Tag Archives: VFX

Framestore VFX will open in Mumbai in 2020

Oscar-winning creative studio Framestore will be opening a full-service visual effects studio in Mumbai in 2020 to target India’s booming creative industry. The studio will be located in the Nesco IT Park in Goregaon, in the center of Mumbai’s technology district. The news hammers home Framestore’s continued interest in India, after having made a major investment in Jesh Krishna Murthy’s VFX studio, Anibrain, in 2017.

“Mumbai represents a rolling of wheels that were set in motion over two years ago,” says Framestore founder/CEO William Sargent. “Our investment in Anibrain has grown considerably, and we continue in our partnership with Jesh Krishna Murthy to develop and grow that business. Indeed, they will become a valued production partner to our Mumbai offering.”

Framestore looks to make considerable hires in the coming months, aiming to build an initial 500-strong team with existing Framestore talent combined with the best of local Indian expertise. Mumbai will work alongside the global network, including London and Montreal, to create a cohesive virtual team delivering high-quality international work.

“Mumbai has become a center of excellence in digital filmmaking. There’s a depth of talent that can deliver to the scale of Hollywood with the color and flair of Bollywood,” Sargent continues. “It’s an incredibly vibrant city and its presence on the international scene is holding us all to a higher standard. In terms of visual effects, we will set the standard here as we did in Montreal almost eight years ago.”

 

London’s Freefolk beefs up VFX team

Soho-based visual effects studio Freefolk, which has seen growth in its commercials and longform work, has grown its staff to meet this demand. As part of the uptick in work, Freefolk promoted Cheryl Payne from senior producer to head of commercial production. Additionally, Laura Rickets has joined as senior producer, and 2D artist Bradley Cocksedge has been added to the commercials VFX team.

Payne, who has been with Freefolk since the early days, has worked on some of the studio’s biggest commercials, including; Warburtons for Engine, Peloton for Dark Horses and Cadburys for VCCP.

Rickets comes to Freefolk with over 18 years of production experience working at some of the biggest VFX houses in London, including Framestore, The Mill and Smoke & Mirrors, as well as agency side for McCann. Since joining the team, Rickets has VFX-produced work on the I’m A Celebrity IDs, a set of seven technically challenging and CG-heavy spots for the new series of the show as well as ads for the Rugby World Cup and Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?.

Cocksedge is a recent graduate who joins from Framestore, where he was working as an intern on Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald. While in school at the University of Hertfordshire, he interned at Freefolk and is happy to be back in a full-time position.

“We’ve had an exciting year and have worked on some really stand-out commercials, like TransPennine for Engine and the beautiful spot for The Guardian we completed with Uncommon, so we felt it was time to add to the Freefolk family,” says Fi Kilroe, Freefolk’s co-managing director/executive producer.

Main Image: (L-R) Cheryl Payne, Laura Rickets and Bradley Cocksedge

Behind the Title: MPC’s CD Morten Vinther

This creative director/director still jumps on the Flame and also edits from time to time. “I love mixing it up and doing different things,” he says.

NAME: Morten Vinther

COMPANY: Moving Picture Company, Los Angeles

CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR COMPANY?
From original ideas all the way through to finished production, we are an eclectic mix of hard-working and passionate artists, technologists and creatives who push the boundaries of what’s possible for our clients. We aim to move the audience through our work.

WHAT’S YOUR JOB TITLE?
Creative Director and Director

WHAT DOES THAT ENTAIL?
I guide our clients through challenging shoots and post. I try to keep us honest in terms of making sure that our casting is right and the team is looked after and has the appropriate resources available for the tasks ahead, while ensuring that we go above and beyond on quality and experience. In addition to this, I direct projects, pitch on new business and develop methodology for visual effects.

American Horror Story

WHAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE THE MOST ABOUT WHAT FALLS UNDER THAT TITLE?
I still occasionally jump on Flame and comp a job — right now I’m editing a commercial. I love mixing it up and doing different things.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
Writing treatments. The moments where everything is crystal clear in your head and great ideas and concepts are rushing onto paper like an unstoppable torrent.

WHAT’S YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?
Writing treatments. Staring at a blank page, writing something and realizing how contrived it sounds before angrily deleting everything.

WHAT IS YOUR MOST PRODUCTIVE TIME OF THE DAY?
Early mornings. A good night’s sleep and freshly ground coffee creates a fertile breeding ground for pure clarity, ideas and opportunities.

IF YOU DIDN’T HAVE THIS JOB, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING INSTEAD?
I would be carefully malting barley for my next small batch of artisan whisky somewhere on the Scottish west coast.

Adidas Creators

HOW EARLY ON DID YOU KNOW THIS WOULD BE YOUR PATH?
I remember making a spoof commercial at my school when I was about 13 years old. I became obsessed with operating cameras and editing, and I began to study filmmakers like Scorsese and Kubrick. After a failed career as a shopkeeper, a documentary production company in Copenhagen took mercy on me, and I started as an assistant editor.

CAN YOU NAME SOME RECENT PROJECTS YOU HAVE WORKED ON?
American Horror Story, Apple Unlock, directed by Dougal Wilson, and Adidas Creators, directed by Stacy Wall.

