Tag Archives: VFX supervisor

Sheena Duggal to get VES Award for Creative Excellence

The Visual Effects Society (VES) named acclaimed visual effects supervisor Sheena Duggal as the forthcoming recipient of the VES Award for Creative Excellence in recognition of her valuable contributions to filmed entertainment. The award will be presented at the 18th Annual VES Awards on January 29, 2020, at the Beverly Hilton Hotel.

The VES Award for Creative Excellence, bestowed by the VES Board of Directors, recognizes individuals who have made significant and lasting contributions to the art and science of the visual effects industry by uniquely and consistently creating compelling and creative imagery in service to story. The VES will honor Duggal for breaking new ground in compelling storytelling through the use of stunning visual effects. Duggal has been at the forefront of embracing emerging technology to enhance the moviegoing experience, and her creative vision and inventive techniques have paved the way for future generations of filmmakers.

Duggal is an acclaimed visual effects supervisor and artist whose work has shaped numerous studio tentpole and Academy Award-nominated productions. She is known for her design skills, creative direction and visual effects work on blockbuster films such as Venom, The Hunger Games, Mission: Impossible, Men in Black II, Spider-Man 3 and Contact. She has worked extensively with Marvel Studios as VFX supervisor on projects including Doctor Strange, Thor: The Dark World, Iron Man 3, Marvel One-Shot: Agent Carter and the Agent Carter TV series. She also contributed to Sci-Tech Academy Award wins for visual effects and compositing software Flame and Inferno. Since 2012, Duggal has been consulting with Codex (and now Codex and Pix), providing guidance on various new technologies for the VFX community. Duggal is currently visual effects supervisor for Venom 2 and recently completed design and prep for Ghostbusters 2020.

In 2007, Duggal made her debut as a director on an award-winning short film to showcase the Chicago Spire, simultaneously designing all of the visual effects. Her career in movies began when she moved to Los Angeles to work as a Flame artist on Super Mario Bros. for Roland Joffe and Jake Eberts’ Lightmotive Fatman. She had previously been based in London, where she created high-resolution digital composites for Europe’s top advertising and design agencies. Her work included album covers for Elton John and Traveling Wilburys.

Already an accomplished compositor (she began in 1985 working on early generation paint software), in 1992 Duggal worked as a Flame artist on the world’s first Flame feature production. Soon after, she was hired by Industrial Light & Magic as a supervising lead Flame artist on a number of high-profile projects (Mission: Impossible, Congo and The Indian in the Cupboard). In 1996, Duggal left ILM to join Sony Pictures Imageworks as creative director of high-speed compositing and soon began to take on the additional responsibilities of visual effects supervisor. She was production-side VFX supervisor for multiple directors during this time, including Jane Anderson (The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio), Peter Segal (50 First Dates and Anger Management) and Ridley Scott (Body of Lies and Matchstick Men).
In addition to feature films, Duggal has also worked on a number of design projects. In 2013 she designed the logo and the main-on-ends for Agent Carter. She was production designer for SIGGRAPH Electronic Theatre 2001, and she created the title design for the groundbreaking Technology Entertainment and Design conference (TED) in 2004.

Duggal is also a published photographer and traveled to Zimbabwe and Malawi on her last assignment on behalf of UK water charity Pump Aid, where she was photo-documenting how access to clean water has transformed the lives of thousands of people in rural areas.
Duggal is a member of the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences and serves on the executive committee for the VFX branch.

Using VFX to turn back time for Downton Abbey film

The feature film Downton Abbey is a continuation of the popular TV series, which followed the lives of the aristocratic Crawley family and their domestic help. Created by Julian Fellowes, the film is based in 1927, one year after the show’s final episode, bringing with it the exciting announcement of a royal visit to Downton from King George V and Queen Mary.

Framestore supported the film’s shoot and post, with VFX supervisor Kyle McCulloch and senior producer Ken Dailey leading the team. Following Framestore’s work creating post-war Britain for the BAFTA-nominated Darkest Hour, the VFX studio was approached to work directly with the film’s director, Michael Engler, to help ground the historical accuracy of the film.

Much of the original cast and crew returned, with a screenplay that required the new addition of a VFX department, “although it was important that we had a light footprint,” explains McCulloch. “I want people to see the credits and be surprised that there are visual effects in it.” Supporting VFX on over 170 shots ranged from cleanups and seamless set transitions to extensive environment builds and augmentation.

Transporting the audience to an idealized interpretation of 1920s Britain required careful work on the structures of buildings, including the Abbey (Highclere Castle), Buckingham Palace and Lacock village, a national trust village in the Cotswolds that was used as a location for Downton’s village. Using the available photogrammetry and captured footage, the artists set to work restoring the period, adding layers of dirt and removing contemporary details to existing historical buildings.

Having changed so much since the early 20th century, King’s Cross Station needed a complete rebuild in CG, with digital train carriages, atmospheric smoke and large interior and exterior environment builds.

The team also helped with landscaping the idyllic grounds of the Abbey, replacing the lawn, trees and grass and removing power lines, cars and modern roads. Research was key, with the team collaborating with production designer Donal Woods and historical advisor Alastair Bruce, who came equipped with look books and photographs from the era. “A huge amount of the work was in the detail,” explains McCulloch. “We questioned everything; looking at the street surfaces, the type of asphalt used, down to how the gutters were built. All these tiny elements create the texture of the entire film. Everyone went through it with a very fine-tooth comb — every single frame.”

 

In addition, a long shot that followed the letter from the Royal Household from the exterior of the abbey, through the corridors of the domestic “downstairs” to the aristocratic “upstairs,” was a particular challenge. The scenes based downstairs — including in the kitchen — were shot at Shepperton Studios on a set, with the upstairs being captured on location at Highclere Castle. It was important to keep the illusion of the action all being within one large household, requiring Framestore to stitch the two shots together.

Says McCulloch, “It was brute force, it was months of work and I challenge anyone to spot where the seam is.”

Rob Legato to receive HPA’s Lifetime Achievement Award 

The Hollywood Professional Association (HPA) will honor renowned visual effects supervisor and creative Robert Legato with its Lifetime Achievement Award at the HPA Awards at the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles on November 21. Now in its 14th year, the HPA Awards recognize creative artistry, innovation and engineering excellence in the media content industry. The Lifetime Achievement Award honors the recipients’ dedication to the betterment of the industry.

Legato is an iconic figure in the visual effects industry with multiple Oscar, BAFTA and Visual Effects Society nominations and awards to his credit. He is a multi-hyphenate on many of his projects, serving as visual effects supervisor, VFX director of photography and second unit director. From his work with studios and directors and in his roles at Sony Pictures Imageworks and Digital Domain, he has developed a variety of digital workflows.

He has enjoyed collaborations with leading directors including James Cameron, Jon Favreau, Martin Scorsese and Robert Zemeckis. Legato’s career in VFX began in television at Paramount Pictures, where he supervised visual effects on two Star Trek series, which earned him two Emmy awards. He left Paramount to join the newly formed Digital Domain where he worked with founders James Cameron, Stan Winston and Scott Ross. He remained at Digital Domain until he segued to Sony Imageworks.

Legato began his feature VFX career on Neil Jordan’s Interview with the Vampire. He then served as VFX supervisor and DP for the VFX unit on Ron Howard’s Apollo 13, which earned him his first Academy Award nomination, and a win at the BAFTAs. He worked with James Cameron on Titanic, earning him his first Academy Award. Legato continued to work with Cameron, conceiving and creating the virtual cinematography pipeline for Cameron’s visionary Avatar.

Legato has also enjoyed a long collaboration with Martin Scorsese that began with his consultation on Kundun and continued with the multi-award winning film The Aviator, on which he served as co-second unit director/cameraman and VFX supervisor. Legato’s work on The Aviator won him three VES awards. He returned to work with the director on the Oscar Best Picture winner The Departed as the 2nd unit director/cameraman and VFX supervisor.  Legato and Scorsese collaborated once again on Shutter Island, on which he was both VFX supervisor and 2nd unit director/cameraman. He continued on to Scorsese’s 3D film Hugo, which was nominated for 11 Oscars and 11 BAFTAs, including Best Picture and Best Visual Effects. Legato won his second Oscar for Hugo as well as three VES Society Awards. His collaboration with Scorsese continued with The Wolf of Wall Street as well as with non-theatrical and advertising projects such as the Clio award-winning Freixenet: The Key to Reserva, a 10-minute commercial project, and the Rolling Stones feature documentary, Shine a Light.

Legato worked with director Jon Favreau on Disney’s The Jungle Book (second unit director/cinematographer and VFX supervisor) for which he received his third Academy Award, a British Academy Award, five VES Awards, an HPA Award and the Critics’ Choice Award for Best Visual Effects for 2016. His latest film with Favreau is Disney’s The Lion King, which surpassed $1 billion in box office after fewer than three weeks in theaters.

Legato’s extensive credits include serving as VFX supervisor on Chris Columbus’ Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, as well as on two Robert Zemeckis films, What Lies Beneath and Cast Away. He was senior VFX supervisor on Michael Bay’s Bad Boys II, which was nominated for a VES Award for Outstanding Supporting Visual Effects, and for Digital Domain he worked on Bay’s Armageddon.

Legato is a member of ASC, BAFTA, DGA, AMPAS, VES, and the Local 600 and Local 700 unions.

The Umbrella Academy‘s Emmy-nominated VFX supe Everett Burrell

By Iain Blair

If all ambitious TV shows with a ton of visual effects aspire to be cinematic, then Netflix’s The Umbrella Academy has to be the gold standard. The acclaimed sci-fi, superhero, adventure mash-up was just Emmy-nominated for its season-ending episode “The White Violin,” which showcased a full range of spectacular VFX. This included everything from the fully-CG Dr. Pogo to blowing up the moon and a mansion to the characters’ varied superpowers. Those VFX, mainly created by movie powerhouse Weta Digital in New Zealand and Spin VFX in Toronto, indeed rival anything in cinema. This is partly thanks to Netflix’s 4K pipeline.

