Tag Archives: MPC

Behind the Title: MPC Senior Compositor Ruairi Twohig

After studying hand-drawn animation, this artist found his way to visual effects.

NAME: NYC-based Ruairi Twohig

COMPANY: Moving Picture Company (MPC)

CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR COMPANY?
MPC is a global creative and visual effects studio with locations in London, Los Angeles, New York, Shanghai, Paris, Bangalore and Amsterdam. We work with clients and brands across a range of different industries, handling everything from original ideas through to finished production.

WHAT’S YOUR JOB TITLE?
I work as a 2D lead/senior compositor.

Cadillac

WHAT DOES THAT ENTAIL?
The tasks and responsibilities can vary depending on the project. My involvement with a project can begin before there’s even a script or storyboard, and we need to estimate how much VFX will be involved and how long it will take. As the project develops and the direction becomes clearer, with scripts and storyboards and concept art, we refine this estimate and schedule and work with our clients to plan the shoot and make sure we have all the information and assets we need.

Once the commercial is shot and we have an edit, the bulk of the post work begins. This can involve anything from compositing fully CG environments, dragons or spaceships to beauty and product/pack-shot touch-ups or rig removal. So, my role involves a combination of overall project management and planning. But I also get into the detailed shot work and ultimately delivering the final picture. But the majority of the work I do can require a large team of people with different specializations, and those are usually the projects I find the most fun and rewarding due to the collaborative nature of the work.

WHAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE THE MOST ABOUT WHAT FALLS UNDER THAT TITLE?
I think the variety of the work would surprise most people unfamiliar with the industry. In a single day, I could be working on two or three completely different commercials with completely different challenges while also bidding future projects or reviewing prep work in the early stages of a current project.

HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN WORKING IN VFX?
I’ve been working in the industry for over 10 years.

HOW HAS THE VFX INDUSTRY CHANGED IN THE TIME YOU’VE BEEN WORKING?
The VFX industry is always changing. I find it exciting to see how quickly the technology is advancing and becoming more widely accessible, cost-effective and faster.

I still find it hard to comprehend the idea of using optical printers for VFX back in the day … before my time. Some of the most interesting areas for me at the moment are the developments in realtime rendering from engines such as Unreal and Unity, and the implementation of AI/machine learning tools that might be able to automate some of the more time-consuming tasks in the future.

DID A PARTICULAR FILM INSPIRE YOU ALONG THIS PATH IN ENTERTAINMENT?
I remember when I was 13, my older brother — who was studying architecture at the time — introduced me to 3ds Max, and I started playing around with some very simple modeling and rendering.

I would buy these monthly magazines like 3D World, which came with demo discs for different software and some CG animation compilations. One of the issues included the short CG film Fallen Art by Tomek Baginski. At the time I was mostly familiar with Pixar’s feature animation work like Toy Story and A Bug’s Life, so watching this short film created using similar techniques but with such a dark, mature tone and story really blew me away. It was this film that inspired me to pursue animation and, ultimately, visual effects.

DID YOU GO TO FILM SCHOOL?
I studied traditional hand-drawn animation at the Dun Laoghaire Institute of Art, Design and Technology in Dublin. This was a really fun course in which we spent the first two years focusing on the craft of animation and the fundamental principles of art and design, followed by another two years in which we had a lot of freedom to make our own films. It was during these final two years of experimentation that I started to move away from traditional animation and focus more on learning CG and VFX.

I really owe a lot to my tutors, who were really supportive during that time. I also had the opportunity to learn from visiting animation masters such as Andreas Deja, Eric Goldberg and John Canemaker. Although on the surface the work I do as a compositor is very different to animation, understanding those fundamental principles has really helped my compositing work; any additional disciplines or skills you develop in your career that require an eye for detail and aesthetics will always make you a better overall artist.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
Even after 10 years in the industry, I still get satisfaction from the problem-solving aspect of the job, even on the smaller tasks. I love getting involved on the more creative projects, where I have the freedom to develop the “look” of the commercial/film. But, day to day, it’s really the team-based nature of the work that keeps me going. Working with other artists, producers, directors and clients to make a project look great is what I find really enjoyable.

WHAT’S YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?
Sometimes even if everything is planned and scheduled accordingly, a little hiccup along the way can easily impact a project, especially on jobs where you might only have a limited amount of time to get the work done. So it’s always important to work in such a way that allows you to adapt to sudden changes.

IF YOU DIDN’T HAVE THIS JOB, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING INSTEAD?
I used to draw all day, every day as a kid. I still sketch occasionally, but maybe I would have pursued a more traditional fine art or illustration career if I hadn’t found VFX.

Tiffany & Co.

CAN YOU NAME SOME RECENT PROJECTS YOU HAVE WORKED ON?
Over the past year, I’ve worked on projects for clients such as Facebook, Adidas, Samsung and Verizon. I also worked on the Tiffany & Co. campaign “Believe in Dreams” directed by Francis Lawrence, as well as the company’s holiday campaign directed by Mark Romanek.

I also worked on Cadillac’s “Rise Above” campaign for the 2019 Oscars, which was challenging since we had to deliver four spots within a short timeframe. But it was a fun project. There was also the Michelob Ultra Robots Super Bowl spot earlier this year. That was an interesting project, as the work was completed between our LA, New York and London studios.

WHAT IS THE PROJECT THAT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?
Last year, I had the chance to work with my friend and director Sofia Astrom on the music video for the song “Bone Dry” by Eels. It was an interesting project since I’d never done visual effects for a stop-motion animation before. This had its own challenges, and the style of the piece was very different compared to what I’m used to working on day to day. It had a much more handmade feel to it, and the visual effects design had to reflect that, which was such a change to the work I usually do in commercials, which generally leans more toward photorealistic visual effects work.

WHAT TOOLS DO YOU USE DAY TO DAY?
I mostly work with Foundry Nuke for shot compositing. When leading a job that requires a broad overview of the project and timeline management/editorial tasks, I use Nuke Studio or
Autodesk Flame, depending on the requirements of the project. I also use ftrack daily for project management.

WHERE DO YOU FIND INSPIRATION NOW?
I follow a lot of incredibly talented concept artists and photographers/filmmakers on Instagram. Viewing these images/videos on a tiny phone doesn’t always do justice to the work, but the platform is so active that it’s a great resource for inspiration and finding new artists.