WHAT IS THE PROJECT THAT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?
If I had to single one out, it would probably be Apple’s Unlock commercial. The spot looks amazing, and the team was incredibly creative on this one. We enjoyed a great collaboration between several of our offices, and it was a lot of fun putting it together.

Apple’s Unlock

NAME THREE PIECES OF TECHNOLOGY YOU CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT.
My phone, laptop and PlayStation.

WHAT SOCIAL MEDIA CHANNELS DO YOU FOLLOW?
Some say social media rots your brains. That’s probably why I’m an Instagram addict.

CARE TO SHARE YOUR FAVORITE MUSIC TO WORK TO?
Odesza, SBTRKT, Little Dragon, Disclosure and classic reggae.

WHAT DO YOU DO TO DE-STRESS FROM IT ALL?
I recently bought a motorbike, and I spin around LA and Southern California most weekends. Concentrating on how to survive the next turn is a great way for me to clear the mind.

Director Robert Eggers talks about his psychological thriller The Lighthouse

By Iain Blair

Writer/director Robert Eggers burst onto the scene when his feature film debut, The Witch, won the Directing Award in the US Dramatic category at the 2015 Sundance Film Festival. He followed up that success by co-writing and directing another supernatural, hallucinatory horror film, The Lighthouse, which is set in the maritime world of the late 19th century.

L-R: Director Robert Eggers and cinematographer Jarin Blaschke on set.

The story begins when two lighthouse keepers (Willem Dafoe and Robert Pattinson) arrive on a remote island off the coast of New England for their month-long stay. But that stay gets extended as they’re trapped and isolated due to a seemingly never-ending storm. Soon, the two men engage in an escalating battle of wills, as tensions boil over and mysterious forces (which may or may not be real) loom all around them.

The Lighthouse has the power of an ancient myth. To tell this tale, which was shot in black and white, Eggers called on many of those who helped him create The Witch, including cinematographer Jarin Blaschke, production designer Craig Lathrop, composer Mark Korven and editor Louise Ford.

I recently talked to Eggers, who got his professional start directing and designing experimental and classical theater in New York City, about making the film, his love of horror and the post workflow.

Why does horror have such an enduring appeal?
My best argument is that there’s darkness in humanity, and we need to explore that. And horror is great at doing that, from the Gothic to a bad slasher movie. While I may prefer authors who explore the complexities in humanity, others may prefer schlocky films with jump scares that make you spill your popcorn, which still give them that dose of darkness. Those films may not be seriously probing the darkness, but they can relate to it.

This film seems more psychological than simple horror.
We’re talking about horror, but I’m not even sure that this is a horror film. I don’t mind the label, even though most wannabe auteurs are like, “I don’t like labels!” It started with an idea my brother Max had for a ghost story set in a lighthouse, which is not what this movie became. But I loved the idea, which was based on a true story. It immediately evoked a black and white movie on 35mm negative with a boxy aspect ratio of 1.19:1, like the old movies, and a fusty, dusty, rusty, musty atmosphere — the pipe smoke and all the facial hair — so I just needed a story that went along with all of that. (Laughs) We were also thinking a lot about influences and writers from the time — like Poe, Melville and Stevenson — and soaking up the jargon of the day. There were also influences like Prometheus and Proteus and God knows what else.

Casting the two leads was obviously crucial. What did Willem and Robert bring to their roles?
Absolute passion and commitment to the project and their roles. Who else but Willem can speak like a North Atlantic pirate stereotype and make it totally believable? Robert has this incredible intensity, and together they play so well against each other and are so well suited to this world. And they both have two of the best faces ever in cinema.

What were the main technical challenges in pulling it all together, and is it true you actually built the lighthouse?
We did. We built everything, including the 70-foot tower — a full-scale working lighthouse, along with its house and outbuildings — on Cape Forchu in Nova Scotia, which is this very dramatic outcropping of volcanic rock. Production designer Craig Lathrop and his team did an amazing job, and the reason we did that was because it gave us far more control than if we’d used a real lighthouse.

We scouted a lot but just couldn’t find one that suited us, and the few that did were far too remote to access. We needed road access and a place with the right weather, so in the end it was better to build it all. We also shot some of the interiors there as well, but most of them were built on soundstages and warehouses in Halifax since we knew it’d be very hard to shoot interiors and move the camera inside the lighthouse tower itself.

Your go-to DP, Jarin Blaschke, shot it. Talk about how you collaborated on the look and why you used black and white.
I love the look of black and white, because it’s both dreamlike and also more realistic than color in a way. It really suited both the story and the way we shot it, with the harsh landscape and a lot of close-ups of Willem and Robert. Jarin shot the film on the Panavision Millennium XL2, and we also used vintage Baltar lenses from the 1930s, which gave the film a great look, as they make the sea, water and sky all glow and shimmer more. He also used a custom cyan filter by Schneider Filters that gave us that really old-fashioned look. Then by using black and white, it kept the overall look very bleak at all times.

How tough was the shoot?
It was pretty tough, and all the rain and pounding wind you see onscreen is pretty much real. Even on the few sunny days we had, the wind was just relentless. The shoot was about 32 days, and we were out in the elements in March and April of last year, so it was freezing cold and very tough for the actors. It was very physically demanding.

