Cinnafilm 6.6.19

Category Archives: VFX

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 tool kit that will compliment 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 less 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 but up first will be Primatte Keyer 6.

Overall, I love the Red Giant’s interface and GUIs, in addition they seem to be a little more intuitive for me 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 once BorisFX included it in their 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 typically 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. Core Matte, essentially 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 more simple 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 may have encountered the Paint 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. You can think of Supercomp as a great tool to use with your results from the Primatte Keyer, adding in atmosphere and light wraps quickly and easily inside one plugin and not 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 inside of 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 needing the ability 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 suprised 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 where 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 that the stock plugins just couldn’t get right? Optical Glow will solve this. 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, overall glow color aka Colorize and set the vibrance. I really love the Falloff, Highlight Rolloff, and Highlights-Only functions that allow you to fine tune the glow and just how much it shows and affects. It’s so simple that it is hard to mess up, but the results speak for themselves and render out quicker than other glow plugins I am using.

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

Chromatic Displacement
Since watching an Andrew Kramer tutorial covering displacement, I 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 quickly make rain drops appear on the camera lens or you want to add a seismic blast from a phaser, Chromatic Displacement will allow you to offset your background with a glass or mirror-like appearance, or even add a heatwave appearance quickly. Simply choose the layer you want to displace from and adjust parameters such as displacement amount, spread and spread chroma, or if 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 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, but also identify the type of seam and seam 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 for a bend to be identified. 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 may outweigh the costs.

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.

Lenovo intros next-gen ThinkPads

Lenovo has launched the next generation of its ThinkPad P Series with the release of five new ThinkPads, including the ThinkPad P73, ThinkPad P53, ThinkPad P1 Gen 2 and ThinkPad P53s and P43s.

The ThinkPad P53 features the Nvidia Quadro RTX 5000 GPU with RT and Tensor cores, offering realtime raytracing and AI acceleration. It now features Intel Xeon and 9th Gen Core class CPUs with up to eight cores (including the Core i9) up to 128GB of memory and 6TB of storage.

This mobile workstation also boasts a new OLED touch display with Dolby Vision HDR for superb color and some of the deepest black levels ever. Building on the innovation behind the ThinkPad P1 power supply, Lenovo is also maximizing the portability of this workstation with a 35 percent smaller power supply. The ThinkPad P53 is designed to handle everything from augmented reality and VR content creation to the deployment of mobile AI or ISV workflows. The ThinkPad P53 will be available in July, starting at $1,799.

At 3.74 pounds and 17.2mm thin, Lenovo’s thinnest and lightest 15-inch workstation — the ThinkPad P1 Gen 2 — includes the latest Nvidia Quadro Turing T1000 and T2000 GPUs. The ThinkPad P1 also features eight-core Intel 9th Gen Xeon and Core CPUs and an OLED touch display with Dolby Vision HDR.

The ThinkPad P1 Gen 2 will be available at the end of June starting at $1,949.

With its 17.3-inch Dolby Vision 4K UHD screen and mobility with a 35% smaller power adaptor, Lenovo’s ThinkPad P73 offers users maximum workspace and mobility. Like the ThinkPad 53, it features the Intel Xeon and Core processors and the most powerful Nvidia Quadro RTX graphics. The ThinkPad P73 will be available in August starting at $1,849.

The ThinkPad P43s features a 14-inch chassis and will be available in July starting at $1,499.

Rounding out the line is the ThinkPad P53s which combines the latest Nvidia Quadro graphics and Intel Core processors — all in a thin and light chassis. The ThinkPad P53s will be available in June, starting at $1,499.

For the first time, Lenovo is adding new X-Rite Pantone Factory Color Calibration to the ThinkPad P1 Gen 2, ThinkPad P53 and ThinkPad P73. The unique factory color calibration profile is stored in the cloud to ensure more accurate recalibration. This profile allows for dynamic switching between color spaces, including sRGB, Adobe RGB and DCI-P3 to ensure accurate ISV application performance.