The Umbrella Academy is based on the popular, Eisner Award-winning comics and graphic novels created and written by Gerard Way (“My Chemical Romance”), illustrated by Gabriel Bá, and published by Dark Horse Comics.

The story starts when, on the same day in 1989, 43 infants are born to unconnected women who showed no signs of pregnancy the day before. Seven are adopted by Sir Reginald Hargreeves, a billionaire industrialist, who creates The Umbrella Academy and prepares his “children” to save the world. But not everything went according to plan. In their teenage years, the family fractured and the team disbanded. Now, six of the surviving members reunite upon the news of Hargreeves’ death. Luther, Diego, Allison, Klaus, Vanya and Number Five work together to solve a mystery surrounding their father’s death. But the estranged family once again begins to come apart due to divergent personalities and abilities, not to mention the imminent threat of a global apocalypse.

The live-action series stars Ellen Page, Tom Hopper, Emmy Raver-Lampman, Robert Sheehan, David Castañeda, Aidan Gallagher, Cameron Britton and Mary J. Blige. It is produced by Universal Content Productions for Netflix. Steve Blackman (Fargo, Altered Carbon) is the executive producer and showrunner, with additional executive producers Jeff F. King, Bluegrass Television, and Mike Richardson and Keith Goldberg from Dark Horse Entertainment.

Everett Burrell

I spoke with senior visual effects supervisor and co-producer Everett Burrell (Pan’s Labyrinth, Altered Carbon), who has an Emmy for his work on Babylon 5, about creating the VFX and the 4K pipeline.

Congratulations on being nominated for the first season-ending episode “The White Violin,” which showcased so many impressive visual effects.
Thanks. We’re all really proud of the work.

Have you started season two?
Yes, and we’re already knee-deep in the shooting up in Canada. We shoot in Toronto, where we’re based, as well as Hamilton, which has this great period look. So we’re up there quite a bit. We’re just back here in LA for a couple of weeks working on editorial with Steve Blackman, the executive producer and showrunner. Our offices are in Encino, in a merchant bank building. I’m a co-producer as well, so I also deal a lot with editorial — more than normal.

Have you planned out all the VFX for the new season?
To a certain extent. We’re working on the scripts and have a good jump on them. We definitely plan to blow the first season out of the water in terms of what we come up with.

What are the biggest challenges of creating all the VFX on the show?
The big one is the sheer variety of VFX, which are all over the map in terms of the various types. They go from a completely animated talking CG chimpanzee Dr. Pogo to creating a very unusual apocalyptic world, with scenes like blowing up the moon and, of course, all the superpowers. One of the hardest things we had to do — which no one will ever know just watching it — was a ton of leaf replacement on trees.

Digital leaves via Montreal’s Folks.

When we began shooting, it was winter and there were no leaves on the trees. When we got to editorial we realized that the story spans just eight days, so it wouldn’t make any sense if in one scene we had no leaves and in the next we had leaves. So we had to add every single leaf to the trees for all of the first five episodes, which was a huge amount of work. The way we did it was to go back to all the locations and re-shoot all the trees from the same angles once they were in bloom. Then we had to composite all that in. Folks in Montreal did all of it, and it was very complicated. Lola did a lot of great work on Hargreeves, getting his young look for the early 1900s and cleaning up the hair and wrinkles and making it all look totally realistic. That was very tricky too.

Netflix is ahead of the curve thanks to its 4K policy. Tell us about the pipeline.
For a start, we shoot with the ARRI Alexa 65, which is a very robust cinema camera that was used on The Revenant. With its 65mm sensor, it’s meant for big-scope, epic movies, and we decided to go with it to give our show that great cinema look. The depth of field is like film, and it can also emulate film grain for this fantastic look. That camera shoots natively at 5K — it won’t go any lower. That means we’re at a much higher resolution than any other show out there.

And you’re right, Netflix requires a 4K master as future-proofing for streaming and so on. Those very high standards then trickle down to us and all the VFX. We also use a very unique system developed by Deluxe and Efilm called Portal, which basically stores the entire show in the cloud on a server somewhere, and we can get background plates to the vendors within 10 minutes. It’s amazing. Back in the old days, you’d have to make a request and maybe within 24 or 48 hours, you’d get those plates. So this system makes it almost instantaneous, and that’s a lifesaver.

   
Method blows up the moon.

How closely do you work with Steve Blackman and the editors?
I think Steve said it best:”There’s no daylight between the two of us” We’re linked at the hip pretty much all the time. He comes to my office if he has issues, and I go to his if we have complications; we resolve all of it together in probably the best creative relationship I’ve ever had. He relies on me and counts on me, and I trust him completely. Bottom line, if we need to write ourselves out of a sticky situation, he’s also the head writer, so he’ll just go off and rewrite a scene to help us out.

How many VFX do you average for each show?
We average between 150 and 200 per episode. Last season we did nearly 2,000 in total, so it’s a huge amount for a TV show, and there’s a lot of data being pushed. Luckily, I have an amazing team, including my production manager Misato Shinohara. She’s just the best and really takes care of all the databases, and manages all the shot data, reference, slates and so on. All that stuff we take on set has to go into this massive database, and just maintaining that is a huge job.

Who are the main VFX vendors?
The VFX are mainly created by Weta in New Zealand and Spin VFX in Toronto. Weta did all the Pogo stuff. Then we have Folks, Lola, Marz, Deluxe Toronto, DigitalFilm Tree in LA… and then Method Studios in Vancouver did great work on our end-of-the-world apocalyptic sequence. They blew up the moon and had a chunk of it hitting the Earth, along with all the surrounding imagery. We started R&D on that pretty early to get a jump on it. We gave them storyboards and they did previz. We used that as a cut to get iterations of it all. There were a lot of particle simulations, which was pretty intense.

Weta created Dr. Pogo

What have been the most difficult VFX sequences to create?
Just dealing with Pogo is obviously very demanding, and we had to come up with a fast shortcut to dealing with the photo-real look as we just don’t have the time or budget they have for the Planet of the Apes movies. The big thing is integrating him in the room as an actor with the live actors, and that was a huge challenge. We used just two witness cameras to capture our Pogo body performer. All the apocalyptic scenes were also very challenging because of the scale, and then those leaves were very hard to do and make look real. That alone took us a couple of months. And we might have the same problem this year, as we’re shooting in the summer through fall, and I’m praying that the leaves don’t start falling before we wrap.

What have been the main advances in technology that have really helped you pull off some of the show’s VFX?
I think the rendering and the graphics cards are the big ones, and the hardware talks together much more efficiently now. Even just a few years ago, and it might have taken weeks and weeks to render a Pogo. Now we can do it in a day. Weta developed new software for creating the texture and fabric of Pogo’s clothes. They also refined their hair programs.

 

I assume as co-producer that you’re very involved with the DI?
I am… and keeping track of all that and making sure we keep pushing the envelope. We do the DI at Company 3 with colorist Jill Bogdanowicz, who’s a partner in all of this. She brings so much to the show, and her work is a big part of why it looks so good. I love the DI. It’s where all the magic happens, and I get in there early with Jill and take care of the VFX tweaks. Then Steve comes in and works on contrast and color tweaks.By the time Steve gets there, we’re probably 80% of the way there already.

What can fans expect from season two?
Bigger, better visual effects. We definitely pay attention to the fans. They love the graphic novel, so we’re getting more of that into the show.


Industry insider Iain Blair has been interviewing the biggest directors in Hollywood and around the world for years. He is a regular contributor to Variety and has written for such outlets as Reuters, The Chicago Tribune, The Los Angeles Times and the Boston Globe.

Behind the Title: Artifex VFX supervisor Rob Geddes

NAME: Rob Geddes

COMPANY: Artifex Studios (@artifexstudios)

CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR COMPANY?
Artifex is a small to mid-sized independent VFX studio based in Vancouver, BC. We’ve built up a solid team over the years, with very low staff turnover. We try our best to be an artist-centric shop.

That probably means something different to everyone, but for me it means ensuring that people are being challenged creatively, supported as they grow their skills and encouraged to maintain a healthy work-life balance.

WHAT’S YOUR JOB TITLE?
VFX Supervisor

WHAT DOES THAT ENTAIL?
I guess the simplest explanation is that I have to interpret the needs and requests of our clients, and then provide the necessary context and guidance to our team of artists to bring those requests to life.

Travelers – “Ave Machina” episode

I have to balance the creative and technical challenges of the work, and work within the constraints of budget, schedule and our own studio resources.

WHAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE THE MOST ABOUT WHAT FALLS UNDER THAT TITLE?
The seemingly infinite number of decisions and compromises that must be made each day, often with incomplete information.

HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN WORKING IN VFX?
I started out back in 2000 as a 3D generalist. My first job was building out environments in 3ds Max for a children’s animated series. I spent some years providing 3D assets, animation and programming to various military and private sector training simulations. Eventually, I made the switch over to the 2D side of things and started building up my roto, paint and compositing skills. This led me to Vancouver, and then to Artifex.

HOW HAS THE VFX INDUSTRY CHANGED IN THE TIME YOU’VE BEEN WORKING? 
The biggest change I have seen over the years is the growth in demand for content. All of the various content portals and streaming services have created this massive appetite for new stories. This has brought new opportunities for vendors and artists, but it’s not without challenges. The quality bar is always being raised, and the push to 4K for broadcast puts a lot of pressure on pipelines and infrastructure.