Where did you post?
We did it all in New York at Harbor Post, with some additional ADR work at Goldcrest in London with Robert.

Do you like the post process?
I love post, and after the very challenging shoot, it was such a relief to just get in a warm, dry, dark room and start cutting and pulling it all together.

Talk about editing with Louise Ford, who also cut The Witch. How did that work?
She was with us on the shoot at a bed and breakfast, so I could check in with her at the end of the day. But it was so tough shooting that I usually waited until the weekends to get together and go over stuff. Then when we did the stage work at Halifax, she had an edit room set up there, and that was much easier.

What were the big editing challenges?
The DP and I developed such a specific and detailed cinema language without a ton of coverage and with little room for error that we painted ourselves into a corner. So that became the big challenge… when something didn’t work. It was also about getting the running time down but keeping the right pace since the performances dictate the pace of the edit. You can’t just shorten stuff arbitrarily. But we didn’t leave a lot of stuff on the cutting room floor. The assembly was just over two hours and the final film isn’t much shorter.

All the sound effects play a big role. Talk about the importance of sound and working on them with sound designer Damian Volpe, whose credits include Can You Ever Forgive Me?, Leave No Trace, Mudbound, Drive, Winter’s Bone and Margin Call.
It’s hugely important in this film, and Louise and I did a lot of work in the picture edit to create temps for Damian to inspire him. And he was so relentless in building up the sound design, and even creating weird sounds to go with the actual light, and to go with the score by Mark Korven, who did The Witch, and all the brass and unusual instrumentation he used on this. So the result is both experimental and also quite traditional, I think.

There are quite a few VFX shots. Who did them, and what was involved?
We had MELS and Oblique in Quebec and Brainstorm Digital in New York also did some. The big one was that the movie’s set on an island but we shot on a peninsula, which also had a lighthouse further north, which unfortunately didn’t look at all correct, so we framed it out a lot but we had to erase it for some of the time. And our period-correct sea ship broke down and had to be towed around by other ships, so there was a lot of clean up. Also with all the safety cables we had to use for cliff shots with the actors.

Where did you do the DI, and how important is it to you?
We did it at Harbor with colorist Joe Gawler, and it was hugely important although it was fairly simple because there’s very little latitude on the Double-X film stock we used. We did a lot of fine detail work to finesse it, but it was a lot quicker than if it’d been in color.

Did the film turn out the way you hoped?
No, they always change and surprise you, but I’m very proud of what we did.

What’s next?
I’m prepping another period piece, but it’s not a horror film. That’s all I can say.


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.

Alkemy X adds Albert Mason as head of production

Albert Mason has joined VFX house Alkemy X as head of production. He comes to Alkemy X with over two decades of experience in visual effects and post production. He has worked on projects directed by such industry icons as Peter Jackson on the Lord of the Rings trilogy, Tim Burton on Alice in Wonderland and Robert Zemeckis on The Polar Express. In his new role at Alkemy X, he will use his experience in feature films to target the growing episodic space.

A large part of Alkemy X’s work has been for episodic visual effects, with credits that include Amazon Prime’s Emmy-winning original series, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, USA’s Mr. Robot, AMC’s Fear the Walking Dead, Netflix’s Maniac, NBC’s Blindspot and Starz’s Power.

Mason began his career at MTV’s on-air promos department, sharpening his production skills on top series promo campaigns and as a part of its newly launched MTV Animation Department. He took an opportunity to transition into VFX, stepping into a production role for Weta Digital and spending three years working globally on the Lord of the Rings trilogy. He then joined Sony Pictures Imageworks, where he contributed to features including Spider-Man 3 and Ghost Rider. He has also produced work for such top industry shops as Logan, Rising Sun Pictures and Greymatter VFX.

“[Albert’s] expertise in constructing advanced pipelines that embrace emerging technologies will be invaluable to our team as we continue to bolster our slate of VFX work,” says Alkemy X president/CEO Justin Wineburgh.

2019 HPA Award winners announced

The industry came together on November 21 in Los Angeles to celebrate its own at the 14th annual HPA Awards. Awards were given to individuals and teams working in 12 creative craft categories, recognizing outstanding contributions to color grading, sound, editing and visual effects for commercials, television and feature film.

Rob Legato receiving Lifetime Achievement Award from presenter Mike Kanfer. (Photo by Ryan Miller/Capture Imaging)

As was previously announced, renowned visual effects supervisor and creative Robert Legato, ASC, was honored with this year’s HPA Lifetime Achievement Award; Peter Jackson’s They Shall Not Grow Old was presented with the HPA Judges Award for Creativity and Innovation; acclaimed journalist Peter Caranicas was the recipient of the very first HPA Legacy Award; and special awards were presented for Engineering Excellence.