The entire ThinkPad portfolio is also equipped with advanced ThinkShield security features – from ThinkShutter to privacy screens to self-healing BIOS that recover when attacked or corrupted – to help protect users from every angle and give them the freedom to innovate fearlessly.

Cinnafilm 6.6.19

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.


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.

Checking In: Glassworks’ Duncan Malcolm, Flame Award winner

Back in April, during an event at NAB, Autodesk presented its 2019 Flame Award to Duncan Malcolm. This Flame artist and director of 2D at Glassworks VFX in London is being celebrated for his 20-plus years of artistic achievements.

Malcolm has been working in production and post for 33 years. At Glassworks, he works closely with the studio’s CG artists to seamlessly blend CG photoreal assets and real-world environments for high-end commercial clients. Alongside his work in commercials, Malcolm has worked closely with the creators of the television series Black Mirror on look development and compositing for the award-winning Netflix series, including the critically acclaimed Bandersnatch interactive episode.

Duncan Malcolm

Let’s find out more about Malcolm’s beginnings, and the path that led him to Glassworks. And you can check out his showreel here.

You have a rich history in this industry. How did you get started working in VFX?
I started straight out of school at 15 years old at TVP, a small production company in Scotland that made corporate films and crewed for visiting broadcast companies. It was very small so I got involved in everything — camera work, location sound, sound design, edit and even made the VHS dubs, 8mm cine film transfers and designed the tape covers. So I learned a lot by getting on and doing it. It was before the Internet was prevalent, so you couldn’t just Google it back then; it really was trial and error.

TVP are still based in Aberdeen and still doing incredible work with a tiny crew. I often tell people in London about their feature film Sawney Bean, which they self-funded and made with a complete crew of five in their “spare time” and for all that, is completely inspirational.

I then became an offline and online editor at Picardy Television, which was at the time the biggest and most creative edit house in Scotland. It was there that I started using Quantel’s Editbox. I was focused on the offline  but also started to incorporate more sophisticated VFX into the online work. Around 1998 I made quite an abrupt move to London, I think as a reaction to my dad’s death. Back then the London industry didn’t really accept that one person could be good at more than one part of the filmmaking process, so I decided to focus on the VFX string on my bow.

I freelanced through Soho Editors as an Editbox artist in London and Denmark until I was offered the creative director/lead compositor position at Saatchi’s in-house company, Triangle. This is where I first met the Flame, and together we spent many a long day and night together making commercials and music videos.

I think my first big lead Flame job was Craig David’s Walking Away for Max and Dania. Apart from a few relatively simple commercials I hadn’t truly put the toolset to the test by then. It was quite frankly my personal VFX version of a baptism by fire. I barely left the room for weeks but felt more inspired (and tired) by the end.

Flame became my best VFX friend and my work grew in complexity. Eventually I was offered a position by Joce Capper and Bill McNamara at Rushes and spent quite a few years there working on a fair mixture of commercials and music videos.

How did you find your way to Glassworks?
Around 14 years ago, Hector Macleod offered me a Flame operator position at Glassworks. I jumped at that chance, and since then we have been building on Glassworks’ reputation for seamless VFX and innovative techniques. It’s been fun times, but also very interesting to watch the growth of our industry and the changes in expectations in projects. Even more interesting to me is that, even though on large projects we still effectively specialize, the industry in London and worldwide is much more accepting of the multi-skilled approach to filmmaking. Finally, the world is beginning to embrace the principles I first learned 33 years ago at TVP.

For the Bandersnatch episode of Black Mirror, how did your creative process on this episode differ from other TV projects, and did you use Flame any differently as a result?
I should mention that Bandersnatch has been nominated for a few BAFTAs (best single drama, best editing and best special, visual and graphic effect) so everyone involved are massively excited about that.

I really like working with House of Tomorrow on the Black Mirror films, but I especially loved working on Bandersnatch with producer Russell McLean and director David Slade. It really felt like we were involved in something fresh and new. Nobody knew for sure how the audience was going to watch and engage with such a complex story told in the interactive format. This made it impossible to make any of the normal assumptions. For VFX the goal was the same as normal: to realize director David Slade’s vision and, in the process, make every shot as engaging as possible. But the fact that it didn’t play out in a single linear timeline meant that every single decision had to be considered from this new point of view.