WHY DO YOU LIKE BEING ON SET FOR SHOTS? WHAT ARE THE BENEFITS?
As the in-house VFX supervisor for Artifex, I don’t end up on set — though there have been projects for which we were brought in prior to shooting and could help drive the creative side of the VFX in support of the storytelling. There’s really no substitute for getting all of the context behind what was shot in order to help inform the finished product.

DID A PARTICULAR FILM INSPIRE YOU ALONG THIS PATH IN ENTERTAINMENT?
When I was younger, I always assumed I would end up in classical animation. I devoured all of the Disney classics (Beauty and the Beast, The Lion King, etc.) Jurassic Park was a huge eye-opener though, and seeing The Matrix for the first time made it seem like anything was possible in VFX at that point.

DID YOU GO TO FILM SCHOOL?
Not film school specifically. Out of high school I still wasn’t certain of the path I wanted to take. I went to university first and ended up with a degree in math and computing science. By the time I left university I was convinced that animation and VFX were what I wanted. I worked through two diploma programs in 3D modeling, animation and film production.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
The best part of the job for me is seeing the evolution of a shot, as a group of artists come together to solve all of the creative and technical challenges.

WHAT’S YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?
Realizing the limits of what can be accomplished on any given day and then choosing what has to be deferred.

IF YOU DIDN’T HAVE THIS JOB, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING INSTEAD?
That’s a tough one. When I wasn’t working in VFX, I was working toward it. I’m obsessed with video game development, and I like to write, so maybe in an alternate timeline I’d be doing something like that.

Zoo

CAN YOU NAME SOME RECENT PROJECTS YOU HAVE WORKED ON?
This past year has been a pretty busy one. We’ve been on Travelers and The Order for Netflix, The Son for AMC, Project Blue Book for A&E, Kim Possible for Disney, Weird City for YouTube, and a couple of indie features for good measure!

WHAT IS THE PROJECT/S THAT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?
I’m a big fan of our work on Project Blue Book. It was an interesting challenge to contribute to a project with historical significance and I think our team really rose to the occasion.

WHAT TOOLS DO YOU USE DAY TO DAY?
At Artifex we run our shows through ftrack for reviews and management, so I spend a lot of time in the browser keeping tabs on things. For daily communication we use Slack and email. I use Google Docs for organizational stuff. I pop into Foundry Nuke to test out some things or to work with an artist. I use Photoshop or Affinity Photo on the iPad to do draw-overs and give notes.

WHERE DO YOU FIND INSPIRATION NOW?
It’s such an incredible time to be a visual artist. I try to keep an eye on work getting posted from around the world on sites like ArtStation and Instagram. Current films, but also any other visual mediums like graphic novels, video games, photography, etc. Great ideas can come from anywhere.

WHAT DO YOU DO TO DE-STRESS FROM IT ALL?
I play a lot of video games, drink a lot of tea, and hang out with my daughter.

Veteran VFX supervisor Lindy De Quattro joins MPC Film

Long-time visual effects supervisor Lindy De Quattro has joined MPC Film in Los Angeles. Over the last two and a half decades, which included 21 years at ILM, De Quattro has worked with directors such as Guillermo Del Toro, Alexander Payne and Brad Bird. She also currently serves on the Executive Committee for the VFX branch of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences.

De Quattro’s VFX credits include Iron Man 2, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol, Downsizing and Pacific Rim, for which she won a VES Award for Outstanding Visual Effects. In addition to supervising visual effects teams, she has also provided on-set supervision.

De Quattro says she was attracted to MPC because of “their long history of exceptional high-quality visual effects, but I made the decision to come on board because of their global commitment to inclusion and diversity in the VFX industry. I want to be an active part of the change that I see beginning to happen all around me, and MPC is giving me the opportunity to do just that. They say, ‘If you can see it, you can be it.’ Girls need role models, and women and other underrepresented groups in the industry need mentors. In my new role at MPC I will strive to be both while contributing to MPC’s legacy of outstanding visual effects.”

The studio’s other VFX supervisors include Richard Stammers (Dumbo, The Martian, X-Men: Days of Future Past), Erik Nash (Avengers Assemble, Titanic), Nick Davis (The Dark Knight, Edge of Tomorrow) and Adam Valdez (The Lion King, Maleficent, The Jungle Book).

MPC Film is currently working on The Lion King, Godzilla: King of the Monsters, Detective Pikachu, Call of the Wild and The New Mutants.

VFX supervisor Christoph Schröer joins NYC’s Artjail

New York City-based VFX house Artjail has added Christoph Schröer as VFX supervisor. Previously a VFX supervisor/senior compositor at The Mill, Schröer brings over a decade of experience to his new role at Artjail. His work has been featured in spots for Mercedes-Benz, Visa, Volkswagen, Samsung, BMW, Hennessy and Cartier.

Combining his computer technology expertise and a passion for graffiti design, Schröer applied his degree in Computer and Media Sciences to begin his career in VFX. He started off working at visual effects studios in Germany and Switzerland where he collaborated with a variety of European auto clients. His credits from his tenure in the European market include lead compositor for multiple Mercedes-Benz spots, two global Volkswagen campaign launches and BMW’s “Rev Up Your Family.”

In 2016, Schröer made the move to New York to take on a role as senior compositor and VFX supervisor at The Mill. There, he teamed with directors such as Tarsem Singh and Derek Cianfrance, and worked on campaigns for Hennessy, Nissan Altima, Samsung, Cartier and Visa.

Behind the Title: FuseFX VFX supervisor Marshall Krasser

Over the years, this visual effects veteran has worked with both George Lucas and Steven Spielberg, whose films helped inspire his career path.

NAME: Marshall Krasser

COMPANY: FuseFX 

CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR COMPANY?
FuseFX offers visual effects services for episodic television, feature films, commercials and VR productions. Founded in 2006, the company employs over 300 people across three studio locations in LA, NYC and Vancouver

WHAT’S YOUR JOB TITLE?
Visual Effects Supervisor

WHAT DOES THAT ENTAIL?
In general, a VFX supervisor is responsible for leading the creative team that brings the director’s vision to life. The role does vary from show to show depending on whether or not there is an on-set or studio-side VFX supervisor.

Here is a list of responsibilities across the board:
– Read and flag the required VFX shots in the script.
– Work with the producer and team to bid the VFX work.
– Attend the creative meetings and location scouts.
– Work with the studio creative team to determine what they want and what we need to achieve it.
– Be the on-set presence for VFX work — making sure the required data and information we need is shot, gathered and catalogued.
– Work with our in-house team to start developing assets and any pre-production concept art that will be needed.
– Once the VFX work is in post production, the VFX supervisor guides the team of in-house artists and technicians through the shot creation/completion phase, while working with the producer to keep the show within the budgets constraints.
– Keep the client happy!

WHAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE THE MOST ABOUT WHAT FALLS UNDER THAT TITLE?
That the job is much more than pointing at the computer screen and making pretty images. Team management is critical. Since you are working with very talented and creative people, it takes a special skill set and understanding. Having worked up through the VFX ranks, it helps you understand the mind set since you have been in their shoes.

HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN WORKING IN VFX?
My first job was creating computer graphic images for speaker support presentations on a Genigraphics workstation in 1984. I then transitioned into feature film in 1994.

HOW HAS THE VFX INDUSTRY CHANGED IN THE TIME YOU’VE BEEN WORKING? WHAT’S BEEN GOOD, WHAT’S BEEN BAD?
It’s changed a lot. In the early days at ILM, we were breaking ground by being asked to create imagery that had never been seen before. This involved creating new tools and approaches that had not been previously possible.

Today, VFX has less of the “man behind the curtain” mystique and has become more mainstream and familiar to most. The tools and computer power have evolved so there is less of the “heavy lifting” that was required in the past. This is all good, but the “bad” part is the fact that “tricking” people’s eyes is more difficult these days.

DID A PARTICULAR FILM INSPIRE YOU ALONG THIS PATH IN ENTERTAINMENT?
A couple really focused my attention toward VFX. There is a whole generation that was enthralled with the first Star Wars movie. I will never forget the feeling I had upon first viewing it — it was magical.

The other was E.T., since it was more grounded on Earth and more plausible. I was blessed to be able to work directly with both George Lucas and Steven Spielberg [and the artisans who created the VFX for these films] during the course of my career.

DID YOU GO TO FILM SCHOOL?
I did not. At the time, there was virtually no opportunity to attend a film school, or any school, that taught VFX. I took the route that made the most sense for me at the time — art major. I am a classically trained artist who focused on graphic design and illustration, but I also took computer programming.

On a typical Saturday, I would spend the morning in the computer lab programming and the afternoon on the potter’s wheel throwing pots. Always found that ironic – primitive to modern in the same day!

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
Working with the team and bringing the creative to life.

WHAT’S YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?
Numbers, no one told me there would be math! Re: bidding.

IF YOU DIDN’T HAVE THIS JOB, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING INSTEAD?
Maybe a fishing or outdoor adventure guide. Something far away from computers and an office.

CAN YOU NAME SOME RECENT PROJECTS YOU HAVE WORKED ON?
– the Vice movie
– the Waco miniseries
–  the Life Sentence TV series
– the Needle in a Timestack film
The 100 TV series

WHAT IS THE PROJECT/S THAT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?
A few stand out, in no particular order. Pearl Harbor, Harry Potter, Galaxy Quest, Titanic, War of the Worlds and the last Indiana Jones movie.

WHAT TOOLS DO YOU USE DAY TO DAY?
I would have to say Nuke. I use it for shot and concept work when needed.

WHERE DO YOU FIND INSPIRATION NOW?
Everything around me. I am heavily into photography these days, and am always looking at putting a new spin on ordinary things and capturing the unique.

WHAT DO YOU DO TO DE-STRESS FROM IT ALL?
Head into the great British Columbian outdoors for camping and other outdoor activities.