WHAT DO YOU DO TO DE-STRESS FROM IT ALL?
I like to run and cycle around the city when I can. During the week it can be easy to get stuck in a routine of sitting in front of a screen, so getting out and about is a much-needed break for me.

Yoomin Lee joins MPC London as senior colorist

Yoomin Lee has joined Moving Picture Company’s color team in London. Lee got her start working for some of Australia’s top post houses including Frame Set & Match, The Lab and Cutting Edge, before joining Jogger Studios London in 2016.

While at Jogger, she worked on many campaigns, including those for Google, Valentino, FIFA and Samsung. A collaboration with director Anton Corbijn has seen her grade projects for Depeche Mode and U2, including the visuals for the latter’s The Joshua Tree Tour in 2017, which played across the world’s largest concert screen.

When asked what brings her inspiration, Lee says, “I get inspired by any visual art form, and often from nature, especially for light. I become more observant of how things are lit. Color grading is such a unique art form and technology, and it’s all about details and finesse. I find it very inspiring when I collaborate with creative people who are always eager to push the boundaries to achieve their craft.”

Lee will be working on FilmLight’s Baselight.

You can check out her work here.

Behind the Title: MPC creative director Rupert Cresswell

This Brit is living in New York while working on spots, directing and playing dodgeball.

NAME: Rupert Cresswell

COMPANY: MPC

CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR COMPANY?
MPC has been one of the global leaders in VFX for nearly 50 years, with industry-leading facilities in London, Vancouver, Los Angeles, Bangalore, New York, Montréal, Shanghai, Amsterdam and Paris. Well-known for adding visuals for advertising, film and entertainment industries, some of our most famous projects include blockbuster movies such as The Jungle Book, The Martian, the Harry Potter franchise, the X-Men movies and the upcoming The Lion King, not to mention famous advertising campaigns for brands such as Samsung, BMW, Hennessy and Apple. I am based in New York.

WHAT’S YOUR JOB TITLE?
Creative Director (and Director)

WHAT DOES THAT ENTAIL?
Lots of things, depending on the project. I am repped by MPC to direct commercials, so my work often mixes live action with some form of visual effects or animation. I’m constantly pitching for jobs; if I am successful, I direct the subsequent shoot, then oversee a team of artists at MPC through the post process until delivery.

VeChain 

When I’m not directing, I work as a creative director, leading teams on animation and design projects within MPC. It’s mostly about zeroing in on a client’s needs and offering a creative solution. I critique large teams of artists’ work — sometimes up to 60 artists across our global network — ensuring a consistent creative vision. At MPC we are expected to keep the highest standards of work and make original contributions to the industry. It’s my job to make sure we do.

WHAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE THE MOST ABOUT WHAT FALLS UNDER THAT TITLE?
I feel like the lines between agency, production company and VFX studio can be blurred these days. In my job, I’m often called on for a wide range of disciplines such as writing the creative, directing actors, and even designing large-scale print and OOH (out of the home) advertising campaigns.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
There’s always a purity to the concepts at the pitch stage, which I tend to get really enthusiastic about, but the best bit is to get to travel to shoot. I’ve been super-lucky to film in some awesome places like the south of France, Montreal, Cape Town and the Atacama Desert in Chile.

Additionally, the industry is full of funny, cool, creative characters, and if you can take a beat to remind yourself of that, it’s always a blast working with them. The usual things can bother you, like stress and long hours; also, no one likes it when ideas with great potential get compromised. But more often than not, I’m thankful for what I get to do.

WHAT IS YOUR MOST PRODUCTIVE TIME OF THE DAY?
There’s a sweet spot in the morning after I’ve had some caffeine and before I get hungry for lunch — that’s when the heavy lifting happens.

HOW EARLY ON DID YOU KNOW THIS WOULD BE YOUR PATH?
I always knew I wanted to go to art school but never really knew what to do after that. It took years to figure out how to turn my interests into a career. There’s a lot to be said for stubbornly refusing to do something less interesting.

CAN YOU NAME SOME RECENT PROJECTS YOU HAVE WORKED ON?
I finished a big campaign for Timberland, which was a great experience. I worked directly with the client, first on the creative, then I directed the shoot in Montreal. I then I oversaw the post and the print campaign, which seemed to go up everywhere I went in the city. It was a huge technical and creative challenge, but great to be involved from the very start to the very end of the process.

I also worked on one of the first brand campaigns for the blockchain currency, VeChain. That was a huge VFX undertaking and lots of fun — we created a love letter to some classic sci-fi films like Star Wars and Blade Runner, which turned out pretty sweet.

In complete contrast, my most favorite recent experience was to work on the branding for the cult Hulu comedy Pen15. The show is so funny, it was a bit of a dream project. It was refreshing to go from such a large technical endeavor as Timberland with a big VFX team to working almost solo, and mostly just illustrating. There was something really cathartic about it. The job required me to spend most of the day doodling childish pictures — I got a real kick out of the puzzled faces around the office wondering if I’d had some kind of breakdown.

Pen15

WHAT OTHER PROJECTS STAND OUT?
Some of my stuff won glittery awards, but I am super-proud that I made a short film, called Charlie Cloudhead, that got picked up by many festivals. I always wanted to try writing and directing narrative work, and I wanted something that could showcase more of my live-action direction.

It was an unusually personal film, which I still feel a little awkward about, but I am really proud that I put in the effort to make it. It was amazing to work with two fantastic actors (Paul Higgins and Daisy Haggard), and I’m still humbled by all the hard work a big team of people put in just for some kooky little idea that I dreamed up.

NAME THREE PIECES OF TECHNOLOGY YOU CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT.
The idea of no phone and no Internet gives me anxiety. Add to the horror by taking away AC during a New York summer and I’d be a weeping mess.

WHAT SOCIAL MEDIA CHANNELS DO YOU FOLLOW?
I’m pretty much addicted to scrolling through Instagram, but I’m lazy at posting stuff. Maybe it’ll become Myspace 2.0 and we’ll all laugh at all those folks with thousands of followers. Until then, it’s very useful for seeing inspiring new work out there.