The winners of the 2019 HPA Awards are:

Outstanding Color Grading – Theatrical Feature

WINNER: “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse”
Natasha Leonnet // Efilm

“First Man”
Natasha Leonnet // Efilm

“Roma”
Steven J. Scott // Technicolor

Natasha Leonnet (Photo by Ryan Miller/Capture Imaging)

“Green Book”
Walter Volpatto // FotoKem

“The Nutcracker and the Four Realms”
Tom Poole // Company 3

“Us”
Michael Hatzer // Technicolor

 

Outstanding Color Grading – Episodic or Non-theatrical Feature

WINNER: “Game of Thrones – Winterfell”
Joe Finley // Sim, Los Angeles

 “The Handmaid’s Tale – Liars”
Bill Ferwerda // Deluxe Toronto

“The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel – Vote for Kennedy, Vote for Kennedy”
Steven Bodner // Light Iron

“I Am the Night – Pilot”
Stefan Sonnenfeld // Company 3

“Gotham – Legend of the Dark Knight: The Trial of Jim Gordon”
Paul Westerbeck // Picture Shop

“The Man in The High Castle – Jahr Null”
Roy Vasich // Technicolor

 

Outstanding Color Grading – Commercial  

WINNER: Hennessy X.O. – “The Seven Worlds”
Stephen Nakamura // Company 3

Zara – “Woman Campaign Spring Summer 2019”
Tim Masick // Company 3

Tiffany & Co. – “Believe in Dreams: A Tiffany Holiday”
James Tillett // Moving Picture Company

Palms Casino – “Unstatus Quo”
Ricky Gausis // Moving Picture Company

Audi – “Cashew”
Tom Poole // Company 3

 

Outstanding Editing – Theatrical Feature

Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood

WINNER: “Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood”
Fred Raskin, ACE

“Green Book”
Patrick J. Don Vito, ACE

“Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese”
David Tedeschi, Damian Rodriguez

“The Other Side of the Wind”
Orson Welles, Bob Murawski, ACE

“A Star Is Born”
Jay Cassidy, ACE

 

Outstanding Editing – Episodic or Non-theatrical Feature (30 Minutes and Under)

VEEP

WINNER: “Veep – Pledge”
Roger Nygard, ACE

“Russian Doll – The Way Out”
Todd Downing

“Homecoming – Redwood”
Rosanne Tan, ACE

“Withorwithout”
Jake Shaver, Shannon Albrink // Therapy Studios

“Russian Doll – Ariadne”
Laura Weinberg

 

Outstanding Editing – Episodic or Non-theatrical Feature (Over 30 Minutes)

WINNER: “Stranger Things – Chapter Eight: The Battle of Starcourt”
Dean Zimmerman, ACE, Katheryn Naranjo

“Chernobyl – Vichnaya Pamyat”
Simon Smith, Jinx Godfrey // Sister Pictures

“Game of Thrones – The Iron Throne”
Katie Weiland, ACE

“Game of Thrones – The Long Night”
Tim Porter, ACE

“The Bodyguard – Episode One”
Steve Singleton

 

Outstanding Sound – Theatrical Feature

WINNER: “Godzilla: King of Monsters”
Tim LeBlanc, Tom Ozanich, MPSE // Warner Bros.
Erik Aadahl, MPSE, Nancy Nugent, MPSE, Jason W. Jennings // E Squared

“Shazam!”
Michael Keller, Kevin O’Connell // Warner Bros.
Bill R. Dean, MPSE, Erick Ocampo, Kelly Oxford, MPSE // Technicolor

“Smallfoot”
Michael Babcock, David E. Fluhr, CAS, Jeff Sawyer, Chris Diebold, Harrison Meyle // Warner Bros.

“Roma”
Skip Lievsay, Sergio Diaz, Craig Henighan, Carlos Honc, Ruy Garcia, MPSE, Caleb Townsend

“Aquaman”
Tim LeBlanc // Warner Bros.
Peter Brown, Joe Dzuban, Stephen P. Robinson, MPSE, Eliot Connors, MPSE // Formosa Group

 

Outstanding Sound – Episodic or Non-theatrical Feature

WINNER: “The Haunting of Hill House – Two Storms”
Trevor Gates, MPSE, Jason Dotts, Jonathan Wales, Paul Knox, Walter Spencer // Formosa Group

“Chernobyl – 1:23:45”
Stefan Henrix, Stuart Hilliker, Joe Beal, Michael Maroussas, Harry Barnes // Boom Post

“Deadwood: The Movie”
John W. Cook II, Bill Freesh, Mandell Winter, MPSE, Daniel Colman, MPSE, Ben Cook, MPSE, Micha Liberman // NBC Universal

“Game of Thrones – The Bells”
Tim Kimmel, MPSE, Onnalee Blank, CAS, Mathew Waters, CAS, Paula Fairfield, David Klotz

“Homecoming – Protocol”
John W. Cook II, Bill Freesh, Kevin Buchholz, Jeff A. Pitts, Ben Zales, Polly McKinnon // NBC Universal

 

Outstanding Sound – Commercial 

WINNER: John Lewis & Partners – “Bohemian Rhapsody”
Mark Hills, Anthony Moore // Factory

Audi – “Life”
Doobie White // Therapy Studios

Leonard Cheshire Disability – “Together Unstoppable”
Mark Hills // Factory

New York Times – “The Truth Is Worth It: Fearlessness”
Aaron Reynolds // Wave Studios NY