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.

 

Patrick Ferguson joins MPC LA as VFX supervisor

MPC’s Los Angeles studio has added Patrick Ferguson to its staff as visual effects supervisor. He brings with him experience working in both commercials and feature films.

Ferguson started out in New York and moved to Los Angeles in 2002, and he has since worked at a range of visual effect houses along the West Coast, including The Mission, where he was VFX supervisor, and Method, where he was head of 2D. “No matter where I am in the world or what I’m working on, one thing has remained consistent since I started working in the industry: I still love what I do. I think that’s the most important thing.”

Ferguson has collaborated with directors such as Stacy Wall, Mark Romanek, Melina Matsoukas, Brian Billow and Carl Rinsch, and has worked on campaigns for big global brands, including Nike, Apple, Audi, HP and ESPN.

He has also worked on high-profile films, including Pirates of the Caribbean and Alice in Wonderland, and he was a member of the Academy Award-winning team for The Curious Case of Benjamin Button.

“In this new role at MPC, I hope to bring my varied experience of working on large scale feature films as well as on commercials that have a much quicker turnaround time,” he says. “It’s all about knowing what the correct tools are for the particular job at hand, as every project is unique.”

For Ferguson, there is no substitute for being on set: “Being on set is vital, as that’s when key relationships are forged between the director, the crew, the agency and the entire team. Those shared experiences go a long way in creating a trust that is carried all the way through to end of the project and beyond.”

Behind the Title: Weta Digital VFX supervisor Erik Winquist

NAME: Erik Winquist

COMPANY: Wellington, New Zealand’s Weta Digital

CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR COMPANY?
We’re currently a collection of about 1,600 ridiculously talented artists and developers down at the bottom of the world who have created some the most memorable digital characters and visual effects for film over the last couple of decades. We’re named after a giant New Zealand bug.

WHAT’S YOUR JOB TITLE?
Visual Effects Supervisor

WHAT DOES THAT ENTAIL?
Making the director and studio happy without making my crew unhappy. Ensuring that everybody on the shoot has the same goal in mind for a shot before the cameras start rolling is one way to help accomplish both of those goals. Using the strengths and good ideas of everybody on your team is another.

WHAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE THE MOST ABOUT WHAT FALLS UNDER THAT TITLE?
The amount of problem solving that is required. Every show is completely different from the last. We’re often asked to do something and don’t know how we’re going to accomplish it at the outset. That’s where it’s incredibly important to have a crew full of insanely brilliant people you can bash ideas around with.

HOW DID YOU START YOUR CAREER IN VFX?
I went to school for it. After graduating from the Ringling College of Art and Design with a degree in computer animation, I eventually landed a job as an assistant animator at Pacific Data Images (PDI). The job title was a little misleading, because although my degree was fairly character animation-centric, the first thing I was asked to do at PDI was morphing. I found that I really enjoyed working on the 2D side of things, and that sent me down a path that ultimately got me hired as a compositor at Weta on The Lord of the Rings.

HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN WORKING IN VFX?
I was hired by PDI in 1998, so I guess that means 20 years now. (Whoa.)

HOW HAS THE VFX INDUSTRY CHANGED IN THE TIME YOU’VE BEEN WORKING? WHAT’S BEEN GOOD? WHAT’S BEEN BAD?
Oh, there’s just been so much great stuff. We’re able to make images now that are completely indistinguishable from reality. Thanks to massive technology advancements over the years, interactivity for artists has gotten way better. We’re sculpting incredible amounts of detail into our models, painting them with giga-pixels worth of texture information, scrubbing our animation in realtime, using hardware-accelerated engines to light our scenes, rendering them with physically-based renderers and compositing with deep images and a 3D workspace.

Of course, all of these efficiency gains get gobbled up pretty quickly by the ever-expanding vision of the directors we work for!

The industry’s technology advancements and flexibility have also perhaps had some downsides. Studios demand increasingly shorter post schedules, prep time is reduced, shots can be less planned out because so much can be decided in post. When the brief is constantly shifting, it’s difficult to deliver the quality that everyone wants. And when the quality isn’t there, suddenly the Internet starts clamoring that “CGI is ruining movies!”

But, when a great idea — planned well by a decisive director and executed brilliantly by a visual effects team working in concert with all of the other departments — the movie magic that results is just amazing. And that’s why we’re all here doing what we do.

DID A PARTICULAR FILM INSPIRE YOU ALONG THIS PATH IN ENTERTAINMENT?
There were some films I saw very early on that left a lasting impression: Clash of the Titans, The Empire Strikes Back. Later inspiration came in high school with the TV spots that Pixar was doing prior to Toy Story, and the early computer graphics work that Disney Feature Animation was employing in their films of the early ‘90s.

But the big ones that really set me off around this time were ILM’s work on Jurassic Park, and films like Jim Cameron’s The Abyss and Terminator 2. That’s why it was a particular kick to find myself on set with Jim on Avatar.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
Dailies. When I challenge an artist to bring their best, and they come up with an idea that completely surprises me; that is way better than what I had imagined or asked for. Those moments are gold. Dailies is pretty much the only chance I have to see a shot for the first time like an audience member gets to, so I pay a lot of attention to my reaction to that very first impression.

WHAT’S YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?
Getting a shot ripped from our hands by those pesky deadlines before every little thing is perfect. And scheduling meetings. Though, the latter is critically important to make sure that the former doesn’t happen.

IF YOU DIDN’T HAVE THIS JOB, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING INSTEAD?
There was a time when I was in grade school where I thought I might like to go into sound effects, which is a really interesting what-if scenario for me to think about. But these days, if I were to hang up my VFX hat, I imagine I would end up doing something photography-related. It’s been a passion for a very long time.

Rampage

CAN YOU NAME SOME RECENT PROJECTS YOU HAVE WORKED ON?
I supervised Weta’s work on Rampage, starring Dwayne Johnson and a very large albino gorilla. Prior to that was War for the Planet of the Apes, Spectral and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.

WHAT IS THE PROJECT/S THAT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?
We had a lot of fun working on Rampage, and I think audiences had a ton of fun watching it. I’m quite proud of what we achieved with Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. But I’m also really fond of what our crew turned out for the Netflix film Spectral. That project gave us the opportunity to explore some VFX-heavy sci-fi imagery and was a really interesting challenge.

WHAT TOOLS DO YOU USE DAY TO DAY?
Most of my day revolves around reviewing work and communicating with my production team and the crew, so it’s our in-house review software, Photoshop and e-mail. But I’m constantly jumping in and out of Maya, and always have a Nuke session open for one thing or another. I’m also never without my camera and am constantly shooting reference photos or video, and have been known to initiate impromptu element shoots at a moment’s notice.

WHERE DO YOU FIND INSPIRATION NOW?
Everywhere. It’s why I always have my camera in my bag.

WHAT DO YOU DO TO DE-STRESS FROM IT ALL?
Scuba diving and sea kayaking are two hobbies that get me out in the water, though that happens far less than I would like. My wife and I recently bought a small rural place north of Wellington. I’ve found going up there doing “farm stuff” on the weekend is a great way to re-calibrate.

Quick Chat: ArsenalCreative’s new VFX supervisor Mike Wynd

VFX supervisor Mike Wynd has joined ArsenalCreative from MPC, where he spent eight years in a similar role. Over the years, Wynd has worked on many high-profile projects for directors such as Rupert Sanders, Noam Murro and Adam Berg. He has also won a number of industry awards, including a Silver Clio and a Gold British Arrow, as well as a VES Award nomination.

Wynd started his career in Melbourne, Australia, working for Computer Pictures before landing at Images Post in Auckland, New Zealand. Eight years later, he headed back to Australia to serve as head of 3D at Garner MacLennan Design, where he worked on many high-end animations and effects, including the first Lord of the Rings movie. After that studio was bought out, Wynd joined Digital Pictures. Next, he assisted in establishing a new 3D/design team at FSM. After that he relocated to Los Angeles, where he worked for Moving Pixels. Later, he took on the role of VFX supervisor for MPC.

We reached out to Wynd to ask him a few questions about being a VFX supervisor:

What drew you to VFX supervision?
The thing I enjoy most about VFX supervision is the problem solving. From how best to shoot what we require to seamlessly integrating our effects, through to the actual approach and tools that we’ll employ in post production. We’ve always got a finite amount of time and money with which to produce our work and a little bit of alternative thinking can go a long way to achieve higher quality and more efficient results.

How early do you like being brought onto a project?
I’d prefer to be bought in on a project ideally from day one. Especially on a complex VFX project, being involved alongside production means that we, as a team, can troubleshoot many aspects of the job, that in the long run, will mean savings in cost and time as well as higher quality results. It also gives time for relationships to be formed between VFX and production so that on the shoot the VFX team is seen as an asset rather than a hindrance.

Do you go on set? Why is that so important?
I do go on set… a lot! I have been very lucky over the years to travel to some incredible locations all over the world. It’s so important because this is where the foundations are laid for a successful job. Being able to see how and why footage is shot the way it is goes a long way toward finding solutions to post issues.

Actually seeing the environment of a scene can offer clues that may help in significantly reducing any issues that may arise once the footage is back in the studio. And, of course, there’s the nuts and bolts of capturing set information, along with color and lighting references critical to the project. And probably the most important reason to be on-set is to act as the conduit connecting production and post. The two parties often act so separately from one another, yet each is only doing half the job.

Have you worked on anything at ArsenalCreative yet?
It’s early days for me at ArsenalCreative, but thus far I’ve worked on a Chevy presentation for the motor shows and a series of pod shots for Lexus.

If you had one piece of advice for someone about to embark on a project that involves VFX, what would it be?
Ha! Get VFX involved from day one!