I’m also a Brit living abroad in the US, so I’m rather masochistically glued to any news of the whole Brexit thing going down.

DO YOU LISTEN TO MUSIC WHILE YOU WORK?
I do. Music is incredibly influential. Most of the time when I’m working on a project, it will be inspired by a song. It helps me create a mood for the film and I’ll listen to it repeatedly while I’m working on script or walking around thinking about it. For example, my short film was inspired by a song by Cate Le Bon.

My taste is pretty random to be honest. Recently I’ve been re-visiting Missy Elliott and checking out Rosalia, John Maus and the new Karen O stuff. I’m also a bit obsessed with an artist from Mali called Oumou Sangaré. I was introduced to her by a late-night Lyft driver recently, and she’s been helping set the mood for this Q&A right now.

I should add, I work in an open-plan studio and access to the Bluetooth speaker takes a certain restraint and responsibility to prevent arguments — I’m not necessarily the right guy for that. I usually try and turn the place into Horse Meat Disco.

WHAT DO YOU DO TO DE-STRESS FROM IT ALL?
I recently joined a dodgeball league. I had no idea how to play at first, and I’m actually very bad at it. I’m treating it as a personal challenge — learning to embrace being a laughable failure. I’m sure it’ll do me good.

Lauren McCallum to head Mill Film’s new Montreal studio

Mill Film will open a new facility in Montréal, Québec with operations starting this summer. The announcement follows the February launch of Mill Film in Adelaide, Australia.

Mill Film, a Technicolor studio that won an Academy Award for best visual effects for the movie Gladiator in 2001, will focus on the needs of streaming and episodic content — in addition to long form film, which is the domain of existing Technicolor VFX brands, including MPC Film and Mr. X.

Global head of Mill Film Lauren McCallum will head the new studio. Throughout her career, McCallum has been known for leading creative talent on features like Blade Runner 2049 and Wonder Woman, as well as her work on the 2017 Oscar-winning The Jungle Book.

A specialist in VFX management, McCallum will oversee all aspects of production along with driving operations and strategy. A 10-year VFX veteran, McCallum was most recently head of production at MPC Film, and prior to that was at London’s Framestore and Prime Focus World.

MPC DI colorist Jean-Clément Soret adds Technicolor London role

Technicolor London has grown with the addition of colorist Jean-Clément Soret to its DI team. He will take on the role of supervising DI colorist, which is a new role in addition to his current duties at MPC as global creative director of color grading, where he will continue his contribution to advertising campaigns. Soret’s tool of choice is FilmLight Baselight.

Soret is already well known as a DI colorist in the industry, having worked on on films such as 28 Days Later, Hard Candy, The Twilight Saga: Eclipse, Trainspotting 2, In the Heart of the Sea and Steve Jobs. TV series work includes Babylon, Midnight Sun and Black Mirror.

“I’m looking forward to forging new relationships with filmmakers and to continue working with both colorist teams at Technicolor and MPC, as I continue working on both long-form and advertising projects,” says Soret.

MPC adds Flame artists and executive producer to its finishing team

MPC has strengthened its finishing capabilities with the addition of Flame artist and creative director Claus Hansen, senior Flame artist Noah Caddis and executive producer Robert Owens. The trio, who have joined MPC from Method, have over a decade of experience working together. They will be based in MPC’s Culver City studio.

Owens, Hansen and Caddis are all looking forward to collaborating with MPC’s colorists and artists who are located all around the world. “We were attracted to MPC for the quality of work they are renowned for. At the same time it feels very accessible, like we’re working in a collective group, all driven by the same thing, to make great work,” says Hansen. “We are at a point in our careers where we can take our knowledge and skills to make the best experience possible for the company and clients.”

“There is an assurance that all projects will be treated with an artistic eye and scrutiny that is not typically found in the fast-paced nature of finishing and beauty,” adds Caddis.

Hansen has worked with agencies, such as CP+B, Wieden + Kennedy and Deutsch, creating effects, beauty and finishing work on content for brands including BMW, Lexus, Maserati, Microsoft, Target and Revlon.

Caddis has worked on spots for Infiniti, Kia, Adobe, Diet Dr Pepper and others. He too has a strong history of partnering with high-profile agencies like Deutsch, CP+B, Media Arts Lab, Agency 215 and David & Goliath.

“Robert, Noah and I have noticed the strong sense of camaraderie since we arrived, and it’s contagious,” says Hansen. “It gives the feeling of being in a tight-knit, creatively focused group that you want to be a part of. And that’s very appealing.”

Main Image: (L-R) Noah Caddis, Robert Owen and Claus Hansen.

Ed Koenig returns to MPC to help lead remote color, VFX services  

Ed Koenig has rejoined visual effects and post production studio MPC as an executive producer. Formerly EP of color at MPC’s Los Angeles office, he was one of the first hires the company made when it opened there in 2008. Koenig brings a broad range of post experience to his new post, where he’s tasked with continuing to grow the studio’s network of official partner facilities and expand its remote services beyond color grading. He will be based in New York, but work out of LA as well.

MPC has also announced new additions to its official partner facility roster: 11 Dollar Bill in Chicago and Hero Post in Atlanta. They join Charlieuniformtango in Austin and Dallas, The Work in Detroit and Ditch in Minneapolis as the studio’s list of partner facilities.

“We’re not merely looking to connect with top performers in major markets around the country,” Koenig explains, “but to redefine how these independent companies work with a studio as multifaceted as ours. I’ll also be functioning as a kind of roving advance scout for MPC, finding ways clients anywhere can take full advantage of what we have to offer in a way that works best for them.”

He cites as an example the work they’ve done with Ditch since adding them to the partner roster last year. MPC has not only provided several of the boutique’s clients with high-end color grading, performed by colorists in both its LA and New York offices, but also compositing, finishing, Flame work and a range of other VFX services, all performed by artists based many miles from the Twin Cities. “In these instances, we just point our signal toward Minneapolis and we’re collaborating with Ditch owner and editor Brody Howard and his entire team.”

“A big part of what I’m doing is bringing wide-ranging projects into MPC through our remote partners,” he continues. “While remote color has become an accepted part of the post production mix, our push to expand into a broader roster of visual effects capabilities puts us out in front.”

