Tag Archives: AxisVFX

Behind the Title: Axis executive producer Debbie Ross

NAME: Debbie Ross

COMPANY: Glasgow, Scotland’s Axis

CAN YOU DESCRIBE WHAT AXIS IS?
Axis and sister studios axisVFX and Flaunt provide animation and visual effects for the entertainment industry, working across film, television, games and theme parks.

The three studios have worked with big entertainment brands such as Halo, Doctor Who, Call of Duty, Monster High, Assassin’s Creed, Alien and Shaun the Sheep.

WHAT’S YOUR JOB TITLE?
Executive Producer

WHAT DOES THAT ENTAIL?
My role includes seeking out and securing new work for the studio, predominantly with our game clients, then ensuring we have the best director and creative talent attached. Then I make sure those projects get delivered as promised. Building and maintaining client relationships is a big part of this.

Axis

WHAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE THE MOST ABOUT WHAT FALLS UNDER THAT TITLE?
You can be glued to your laptop in Glasgow working on budgets one day and the next you can be in LA talking to a creative team about their content needs. Adaptability and thinking on your feet are surprisingly important.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
I love working with our creative teams here in the studio — the evolution of ideas and experiencing the creative process first-hand never fails to inspire me. There are times when things feel a bit magical, like when you know a creative treatment is nailing it or when you witness a sparkling synergy between artists working together. It can be really exciting.

WHAT’S YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?
Dealing with jet lag on long-haul business trips — awake by 4am and falling asleep in my food by 8pm. But it’s a small sacrifice because I get to see amazing parts of the world I’d never see otherwise.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE TIME OF THE DAY?
I’m a bit of a morning person — it’s probably when I’m most productive.

IF YOU DID NOT HAVE THIS JOB, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING INSTEAD?
If it wasn’t for a complete lack of talent I would love to have been a musician. In reality, if I wasn’t at Axis I would probably still be working in live-action TV.

HOW EARLY ON DID YOU KNOW THIS WOULD BE YOUR PATH?
I’ve never had a career plan. I’m still amazed that I’m on the path at all!

CAN YOU NAME SOME RECENT PROJECTS YOU HAVE WORKED ON?
The game trailer for Warhammer 40,000: Dawn of War III and Destiny: Rise of Iron are the most recent projects to go live.

WHAT IS THE PROJECT THAT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?
I’m proud of so much of what comes out of Axis, I can’t pick one single project. Most of all I’m proud to be part of the team — the people I work with are why I’m still here 10 years on.

DO YOU LISTEN TO MUSIC WHILE YOU WORK?
Not too often as I tend to like hearing what’s going on around me in the studio. If my headphones are on it generally means “do not disturb,” so music is to block any distractions and help me focus.

WHAT DO YOU DO TO DE-STRESS FROM IT ALL?
I run to and from work — that’s my daily release and has become a bit of an addiction. I also run on work trips. Gives me something to do at 4am when the jet lag kicks in.

Axis works with Bungie, Activision for ‘Destiny: Rise of Iron’ trailer

Glasgow-based CG and animation house Axis has collaborated with game developer Bungie and game publisher Activision to create the cinematic sequences, based on Bungie’s initial previs, for the Destiny: Rise of Iron trailer. Destiny: Rise of Iron features new storylines, locations, gear, maps, enemies and missions, and continues the story of the heroic Iron Lords in their battle against an ancient enemy.

Axis director Stuart Aitken worked closely with Bungie’s cinematic director, Matthew Ward, and the Axis team to create and execute multiple rendered scenes that were edited into the trailer alongside gameplay sequences.

sh110_4K_001They used Pixologic Zbrush for modeling and Autodesk Maya for animation. For shading, lighting, rendering and effects they called on Side Effects Houdini. Compositing was via Blackmagic Fusion.

“Accomplishing the level of detail on the assets that we had to work with fur, fire and snow simultaneously was a challenge,” says Hudson Martins, head of effects for Axis. “The wolves are the first characters completely covered with fur that Axis worked on. We had to recreate believable texture that moved and reacted as real fur does. We implemented an extra amount of R&D behind it to create and render the fur efficiently and so on.”

Axis was responsible for additional concept artwork and previs to develop initial ideas further, taking the work into final blocking, cinematography, motion capture and animation, lighting, VFX, rendering and compositing for the trailer’s reveal at the E3 2016 expo in Los Angeles.

“The timescale on this project was pretty tight to have the trailer complete for E3,” explains Martins. “We got involved in the storyboard phase, which helped in planning and managing the project we delivered as we had a short time to execute the project.”

Ant Farm edited this CG cinematic to a Destiny original score and paired it with in-game captured moments from Rise of Iron.

