Category Archives: VFX

Full-service creative agency Carousel opens in NYC

Carousel, a new creative agency helmed by Pete Kasko and Bernadette Quinn, has opened its doors in New York City. Billing itself as “a collaborative collective of creative talent,” Carousel is positioned to handle projects from television series to ad campaigns for brands, media companies and advertising agencies.

Clients such as PepsiCo’s Pepsi, Quaker and Lays brands; Victoria’s Secret; Interscope Records; A&E Network and The Skimm have all worked with the company.

Designed to provide full 360 capabilities, Carousel allows its brand partners to partake of all its services or pick and choose specific offerings including strategy, creative development, brand development, production, editorial, VFX/GFX, color, music and mix. Along with its client relationships, Carousel has also been the post production partner for agencies such as McGarryBowen, McCann, Publicis and Virtue.

“The industry is shifting in how the work is getting done. Everyone has to be faster and more adaptable to change without sacrificing the things that matter,” says Quinn. “Our goal is to combine brilliant, high-caliber people, seasoned in all aspects of the business, under one roof together with a shared vision of how to create better content in a more efficient way.”

According to managing director Dee Tagert comments, “The name Carousel describes having a full set of capabilities from ideation to delivery so that agencies or brands can jump on at any point in their process. By having a small but complete agency team that can manage and execute everything from strategy, creative development and brand development to production and post, we can prove more effective and efficient than a traditional agency model.”

Danielle Russo, Dee Tagert, AnaLiza Alba Leen

AnaLiza Alba Leen comes on board Carousel as creative director with 15 years of global agency experience, and executive producer Danielle Russo brings 12 years of agency experience.
Tagert adds, “The industry has been drastically changing over the last few years. As clients’ hunger for content is driving everything at a much faster pace, it was completely logical to us to create a fully integrative company to be able to respond to our clients in a highly productive, successful manner.”

Carousel is currently working on several upcoming projects for clients including Victoria’s Secret, DNTL, Subway, US Army, Tazo Tea and Range Rover.

Main Image: Bernadette Quinn and Pete Kasko

VFX supervisor Simon Carr joins London’s Territory

Simon Carr has joined visual effects house Territory, bringing with him 20 years of experience as a VFX supervisor. He most recently served that role at London’s Halo, where he built the VFX department from scratch. He has also supervised at Realise Studio, Method Studios, Pixomondo, Digital Domain and others. While Carr will be based in London, he will also support the studio’s San Francisco offices as needed.

Having invested in a Shotgun pipeline, with a bespoke toolkit that integrates Territory’s design-led approach with VFX delivery, Carr’s appointment, according to the studio, signals a strategic approach to expanding the team’s capabilities. “Simon’s experience of all stages of the VFX process from pre-production to final delivery means that our clients and partners can be confident of seamless high-end VFX delivery at every stage of a project” says David Sheldon-Hicks, Territory’s founder and executive creative director.

At Territory, Carr will use his experience building and leading teams of artists, from compositing through to complex environment builds. The studio will also benefit from his experience of building a facility from scratch — establishing pipeline and workflows, recruiting and retaining artists; developing and maintaining relationships with clients and being involved with the pitching and bidding process.

The studio has worked on high-profile film projects, including Blade Runner 2049, Ready Player One, Pacific Rim: Uprising, Ghost in the Shell, The Martian and Guardians of the Galaxy. On the broadcast front, they have worked on the new series based on George R.R. Martin’s novella, Nightflyers, Amazon Prime/Channel 4’s Electric Dreams and National Geographic’s Year Million.

 

DigitalGlue 12.3

Storage for VFX Studios

By Karen Moltenbrey

Visual effects are dazzling — inviting eye candy, if you will. But when you mention the term “storage,” the wide eyes may turn into a stifled yawn from viewers of the amazing content. Not so for the makers of that content.

They know that the key to a successful project rests within the reliability of their storage solutions. Here, we look at two visual effects studios — both top players in television and feature film effects — as they discuss how data storage enables them to excel at their craft.