Fantastic Beasts VFX workflow employs previs and postvis

By Daniel Restuccio

Warner Bros’ Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them is considered by some a Harry Potter prequel and by others an entirely new J.K. Rowling franchise. Filled with nearly 1,500 VFX shots, this live-action, CG and character-driven movie put a huge emphasis on pre-pro and established the increased role of postvis in the film’s visual effects post pipeline.

For the film’s overall visual effects supervisors, Tim Burke and Christian Manz, it was a family reunion of sorts, reteaming with many of the companies and individuals that worked on the Harry Potter movies, including director David Yates and producers David Heyman, Steve Kloves, J.K. Rowling and Lionel Wigram.

According to Manz, one of the most significant aspects of this film was how visual effects were integrated into the story from the very beginning. The direction from Yates was very clear: “Make things fantastic, but not fantasy.” For every creature design presented, Yates would ask, “What would be the story behind that creature? What would that character do if the audience saw it from one moment to the next?” Says Manz, “It all had to work to support the story, but not be the story.”

Manz feels that this movie speaks to a new way of storytelling with VFX. “Visual effects is now a part of that filmmaking and storytelling team rather than being the guys who stick in everything afterwards.”

Starting in January 2015, while Burke was busy as VFX supervisor on The Legend of Tarzan, Manz worked with Framestore animation director Pablo Grillo, a Framestore art and animation team and a group of freelance concept and previs artists doing creature development and scene design. Over eight months of design sessions they created 18 main animal types based on hundreds of variations, and worked with the Framestore art department to conceive the turn-of-the-century New York City sets and set extensions.

“Of course, there were creatures we tested that didn’t make the film,” says Framestore animator Andras Ormos, “but it was about the process of whittling it down, and that was the real joy of working on this project. The creative input stretched beyond the post production stage, deciding what worked and what wouldn’t in the overall film.”

“J.K. Rowling’s wonderful script was filled with characters and creatures,” explains Grillo. “Having seen how animation is such a big part of the process in a film like this, we decided that it was important to be involved from the concept stage onwards.” The character development and scene work sessions were so impressive they actually influenced subsequent drafts of the script.

Burke came on full-time in June 2015, and they split the movie in half. Manz took the lead developing the world inside Newt’s magical case, and Burke did the “Obscurus” and the third act. Principal photography took place from August 2015 to January 2016, and they took turns on set supervising their own and each other’s VFX sequences.

With Framestore and Double Negative taking the lead, the shots were spread out among nine main VFX and three previs/postvis companies including: Cinesite, Image Engine, Method Studios, Milk Visual Effects, Moving Picture Company, Nvizible, Proof, Rodeo FX, Secret Lab, The Third Floor and others. Burke says they divided the work by “the strengths of the companies and without overlapping them too much.”

Framestore
Framestore took on the majority of the complex character animation: the Niffler, Gnarlack, the Erumpent and Picket Bowtruckle, as well as many goblins and elves. Grillo first tackled Niffler, described by Rowling as “a long-snouted, burrowing creature native to Britain with a penchant for anything shiny.” The creature design was a mash-up of a spiny anteater, platypus and mole and went through hundreds of iterations and many animated prototypes. Framestore used the skin and muscle rigging toolkit Flesh and Flex developed for Tarzan on Niffler’s magic “loot stuffing” pouch.

Framestore

Framestore

The reason the audience is so delighted when this character first appears, explains Ormos, is that “this scene is driven by the relationship between Newt and the Niffler. There was a history we had to get across — the fact that the Niffler was notorious for escaping and pick-pocketing, and that Newt was going through the motions in trying to catch him. They understood each other and there were little looks, a language in their movement.”

Gnarlack, an American, cigar-chewing, snarky goblin, voiced and facial mocaped by actor Ron Perlman, “is one of the best digital humanoids yet,” reports Grillo. Perlman donned a Vicon Cara 3D facial motion capture headset, surrounded by four high-resolution, high-speed witness cameras. According to Framestore VFX supervisor Andy Kind, Perlman also sat in front of 98 cameras for a facial action coding shape (FACS) session so the team could sculpt the face directly in 3D.

“We created CG characters for the giants, elves and band ensemble,” says Kind. “Then we gave them crazy instruments, including a sousaphone/trumpet concoction.”

A 17-foot carbon fiber puppet, built by Handspring Puppet, substituted for the amorous rhinoceros Erumpent during the Central Park chase scene. It was switched out with the CG version later and dynamic simulations of shattering ice, explosive snow and water effects were added to the concluding shots. There’s this liquid, light-filled sack on the Erumpent’s forehead that Manz says, “made her slightly more unusual than a normal creature.”

“There was an awful lot of digital environment as well as the beast itself,” continues Manz. “David Yates fell in love with the postvis for this scene. It was great to be able to play with shots and offer up suggestions for the edit. It was a very organic way of filmmaking.”

Newt’s pocket-hiding creature sidekick, Picket Bowtruckle, took two months and 200 versions to get right. “We were told that Picket moved too slowly at first and that he appeared too old. We played with the speed but kept his movements graceful,” explains Manz. “He didn’t really have any facial animation, but he does blow a raspberry at one point. In the end, we added more shots to get Pickett’s story to go through, as everyone just loved him.”

MPC
The Moving Picture Company (MPC) completed more than 220 shots and created the Demiguise, Occamy and Billiwig, as well as 3D set extensions of period Manhattan.

For Demiguise’s long, flowing hair and invisibility effect, MPC used their Furtility groom technology. According to MPC VFX supervisor Ferran Domenech, using Furtility “allows for the hair to move naturally and interact with the creature’s arms, legs and the environment around it.” Demiguise was animated using enhanced mocap with keyframed facial expressions.

MPC

MPC built the large feathered dragon-snake Occamy in sections to fill the real and CG extended attic. They used Furtility once more, this time to add feathers, and they augmented the code so that in the climatic fight scene they could scale the giant version of the creature down to mouse-size. MPC’s effects team then used its in-house Kali destruction technology to wreck the attic.

Finally, MPC worked on the Billiwig, a magical bug that can change its flight mode from dragonfly to propeller plane. “This little creature has lots of character and was great fun to bring to life,” reports Domenech.