The trailer scenes produced by Axis feature Lord Saladin, a legendary figure known to players as the mysterious host of the Iron Banner, multiplayer events within the game and the only remaining member of the fabled Iron Lords. In the trailer, we meet Saladin, accompanied by a pack of wolves, traveling across the snowy wastes outside the Cosmodrome. There, they encounter an ominous breach in the containment wall hiding an old enemy, now reborn and stronger than ever.

Rise of Iron will be released on September 20.

AxisVFX celebrates Christmas with ‘Doctor Who’ special

By Randi Altman

Even Doctor Who celebrates Christmas, but in a very different way than most. Let’s just say the Doctor’s not sitting around a fireplace drinking eggnog and listening to holiday music. In Doctor Who‘sThe Husbands of River Songs” our favorite Tardis traveling character is hurled into a frantic chase across the galaxy. This special premiered on December 25 and featured a typical wacky plot and some pretty cool effects.

UK-based AxisVFX was called on to create over 100 shots for the episode. They split the work between their two studios — one in Bristol, England, and one in Glasgow, Scotland. The Axis team was led by co-owner/VFX supervisor Grant Hewlett and fellow VFX supervisor Stuart Aitken. They worked closely with director Douglas Mackinnon and producer Nikki Wilson while creating shots that ranged from alien planets to giant robots to galactic star-liners.

Grant Hewitt

Grant Hewlett

Services spanned digital matte painting, character animation, fluids and particle simulation work to rigid body simulations and compositing using Autodesk Maya, Side Effects Houdini and The Foundry’s Nuke.

Over the holidays, we reached out to Hewlett to find out more. Let’s dig in.

You provided over 100 VFX shots?
We ended up delivering 119 shots in total, which was about a third more than we bid. This is relatively normal as we pick up A/B shots when editing starts. A/B shots are effectively the same shot chopped up in the edit.

It’s part of our remit as a company to serve the story first, so we rarely charge for this type of addition; flexibility is what’s required on a show like Doctor Who.

How early did you get involved, and have you worked on Doctor Who previously?
We got involved about three or four weeks before shooting. We started breaking down scripts and exploring creative solutions to the many and varied effects required. Previously, we had worked on an episode from Season 8 called “Flatline” with Douglas Mackinnon and Nikki Wilson, so it was great to work with them again.

Working under tight deadlines and juggling multiple issues is tough; you have to live with the decisions you make. Building relationships and allowing space for creativity to blossom is pretty nerve-racking at times but ultimately very rewarding.

What were the types of shots needed? Invisible? Obvious? Both?
Doctor Who is a challenging show for a visual effects company as there is minimal re-use and every story has its own demands. The Christmas special had spaceships, digital matte paintings, set extensions, characters, fluid effects, snow, explosions and even an exploding head!

The majority of fix-it type work is done superbly by the BBC in-house online team. At the center of our work was Hydroflax the Robot, which was a prosthetic/suit/performer in the majority of shots with additional VFX enhancements. We built a full copy of the real suit in Maya using photogrammetry I shot on set with a Sony RX 100, which is great little piece of kit with a F1.8  lens.

The 3D model was textured in Mudbox and Photoshop and we prepped 8K maps for use in our proprietary Houdini shader written by CG supervisor Sergio Caires. Our “stunt” CG Hydroflax was used in a number of sequences in the episode. The most hilarious was Matt Lucas whizzing off like a firework. Awesome!

What was your workflow like? Did you have a supervisor on set?
I supervised the month-long shoot and worked closely with Douglas and Nikki on every scene, advising and suggesting alternatives when required. We had four weeks to deliver all of the shots once we got a locked cut, so my goal was to get as much approval and creative buy-in as we could as we went along.

    

We created hundreds of concepts and dozens of previz QuickTimes for the feedback loop so we could bring all to a common plan. In practice that works for the majority of shots, but things always evolve as the edit comes together. That’s the nerve-racking time for us — waiting for the edit. Thankfully Douglas and Nikki, while being demanding clients, are also very pragmatic and professional, which makes our job much easier than on some jobs, which I am not going to talk about here! (laughs).

You have mentioned some tools used. What do you call on for collaboration and other parts of the workflow?
We use a whole gamut of DCC tools, but our workhorse is Nuke. Shotgun provides the organization and pipeline tools and we use Alembic to move data around.

Having worked most of my career as a lighting/shots TD, I like to keep things simple so each distinct step in our 3D pipeline has a “publish,” allowing clean data for the next step.

How did the approval process go with the producers?
Approvals of concepts, animation/layout, look-development, lighting and final shots were carried out via the Shotgun Client review site, which is simply fantastic. Pretty much every day from the start of filming to the day before delivery we sent playlists for review by the director, producer, executives and post supervisor. We also had a number of face-to-face meetings in the cutting room, which are much more freeform and immediate. The goal was to generate ideas and approaches to explore.

What’s next for AxisVFX?
Well, we are a few weeks into two seasons of Red Dwarf and we have a number of other projects that I can’t really talk about yet.