John Lewis & Partners – “The Boy and the Piano”
Anthony Moore // Factory

 

Outstanding Visual Effects – Theatrical Feature

WINNER: “The Lion King”
Robert Legato
Andrew R. Jones
Adam Valdez, Elliot Newman, Audrey Ferrara // MPC Film
Tom Peitzman // T&C Productions

“Avengers: Endgame”
Matt Aitken, Marvyn Young, Sidney Kombo-Kintombo, Sean Walker, David Conley // Weta Digital

“Spider-Man: Far From Home”
Alexis Wajsbrot, Sylvain Degrotte, Nathan McConnel, Stephen Kennedy, Jonathan Opgenhaffen // Framestore

“Alita: Battle Angel”
Eric Saindon, Michael Cozens, Dejan Momcilovic, Mark Haenga, Kevin Sherwood // Weta Digital

“Pokemon Detective Pikachu”
Jonathan Fawkner, Carlos Monzon, Gavin Mckenzie, Fabio Zangla, Dale Newton // Framestore

 

Outstanding Visual Effects – Episodic (Under 13 Episodes) or Non-theatrical Feature

Game of Thrones

WINNER: “Game of Thrones – The Bells”
Steve Kullback, Joe Bauer, Ted Rae
Mohsen Mousavi // Scanline
Thomas Schelesny // Image Engine

“Game of Thrones – The Long Night”
Martin Hill, Nicky Muir, Mike Perry, Mark Richardson, Darren Christie // Weta Digital

“The Umbrella Academy – The White Violin”
Everett Burrell, Misato Shinohara, Chris White, Jeff Campbell, Sebastien Bergeron

“The Man in the High Castle – Jahr Null”
Lawson Deming, Cory Jamieson, Casi Blume, Nick Chamberlain, William Parker, Saber Jlassi, Chris Parks // Barnstorm VFX

“Chernobyl – 1:23:45”
Lindsay McFarlane
Max Dennison, Clare Cheetham, Steven Godfrey, Luke Letkey // DNEG

 

Outstanding Visual Effects – Episodic (Over 13 Episodes)

Team from The Orville – Outstanding VFX, Episodic, Over 13 Episodes (Photo by Ryan Miller/Capture Imaging)

WINNER: “The Orville – Identity: Part II”
Tommy Tran, Kevin Lingenfelser, Joseph Vincent Pike // FuseFX
Brandon Fayette, Brooke Noska // Twentieth Century FOX TV

“Hawaii Five-O – Ke iho mai nei ko luna”
Thomas Connors, Anthony Davis, Chad Schott, Gary Lopez, Adam Avitabile // Picture Shop

“9-1-1 – 7.1”
Jon Massey, Tony Pirzadeh, Brigitte Bourque, Gavin Whelan, Kwon Choi // FuseFX

“Star Trek: Discovery – Such Sweet Sorrow Part 2”
Jason Zimmerman, Ante Dekovic, Aleksandra Kochoska, Charles Collyer, Alexander Wood // CBS Television Studios

“The Flash – King Shark vs. Gorilla Grodd”
Armen V. Kevorkian, Joshua Spivack, Andranik Taranyan, Shirak Agresta, Jason Shulman // Encore VFX

The 2019 HPA Engineering Excellence Awards were presented to:

Adobe – Content-Aware Fill for Video in Adobe After Effects

Epic Games — Unreal Engine 4

Pixelworks — TrueCut Motion

Portrait Displays and LG Electronics — CalMan LUT based Auto-Calibration Integration with LG OLED TVs

Honorable Mentions were awarded to Ambidio for Ambidio Looking Glass; Grass Valley, for creative grading; and Netflix for Photon.

Creating With Cloud: A VFX producer’s perspective

By Chris Del Conte

The ‘90s was an explosive era for visual effects, with films like Jurassic Park, Independence Day, Titanic and The Matrix shattering box office records and inspiring a generation of artists and filmmakers, myself included. I got my start in VFX working on seaQuest DSV, an Amblin/NBC sci-fi series that was ground-breaking for its time, but looking at the VFX of modern films like Gemini Man, The Lion King and Ad Astra, it’s clear just how far the industry has come. A lot of that progress has been enabled by new technology and techniques, from the leap to fully digital filmmaking and emergence of advanced viewing formats like 3D, Ultra HD and HDR to the rebirth of VR and now the rise of cloud-based workflows.

In my nearly 25 years in VFX, I’ve worn a lot of hats, including VFX producer, head of production and business development manager. Each role involved overseeing many aspects of a production and, collectively, they’ve all shaped my perspective when it comes to how the cloud is transforming the entire creative process. Thanks to my role at AWS Thinkbox, I have a front-row seat to see why studios are looking at the cloud for content creation, how they are using the cloud, and how the cloud affects their work and client relationships.

Chris Del Conte on the set of the IMAX film Magnificent Desolation.