The importance of on-set VFX supervision

By Karen Maierhofer

Some contend that having a visual effects supervisor present on set during production is a luxury; others deem it a necessity. However, few, if any, see it as unnecessary.

Today, more and more VFX supes can be found alongside directors and DPs during filming, advising and problem-solving, with the goal of saving valuable time and expense during production and, later, in post.

John Kilshaw

“A VFX supervisor is on set and in pre-production to help the director and production team achieve their creative goals. By having the supervisor on set, they gain the flexibility to cope with the unexpected and allow for creative changes in scope or creative direction,” says Zoic Studios creative director John Kilshaw, a sought-after VFX supervisor known for his collaborative creative approach.

Kilshaw, who has worked at a number of top VFX studios including ILM, Method and Double Negative, has an impressive resume of features, among them The Avengers, Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides, Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol and various Harry Potter films. More recently, he was visual effects supervisor for the TV series Marvel’s The Defenders and Iron Fist.

Weta Digital’s Erik Winquist (Apes trilogy, Avatar, The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey) believes the biggest contribution a VFX supervisor can make while on set comes during prep. “Involving the VFX supervisor as early as possible can only mean less surprises during principal photography. This is when the important conversations are taking place between the various heads of departments. ‘Does this particular effect need to be executed with computer graphics, or is there a way to get this in-camera? Do we need to build a set for this, or would it be better for the post process to be greenscreen? Can we have practical smoke and air mortars firing debris in this shot, or is that going to mess with the visual effects that have to be added behind it later?’”

War for the Planet of the Apes via Weta Digital

According to Winquist, who is VFX supervisor on Rampage (2018), currently in post production, having a VFX supe around can help clear up misconceptions in the mind of the director or other department heads: “No, putting that guy in a green suit doesn’t make him magically disappear from the shot. Yes, replacing that sky is probably relatively straightforward. No, modifying the teeth of that actor to look more like a vampire’s while he’s talking is actually pretty involved.”

Both Kilshaw and Winquist note that it is not uncommon to have a VFX supervisor on set whenever there are shots that include visual effects. In fact, Winquist has not heard of a major production that didn’t have a visual effects supervisor present for principal photography. “From the filmmaker’s point of view, I can’t imagine why you would not want to have your VFX supervisor there to advise,” he says. “Film is a collaborative medium. Building a solid team is how you put your vision up on the screen in the most cost-effective way possible.”

At Industrial Light & Magic, which has a long list of major VFX film credits, it is a requirement. “We always have a visual effects supervisor on set, and we insist on it. It is critical to our success on a project,” says Lindy De Quattro, VFX supervisor at ILM. “Frankly, it terrifies me to think about what could happen without one present.”

Lindy De Quattro

For some films, such as Evan Almighty, Pacific Rim, Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol and the upcoming Downsizing, De Quattro spent an extended period on set, while for many others she was only present for a week or two while big VFX scenes were shot. “No matter how much time you have put into planning, things rarely go entirely as planned. And someone has to be present to make last-minute adjustments and changes, and deal with new ideas that might arise on that day — it’s just part of the creative process,” she says.

For instance, while working on Pacific Rim, Director Guillermo del Toro would stay up until the wee hours of the night making new boards for what would be shot the following day, and the next morning everyone would crowd around his hand-drawn sketches and notebooks and he would say, “OK, this is what we are shooting. So we have to be prepared and do everything in our power to help ensure that the director’s vision becomes reality on screen.”

“I cannot imagine how they would have gone about setting up the shots if they didn’t have a VFX supervisor on set. Someone has to be there to be sure we are gathering the data needed to recreate the environment and the camera move in post, to be sure these things, and the greenscreens, are set up correctly so the post is successful,” De Quattro says. If you don’t know to put in greenscreen, you may be in a position where you cannot extract the foreground elements the way you need to, she warns. “So, suddenly, two days of an extraction and composite turns into three weeks of roto and hair replacement, and a bunch of other time-consuming and expensive work because it wasn’t set up properly in initial photography.”

Sometimes, a VFX supervisor ends up running the second unit, where the bulk of the VFX work is done, if the director is at a different location with the first unit. This was the case recently when De Quattro was in Norway for the Downsizing shoot. She ended up overseeing the plate unit and did location scouting with the DP each morning to find shots or elements that could be used in post. “It’s not that unusual for a VFX supervisor to operate as a second unit director and get a credit for that work,” she adds.

Kilshaw often finds himself discussing the best way of achieving the show’s creative goals with the director and producer while on set. Also, he makes sure that the producer is always informed of changes that will impact the budget. “It becomes very easy for people to say, ‘we can fix this in post.’ It is at this time when costs can start to spiral, and having a VFX supervisor on set to discuss options helps stop this from happening,” he adds. “At Zoic, we ensure that the VFX supervisor is also able to suggest alternative approaches that may help directors achieve what they need.”

Erik Winquist

According to Winquist, the tasks a VFX supe does on set depends on the size of the budget and crew. In a low-budget production, a person might be doing a myriad of different tasks themselves: creating previs and techvis, working with the cinematographer and key grip concerning greenscreen or bluescreen placement, placing tracking markers, collecting camera information for each setup or take, shooting reference photos of the set, helping with camera or lighting placement, gathering lighting measurements with gray and chrome reference spheres — basically any information that will help the person best execute the visual effects requirements of the shot. “And all the while being available to answer questions the director might have,” he says.

If the production has a large budget, the role is more about spreading out and managing those tasks among an on-set visual effects team: data wranglers, surveyors, photographers, coordinators, PAs, perhaps a motion capture crew, “so that each aspect of it is done as thoroughly as possible,” says Winquist. “Your primary responsibility is being there for the director and staying in close communication with the ADs so that you or your team are able to get all the required data from the shoot. You only have one chance to do so.”

The benefits of on-set VFX supervision are not just for those working on big-budget features, however. As Winquist points out, the larger the budget, the more demanding the VFX work and the higher the shot count, therefore the more important it is to involve the VFX supervisor in the shoot. “But it could also be argued that a production with a shoestring budget also can’t afford to get it wrong or be wasteful during the shoot, and the best way to ensure that footage is captured in a way that will make for a cost-effective post process is to have the VFX supervisor there to help.”

Kilshaw concurs. “Regardless of whether it is a period drama or superhero show, whether you need to create a superpower or a digital version of 1900 New York, the advantages of visual effects and visual effects supervision on set are equally important.”

While De Quattro’s resume is overflowing with big-budget VFX films, she has also assisted on smaller projects where a VFX supervisor’s presence was also critical. She recalls a commercial shoot, one that prompted her to question the need for her presence. However, production hit a snag when a young actor was unable to physically accomplish a task during multiple takes, and she was able to step in and offer a suggestion, knowing it would require just a minor VFX fix. “It’s always something like that. Even if the shoot is simple and you think there is no need, inevitably someone will need you and the input of someone who understands the process and what can be done,” she says.

De Quattro’s husband is also a VFX supervisor who is presently working on a non-VFX-driven Netflix series. While he is not on set every day, he is called when there is an effects shoot scheduled.

Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol

So, with so many benefits to be had, why would someone opt not to have a VFX supervisor on set? De Quattro assumes it is the cost. “What’s that saying, ‘penny wise and pound foolish?’ A producer thinks he or she is saving money by eliminating the line item of an on-set supervisor but doesn’t realize the invisible costs, including how much more expensive the work can be, and often is, on the back end,” she notes.

“On set, people always tell me their plans, and I find myself advising them not to bother building this or that — we are not going to need it, and the money saved could be better utilized elsewhere,” De Quattro says.

On Mission: Impossible, for example, the crew was filming a complicated underwater escape scene with Tom Cruise and finally got the perfect take, only his emergency rig became exposed. However, rather than have the actor go back into the frigid water for another take, De Quattro assured the team that the rig could be removed in post within the original scope of the VFX work. While most people are aware that can be done now, having someone with the authority and knowledge to know that for sure was a relief, she says.

Despite their extensive knowledge of VFX, these supervisors all say they support the best tool for the job on set and, mostly, that is to capture the shot in-camera first. “In most instances, the best way to make something look real is to shoot it real, even if it’s ultimately just a small part of the final frame,” Winquist says. However, when factors conspire against that, whether it be weather, animals, extras, or something similar, “having a VFX supervisor there during the shoot will allow a director to make decisions with confidence.”

Main Image: Weta’s Erik Winquist on set for Planet of the Apes.

Benji Davidson joins Brickyard VFX

Brickyard VFX in Santa Monica has added VFX supervisor Benji Davidson to its staff. Davidson’s experience includes live-action directing, creative directing and VFX supervision. He joins Brickyard from MPC, where he served as VFX supervisor since 2008.

In his career, Davidson has worked as an on-set VFX supervisor, lead 2D artist and director, among other things. Born and raised in England, he got his start at acclaimed commercial production company HKM/The Directors Bureau before joining MPC LA.

His notable projects include Activision’s Call of Duty: Black Ops III Seize Glory, EA Sports’ Madden NFL 16 Madden: The Movie, Samsung’s Do What You Can’t and Super Bowl spots for Coca-Cola and Acura. He also contributed to the Los Angeles Olympics bid.

“I think in today’s climate, with rapid turnarounds, there is a benefit to being involved early on,” says Davidson. “I aim to help the director and agency, not hinder them. I’ve enjoyed being on set, sometimes that’s the only place everybody is together, which is invaluable when you get to post. You already know the expectations. There’s a secret short-hand from that shared experience.”

Brickyard is a digital production studio working in high-end visual effects, animation, design and creative development for advertising, feature films and emerging media.

Behind the Title: Union VFX supervisor James Roberts

NAME: James Roberts

COMPANY: London-based Union (@unionvfx)

CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR COMPANY?
Union is an independent VFX company founded on a culture of originality, innovation and collaboration.