Previs and Postvis
A major technical advance for Fantastic Beasts can be found in the workflow. It’s been 15 years since the first Harry Potter movie and five years since Deathly Hallows. Over that time Burke had designed a very efficient, streamlined, mostly film-based VFX workflow.

“In the past, we were always stuck at the point where when we shot the film, it was put into editorial, they cut it and then gave it back to us — quite often with big holes where creatures would exist or environments needed to be placed,” describes Burke. “Then we would have to involve the facilities to use their real power to push things through and start blocking out all of the characters. This took quite a bit of time and would always slow the process down, and time is really the key difference with everything we do these days.”

In the past, says Burke, he might wait two months to see an early block of an animated character, “which always then restricts what you can do at the back end or restricts the director’s ability to make creative changes.”

Thankfully this wasn’t the case with Fantastic Beasts. “In the middle of the shoot, Christian and I started supervising the postvis of the scenes we’d already shot,” he explains. They assembled a 50-artist in-house postvis team comprised of members of The Third Floor, Proof and Framestore. While some of the movie was prevised, all of the movie was postvised.

“The path from previs to postvis varied from sequence to sequence,” explains Peter McDonald, previs/postvis supervisor for The Third Floor, London. “At one end of the scale, we had sequences that never really survived through shooting, while at the other end we had sequences that were followed shot-for-shot during the shoot and subsequent editorial process.”

Third Floor

Third Floor postvis

“As an example,” he continues, “the Demiguise and Occamy scene in the department store attic was heavily prevised. The final previs was a pretty polished and spectacular piece in its own right with some relatively sophisticated animation and a highly refined edit. This previs edit was taken onto the stage, with printouts of the shots being referenced as the shoot day progressed. What later came back our way for postvis was very similar to what had been designed in the previs, which was very satisfying from our point of view. It’s nice to know that previs can help drive a production at this level of fidelity!”

One of the benefits of this process was having a movie during editorial that had no “holes” where VFX shots were to later appear. The “postvis” was so good that it was used during audience screenings before the VFX shots were actually built and rendered.

“There were a couple of factors that elevated the postvis,” says McDonald. “Probably the primary one was integration between Framestore’s team with our team at The Third Floor London. Having them present and being supervised by Pablo Grillo guaranteed that the work we were putting together was being judged from almost a “finals” point of view, as Pablo and his artists would also be the ones finishing the job in post. It meant that our postvis wasn’t a throw away — it was the first step in the post production pipeline. This philosophy was present beyond the personnel involved. We also had creature rigs that could be translated with their animation down the line.”

Subway rampage previs

Third Floor’s previs of subway rampage.

One example of a scene that followed through from previs to postvis were parts of the Obscurus rampage in the subway. “Pablo and I worked very closely with artists at both Framestore and The Third Floor on this ‘sequence within a sequence,” says McDonald. “We started with bifrost fluid simulations created in Maya by our own senior asset builder Chris Dawson. We then had our animators distort these simulations into the virtual subway set. Through iteration, we developed the choreography of the piece and further refined the overall rhythm and shape of the piece with our previs editor. This previs then became the template for what was shot on the actual set with Eddie Redmayne and Colin Farrell in the roles of Newt and Graves. When the plate edit returned to us for postvis, we were pretty much able to drop the same distorted simulations onto the plates. The camera angles and cutting pattern in the previs edit had been followed very closely by the live-action unit. We then animated a layer of environment destruction and comped it into the shots to help tie it all together.”

During postvis, says Manz, “A character could go into a shot within a day or two. You would track the shot plate, put the character in, light it and stick it back into editorial. That sort of turn around, that in-house work that we did was the big, big difference with how the film worked. It allowed us to feed all that stuff to David Yates.”

Yates showed his director’s cut to the studio with every single shot of the film blocked out. There were no empty spaces. “We even got the environments in so he had a representation of every street,” says Manz. They completed a three-hour assembly of the film in about five months.

Creatively, it was very liberating, which enabled them to do additional shoots just to enhance the movie. Burke says they were designing and changing shots right up to the end. The final reveal of Jonny Depp as dark wizard Gellert Grindelwald came together all at the last minute.

Fantastic Beasts is like a Harry Potter movie because it exists in the J.K. Rowling story universe and is part of the Harry Potter lore. “Where it’s similar to Potter in terms of the filmmaking,” says Manz, “ is in making it feel very real and not fantasy. What I always enjoyed about the Potter films was they really felt like they were set in a real version of the UK; you could almost believe that magical sort of school existed.”

Third Floor previs

How Fantastic Beasts is different, says Burke, is that it is set in turn-of-the-century New York City, a real city, and not the magical school environment of Hogwarts. “We were dealing with adults,” continues Burke, “we’re not talking about a child growing and running everything through a child’s life. We’re talking about a series of adults. In that sense, it felt when we were making it like were making a film for adults, which obviously has great appeal to children as well. But I do feel it’s more of a film for grown-ups in terms of its storyline, and the issues it’s challenging and discussing.”

Someone told Manz that somebody “felt like Fantastic Beasts was made for the audience that read the books and watched those films and has now grown up.”

IMDB lists four new Fantastic Beasts movies in development. Burke and Manz are already in pre-production on the second, penciled in for a November 16, 2018 release date. “I think it’s fair to say,” says Burke, “that we’ll obviously be trying to expand on the universe that we’ve started to create. Newt will be there with his animals and various other characters, which are going to bring a lot more interest as the story evolves.”

Manz predicts, “It’s just trying to push the believability of the interactions and that world even further. The first film was all about creating that new world, and now it’s out there. It will be a new city (Paris) so we’ll have that challenge again, but we’ll build on what we’ve learned. You don’t often get an opportunity to work with the same team of people, so that’s going to be the great for the second one.”

 

 

Patrick Davenport returns to MPC as COO in US

After starting his career as a runner at MPC in London and working his way up to director of the VFX department, Patrick Davenport has returned to the studio as chief operating officer in the US, managing operations in Los Angeles and New York. He joins MPC during a US growth spurt — the company is moving from its current Santa Monica office to a larger, purpose-built studio in Culver City, slated for this summer.

Davenport left the UK in 1997 to join Digital Domain in Los Angeles, helping to set up and oversee a newly dedicated commercial division. In subsequent years he has held varied roles in VFX and production, but has spent the last six years working as SVP of global operations for Method Studios. He became managing director of CO3 and Method Studios in Los Angeles in January 2015.