Why Cloud?
We’re in a climate of high content demand and massive industry flux. Studios are incentivized to find ways to take on more work, and that requires more resources — not just artists, but storage, workstations and render capacity. Driving a need to scale, this trend often motivates studios to consider the cloud for production or to strengthen their use of cloud in their pipelines if already in play. Cloud-enabled studios are much more agile than traditional shops. When opportunities arise, they can act quickly, spinning resources up and down at a moment’s notice. I realize that for some, the concept of the cloud is still a bit nebulous, which is why finding the right cloud partner is key. Every facility is different, and part of the benefit of cloud is resource customization. When studios use predominantly physical resources, they have to make decisions about storage and render capacity, electrical and cooling infrastructure, and staff accommodations up front (and pay for them). Using the cloud allows studios to adjust easily to better accommodate whatever the current situation requires.

Artistic Impact
Advanced technology is great, but artists are by far a studio’s biggest asset; automated tools are helpful but won’t deliver those “wow moments” alone. Artists bring the creativity and talent to the table, then, in a perfect world, technology helps them realize their full potential. When artists are free of pipeline or workflow distractions, they can focus on creating. The positive effects spill over into nearly every aspect of production, which is especially true when cloud-based rendering is used. By scaling render resources via the cloud, artists aren’t limited by the capacity of their local machines. Since they don’t have to wait as long for shots to render, artists can iterate more fluidly. This boosts morale because the final results are closer to what artists envisioned, and it can improve work-life balance since artists don’t have to stick around late at night waiting for renders to finish. With faster render results, VFX supervisors also have more runway to make last-minute tweaks. Ultimately, cloud-based rendering enables a higher caliber of work and more satisfied artists.

Budget Considerations
There are compelling arguments for shifting capital expenditures to operational expenditures with the cloud. New studios get the most value out of this model since they don’t have legacy infrastructure to accommodate. Cloud-based solutions level the playing field in this respect; it’s easier for small studios and freelancers to get started because there’s no significant up-front hardware investment. This is an area where we’ve seen rapid cloud adoption. Considering how fast technology changes, it seems ill-advised to limit a new studio’s capabilities to today’s hardware when the cloud provides constant access to the latest compute resources.

When a studio has been in business for decades and might have multiple locations with varying needs, its infrastructure is typically well established. Some studios may opt to wait until their existing hardware has fully depreciated before shifting resources to the cloud, while others dive in right away, with an eye on the bigger picture. Rendering is generally a budgetary item on project bids, but with local hardware, studios are working to recoup a sunk cost. Using the cloud, render compute can be part of a bid and becomes a negotiable item. Clients can determine the delivery timeline based on render budget, and the elasticity of cloud resources allows VFX studios to pick up more work. (Even the most meticulously planned productions can run into 911 issues ahead of delivery, and cloud-enabled studios have bandwidth to be the hero when clients are in dire straits.)

Looking Ahead
When I started in VFX, giant rooms filled with racks and racks of servers and hardware were the norm, and VFX studios were largely judged by the size of their infrastructure. I’ve heard from an industry colleague about how their VFX studio’s server room was so impressive that they used to give clients tours of the space, seemingly a visual reminder of the studio’s vast compute capabilities. Today, there wouldn’t be nearly as much to view. Modern technology is more powerful and compact but still requires space, and that space has to be properly equipped with the necessary electricity and cooling. With cloud, studios don’t need switchers and physical storage to be competitive off the bat, and they experience fewer infrastructure headaches, like losing freon in the AC.

The cloud also opens up the available artist talent pool. Studios can dedicate the majority of physical space to artists as opposed to machines and even hire artists in remote locations on a per-project or long-term basis. Facilities of all sizes are beginning to recognize that becoming cloud-enabled brings a significant competitive edge, allowing them to harness the power to render almost any client request. VFX producers will also start to view facility cloud-enablement as a risk management tool that allows control of any creative changes or artistic embellishments up until delivery, with the rendering output no longer a blocker or a limited resource.

Bottom line: Cloud transforms nearly every aspect of content creation into a near-infinite resource, whether storage capacity, render power or artistic talent.


Chris Del Conte is senior EC2 business development manager at AWS Thinkbox.

Motorola’s next-gen Razr gets a campaign for today

Many of us have fond memories of our Razr flip phone. At the time, it was the latest and greatest. Then new technology came along, and the smartphone era was born. Now Motorola is asking, “Why can’t you have both?”

Available as of November 13, the new Razr fits in a palm or pocket when shut and flips open to reveal an immersive, full-length touch screen. There is a display screen called the Quick View when closed and the larger Flex View when open — and the two displays are made to work together. Whatever you see on Quick View then moves to the larger Flex View display when you flip it open.

In order to help tell this story, Motorola called on creative shop Los York to help relaunch the Razr. Los York created the new smartphone campaign to tap into the Razr’s original DNA and launch it for today’s user.

Los York developed a 360 campaign that included films, social, digital, TV, print and billboards, with visuals in stores and on devices (wallpapers, ringtones, startup screens). Los York treated the Razr as a luxury item and a piece of art, letting the device reveal itself unencumbered by taglines and copy. The campaign showcases the Razr as a futuristic, high-end “fashion accessory” that speaks to new industry conversations, such as advancing tech along a utopian or dystopian future.

The campaign features a mix of live action and CG. Los York shot on a Panavision DXL with Primo 70 lenses. CG was created using Maxon Cinema 4D with Redshift and composited in Adobe After Effects. The piece was edited in-house on Adobe Premiere.