Zoic Studios
A Culver City-based visual effects facility, with shops in Vancouver and New York, Zoic Studios has been crafting visual effects for a host of television series since its founding in 2002, starting with Firefly. In addition to a full plate of episodics, Zoic also counts numerous feature films and spots to its credits.

Saker Klippsten

According to Saker Klippsten, CTO, the facility has used a range of storage solutions over the past 16 years from BlueArc (before it was acquired by Hitachi), DataDirect Networks and others, but now uses Dell EMC’s Isilon cluster file storage system for its current needs. “We’ve been a fan of theirs for quite a long time now. I think we were customer number two,” he says, “back when they were trying to break into the media and entertainment sector.”

Locally, the studio uses Intel and NVMe drives for its workstations. NVMe, or non-volatile memory express, is an open logical device interface specification for accessing all-flash storage media attached via PCI Express (PCIe) bus. Previously, Zoic had been using Samsung SSD drives, with Samsung 1TB and 2TB EVO drives, but in the past year and a half, began migrating to NVMe on the local workstations.

Zoic transitioned to the Isilon system in 2004-2005 because of the heavy usage its renderfarm was getting. “Renderfarms work 24/7 and don’t take breaks. Our storage was getting really beat up, and people were starting to complain that it was slow accessing the file system and affecting playback of their footage and media,” explains Klippsten. “We needed to find something that could scale out horizontally.”

At the time, however, file-level storage was pretty much all that was available — “you were limited to this sort of vertical pool of storage,” says Klippsten. “You might have a lot of storage behind it, but you were still limited at the spigot, at the top end. You couldn’t get the data out fast enough.” But Isilon broke through that barrier by creating a cluster storage system that allotted the scale horizontally, “so we could balance our load, our render nodes and our artists across a number of machines, and access and update in parallel at the same time,” he adds.

Klippsten believes that solution was a big breakthrough for a lot of users; nevertheless, it took some time for others to get onboard. “In the media and entertainment industry, everyone seemed to be locked into BlueArc or NetApp,” he notes. Not so with Zoic.

Fairly recently, some new players have come onto the market, including Qumulo, touted as a “next-generation NAS company” built around advanced, distributed software running on commodity hardware. “That’s another storage platform that we have looked at and tested,” says Klippsten, adding that Zoic even has a number of nodes from the vendor.

There are other open-source options out there as well. Recently, Red Hat began offering Gluster Storage, an open, software-defined storage platform for physical, virtual and cloud environments. “And now with NVMe, it’s eliminating a lot of these problems as well,” Klippsten says.

Back when Zoic selected Isilon, there were a number of major issues that affected the studio’s decision making. As Klippsten notes, they had just opened the Vancouver office and were transferring data back and forth. “How do we back up that data? How do we protect it? Storage snapshot technology didn’t really exist at the time,” he says. But, Isilon had a number of features that the studio liked, including SyncIQ, software for asynchronous replication of data. “It could push data between different Isilon clusters from a block level, in a more automated fashion. It was very convenient. It offered a lot of parameters, such as moving data by time of day and access frequency.”

SyncIQ enabled the studio to archive the data. And for dealing with interim changes, such as a mistakenly deleted file, Zoic found Isilon’s SnapshotIQ ideal for fast data recovery. Moreover, Isilon was one of the first to support Aspera, right on the Isilon cluster. “You didn’t have to run it on a separate machine. It was a huge benefit because we transfer a lot of secure, encrypted data between us and a lot of our clients,” notes Klippsten.

Netflix’s The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina

Within the pipeline, Zoic’s storage system sits at the core. It is used immediately as the studio ingests the media, whether it is downloaded or transferred from hard drives – terabytes upon terabytes of data. The data is then cleaned up and distributed to project folders for tasks assigned to the various artists. In essence, it acts as a holding tank for the main production storage as an artist begins working on those specific shots, Klippsten explains.