WHAT’S YOUR JOB TITLE?
VFX Supervisor

WHAT DOES THAT ENTAIL?
Overseeing the VFX for feature films from concept to delivery. This includes concept development, on-set photography and supervision of artists.

WHAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE ABOUT WHAT FALLS UNDER THAT TITLE?
I sometimes get to be an actor.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
Working with creative artists both on set and in the studio to develop original artwork.

WHAT’S YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?
Answering emails.

WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE TIME OF THE DAY?
1am

IF YOU DIDN’T HAVE THIS JOB, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING INSTEAD?
Professional dog walker

WHY DID YOU CHOOSE THIS PROFESSION?
My mother was an artist and my father was a computer programmer… I didn’t have many other options.

My Cousin Rachel

CAN YOU NAME SOME RECENT PROJECTS?
T2 Trainspotting and My Cousin Rachel.

WHAT PROJECT ARE YOU MOST PROUD OF?
’71 and The Theory of Everything.

NAME THREE PIECES OF TECHNOLOGY YOU CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT.
Headphones, Side Effects Houdini and light bulbs.

WHAT SOCIAL MEDIA CHANNELS DO YOU FOLLOW?
Instagram — I’m @jjjjjjames

DO YOU LISTEN TO MUSIC WHILE YOU WORK?
Yes…… anything and everything.

WHAT DO YOU DO TO DE-STRESS FROM IT ALL?
I spend time away from work with nice people.

A Conversation: Jungle Book’s Oscar-Winner Rob Legato

By Randi Altman

Rob Legato’s resume includes some titles that might be considered among the best visual effects films of all time: Titanic, Avatar, Hugo, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Apollo 13 and, most recently, The Jungle Book. He has three Oscars to his credit (Titanic, Hugo, The Jungle Book) along with one other nomination (Apollo 13). And while Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street and The Aviator don’t scream effects, he worked on those as well.

While Legato might be one of the most prodigious visual effects supervisors of all time, he never intended for this to be his path. “The magic of movies, in general, was my fascination more than anything else,” he says, and that led to him studying cinematography and directing at Santa Barbara’s Brooks Institute. They provided intensive courses on the intricacies of working with cameras and film.

Rob Legato worked closely with Technicolor and MPC to realize Jon Favreau’s vision for The Jungle Book, which is nominated for a VFX Oscar this year.

It was this technical knowledge that came in handy at his first job, working as a producer at a commercials house. “I knew that bizarre, esoteric end of the business, and that became known among my colleagues.” So when a spot came in that had a visual effect in it, Legato stepped up. “No one knew how to do it, and this was before on-set visual effects supervisors worked on commercials. I grabbed the camera and I figured out a way of doing it.”

After working on commercials, Legato transitioned to longer-form work, specifically television. He started on the second season of The Twilight Zone series, where he got the opportunity to shoot some footage. He was hoping to direct an episode, but the show got cancelled before he had a chance.

Legato then took his experience to Star Trek at a time when they were switching from opticals to a digital post workflow. “There were very few people then who had any kind of visual effects and live-action experience in television. I became second-unit director and ultimately directed a few shows. It was while working on Next Generation and Deep Space Nine that I learned how to mass produce visual effects on as big a scale as television allows, and that led me to Digital Domain.”

It was at Digital Domain where Legato transitioned to films, starting with Interview With the Vampire. He served as visual effects supervisor on this one. “Director Neil Jordan asked me to do the second unit. I got along really well with DP Philippe Roussselot and was able to direct live-action scenes and personally direct and photograph anything that was not live-action related — including the Tom Cruise puppet that looked like he’s bleeding to death.” This led to Apollo 13 on which he was VFX supervisor.

On set for Hugo (L-R): Martin Scorsese, DP Bob Richardson and Rob Legato.

“I thought as a director did, and I thought as a cameraman, so I was able to answer my own questions. This made it easy to communicate with directors and cameramen, and that was my interest. I attacked everything from the perspective of, ‘If I were directing this scene, what would I do?’ It then became easy for me to work with directors who weren’t very fluent in the visual effects side. And because I shot second unit too, especially on Marty Scorsese’s movies, I could determine what the best way of getting that image was. I actually became quite a decent cameraman with all this practice emulating Bob Richardson’s extraordinary work, and I studied the masters (Marty and Bob) and learned how to emulate their work to blend into their sequences seamlessly. I was also able to maximize the smaller dollar amount I was given by designing both second unit direction and cinematography together to maximize my day.”

Ok, let’s dig in a bit deeper with Legato, a card-carrying member of the ASC, and find out how he works with directors, his workflow and his love for trying and helping to create new technology in order to help tell the story.

Over the years you started to embrace virtual production. How has that technology evolved over the years?
When I was working on Harry Potter, I had to previs a sequence for time purposes, and we used a computer. I would tell the CG animators where to put the camera and lights, but there was something missing — a lot of times you get inspired by what’s literally in front of you, which is ever-changing in realtime. We were able to click the mouse and move it where we needed, but it was still missing this other sense of life.

For example, when I did Aviator, I had to shoot the plane crash; something I’d never done before, and I was nervous. It was a Scorsese film, so it was a given that it was to be beautifully designed and photographed. I didn’t have a lot of money, and I didn’t want to blow my opportunity. On Harry Potter and Titanic we had a lot of resources, so we could fix a mistake pretty easily. Here, I had one crack at it, and it had to be a home run.

So I prevised it, but added a realtime live-action pan and tilt wheels so we could operate and react in realtime — so instead of using a mouse, I was basically using what we use on a stage. It was a great way of working. I was doing the entire scene from one vantage point. I then re-staged it, put a different lens on it and shot the same exact scene from another angle. Then I could edit it as you would a real sequence, just as if I had all the same angles I would have if I had photographed it conventionally and produced a full set of multi-angle live-action dailies.

You edit as well?
I love editing. I would operate the shot and then cut it in the Avid, instantly. All of a sudden I was able to build a sequence that had a certain photographic and editorial personality to it — it felt like there was someone quite specific shooting it.

Is that what you did for Avatar?
Yes. Cameron loves to shoot, operate and edit. He has no fear of technology. I told him what I did on Aviator and that I couldn’t afford to add the more expensive, but extremely flexible, motion capture to it. So on Avatar instead of only the camera having live pan and tilt wheels, it could also be hand-held — you could do Steadicam shots, you could do running shots, you could do hand-held things, anything you wanted, including adding a motion capture live performance by an actor. You could easily stage them, or a representation of that character, in any place or scale in the scene, because in Avatar the characters were nine feet tall. You could preview the entire movie in a very free form and analog way. Jim loved the fact he could impart his personality — the way he moves the camera, the way he frames, the way he cuts — and that the CG-created film would bear the unmistakable stamp of his distinctive live-action movies.

You used the “Avatar-way” on Jungle Book, yes?
Yes. It wasn’t until Jungle Book that I could afford the Avatar-way — a full-on stage with a lot of people to man it. I was able to take what I gave to Jim on Avatar and do it myself with the bells and whistles and some improvements that gave it a life-like sensibility of what could have been an animated film. Instead it became a live film because we used a live-action analog methodology of acquiring images and choosing which one was the right, exact moment per the cut.

The idea behind virtual cinematography is that you shoot it like you would a regular movie. All the editors, cameramen or directors who’ve never done this before are now sort of operating the way they would have if it were real. This very flavor and personality starts to rub off on the patina of the film and begins to feel like a real movie; not animated or computer generated one.

Our philosophy on Jungle Book was we would not make the computer camera do anything that a real camera could not do, so we limited the way we could move it and how fast we could move it, so it wouldn’t defy any kind of gravity. That went part and parcel with the animation and movement of the animals and the actor performing stunts that only a human can accomplish.

So you are in a sense limiting what you can do with the technology?
There was an operator behind the camera and behind the wheels, massaging and creating the various compositional choices that generally are not made in a computer. They’re not just setting keyframes, and because somebody’s behind the camera, this sense of live-action-derived movement is consistent from shot to shot to shot. It’s one person doing it, whereas normally on a CG film, there are as many as 50 people who are placing cameras on different characters within the same scene.

You have to come up with these analog methodologies that are all tied together without even really knowing it. Your choices at the end of the day end up being strictly artistic choices. We’d sort of tap into that for Jungle Book and it’s what Jim tapped into when he did Avatar. The only difference between Avatar and our film is that we set our film in an instantly recognizable place so everybody can judge whether it’s photorealistic or not.

When you start a film, do you create your own system or use something off the shelf?
With every film there is a technology advance. I typically take whatever is off-the-shelf and glue it together with something not necessarily designed to work in unison. Each year you perfect it. The only way to really keep on top of technology is by being on the forefront of it, as opposed to waiting for it to come out. Usually, we’re doing things that haven’t been done before, and invariably it causes something new and innovative.

We’re totally revamping what we did on Jungle Book to achieve the same end on my next film for Disney, but we hope to make it that much better, faster and more intuitive. We are also taking advantage of VR tools to make our job easier, more creative and faster. The faster you can create options, the more iterations you get. More iterations get you a better product sooner and help you elevate the art form by taking it to the next level.

Technology is always driven by the story. We ask ourselves what we want to achieve. What kind of shot do we want to create that creates a mood and a tone? Then once we decide what that is, we figure out what technology we need to invent, or coerce into being, to actually produce it. It’s always driven that way. For example, on Titanic, the only way I could tell that story and make these magic transitions from the Titanic to the wreck and from the wreck back to the Titanic, was by controlling the water, which was impossible. We needed to make computer-generated water that looked realistic, so we did.