We reached out to Los York CEO and founder Seth Epstein to find out more:

How much of this is live action versus CG?
The majority is CG, but, originally, the piece was intended to be entirely CG. Early in the creative process, we defined the world in which the new Razr existed and who would belong there. As we worked on the project, we kept feeling that bringing our characters to life in live action and blending the worlds. The proper live action was envisioned after the fact, which is somewhat unusual.

What were some of the most challenging aspects of this piece?
The most challenging part of the project was the fact that the project happened over a period of nine months. Wisely, the product release needed to push, and we continued to evolve the project over time, which is a blessing and a curse.

How did it feel taking on a product with a lot of history and then rebranding it for the modern day?
We felt the key was to relaunch an iconic product like the Razr with an eye to the future. The trap of launching anything iconic is falling back on the obvious retro throwback references, which can come across as too obvious. We dove into the original product and campaigns to extract the brand DNA of 2004 using archetype exercises. We tapped into the attitude and voice of the Razr at that time — and used that attitude as a starting point. We also wanted to look forward and stand three years in the future and imagine what the tone and campaign would be then. All of this is to say that we wanted the new Razr to extract the power of the past but also speak to audiences in a totally fresh and new way.

Check out the campaign here.

Blur Studio uses new AMD Threadripper for Terminator: Dark Fate VFX

By Dayna McCallum

AMD has announced new additions to its high-end desktop processor family. Built for demanding desktop and content creation workloads, the 24-core AMD Ryzen Threadripper 3960X and the 32-core AMD Ryzen Threadripper 3970X processors will be available worldwide November 25.

Tim Miller on the set of Dark Fate.

AMD states that the powerful new processors provide up to 90 percent more performance and up to 2.5 times more available storage bandwidth than competitive offerings, per testing and specifications by AMD performance labs. The 3rd Gen AMD Ryzen Threadripper lineup features two new processors built on 7nm “Zen 2” core architecture, claiming up to 88 PCIe 4.0 lanes and 144MB cache with 66 percent better power efficiency.

Prior to the official product launch, AMD made the 3rd Gen Threadrippers available to LA’s Blur Studio for work on the recent Terminator: Dark Fate and continued a collaboration with the film’s director — and Blur Studio founder — Tim Miller.

Before the movie’s release, AMD hosted a private Q&A with Miller, moderated by AMD’s James Knight. Please note that we’ve edited the lively conversation for space and taken a liberty with some of Miller’s more “colorful” language. (Also watch this space to see if a wager is won that will result in Miller sporting a new AMD tattoo.) Here is the Knight/Miller conversation…

So when we dropped off the 3rd Gen Threadripper to you guys, how did your IT guys react?
Like little children left in a candy shop with no adult supervision. The nice thing about our atmosphere here at Blur is we have an open layout. So when (bleep) like these new AMD processors drops in, you know it runs through the studio like wildfire, and I sit out there like everybody else does. You hear the guys talking about it, you hear people giggling and laughing hysterically at times on the second floor where all the compositors are. That’s where these machines really kick ass — busting through these comps that would have had to go to the farm, but they can now do it on a desktop.

James Knight

As an artist, the speed is crucial. You know, if you have a machine that takes 15 minutes to render, you want to stop and do something else while you wait for a render. It breaks your whole chain of thought. You get out of that fugue state that you produce the best art in. It breaks the chain between art and your brain. But if you have a machine that does it in 30 seconds, that’s not going to stop it.

But really, more speed means more iterations. It means you deal with heavier scenes, which means you can throw more detail at your models and your scenes. I don’t think we do the work faster, necessarily, but the work is much higher quality. And much more detailed. It’s like you create this vacuum, and then everybody rushes into it and you have this silly idea that it is really going to increase productivity, but what it really increases most is quality.

When your VFX supervisor showed you the difference between the way it was done with your existing ecosystem and then with the third-gen Threadripper, what were you thinking about?
There was the immediate thing — when we heard from the producers about the deadline, shots that weren’t going to get done for the trailer, suddenly were, which was great. More importantly, you heard from the artists. What you started to see was that it allows for all different ways of working, instead of just the elaborate pipeline that we’ve built up — to work on your local box and then submit it to the farm and wait for that render to hit the queue of farm machines that can handle it, then send that render back to you.

It has a rhythm that is at times tiresome for the artists, and I know that because I hear it all the time. Now I say, “How’s that comp coming and when are we going to get it, tick tock?” And they say, “Well, it’s rendering in the background right now, as I’m watching them work on another comp or another piece of that comp.” That’s pretty amazing. And they’re doing it all locally, which saves so much time and frustration compared to sending it down the pipeline and then waiting for it to come back up.

I know you guys are here to talk about technology, but the difference for the artists is the instead of working here until 1:00am, they’re going home to put their children to bed. That’s really what this means at the end of the day. Technology is so wonderful when it enables that, not just the creativity of what we do, but the humanity… allowing artists to feel like they’re really on the cutting edge, but also have a life of some sort outside.

