’s just something that the industry shies away from, but given the opportunity it was absolutely fantastic.

Who built the practical model of The Orville?
Glenn Derry made it. He’s worked with Rob Legato on a few things, including Aviator. Glen is kind of a fantastic. He basically does motion controls, models and motion capture. Glen would also look at all the camera moves and all the previz that we did to make sure the camera moves were not doing something that the motion control rig could not do.

How were you able to seamlessly blend the practical model and the CG version of The Orville?
Once we had the design for The Orville, we would then previz out the ships flying by camera, doing whatever, and work out these specific moves. Any move that was too technical for the motion control rig, we would do a CG link-up instead— meaning that it would go from model to a CG ship or vice versa — to get the exact camera move that we wanted. We basically shot all of the miniatures of The Orville at three frames a second. It was kind of like shooting in slow-mo with the motion control rig, and we did about 16 passes per shot — lights on, lights off, key lights, field light, back light, ambient, etc. So, when we got all the passes back, we composited them just like we would any kind of full CG shot.

From the model shoot, we ended up with about 25 individual shots of The Orville. It’s a very time-consuming process, but it’s very rewarding because of how many times you’re going to have to reuse these elements to achieve completely new shots, even though it’s from the same original motion control shoot.

How did the shots of The Orville evolve over the length of the season?
We started to get into more dynamic things, such as big space battles and specific action patenting, where it really wasn’t feasible to continue shooting the model itself. But now we have a complete match for our CG version of The Orville that we can use for our big space battles, where the ship’s flying and whipping around. I need to emphasize that previz on this project was very crucial.

The Orville is a science vessel, but when it needs to throw down and fight, it has the capabilities to be quite maneuverable — it can barrel roll, flip and power slide around to get itself in position to get the best shot off. Seth was responding to these hybrid-type ship-to-ship shots and The Orville moving through space in a unique way when it’s in battle.
There was never a playbook. It was always, “Let’s explore, let’s figure out, and let’s see where we fit in this universe. Do we fit into the traditional Star Trek-y stuff, or do we fit into the Star Wars-type stuff. I’m so pleased that we fit into this really unique world.

How was working with Seth MacFarlane?
Working with Seth has been absolutely amazing. He’s such a dedicated storyteller, even down to the most minute things. He’s such an encyclopedia of sci-fi knowledge, be it Star Trek, Star Wars, Battlestar Galactica or the old-school Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon. All of them are part of his creative repertoire. It’s very rare that he makes a reference that I don’t get, because I’m exactly the same way about sci-fi.

How different is creating VFX for TV versus film?
TV is not that new to me, but for the last 10 years I’ve been doing film work for Bad Robot and JJ Abrams. It was a strange awakening coming to TV, but it wasn’t horrifying. I had to approach things in a different way, especially from a budget standpoint.


Rachel Matchett brought on to lead Technicolor Visual Effects

Technicolor has hired on Rachel Matchett to head the post production group’s newly formed VFX brand, Technicolor Visual Effects. Working side-by-side within the same facilities where post services are offered, Technicolor Visual Effects is expanding to a global offering with an integrated pipeline. Technicolor is growing its namesake VFX team apart from the company’s other visual effects brands: MPC, The Mill, Mr. X and Mikros.

A full-service creative VFX house with local studios in Los Angeles, Toronto and London, Technicolor Visual Effects’ recent credits include the feature films Avengers: Infinity Wars, Black Panther, Paddington 2, and episodic series such as This is Us, Anne With an E and Black Mirror.

Matchett joins Technicolor from her long-tenured position at MPC Film. Her background at MPC London includes nearly a decade of senior management positions at the studio. She most recently served as MPC London’s global head of production. In that role, her divisions at MPC Film oversaw and carried out visual effects on a number of films each year, including director Jon Favreau’s Academy Award-winning The Jungle Book and the critically acclaimed Blade Runner 2049.

“Technicolor Visual Effects is emerging from its position as one of the industry’s best-kept secrets. While continuing to support clients who do color finishing with us, we are excited to work with storytellers from script to screen,” says Matchett. “Having been at the heart of MPC Film’s rapid growth over the past decade, I feel that there is a great opportunity for Technicolor’s future role in VFX to forge a new path within the industry.”


Milk provides VFX for Adrift, adds new head of production Kat Mann

As it celebrates its fifth anniversary, Oscar-, Emmy- and BAFTA-winning VFX studio Milk has taken an additional floor at its London location on Clipstone Street. This visual effects house has worked on projects such as Annihilation, Altered Carbon and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.

Milk’s expansion increases its artist capacity to 250, and includes two 4K FilmLight Baselight screening rooms and a dedicated client area. The studio has upgraded its pipeline, with all its rendering requirements (along with additional storage and workstation capacity) now entirely in the cloud, allowing full scalability for its roster of film and TV projects.