Aside from using the storage at the floor level, the studio also employs it at the archive level, for data recovery as well as material that might not be accessed for weeks. “We have sort of a tiered level of storage — high-performance and deep-archival storage,” he says.

And the system is invaluable, as Zoic is handling 400 to 500 shots a week. If you multiply that by the number of revisions and versions that take place during that time frame, it adds up to hundreds of terabytes weekly. “Per day, we transfer between LA, Vancouver and New York somewhere around 20TB to 30TB,” he estimates. “That number increases quite a bit because we do a lot of cloud rendering. So, we’re pushing a lot of data up to Google and back for cloud rendering, and all of that hits our Isilon storage.”

When Zoic was founded, it originally saw itself as a visual effects company, but at the end of the day, Klippsten says they’re really a technology company that makes pretty pictures. “We push data and move it around to its limits. We’re constantly coming up with new, creative ideas, trying to find partners that can help provide solutions collaboratively if we cannot create them ourselves. The shot cost is constantly being squeezed by studios, which want these shots done faster and cheaper. So, we have to make sure our artists are working faster, too.”

The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina

Recently, Zoic has been working on a TV project involving a good deal of water simulations and other sims in general — which rapidly generate a tremendous amount of data. Then the data is transferred between the LA and Vancouver facilities. Having storage capable of handling that was unheard of three years ago, Klippsten says. However, Zoic has managed to do so using Isilon along with some off-the-shelf Supermicro storage with NVMe drives, enabling its dynamics department to tackle this and other projects. “When doing full simulation, you need to get that sim in front of the clients as soon as possible so they can comment on it. Simulations take a long time — we’re doing 26GB/sec, which is crazy. It’s close to something in the high-performance computing realm.”

With all that considered, it is hardly surprising to hear Klippsten say that Zoic could not function without a solid storage solution. “It’s funny. When people talk about storage, they are always saying they don’t have enough of it. Even when you have a lot of storage, it’s always running at 99 percent full, and they wonder why you can’t just go out to Best Buy and purchase another hard drive. It doesn’t work that way!”

Milk VFX
Founded just five years ago, Milk VFX is an independent visual effects facility in the UK with locations in London and Cardiff, Wales. While Milk VFX may be young, it was founded by experienced and award-winning VFX supervisors and producers. And the awards have continued, including an Oscar (Ex-Machina), an Emmy (Sherlock) and three BAFTAs, as the studio creates innovative and complex work for high-end television and feature films.

Benoit Leveau

With so much precious data, and a lot of it, the studio has to ensure that its work is secure and the storage system is keeping pace with the staff using it. When the studio was set up, it installed Pixit Media’s PixStor, a parallel file system with limitless storage, for its central storage solution. And, it has been growing with the company ever since. (Milk uses almost no local storage, except for media playback.)

“It was a carefully chosen solution due to its enterprise-level performance,” says Benoit Leveau, head of pipeline at Milk, about the decision to select PixStor. “It allowed us to expand when setting up our second studio in Cardiff and our rendering solutions in the cloud.”

When Milk was shopping for a storage offering while opening the studio, four things were forefront in their minds: speed, scalability, performance and reliability. Those were the functions the group wanted from its storage system — exactly the same four demands that the projects at the studios required.

“A final image requires gigabytes, sometimes terabytes, of data in the form of detailed models, high-resolution textures, animation files, particles and effects caches and so forth,” says Leveau. “We need to be able to review 4K image sequences in real time, so it’s really essential for daily operation.”

This year alone, Milk has completed a number of high-end visual effects sequences for feature films such as Adrift, serving as the principal vendor on this true story about a young couple lost at sea during one of the most catastrophic hurricanes in recorded history. The Milk team created all the major water and storm sequences, including bespoke 100-foot waves, all of which were rendered entirely in the cloud.