“I’m thrilled and delighted to be coming back to MPC, who has had incredible global expansion in both advertising and film over the last 25 years, working at the very highest creative levels,” says Davenport. “I’m excited to be helping with the new space in Culver City and expanding the existing teams in both New York and Los Angeles.”

 

MPC goes into the storm for Disney’s ‘The Finest Hours’

Disney’s The Finest Hours is based on the true story of the greatest small boat rescue in Coast Guard history. As you can imagine, the film, which stars Casey Affleck and Chris Pine, is chock full of visual effects shots — 900 of which were supplied by London’s MPC. Over a 10-month period, MPC VFX supervisor Seth Maury and producer Felix Crawshaw worked closely with the film’s director Craig Gillespie and production VFX supervisor Kevin Hahn

MPC’s work primarily consisted of recreating an immersive nor’easter storm, including ocean swells, turbulent seas, blowing rain and snow, and a sequence where a 36-foot Coast Guard boat must cross a digital version of Chatham bar, with 30- to 50-foot waves rolling, swelling and crashing around them.

THE FINEST HOURS

Shooting began in the fall of 2014 in a 120-by-80-foot-by- 12-foot-deep water-tank built for the shoot at a warehouse in Fore River Shipyard in Quincy, Massachusetts. The filmmakers built a large gimbal set of the Coast Guard CG36500 rescue boat, a full-size mock-up of the Pendleton hull and a replica of the Pendleton engine room that could be flooded with 6ft of water. A number of scenes were also filmed at various locations in Cape Cod and four period rescue boats were restored for production.

The visual effects work started early on in production with the team creating some full CG shots in order to understand what would be required to create a storm of the magnitude required to tell the story.

MPC’s team completed around 300 large-scale water simulation shots (using Flowline), 300 weather and environment shots and 300 shots of the ocean behind actors shot on bluescreen. Digital doubles of the crew members, as well as digital versions of the Pendleton T2 tanker and CG36500 Coast Guard boat were also built by MPC’s team.

For the large-scale full CG water simulation shots, MPC built a library of FX elements and CG renders that were needed to create the ocean, consisting of the base ocean, a foam pass, a mist pass, a fine spray pass, a bubble pass, a water texture pass and refraction and reflection passes for water surfaces. A constantly blowing CG mist pass that the filmmakers named Speed Mist was added to the real footage shot on location in Cape Cod and on set in Quincy to accentuate the storm. For the shots that were panoramic enough to show interaction between the practical or CG boat and the water surface, there was also a suite of elements rendered to connect the boat and water, such as splashes, sprays, bow wakes, tail wakes, an engine wash of bubbles, turbulent water, foam and spray.

Simulations were created in Maya, Flowline and Houdini (including Houdini-Engine). Houdini was used for streaming water and environmental effects such as rain, snow and blowing mist effects — it was chosen because of its strength in handling many shots procedurally. Most of the shots were cached using the Houdini Engine plug-in within Maya. MPC built custom interfaces to simplify their workflow, manage assets and enable artists to handle multiple layers and shots together. They called on VRay and PRMan (Katana) for rendering.

The most challenging work involved a sequence where the CG36500 Coast Guard boat crosses the Chatham Bar in 30-50ft waves. The waves were in various state of swelling, crashing, dumping and spilling. MPC developed systems for creating each of these waves, and additional systems for adding layers of waves into the same scene. Many shots in this sequence were crafted as single-solution waves, such as looking down the barrel of a crashing wave, or being pushed along and backwards by a wave that had already crashed. Maya was used for wave rigs, layout, animation, geometry preparation and some of the FX work. MPC built a complex (and quite flexible) wave rig used by the animation department to prototype and design waves. Once size, speed and shape were locked in animation/layout, the FX department was bringing caches into Flowline for dynamic simulations, sprays, etc.

MPC Creative provides film, VR project for Faraday at CES 2016

VR was everywhere at CES earlier this month, and LA’s MPC played a role. Their content production arm, MPC Creative, produced a film and VR experience for CES 2016, highlighting Faraday Future’s technology platform and providing glimpses of the innovations consumers can expect from their product. The specific innovation shown in the CES VR film was a concept car — the FFZERO1 high-performance electric dream car — and the inspiration around Faraday Future’s consumer-based cars.

“We wanted it to feel elemental. Faraday Future is a sophisticated brand that aims for a seamless connection between technology and transportation,” explains MPC Creative CD Dan Marsh, who also directed the film. “We tried to make the film personal, but natural in the landscape. The car is engineered for the racetrack, but beautiful, in the environmental showcase.”

CES_Faraday_MASTER.0000725      CES_Faraday_MASTER.0000442

To make the film, MPC Creative shot a stand-in vehicle to achieve realistic performance driving and camera work. “We filmed in Malibu and a performance racetrack over two days, then married those locations together with some matte painting and CG to create a unique place that feels like an aspirational Nürburgring of sorts. We match-moved/tracked the real car that was filmed and replaced it with our CG replica of the Faraday Future racecar to get realistic performance driving. Interior shots were filmed on stage. We chose to bridge those stage shots with a slightly stylized appearance so that we could tie it all back together with a full CG demo sequence at the end of the film.”

MPC Creative also produced a Faraday Future VR experience that features the FFZERO1 driving through a series of abstract environments. The experience feels architectural and sculptural, and ultimately offers a spiritual versus visceral journey. Using Samsung’s Gear VR, CES attendees sat in a position similar to the angled seating of the car for their 360-degree CES_Faraday_MASTER.0001174tour.

MPC Creative shot the pursuit vehicle with an Arri Alexa and  used a Red Dragon for drone and VFX support. “We also mounted a Red, with a 4.5mm lens pointed upwards on a follow vehicle that allowed us to capture a mobile spherical environment, which we used to map moving reflections of the environment back onto the CG car,” explains MPC Creative executive producer Mike Wigart.

How did working on the film versus the VR product differ? “The VR project was very different from the film in the sense that it was CG rendered,” says Wigart. “We initially considered the idea of a doing a live-action VR piece, but we started to see several in-car live-action VR projects out in the world, so we decided to do something we hadn’t seen before — an aesthetically driven VR piece with design-based environments. We wanted a VR experience that was visually rich while speaking to the aspirational nature of Faraday Future.”