Annihilation

Milk has just completed production as the main vendor on STXfilms’ new feature film Adrift, the Baltasar Kormákur-directed true story of survival at sea, starring Shailene Woodley and Sam Claflin. The Milk team created all the major water and storm sequences for the feature, which were rendered entirely in the cloud.

Milk has just begun work on new projects, including Four Kids And It — Dan Films/Kindle Entertainment’s upcoming feature film — based on Jacqueline Wilson’s modern-day variation on the 1902 E Nesbit classic novel Five Children And It for which the Milk team will create the protagonist CG sand fairy character. Milk is also in production as sole VFX vendor on Neil Gaiman’s and Terry Pratchett’s six-part TV adaptation of Good Omens for Amazon/BBC.

In other news, Milk has brought on VFX producer Kat Mann as head of production. She will oversee all aspects of the studio’s production at its premises in London and at their Cardiff location. Mann has held senior production roles at ILM and Weta Digital with credits, including Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, Thor: The Dark World and Avatar. Milk’s former head of production Clare Norman has been promoted to business development director.

Milk was founded by a small team of VFX supervisors and producers in June 2013,


Behind the Title: Weta’s Head of Tech & Research Luca Fascione

NAME: Luca Fascione

COMPANY: Wellington, New Zealand’s Weta Digital

WHAT’S YOUR JOB TITLE?
Senior Head of Technology and Research

WHAT DOES THAT ENTAIL?
In my role, I lead the activities of Weta Digital that provide software technology to the studio and our partners. There are various groups that form technology and research: Production Engineering oversees the studio’s pipeline and infrastructure software, Software Engineering oversees our large plug-ins such as our hair system (Barbershop/Wig), our tree growth system (Lumberjack/Totara) and our environment construction system (Scenic Designer), to name a few.

Two more departments that make up the technology and research group include Rendering Research and Simulation Research. These departments oversee proprietary renderer, Manuka, and our physical simulation system, Synapse. Both groups have a strong applied research focus and as well as producing software, they are often involved in the publication of scientific papers.

HOW DID YOU GET INTO THIS BUSINESS?
Cinema and computers have been favorites of mine (as well as music) since I was a little kid. We used to play a game when I was maybe 12 or so where we would watch about five seconds of a random movie on TV, turn it off, and recite the title. I was very good at that.

A couple of my friends and I watched all the movies we could find, from arthouse European material to more commercial, mainstream content. When it came time to find a job, I thought finding a way to merge my passion for cinema and my interest in computers into one would be great, if I could.

HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN WORKING IN THIS INDUSTRY?
I started at Weta Digital in 2004. Before that I was part of the crew working the feature animation movie Valiant, where I started in 2002. I guess this would make it 15 years.

HOW HAS THE VFX INDUSTRY CHANGED IN THE TIME YOU’VE BEEN WORKING? WHAT’S BEEN GOOD, WHAT’S BEEN BAD?
Everything got bigger. More so the content we want to work with in relation to the machines we want to use to achieve our goals. As much as technology has improved, our ability to use it to drive the hardware extremely hard has grown faster, creating a need for technically creative, innovative solutions to our scaling problems.

Graphics is running out of “easy problems” that one can solve drawing inspiration from other fields of science, and it’s sometimes the case that our research has outpaced the advancements of similar problems in other fields, such as medicine, physics or engineering. At the same time, especially since the recent move toward deep learning and “big data” problems, the top brains in the field are all drawn away from graphics, making it harder than it used to be to get great talent.

DID A PARTICULAR FILM INSPIRE YOU ALONG THIS PATH IN ENTERTAINMENT?
I work in VFX because of Jurassic Park. Although I must also recognize Young Sherlock Holmes and Terminator 2, which also played a big role in this space. During my career in VFX, King Kong and Avatar have been life-shaping experiences.

DID YOU GO TO FILM SCHOOL?
Not at all, I studied Mathematics in Rome, Italy. All I know about movies is due to personal study work. Back in those days nobody taught computer graphics at this level for VFX. The closest were degrees in engineering schools that maybe had a course or two in graphics. Things have changed massively since then in this area.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
The variety. I run into a lot of extremely interesting problems, and I like being able to help people find good ways to solve them.

WHAT’S YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?
A role like mine necessarily entails having to have many difficult conversations with crew. I am extremely pleased to say the majority of these result in opportunities for growth and deepening of our mutual understandings. I love working with our crew, they’re great people and I do learn a lot every day.

IF YOU DIDN’T HAVE THIS JOB, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING INSTEAD?
I like my job, I don’t often think about doing something else. But I have on occasion wondered what it would be like to build guitars for a living.