As Leveau points out, one of the shots in the film was more than 60TB, as it required complex ocean simulations. “We computed the ocean simulations on our local renderfarm, but the rendering was done in the cloud, and with this setup, we were able to access the data from everywhere almost transparently for the artists,” he explains.

Adrift

The studio also recently completed work on the blockbuster Fantastic Beasts sequel, The Crimes of Grindelwald.

For television, the studio created visual effects for an episode of the Netflix Altered Carbon sci-fi series, where people can live forever, as they digitally store their consciousness (stacks) and then download themselves into new bodies (sleeves). For the episode, the Milk crew created forest fires and the aftermath, as well as an alien planet and escape ship. For Origin, an action-thriller, the team generated 926 VFX shots in 4K for the 10-part series, spanning a wide range of work. Milk is also serving as the VFX vendor for Good Omens, a six-part horror/fantasy/drama series.

“For Origin, all the data had to be online for the duration of the four-month project. At the same time, we commenced work as the sole VFX vendor on the BBC/Amazon Good Omens series, which is now rapidly filling up our PixStor, hence the importance of scalability!” says Leveau.

Main Image: Origin via Milk VFX


Karen Moltenbrey is a veteran VFX and post writer.


A VFX pro on avoiding the storage ‘space trap’

By Adam Stern

Twenty years is an eternity in any technology-dependent industry. Over the course of two-plus decades of visual effects facility ownership, changing standards, demands, capability upgrades and staff expansion have seen my company, Vancouver-based Artifex Studios, usher in several distinct eras of storage, each with its own challenges. As we’ve migrated to bigger and better systems, one lesson we’ve learned has proven critical to all aspects of our workflow.

Adam Stern

In the early days, Artifex used off-the-shelf hard drives and primitive RAIDs for our storage needs, which brought with it slow transfer speeds and far too much downtime when loading gigabytes of data on and off the system. We barely had any centralized storage, and depended on what was essentially a shared network of workstations — which our then-small VFX house could get away with. Even considering where we were then, which was sub-terabyte, this was a messy problem that needed solving.

We took our first steps into multi-TB NAS using off-the-shelf solutions from companies like Buffalo. This helped our looming storage space crunch but brought new issues, including frequent breakdowns that cost us vital time and lost iterations — even with plenty of space. I recall a particular feature film project we had to deliver right before Christmas. It almost killed us. Our NAS crashed and wouldn’t allow us to pull final shots, while throwing endless error messages our way. I found myself frantically hot-wiring spare drives to enable us to deliver to our client. We made it, but barely.

At that point it was clear a change was needed. We started using a solution that Annex Pro — a Vancouver-based VAR we’d been working with for years — helped put into place. That company was bought and then went away completely.

Our senior FX TD, Stanislav Enilenis, who was also handling IT for us back then, worked with Annex to install the new system. According to Stan, “the switch allowed bandwidth for expansion. However, when we would be in high-production mode, bandwidth became an issue. While the system was an overall improvement from our first multi-terabyte NAS, we had issues. The company was bought out, so getting drives became problematic, parts became harder to source and there were system failures. When we hit top capacity with the-then 20-plus staff all grinding, the system would slow to a crawl and our artists spent more time waiting than working.”

Artifex machine room.

As we transitioned from SD to HD, and then to 4K, our delivery requirements increased along with our rendering demands, causing severe bottlenecks in the established setup. We needed a better solution but options were limited. We were potentially looking at a six-figure investment, in a system not geared to M&E.

In 2014, Artifex was working on the TV series Continuum, which had fairly massive 3D requirements on an incredibly tight turnaround. It was time to make a change. After a number of discussions with Annex, we made the decision to move to an offering from a new company called Qumulo, which provided above-and-beyond service, training and setup. When we expanded into our new facility, Qumulo helped properly move the tech. Our new 48TB pipeline flowed freely and offered features we didn’t previously have, and Qumulo were constantly adding new and requested updates.