CES_Faraday_MASTER.0001235      CES_Faraday_MASTER.0000988

Adds Marsh, “Faraday Future wanted to put viewers in the driver’s seat but, more than that, they wanted to create a compelling experience that points to some of the new ideas they are focusing on. We’ve seen and made a lot of car driving experiences, but without a compelling narrative the piece can be in danger of being VR for the sake of it. We made something for Faraday Future that you couldn’t see otherwise. We conceived an architectural framework for the experience. Participants travel through a racetrack of sorts, but each stage takes you through a unique space. But we’re also traveling fast, so, like the film, we’re teasing the possibilities.”

Tools used by MPC Creative included Autodesk Maya, Side Effects Houdini, V-Ray by Chaos Group, The Foundry’s Nuke and Nuke Studio and Tweak’s RV.

Fabric Software at SIGGRAPH 2015 with Fabric Engine 2

Fabric Software is launching Fabric Engine 2 at SIGGRAPH 2015 in Los Angeles,. The second generation of the development platform features the Canvas visual programming system that was previewed in March, as well as integration with Pixar’s RenderMan, The Foundry’s Modo and the Unreal Engine 4.

Unreal Engine

Fabric Engine 2 makes it even easier for studios of all sizes to build high-performance tools and applications for VFX, games, virtual reality (VR) and visualization. Fabric Software has more than 400 users on the beta program and expects to release Fabric Engine 2 in September.
On Tuesday, August 11, during a Fabric Software user group at SIGGRAPH, major VFX studios such as Double Negative, MPC, Hybride and Psyop will demonstrate how Fabric fits into their pipeline.

Behind the Title: MPC’s Will MacNeil

NAME: Will MacNeil

COMPANY: MPC  @mpc_adv, @mpc_film

CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR COMPANY?
MPC is an international creative studio. You’ll find our work just about everywhere, from the VFX sequences in feature films like Godzilla to a mobile app for the X-Factor series, and everything in between. I work in our motion design studio in London. This is technically our advertising department, and we do a lot of commercial work. But we also make pop promos, virals and film titles.

WHAT’S YOUR JOB TITLE?
I’m a senior motion designer and director. We’re not afraid of long job titles here.

WHAT DOES THAT ENTAIL?
Motion design covers a vast spectrum of work, from graphic 2D animation to photoreal 3D. Our clients bring us a huge variety of work, so I’m usually jumping between a range of tasks. One minute, I might be in a meeting with clients, bashing through treatments and schedules. The next minute, I could be animating a complex 3D scene. The rest of the day-to-day work usually involves leading a team of animators as we put together a TV commercial, pop-promo or title sequence.

WHAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE THE MOST ABOUT WHAT FALLS UNDER THAT TITLE?
A lot of use come from fields outside of animation and design. My degree is in American Literature. Right now I share a desk with a former sommelier. We also have a former rock star in our midst, but he’d rather I not mention it.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
I think it’s the mix of the creative and technical roles. When I was little, I loved taking apart things in the house and putting them back together, with varying degrees of success. My dad got so fed up. He eventually started bringing home broken appliances, like radios, for me to play with. These usually involved mains electricity. So I really shouldn’t be alive today. Since then I’ve always wanted to take things apart, see how they work, and then put them back together the way I want them to be. I see it as a form of creativity. So using technology to tell stories is a dream job for me. I think motion graphics is full of people like me: people who want to be creative and technical at the same time.

WHAT’S YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?
The gender imbalance. We really need to get more women working in our industry.

WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE TIME OF THE DAY?
Anytime the phone stops ringing and the email stops pinging and I can get down to work.

IF YOU DIDN’T HAVE THIS JOB, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING INSTEAD?
Good question. Hopefully, something with a little more fresh air, but, honestly, I love this work.

HOW EARLY ON DID YOU KNOW THIS WOULD BE YOUR PATH?
I have a learning disability, which makes it very difficult to work with traditional media, like a pencil or brush. This was a real frustration growing up because I’ve always loved design. I remember the rush I got watching Star Wars; all those beautifully designed ships. Even the Star Wars logo inspired me. I desperately wanted to make my own spaceships and title designs, but I couldn’t even draw a straight line. That changed when I started playing with computer graphics. Suddenly my clumsy hands didn’t matter anymore. Even the rudimentary tools in the first Mac computers were enough to convince me that this is what I wanted to do.

Adidas_Still4

CAN YOU NAME SOME RECENT PROJECTS YOU HAVE WORKED ON?
I’ve just wrapped up a commercial for a cognac brand. The job involved over 10 shots of fluid simulations, so it was a technical challenge, but a rewarding one. We’re pretty confident we can animate any sort of falling booze now. I’ve also worked on the Adidas Predator Instinct commercial (above) and  projects for Liberty Human Rights (pictured below left) called Where Do They Go? and Amnesty International called I Have a Name (pictured below right).

LibertyAmnesty

Conversely, I’m now directing a series of 2D character animation films for a pharmaceutical brand. It feels like a completely different world. But it’s a great chance to direct something with a bit of humor.

I’m also doing some tests using game engines for our animation work. This could be a new frontier for us.

WHAT IS THE PROJECT THAT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?
Many years ago, I made two ads for charities I support: one for Amnesty International, and one for Liberty Human Rights. They just started out as ideas that I wanted to try out, but as I worked through them, I realized they could actually help these groups out. So I showed them both to their target charities. In both cases they picked up the spots and integrated them into their TV, cinema and online campaigns. Looking back now, the ads were pretty simple, and in some ways naïve. But I’m still glad I got them out there. Working in advertising often means creating work that pushes the boundaries of honesty. So I think it’s vital we use our skills to help people, rather than just convince them to buy things.

NAME THREE PIECES OF TECHNOLOGY YOU CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT.
It’s probably obvious, but I can’t live without my smart phone. The strange thing is I hardly use it as a phone. It’s kind of a digital Swiss Army knife. I have a long commute to work, so my phone is like an entertainment center. I watch films on it, read books and Tweet the occasional rant about my train service.