CAN YOU NAME SOME RECENT PROJECTS YOU HAVE WORKED ON?
The latest War for the Planet of the Apes movie has been a fantastic achievement for the studio. The Technology and Research group has contributed a fair bit of software to the initiative, from our forest system Totara to a new lighting pipeline called PhysLight, a piece of work I was personally involved in and that I am particularly proud of.

During our work on The Jungle Book, we helped the production by reshaping our instancing system to address the dense forests in the movie. Great advancements in our destruction systems were also developed for Rampage.

WHAT IS THE PROJECT/S THAT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?
It turns out three of my early projects played a role of some importance in the making of Avatar: The facial solver, the sub-surface scattering system and PantaRay (our Spherical Harmonics occlusion system). After that, I’m extremely proud of my work on Manuka, Weta Digital’s in-house renderer.

WHERE DO YOU FIND INSPIRATION NOW?
All around me, it’s the people, listening to their experiences, problems and wishes. That’s how our job is done.

WHAT DO YOU DO TO DE-STRESS FROM IT ALL?
I play guitar and I build audio amplifiers. I have two daughters in primary school that are a lot of fun and a little boy just joined our family last December. I do take the occasional picture as well.


Chimney opens in New York City, hires team of post vets

Chimney, an independent content company specializing in film, television, spots and digital media, has opened a new facility in New York City. For over 20 years, the group has been producing and posting campaigns for brands, such as Ikea, Audi, H&M, Chanel, Nike, HP, UBS and more. Chimney was also the post partner for the feature films Chappaquiddick, Her, Atomic Blonde and Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.

With this New York opening, Chimney now with 14 offices worldwide. Founded in Stockholm in 1995, they opened their first US studio in Los Angeles last year. In addition to Stockholm, New York and LA, Chimney also has facilities in Singapore, Copenhagen, Berlin and Sydney among other cities. For a full location list click here.

“Launching in New York is a benchmark long in the making, and the ultimate expression of our philosophy of ‘boutique-thinking with global power,’” says Henric Larsson, Chimney founder and COO. “Having a meaningful presence in all of the world’s economic centers with diverse cultural perspectives means we can create and execute at the highest level in partnership with our clients.”

The New York opening supports Chimney’s mission to connect its global talent and resources, effectively operating as a 24-hour, full-service content partner to brand, entertainment and agency clients, no matter where they are in the world.

Chimney has signed on several industry vets to spearhead the New York office. Leading the US presence is CEO North America Marcelo Gandola. His previous roles include COO at Harbor Picture Company; EVP at Hogarth; SVP of creative services at Deluxe Entertainment Services Group; and VP of operations at Company 3.

Colorist and director Lez Rudge serves as Chimney’s head of color North America. He is a former partner and senior colorist at Nice Shoes in New York. He has worked alongside Spike Lee and Darren Aronofsky, and on major brand campaigns for Maybelline, Revlon, NHL, Jeep, Humira, Spectrum and Budweiser.

Managing director Ed Rilli will spearhead the day-to-day logistics of the New York office. As the former head of production of Nice Shoes, his resume includes producing major campaigns for such brands as NFL, Ford, Jagermeister and Chase.

Sam O’Hare, chief creative officer and lead VFX artist, will oversee the VFX team. Bringing experience in live-action directing, VFX supervision, still photography and architecture, O’Hare’s interdisciplinary background makes him well suited for photorealistic CGI production.

In addition, Chimney has brought on cinematographer and colorist Vincent Taylor, who joins from MPC Shanghai, where he worked with brands such as Coca-Cola, Porsche, New Balance, Airbnb, BMW, Nike and L’Oréal.

The 6,000-square-foot office will feature Blackmagic Resolve color rooms, Autodesk Flame suites and a VFX bullpen, as well as multiple edit rooms, a DI theater and a Dolby Atmos mix stage through a joint venture with Gigantic Studios.

Main Image: (L-R) Ed Rilli, Sam O’Hare, Marcelo Gandola and Lez Rudge.

VFX vet Andrew Bell Joins Method Advertising

Long-time VFX executive Andrew Bell has joined LA-based Method Studios as senior EP/VP of its Advertising division. He will report to Method Advertising MD/EVP Stuart Robinson.

Bell moves to Method after spending nearly two decades with MPC, first as a producer in London and then as head of production and managing director, spearheading MPC’s initial foray, then expansion and relocation, into Los Angeles. There he oversaw all operations, from bidding to building to managing the talent and client rosters in addition to working with directors producing large-scale VFX projects for Coca-Cola, Nike, DirecTV and other brands. Bell also previously served as managing director for Brickyard VFX in Boston and has consulted on VFX operations for Apple.

In LA, Bell will work alongside Method Commercials VFX senior EP/VP Stephanie Gilgar and Digital Studio head Jeff Werner to drive operations, curate talent and bring clients on the West Coast. Method is a Deluxe company.