Laila Arshid, our current IS manager, has found this to be particularly valuable. “In Qumulo’s dashboard I can see realtime analytics of everything in the system. If we have a slowdown, I can track it to specific workstations and address any issues. We can shut that workstation or render-node down or reroute files so the system stays fast.”

The main lesson we’ve learned throughout every storage system change or upgrade is this: It isn’t just about having a lot of space. That’s an easy trap to fall into, especially today when we’re seeing skyrocketing demands from 4K+ workflows. You can have unlimited storage, but If you can’t utilize it efficiently and at speed, your storage space becomes irrelevant.

In our industry, the number of iterations we can produce has a dramatic impact on the quality of work we’re able to provide, especially with today’s accelerated schedules. One less pass can mean work with less polish, which isn’t acceptable.

Artifex provided VFX for Faster Than Light

Looking forward, we’re researching extended storage on the cloud: an ever-expanding storage pool with the advantages of fast local infrastructure. We currently use GCP for burst rendering with Zync, along with nearline storage, which has been fantastic — but the next step will be integrating these services with our daily production processes. That brings a number of new challenges, including how to combine local and cloud-based rendering and storage in ways that are seamless to our team.

Constantly expanding storage requirements, along with maintaining the best possible speed and efficiency to allow for artist iterations, are the principal drivers for every infrastructure decision at our company — and should be a prime consideration for everyone in our industry.


Adam Stern is the founder of Vancouver, British Columbia’s Artifex. He says the studio’s main goal is to heighten the VFX experience, both artistically and technically, and collaborate globally with filmmakers to tell great stories.


Nvidia intros Turing-powered Titan RTX

Nvidia has introduced its new Nvidia Titan RTX, a desktop GPU that provides the kind of massive performance needed for creative applications, AI research and data science. Driven by the new Nvidia Turing architecture, Titan RTX — dubbed T-Rex — delivers 130 teraflops of deep learning performance and 11 GigaRays of raytracing performance.

Turing features new RT Cores to accelerate raytracing, plus new multi-precision Tensor Cores for AI training and inferencing. These two engines — along with more powerful compute and enhanced rasterization — will help speed the work of developers, designers and artists across multiple industries.

Designed for computationally demanding applications, Titan RTX combines AI, realtime raytraced graphics, next-gen virtual reality and high-performance computing. It offers the following features and capabilities:
• 576 multi-precision Turing Tensor Cores, providing up to 130 Teraflops of deep learning performance
• 72 Turing RT Cores, delivering up to 11 GigaRays per second of realtime raytracing performance
• 24GB of high-speed GDDR6 memory with 672GB/s of bandwidth — two times the memory of previous-generation Titan GPUs — to fit larger models and datasets
• 100GB/s Nvidia NVLink, which can pair two Titan RTX GPUs to scale memory and compute
• Performance and memory bandwidth sufficient for realtime 8K video editing
• VirtualLink port, which provides the performance and connectivity required by next-gen VR headsets

Titan RTX provides multi-precision Turing Tensor Cores for breakthrough performance from FP32, FP16, INT8 and INT4, allowing faster training and inference of neural networks. It offers twice the memory capacity of previous-generation Titan GPUs, along with NVLink to allow researchers to experiment with larger neural networks and datasets.

Titan RTX accelerates data analytics with RAPIDS. RAPIDS open-source libraries integrate seamlessly with the world’s most popular data science workflows to speed up machine learning.

Titan RTX will be available later in December in the US and Europe for $2,499.


Post production in the cloud

By Adrian Pennington

After being talked about for years, the capacity to use the cloud for the full arsenal of post workflows is possible today with huge ramifications for the facilities business.

Rendering frames for visual effects requires an extraordinary amount of compute power for which VFX studios have historically assigned whole rooms full of servers to act as their renderfarm. As visual quality has escalated, most vendors have either had to limit the scope of their projects or buy or rent new machines on-premises to cope with the extra rendering needed. In recent times this has been upended as cloud networking has enabled VFX shops to relieve internal bottlenecks to scale, and then contract, at will.