THE JUNGLE BOOK (Pictured) BAGHEERA and MOWGLI. ©2016 Disney Enterprises, Inc. All Rights Reserved.CG water was a big problem back then.
But now that’s very commonplace. The water work in Jungle Book is extraordinary compared to the crudeness of what we did on Titanic, but we started on that path, and then over the years other people took over and developed it further.

Getting back to Marty Scorsese, and how you work with him. How does having his complete trust make you better at what you do?
Marty is not as interested in the technical side as Jim is. Jim loves all this stuff, and he likes to tinker and invent. Marty’s not like that. Marty likes to tinker with emotions and explore a performance editorially. His relationship with me is, “I’m not going to micro-manage you. I’m going to tell you what feeling I want to get.” It’s very much like how he would talk to an actor about what a particular scene is about. You then start using your own creativity to come up with the idea he wants, and you call on your own experience and interpretation to realize it. You are totally engaged, and the more engaged you are, the more creative you become in terms of what the director wants to tell his story. Tell me what you want, or even don’t want, and then I’ll fill in the blanks for you.

Marty is an incredible cinema master — it’s not just the performance, it’s not just the camera, it’s not just the edit, it’s all those things working in concert to create something new. His encouragement for somebody like me is to do the same and then only show him something that’s working. He can then put his own creative stamp on it as well once he sees the possibilities properly presented. If it’s good, he’s going to use it. If it’s not good, he’ll tell you why, but he won’t tell you how to if fix it. He’ll tell you why it doesn’t feel right for the scene or what would make it more eloquent. It’s a very soft, artistic push in his direction of the film. I love working with him for this very reason.

You too surround yourself with people you can trust. Can you talk about this for just a second?
I learned early on to surround myself with geniuses. You can’t be afraid of hiring people that are smarter than you are because they bring more to the party. I want to be the lowest common denominator, not the highest. I’ll start with my idea, but if someone else can do it better, I want it to be better. I can show them what I did and tell them to make it better, and they’ll go off and come up with something that maybe I wouldn’t have thought of, or the collusion between you and them creates a new gem.

When I was doing Titanic someone asked me how I did what I did. My answer was that I hired geniuses and told them what I wanted to accomplish creatively. I hire the best I can find, the smartest, and I listen. Sometimes I use it, sometimes I don’t. Sometimes the mistake of somebody literally misunderstanding what you meant delivers something that you never thought of. It’s like, “Wow, you completely misunderstood what I said, but I like that better, so we’re going to do that.”

Part and parcel of doing this is that you’re a little fearless. It’s like, “Well, that sounds good. There’s no proof to it, but we’re going to go for it,” as opposed to saying, “Well, no one has done it before so we better not try it. That’s what I learned from Cameron and Marty and Bob Zemeckis. They’re fearless.

Can you mention what you’re working on now, or no?
I’m working on Lion King.

ILM’s Richard Bluff talks VFX for Marvel’s Doctor Strange

By Daniel Restuccio

Comic book fans have been waiting for over 30 years for Marvel’s Doctor Strange to come to the big screen, and dare I say it was worth the wait. This is in large part because of the technology now available to create the film’s stunning visual effects.

Fans have the option to see the film in traditional 2D, Dolby Cinema (worthy of an interstate or plane fare pilgrimage, in my opinion) and IMAX 3D. Doctor Strange, Marvel Studios’ 15th film offering, is also receiving good critical reviews and VFX Oscar buzz — it’s currently on the list of 20 films still in the running in the Visual Effects category for the 89th Academy Awards.

Marvel Doctor StrangeThe unapologetically dazzling VFX shots, in many cases directly inspired by the original comic visuals by Steve Dittko, were created by multiple visual effects houses, including Industrial Light & Magic, Luma Pictures, Lola VFX, Method Studios, Rise FX, Crafty Apes, Framestore, Perception and previs house The Third Floor. Check out our interview with the film’s VFX supervisor Stephane Ceretti.

Director Scott Derrickson said in in a recent Reddit chat that Doctor Strange is “a fantastical superhero movie.

“Watching the final cut of the film was deeply satisfying,” commented Derrickson. “A filmmaker cannot depend upon critical reviews or box office for satisfaction — even if they are good. The only true reward for any artist is to pick a worthy target and hit it. When you know you’ve hit your target that is everything. On this one, I hit my target.”

Since we got an overview of how the visual effects workflow went from Ceretti, we decided to talk to one of the studios that provided VFX for the film, specifically ILM and their VFX supervisor Richard Bluff.

Richard Bluff

According to Bluff, early in pre-production Marvel presented concept art, reference images and previsualization on “what were the boundaries of what the visuals could be.” After that, he says, they had the freedom to search within those bounds.

During VFX presentations with Marvel, they frequently showed three versions of the work. “They went with the craziest version to the point where the next time we would show three more versions and we continued to up the ante on the crazy,” recalls Bluff.

As master coordinator of this effort for ILM, Bluff encouraged his artists, “to own the visuals and try to work out how the company could raise the quality of the work or the designs on the show to another level. How could we introduce something new that remains within the fabric of the movie?”

As a result, says Bluff, they had some amazing ideas flow from individuals on the film. Jason Parks came up with the idea of traveling through the center of a subway train as it fractured. Matt Cowey invented the notion of continually rotating the camera to heighten the sense of vertigo. Andrew Graham designed the kaleidoscope-fighting arena “largely because his personal hobby is building and designing real kaleidoscopes.”

Unique to Doctor Strange is that the big VFX sequences are all very “self-contained.” For example, ILM did the New York and Hong Kong sequence, Luma did the Dark Dimension and Method did the multi-universe. ILM also designed and developed the original concept for the Eldridge Magic and provided all the shared “digital doubles” — CGI rigged and animatable versions of the actors — that tied sequences together. The digital doubles were customized to the needs of each VFX house.

Previs
In some movies previs material is generated and thrown away. Not so with Doctor Strange. What ILM did this time was develop a previs workflow where they could actually hang assets and continue to develop, so it became part of the shot from the earliest iteration.

There was extensive previs done for Marvel by The Third Floor as a creative and technical guide across the movie, and further iterations internal to ILM done by ILM’s lead visualization artist, Landis Fields.

Warning! Spoiler! Once Doctor Strange moves the New York fight scene into the mirror universe, the city starts coming apart in an M.C. Escher-meets-Chris Nolan-Inception kind of way. To make that sequence, ILM created a massive tool kit of New York set pieces and geometry, including subway cars, buildings, vehicles and fire escapes.

In the previs, Fields started breaking apart, duplicating and animating those objects, like the fire escapes, to tell the story of what a kaleidoscoping city would look like. The artists then fleshed out a sequence of shots, a.k.a. “mini beats.” They absorbed the previs into the pipeline by later switching out the gross geometry elements in Fields’ previs with the actual New York hero assets.

Strange Cam
Landis and the ILM team also designed and built what ILM dubbed the “strange cam,” a custom 3D printed 360 GoPro rig that had to withstand the rigors of being slung off the edge of skyscrapers. What ILM wanted to do was to be able to capture 360 degrees of rolling footage from that vantage point to be used as a moving background “plates” that could be reflected within the New York City glass buildings.

VFX, Sound Design and the Hong Kong
One of the big challenges with the Hong Kong sequence was that time was reversing and moving forward at the same time. “What we had to do was ensure the viewer understands that time is reversing throughout that entire sequence.” During the tight hand-to-hand action moments that are moving forward in time, there’s not really much screen space to show you time reversing in the background. So they designed the reversing destruction sequence to work in concert with the sound design. “We realized we had to move away from a continuous shower of debris toward rhythmic beats of debris being sucked out of frame.”

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Bluff says the VFX the shot count on the film — 1,450 VFX — was actually a lot less than Captain America: Civil War. From a VFX point of view, The Avengers movies lean on the assets generated in Iron Man and Captain America. The Thor movies help provide the context for what an Avengers movie would look and feel like. In Doctor Strange “almost everything in the movie had to be designed (from scratch) because they haven’t already existed in a previous Marvel film. It’s a brand-new character to the Marvel world.”

Bluff started development on the movie in October of 2014 and really started doing hands on work in February of 2016, frequently traveling between Vancouver, San Francisco and London. A typical day, working out of the ILM London office, would see him get in early and immediately deal with review requests from San Francisco. Then he would jump into “dailies” in London and work with them until the afternoon. After “nightlies” with London there was a “dailies” session with San Francisco and Vancouver, work with them until evening, hit the hotel, grab some dinner, come back around 11:30pm or midnight and do nightlies with San Francisco. “It just kept the team together, and we never missed a beat.”

2D vs. IMAX 3D vs. Dolby Cinema
Bluff saw the entire movie for the first time in IMAX 3D, and is looking forward to seeing it in 2D. Considering sequences in the movie are surreal in nature and Escher-like, there’s an argument that suggests that IMAX 3D is a better way to see it because it enhances the already bizarre version of that world. However, he believes the 2D and 3D versions are really “two different experiences.”

Dolby Cinema is the merging of Dolby Atmos — 128-channel surround sound — with the high dynamic range of Dolby Vision, plus really comfortable seats. It is, arguably, the best way to see a movie. Bluff says as far as VFX goes, high dynamic range information has been there for years. “I’m just thankful that exhibition technology is finally catching up with what’s always been there for us on the visual effects side.”

During that Reddit interview, Derrickson commented, “The EDR (Extended Dynamic Range) print is unbelievable — if you’re lucky enough to live where an EDR print is playing. As for 3D and/or IMAX, see it that way if you like that format. If you don’t, see it 2D.”

Doctor Strange is probably currently playing in a theater near you, but go see it in Dolby Cinema if you can.


In addition to being a West Coast correspondent for postPerspective, Daniel Restuccio is the multimedia department chair at California Lutheran University and former Walt Disney Imagineer.