When did you get involved in the project?
I was involved in the very early stages of Bandersnatch, helping with ideas for the viewer’s interactive choice points. These tests were more basic editorial and content tests. I shot our head of production Duncan Buxton acting out parts of the script and cut decision-point sequences to illustrate ways the choices could work. I used Flame as an offline, basic online and audio editing tool for these. Almost every stage in the VFX planning went through some look developed in Flame.

For the environmental work we used traditional matte painting techniques and some clever CG techniques in places, but on a lot of it, I used the Flame to build and paint concept layouts. The pre-shoot the Trellick concept work in fact carried through to the final shots. The moment the mirror cracks was completely built in Flame using some pictures of west London vandalism I came across by accident on the way back from a Bandersnatch preproduction meeting.

The “through the mirror” sequences were shot with 3x-synced ARRI 65 cameras and the footage was unwrapped and used to re-project onto a 3D Stefan [the show’s young programmer] to make his reflection whilst he emerged from the mirror. The VFX requirements on this section of the shoot schedule were quite significant, so on set we had to be confident of the technique used and very quick to react to changes. Since rebuilding his reflection would take many weeks, I built versions of all the shots in Flame. These were used by editor Tony Kearns to find a pace for the sequence, and this fed into our CG artists who were building the reflection.

There were all sorts of Flame tools used to look-develop and finish this show. It really was my complete VFX supervisor companion throughout.

Can you talk about your Mr-benn.com initiative and how that came about?
Mr-benn.com is an art site I set up to exhibit and sell some of what I refer to as ‘the other art” created by people who work in the film and television industry. A portion from every sale is donated to plasticpollutioncoalition.org. It raises awareness about and fights plastic pollution, which is something worth standing behind.

I talked with so many friends and colleagues, talented in their own work fields, who had such an Insatiable appetite for creating that even after the grueling schedules of film projects had beaten them, they still had more to create and show. Their “other” is an amazing mixture of photography, found art, land art, fractals, infrared photography and digital design. It all could be — and often is — exhibited separately on generic art sites without much importance put on the creators’ cinematic achievements. Mr-benn is about the achievement in both their day jobs their “other art” together. It’s starting to get talked about; I hope people like what they see and help support a good cause.

How has your use of Flame changed or evolved over the past 20 years? Are there any particular features that have been added that make your job easier?
Flame has changed greatly since I started with it. I think the addition of the timeline was a particular game-changer, and it’s difficult to remember what it was like without 16-bit float capabilities. On terms of recent changes, the color management has made color workflow much easier. To be fair, every update makes something a little easier.

What other tools are in your arsenal?
I have the demo of almost every type of 3D and 2D package on my laptop, but I haven’t made enough time to master any of them apart from Flame, a little Nuke and Photoshop. I do rely on my Canon DSLR a lot, and I grade stills with Lightroom.

Was there a particular film that motivated you to work in VFX?
Not one in particular. There have been some that along the way have impressed me. I’m thinking District 9 as I type, but there have been a few with a similar effect on me.

What inspires your work?
I take an interest in a lot of everyday things, what the world looks and moves like. Not enough to be an expert in anything, but enough to understand (on a basic level) how it could be recreated. I’m certainly not very clever, just interested enough to spend proper time to find solutions.

The other part is that I seem to have is a gene that makes me feel really bad if I let people down. So I keep going until a problem shot is better, or I hit an immovable delivery date. I’d have done okay in any service industry really.

Any tips for young people starting out?
I see a direct link between exceptional creativity in VFX work to how deeply curious people are in the real world, with all of its incredible qualities. A good place to start is getting interested in what the real world actually looks like through a real lens. Take your own pictures, as it makes you understand relationship between lens and objects.

Start your own projects, and make sure they’re ambitious. Work out how to make them amazing. Then show these as an example of what you can do. Don’t show roto for rotos sake. Once you get a job, don’t get complacent and think you’ve made it. The next step in a career isn’t automatic. It only happens with added effort.