The cloud rendering process has become so established that even this once groundbreaking capability has evolved to encompass a whole host of post workflows from previz to transcoding. In doing so, the conventional business model for post is being uprooted and reimagined.

“Early on, global facility powerhouses first recognized how access to unlimited compute and remote storage could empower the creative process to reach new heights,” explains Chuck Parker, CEO of Sohonet. “Despite spending millions of dollars on hardware, the demands of working on multiple, increasingly complex projects simultaneously, combined with decreasing timeframes, stretched on-premise facilities to their limits.”

Chuck Parker

Public cloud providers (Amazon Web Services, Google Cloud Platform, Microsoft Azure) changed the game by solving space, time and capacity problems for resource-intensive tasks. “Sohonet Fastlane and Google Compute Engine, for example, enabled MPC to complete The Jungle Book on time and to Oscar-winning standards, thanks to being able to run millions of Core hours in the cloud,” notes Parker.

Small- to mid-sized companies followed suit. “They lacked the financial resources and the physical space of larger competitors, and initially found themselves priced out of major studio projects,” says Parker. “But by accessing renderfarms in the cloud they can eliminate the cost and logistics of installing and configuring physical machines. Flexible pricing and the option of preemptible instances mean only paying for the compute power used, further minimizing costs and expanding the scope of possible projects.”

Milk VFX did just this when rendering the complex sequences on Adrift. Without the extra horsepower, the London-based house could not have bid on the project in the first place.

“The technology has now evolved to a point where any filmmaker with any VFX project or theatrical, TV or spot editorial can call on the cloud to operate at scale when needed — and still stay affordable,” says Parker. “Long anticipated and theorized, the ability to collaborate in realtime with teams in multiple geographic locations is a reality that is altering the post production landscape for enterprises of all sizes.”

Parker says the new post model might look like this. He uses the example of a company headquartered in Berlin — “an innovative company might employ only a dozen managers and project supervisors on its books. They can bid with confidence on jobs of any scale and any timeframe knowing that they can readily rent physical space in any location, anywhere in the world, to flexibly take advantage of tax breaks and populate it with freelance artists: 100 one week, say, 200 in week three, 300 in week five. The only hardware (rental) costs would be thin-client workstations and Wacom tablets, plus software licenses for 3D, roto, compositing and other key tools. With the job complete, the whole infrastructure can be smoothly scaled back.”

The compute costs of spinning up cloud processing and storage can be modelled into client pitches. “But building out and managing such connectivity independently may still require considerable CAPEX — one that might be cost-prohibitive if you only need the infrastructure for short periods,” notes Parker. “Cloud-compute resources are perfect for spikes in workload but, in between those spikes, paying for bandwidth you don’t need will hurt the bottom line.

Dedicated, “burstable” connectivity speeds of 100Mbit/s up to 50Gbit/s with flexibility, security and reliability are highly desirable attributes for the creative workflow. Price points, as ever, are a motivating concern. Parker’s offerings “move your data away from Internet bandwidth, removing network congestion and decreasing the time it takes to transfer your data. With a direct link to the major cloud provider of your choice, customers can be in control of how their data is routed, leading to a more consistent network experience.

“Direct links into major studios like Pinewood UK open up realtime on-set CGI rendering with live-action photography for virtual production scenarios,” adds Parker. “It is vital that your data transits straight to the cloud and never touches the Internet.”

With file sizes set to continue to increase exponentially over the next few years as 4K and HDR become standard and new immersive media like VR emerges to the mainstream, leveraging the cloud will not only be routine for the highest budget projects and largest vendors, it will become the new post production paradigm. In the cloud creative workflows are demystified and democratized.