And the Internet… I think sometimes we forget that it’s a piece of technology, but it’s had such an impact in the way we work. It’s an amazing resource for learning and researching projects, but at the same time, I think it facilitates laziness. It’s so easy now for designers to find something cool online and knock it off as their own project. I see quite a few creative briefs come in that are clearly little more than a trawl through the creative blogs. So I suppose it’s a blessing and a curse.

I don’t actually own one, but my girlfriend and I desperately want a camper van. We’ve got a fantasy about drinking tea at some remote beach. Actually, she’s drinking tea. I’ve got something stronger.

WHAT SOCIAL MEDIA CHANNELS DO YOU FOLLOW?
The usual suspects: Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter. I’m also pretty active on forums like CG Talk. I regularly check the motion graphics blogs like Motionographer, Stash and Mograph, but I really prefer the face-to-face meet-ups like See No Evil in London.

DO YOU LISTEN TO MUSIC WHILE YOU WORK?
I rarely get a chance, but when I do, being an expat American, I like to listen to US online radio stations like KCRW.

WHAT DO YOU DO TO DE-STRESS FROM IT ALL?
I’m a father of three. Work is where I go to relax.

MPC creates prehistoric land of CG dinos for Nescafé

One of MPC’s latest commercial productions features the story of a mother and son on an epic trip in search of dinosaurs in the new Nescafé Goldblend spot from Publicis London. The commercial was filmed on location in South Africa’s Royal Natal National Park, and the MPC VFX team slightly augmented the park’s famous rock amphitheater to create part of the scenery.

Directed by Park Pictures’ Christian & Patrick (Christian McKenzie and Patrick Chen), the 60-second spot required the VFX team to create multiple dinosaurs from scratch and design impressive matte paintings as backdrops including an animated lava-spewing volcano.

Jon Park supervised the 3D team in the creation of the Jurassic creatures, with a main focus on the T-rex and her babies. Each dinosaur was treated individually, with the team modeling and rigging herds of brachiosaurus, pterodactyls, stegosaurus and T-rex. Shooting conditions in the park proved challenging, with a daily two-hour hike to locations and the team carrying all required equipment. Local Zulu guides were employed to help with the more treacherous terrain, including crossing a rocky stream via a rope bridge.

second third

Back in the studio, VFX supervisor Dan Sanders led the MPC team in creating a prehistoric look and integrating the CG dinosaurs. In addition to the matte painted volcano and corresponding reflection seen in the canoe scene, the team added extra waterfalls, clouds and mist, and altered the appearance of the sky and time of day.

The dinosaurs were integrated using multiple techniques. For instance, GOBO techniques were used for the T-rex scenes to create a dappled light effect over the dinosaurs’ skin and draw the eye quickly to the animated creatures.

Tools used included Autodesk’s Maya and Flame, Adobe Photoshop and The Foundry’s Mari and Nuke.

Watch their “Making Of” video

 

MPC adds Jo Arghiris as EP for VFX

Jo Arghiris has joined MPC Los Angeles as executive producer for VFX. In her new role she will work closely with managing director Andrew Bell and alongside executive producer Elexis Stearn to build and strengthen client relationships, oversee operations and manage production teams.

Arghiris began her career in production at MPC in London and has over 15 years of VFX advertising experience. Before rejoining MPC, Arghiris rose through the ranks at The Mill working across London, New York, and most recently Los Angeles as an executive producer where she has led projects with leading agencies, including Deutsch, Goodby Silverstein & Partners, 180LA, Wieden+Kennedy and TBWA Chiat Day.

Arghiris has won a Silver Lion at Cannes, two Yellow Pencils at D&AD, a Gold Clio and a Gold at the One Show, among others. She has worked with directors such as Traktor, Nicolai Fuglsig, Jake Scott, Stacy Wall, Dante Ariola, Harold Einstein and Jim Jenkins on campaigns for Nike, Budweiser, Adidas, Target and Coca-Cola. She has also been instrumental in projects such as Tooheys The Quest, directed by Garth Davis at Exit Films, and PlayStation Greatness Awaits directed by Rupert Sanders at MJZ.

London’s MPC Creative names Sophie Gunn EP

MPC Creative, the content production division of MPC, has hired executive producer Sophie Gunn. She brings with her extensive experience across agency, VFX and motion design production and until recently has been overseeing the growth and development of the MPC Motion Design studio, which specializes in dynamic motion graphics, design, illustration and animation.

In this new role, Gunn has been involved in the production of 19 online films for adidas, including Predator Instinct, celebrating the 20th anniversary of the eponymous boot, and starring German footballer Mesut Özil.

Gunn is now working closely with head of creative strategy for MPC Ben Cyzer, who says, “MPC Creative incorporates concept development, direction, production and VFX all in-house. Sophie’s experience, along with her kooky personality, is perfectly placed to strengthen and develop the MPC Creative brand. The success of our collaborations with adidas is testimony to Sophie’s inventive ways of working and aesthetic eye.”

The news comes alongside the recent appointment of Zak Thornborough to EP of MPC Creative in the US.

VFX Chat: Digital Domain discusses its work on ‘Maleficent’

By Randi Altman

The Disney hit movie train keeps rolling along, with audiences getting on board at every stop; this time it’s Maleficent’s turn. The studio has taken a classic animated villain, Maleficent, and put her into a live-action film, starring Angelina Jolie as the title character.

Directed by Robert Stromberg, the story is a “re-imagining” of the classic Sleeping Beauty, but from Maleficient’s perspective. There are battles and fairies and magical wings. All of which imply visual effects.

One of the houses called on to help was Digital Domain, which provided 540 shots for the film, which was more than originally thought. As the show went through some adjustments, that number grew.

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Quick Chat: MPC Colorist Richard Fearon

By Randi Altman

London — MPC’s Richard Fearon, a London Film School graduate, became a full-time colorist back in 2006 when the company he was with (Blue Post) asked him to go to Mumbai to grade commercials.

The move made sense. He was trained as a junior — grading promos and short films. “Luckily for me, back then people were still shooting mainly on 16mm and 35mm film, which gave me a great base to build upon on as a colorist.”

When Fearon returned from Mumbai after six weeks, he had gained invaluable experience that could only be found in a color grading suite and on real-world jobs.

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