ILM welcomes Oscar-winning VFX supervisor Eric Barba

ILM (Industrial Light & Magic) has brought Academy Award-winning visual effects supervisor Eric Barba to its Vancouver-based studio as creative director. In addition to supervising effects work, Barba will also provide creative oversight across all of the studio’s projects. He will work closely with ILM Vancouver’s executive in charge, Randal Shore, and collaborate with ILM’s global talent base.

For the past two years, Barba was chief creative officer of Digital Domain. A visual effects supervisor since 1999, he supervised the visual effects on David Fincher’s Zodiac, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, Gone Girl and The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, for which he was honored with an Oscar and a BAFTA Film Award for Outstanding Visual Effects.

Barba often collaborates with Joseph Kosinski, having supervised work on his films Tron: Legacy and Oblivion. Most recently Barba has been consulting on a number of feature projects.

Outside of his feature work, Barba has supervised effects work on dozens of commercials for brands such as Nike, Heineken and Microsoft Xbox/Epic Games. He has directed ad campaigns for American Express, Cingular, Honda, Jaguar and Nike. He has received eight AICP Awards, and three gold and two bronze Clio Awards for his spot work.

Barba began his career as a digital artist on sci-fi programs from Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Imaging. He is a graduate of Art Center College of Design and is a member of The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences.

ILM Vancouver is currently in production on Warcraft for Duncan Jones, Luc Besson’s Valerian and David Green’s Teenage Mutant Turtles 2.

Blog: My three goals for NAB 2015

This VFX supervisor shares his NAB game plan.

By Adrian Winter

It has been about four or five years since I was at an NAB Show, so I am very much looking forward to this year’s trip. In the past, my plan has been to fly out for just a day or two, walk the floor and then take a redeye home. This year I will be there for almost the entire week, and have plans to take in as many demos and seminars as I manage to squeeze in.

I have three areas of focus for the convention:

The Big players
Adobe, Autodesk, The Foundry and FilmLight always have a big presence at NAB, and I’ll be checking in with them to see what they have in the pipeline. I also plan to swing by a few of my other favorite exhibitor booths to see if I come across any gems. Continue reading

Behind the Title: Method VFX supervisor Alvin Cruz

NAME: Eduardo “Alvin” Cruz

COMPANY: Method Studios (@method_studios)

CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR COMPANY?
Method Studios is an artist-driven global studio that offers high-end visual effects for the film, commercial, television, gaming and design industries.

WHAT’S YOUR JOB TITLE?
Visual Effects Supervisor

WHAT DOES THAT ENTAIL?
A visual effects supervisor is the person who determines creative and technical approaches for Continue reading

PostChat: VFX/post supervisor Eric Alba

By Randi Altman

This week’s PostChat, the weekly Twitter conversation about post production, featured veteran VFX/post supervisor Eric Alba. Jesse Averna (@dr0id), one of the hosts of PostChat, interviewed  Alba about “the relationship between editors and the visual effects departments and how the demands of Alba’s job have changed over the years from more practical to more CGI and maybe now back to more practical.”

Alba’s diverse background makes him ideally suited for this type of discussion. Alba (@alba) started in post and found his way to VFX, and his story is one of inspiration. He got his start as a videotape operator in a VTR machine room. From there learned all aspects of post Continue reading

Zoic VFX helps time travel for ‘Hot Tub Time Machine 2’

Zoic Studios in Vancouver created 225 visual effects shots for the sequel to the popular, and silly, Hot Tub Time Machine. Zoic’s VFX supervisor Rocco Passionino travelled to the New Orleans to be on hand during the shoot.

The work provided included visual effects to help ramp up the funny, including futuristic matte paintings, high-tech graphical interfaces for a number of devices and vortexes of light and water. Passionino and the Zoic Vancouver office worked closely with director Steve Pink to deliver just the right visuals needed. The film stars Craig Robinson, Clark Duke, Rob Corddry and Adam Scott.

Since the guys use a hot tub to travel through time, the water vortex that serves as their mode of transportation to the future was hugely important to the story. To intensify this time portal for the sequel, the Zoic team crafted a water vortex that becomes a column of water and light. Passionino worked with cinematographer Declan Quinn to create an animated LED light system to simulate the interactive light from the water vortex that would later be augmented in post.

The CG team used a wide array of tools and software to delve into the dynamics and water solutions involved with creating the water vortex. Once the main column of the of the vortex was created using Realflow, additional elements of foam, splashes, droplets, blobs, steam, mist and debris were created in Maya with Phoenix, Fury and Vray, then added in compositing to create the shaft of the vortex.

Additional render passes for subsurface, refraction, depth, luminosity and light rays were created along with an RGB lighting utility pass to give further flexibility for the compositors to light the CG in 2D. To connect the chaos on the ground to the sky, a swirling mass of volumetric clouds were created with Phoenix and rendered in Vray.

Another central effect for the comedy was the visualization of a character’s existence being threatened due to the time travel. To show Lou (Rob Corddry) flickering — in threat of not surviving long enough to reach 2024 — clean plates were shot on set for each of the scenes where the effect would be needed and moments where the actors crossed. In post production, compositors painted sections back in that were needed and added multiple layers of static, distortion and chromatic aberration to the images to create the final effect.

Since Hot Tub Time Machine 2 includes traveling to the future, the Zoic team also crafted a number of holographic elements, such as a holographic television and holographic phone communications. To create a television that would cater to the ever-dwindling attention spans of viewers, Zoic worked with director Pink to create a holographic television that would allow for an endless number of channels to display simultaneously.

Motion graphics designer Jeremy Price crafted the multi-planed interface and composited the content into the windows to create an interactive and holographic device that was activated by touch. This design was also used for telecommunications throughout the film.

Best practices for working with practical and digital effects

By Andre Bustanoby

As a follow up to a short interview postPerspective did with MastersFX about working with and integrating practical and digital effects, I wanted to take this opportunity to share some insights and guidelines for producers, directors and artists who wish to blend both art forms within their film and TV projects.

Start With a Plan and Make Decisions Early
Because of today’s digital tools, it is now possible to create any image one can imagine… if one has the time, resources and talent, of course. However, despite advances in technology, big-screen images that were developed in the era before computer filmmaking came along can often be the most visually satisfying, even today.

Continue reading

MPC creates a variety of fairies, environments for Disney’s ‘Maleficent’

MPC, led by VFX supervisors Adam Valdez (based in London) and Seth Maury (based in Vancouver), completed 875 shots for Disney’s Maleficent, starring Angelina Jolie in a take on the story of Sleeping Beauty. Working closely with director Rob Stromberg and production VFX supervisor Carey Villegas, the team created a host of animated creatures and fairy world environments.

At the start of the movie, the young Maleficent flies into MPC’s full CG fairy world environment with colorful trees, lakes and waterfalls, interacting with MPC’s hero fairies as she travels. MPC’s environment team built a library of photographic elements taken from a second-unit shoot for their human and fairy environments. These included trees, rocks and bushes. This CG environment was built in Maya, using IDV Speedtree as a basis for tree geometry. The team created 15 different types of creatures, all with their own unique characteristics and features. These ranged from the larger, humanistic mushroom fairies and Wallerbogs, to the more animalistic Cheeps, smaller delicate dew fairies and water pixies.

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MPC were tasked with creating Maleficent’s castle, which was created as a 3D model. A great deal of attention was paid to the texturing of the walls. The texture team layered different brick, mortar and masonry effects to the model to enhance detail and give a realistic look. The lighting team took inspiration from moonlit walks around Vancouver, taking photographs of different buildings hit by moonlight and its effect. They used a combination of subtle light sources on the model, including strong internal lights and firelights to make the castle feel as grand as possible, and the compositing team added flags and soldiers to the battlements.

One of the most iconic scenes of the movie includes an establishing shot of MPC’s CG castle with a CG crowd arriving for Aurora’s christening. MPC’s FX team created the green magic Maleficent uses to curse the baby.

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In the moorland battle scene, MPC used its propriety crowd software tool, ALICE to multiply 100 soldier actors into a 1,500-member army. The team also turned the on-set standing stones into giant obelisks and added CG grass, distant trees and mountains. The team developed the Dark Rider chief, four additional Dark Riders, boar, troll and serpent fairies.

MPC also created the raven Diaval, which Maleficent transforms into a man. MPC’s animation team researched the traits of the bird’s behavior, from their flight to feather and wing movements, spending time with a bird-handler to gather photo and video reference to create a CG model. To transform the bird into a human the VFX team used fluid simulation ink effects and deep compositing.

MPC built a CG thorn wall, which surrounds the fairy world, and used its destruction tool Kali for the disruption of the soil. Soldiers attempt to destroy the wall and the team added CG fire balls, trebuchets, soldiers, fire and flame FX and destruction elements.

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MPC created a full CG dragon and Great Hall interior for the climactic battle sequence. MPC worked with designs created by production concept artists and continued to develop the fire breathing creature using Pixologic Z-Brush. The team then had to transform the creature into the raven. Digital burning embers, dragon fire and smoke FX fill the room and MPC also transformed the character of Diaval from raven to dragon. Full CG soldiers were created to battle the charging dragon.

MPC’s artists also created a Disney logo using the CG Sleeping Beauty castle replacing the traditional Cinderella castle. This also involved MPC FX work to match the Disney logo fireworks and sparkle VFX. A full CG environment was built to illustrate the opening voiceover and introduce the audience to the world Maleficent inhabits.

Quick chat: ‘Sleepy Hollow’ VFX supervisor Jason Zimmerman

BURBANK — The first season of Fox’s Sleepy Hollow, which recently had its season finale, averaged anywhere from 30 to 300 visual effects shots.

The show’s VFX supervisor, Jason Zimmerman, had three go-to houses — Synaptic VFX, Pixomondo (www.pixomondo.com) and Fuse (www.fusefx.com) — to create what the Continue reading