Video editing and VFX app HitFilm gets an upgrade

FXhome has upgraded its video editing and VFX software app. The new HitFilm Version 11.0 features Surface Studio, a new VFX plugin modeled from Video Copilot’s Damage and Decay and Cinematic Titles tutorials. Based on customer requests, this new VFX tool enables users to create smooth or rough-textured metallic and vitreous surfaces on any text or in layers. By dropping a clear PNG file onto the HitFilm timeline, text titles instantly turn into weathered, rusty and worn metallic signs.

HitFilm’s Surface Studio also joins FXhome’s expanding library of VFX plugins, Ignite Pro. This set of plugins is available on Mac and PC platforms, and is compatible with 10 of the most used host software, including Adobe Creative Cloud, Apple Final Cut Pro X, Avid, DaVinci Resolve and others.

Last month, FXhome added to its product family with Imerge Pro, a non-destructive RAW image compositor with fully flexible layers and advanced keying for content creators. FXhome is also integrating a number of Imerge Pro plugins with HitFilm, including Exposure, Outer Glow, Inner Glow and Dehaze. New Imerge Pro plugins are tightly integrated with HitFilm V.11.0’s interface ensuring smooth, uninterrupted workflows.

Minimum system requirements are for Apple are: Mac OS 10.13 High Sierra, OS X 10.12 Sierra or OS X 10.11 El Capitan. And for Windows: Microsoft Windows 10 (64-bit), Microsoft Windows 8 (64-bit)

HitFilm 11.0 is available immediately from the FXhome store for $299. FXhome is also celebrating this holiday season with its annual sale. Through December 4, 2018, they are offering a 33% discount when users purchase the FXhome Pro Bundle, which includes HitFilm 11.0, Action, Ignite and Imerge.


Behind the Title: Weta Digital’s Paolo Emilio Selva

NAME: Paolo Emilio Selva 

COMPANY: Weta Digital

CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR COMPANY?
In the middle of Middle-earth, Weta Digital is a VFX company with more than a thousand artists and developers. While focusing on delivering amazing movies, Weta Digital also focuses on research and development for VFX. 

WHAT’S YOUR JOB TITLE?
Head of Software Engineering 

WHAT DOES THAT ENTAIL?
In the software engineering department, we write tools for artists and make sure their creative intent is maintained across the pipeline. We also make sure production isn’t disrupted across the facility.  

WHAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE THE MOST ABOUT WHAT FALLS UNDER THAT TITLE?
Writing code, maybe? Yeah, I’m still writing code when I can, mostly fixing bugs and off-loading other developers from nasty issues, keeping them focused on the research and development and providing support.  

HOW DID YOU START YOUR CAREER?
I started my career as researcher in Human-Computer interfaces at a university in Rome. I liked to solve problems, and the VFX industry has lots of problems to be solved 😉 

HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN WORKING IN VFX?
Ten years  

DID A PARTICULAR FILM INSPIRE YOU ALONG THIS PATH IN ENTERTAINMENT?
I grew up with Pixar movies and lots of animated short movies. I also played video games. I was always fascinated by what was behind those things. I wanted to replicate them, and which I did by re-writing games or effects seen in movies.

 I started by using existing tools. Then, during high school — thanks to my older cousin — I found Basic and started writing my own tools. I found that I was able to control external devices with Basic and my Commodore64. I also started enjoying electronics and micro-controllers. All of this reached the acme with my thesis at university when I created a data-glove from scratch — from the hardware to the software — and started looking at example applications for it. This was in between 1999 and 2001, when I also started working at the Human-Computer Interaction Lab.  

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
It’s challenging, in a good way, every day. And as problem solver, I like this part of my job. 

WHAT’S YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?
Sometimes too many meetings, but it’s important to communicate with every department and understand their needs. 

IF YOU DIDN’T HAVE THIS JOB, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING INSTEAD?
Probably teaching and researching at university in Human-Computer Interaction. 

CAN YOU NAME SOME RECENT PROJECTS YOU HAVE WORKED ON?
Just to name some of them: War for the Planet of the Apes, Valerian, The BFG and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.          

WHAT IS THE PROJECT/S THAT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?
I was lucky enough to be at Weta Digital when we worked on Avatar and The Jungle Book, which both won Oscars for Best Visual Effects, and also The Adventures of Tintin, where I was directly involved in the hair-rendering process and all the TopoClouds tools for the Pantaray pipeline.

WHAT TOOLS DO YOU USE DAY TO DAY?
Nowadays, it’s my email client, my phone and very little text-editor and C++ compilers.

WHAT DO YOU DO TO DE-STRESS FROM IT ALL?
Mostly enjoy time with my wife, my cats, video games and the gym when I can.


Milk VFX provides 926 shots for YouTube’s Origin series

London’s Milk VFX, known for its visual effects work on Adrift, Annihilation and Altered Carbon, has just completed production on YouTube Premium’s new sci-fi thriller original series, Origin.

Milk created all of the 926 VFX shots for Origin in 4K, encompassing a wide range of VFX work, in a four-month timeframe. Milk executed rendering entirely in the cloud (via the AWS Cloud Platform); allowing the team to scale its current roster of projects, which include Amazon’s Good Omens and feature film Four Kids and It.

VFX supervisor and Milk co-founder Nicolas Hernandez supervised the entire roster of VFX work on Origin. Milk also supervised the VFX shoot on location in South Africa.

“As we created all the VFX for the 10-episode series it was even more important for us to be on set,” says Hernandez. “As such, our VFX supervisor Murray Barber and onset production manager David Jones supervised the Origin VFX shoot, which meant being based at the South Africa shoot location for several months.”

The series is from Left Bank Pictures, Sony Pictures Television and Midnight Radio in association with China International Television Corporation (CiTVC). Created by Mika Watkins, Origin stars Tom Felton and Natalia Tena and will premiere on 14 November on YouTube Premium.

“The intense challenge of delivering and supervising a show on the scale of Origin — 900 4K shots in four months — was not only helped by our recent expansion and the use of the cloud for rendering, but was largely due to the passion and expertise of the Milk Origin team in collaboration with Left Bank Pictures,” says Cohen.

In terms of tools, Milk used Autodesk Maya, Side Effects Houdini, Foundry’s Nuke and Mari, Shotgun, Photoshop, Deadline for renderfarms and Arnold for rendering and a variety of in-house tools. Hardware includes HPz series workstations and Nvidia graphics. Storage used was Pixitmedia’s PixStor.

The series, from director Paul W.S. Anderson and the producers of The Crown and Lost, follows a group of outsiders who find themselves abandoned on a ship bound for a distant land. Now they must work together for survival, but quickly realize that one of them is far from who they claim to be.

 

Post studio Nomad adds Tokyo location

Creative editorial/VFX/sound design company Nomad has expanded its global footprint with a space in Tokyo, adding to a network that also includes offices in New York, Los Angeles and London. It will be led by managing director Yoshinori Fujisawa and executive producer Masato Midorikawa.

The Tokyo office has three client suites, an assistant support suite, production office and machine room. The tools for post workflow include Adobe Creative Cloud (Premiere, After Effects, Photoshop), Flame, Flame Assist, Avid Pro Tools and other various support tools.

Nomad partner/editor Glenn Martin says the studio often works with creatives who regularly travel between LA and Tokyo. He says Nomad will support the new Tokyo-based group with editors and VFX artists from our other offices whenever larger teams are needed.

“The role of a post production house is quite different between the US and Japan,” says Fujisawa and Midorikawa, jointly. “Although people in Japan are starting to see the value of the Western-style post production model, it has not been properly established here yet. We are able to give our Japanese directors and creatives the ability to collaborate with Nomad’s talented editors and VFX artists, who have great skills in storytelling and satisfying the needs of brands. Nomad has a comprehensive post-production workflow that enables the company to execute global projects. It’s now time for Japan to experience this process and be a part of the future of global advertising.”

Main Image: (L-R) Yoshinori Fujisawa and Masato Midorikawa