Endoskeleton — Terminator: Dark Fate

As you noted, certain shots and sequences wouldn’t have made it in time for the trailer. How important was it for you to get that Terminator splitting in the trailer?
 Marketing was pretty adamant that that shot had to be in there. There’s always this push and pull between marketing and VFX as you get closer. They want certain shots for the trailer, but they’re almost always those shots that are the hardest to do because they have the most spectacle in them. And that’s one of the shots. The sequence was one of the last to come together because we changed the plan quite a bit, and I kept changing shots on Dan (Akers, VFX supervisor). But you tell marketing people that they can’t have something, and they don’t really give a (bleep) about you and your schedule or the path of that artist and shot. (Laughing)

Anyway, we said no. They begged, they pleaded, and we said, “We’ll try.” Dan stepped up and said, “Yeah, I think I can make it.” And we just made it, but that sounds like we were in danger because we couldn’t get it done fast enough. All of this was happening in like a two-day window. If you didn’t notice (in the trailer), that’s a Rev 7. Gabriel Luna is a Rev 9, which is the next gen. But the Rev 7s that you see in his future flashback are just pure killers. They’re still the same technology, which is looking like metal on the outside and a carbon endoskeleton that splits. So you have to run the simulation where the skeleton separates through the liquid that hangs off of an inch string; it’s a really hard simulation to do. That’s why we thought maybe it wasn’t going to get done, but running the simulation on the AMD boxes was lightning fast.

 

 

 

Todd Phillips talks directing Warner Bros.’ Joker

By Iain Blair

Filmmaker Todd Phillips began his career in comedy, most notably with the blockbuster franchise The Hangover, which racked up $1.4 billion at the box office globally. He then leveraged that clout and left his comedy comfort zone to make the genre-defying War Dogs.

Todd Phillips directing Joaquin Phoenix

Joker puts comedy even further in his rearview mirror. This bleak, intense, disturbing and chilling tragedy has earned an astounding $1 billion worldwide since its release, making it the seventh-highest-grossing film of 2019 and the highest-grossing R-rated film of all time. Not surprisingly, Joker is also generating a lot of Oscar and awards buzz.

Directed, co-written and produced by Phillips, Joker is the filmmaker’s original vision of the infamous DC villain — an origin story infused with the character’s more traditional mythologies. Phillips’ exploration of Arthur Fleck, who is portrayed — and fully inhabited — by three-time Oscar-nominee Joaquin Phoenix, is of a man struggling to find his way in Gotham’s fractured society. Longing for any light to shine on him, he tries his hand as a stand-up comic but finds the joke always seems to be on him. Caught in a cyclical existence between apathy, cruelty and, ultimately, betrayal, Arthur makes one bad decision after another that brings about a chain reaction of escalating events in this powerful, allegorical character study.

Phoenix is joined by Oscar-winner Robert De Niro, who plays TV host Murray Franklin, and a cast that includes Zazie Beetz, Frances Conroy, Brett Cullen, Marc Maron, Josh Pais and Leigh Gill.

Behind the scenes, Phillips was joined by a couple of frequent collaborators in DP Lawrence Sher, ASC, and editor Jeff Groth. Also on the journey were Oscar-nominated co-writer Scott Silver, production designer Mark Friedberg and Oscar-winning costume designer Mark Bridges. Hildur Guðnadóttir provided the music.

Joker was produced by Phillips and actor/director Bradley Cooper, under their Joint Effort banner, and Emma Tillinger Koskoff.

I recently talked to Phillips, whose credits include Borat (for which he earned an Oscar nod for Best Adapted Screenplay), Due Date, Road Trip and Old School, about making the film, his love of editing and post.

You co-wrote this very complex, timely portrait of a man and a city. Was that the appeal for you?
Absolutely, 100 percent. While it takes place in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, and we wrote it in 2016, it was very much about making a movie that deals with issues happening right now. Movies are often mirrors of society, and I feel this is exactly that.

Do you think that’s why so many people have been offended by it?
I do. It’s really resonated with audiences. I know it’s also been somewhat divisive, and a lot of people were saying, “You can’t make a movie about a guy like this — it’s irresponsible.” But do we want to pretend that these people don’t exist? When you hold up a mirror to society, people don’t always like what they see.

Especially when we don’t look so good.
(Laughs) Exactly.

This is a million miles away from the usual comic-book character and cartoon violence. What sort of film did you set out to make?
We set out to make a tragedy, which isn’t your usual Hollywood approach these days, for sure.

It’s hard to picture any other actor pulling this off. What did Joachin bring to the role?
When Scott and I wrote it, we had him in mind. I had a picture of him as my screensaver on my laptop — and he still is. And then when I pitched this, it was with him in mind. But I didn’t really know him personally, even though we created the character “in his voice.” Everything we wrote, I imagined him saying. So he was really in the DNA of the whole film as we wrote it, and he brought the vulnerability and intensity needed.

You’d assume that he’d jump at this role, but I heard it wasn’t so simple getting him.
You’re right. Getting him was a bit of a thing because it wasn’t something he was looking to do — to be in a movie set in the comic book world. But we spent a lot of timing talking about it, what it would be, what it means and what it says about society today and the lack of empathy and compassion that we have now. He really connected with those themes.

Now, looking back, it seems like an obvious thing for him to do, but it’s hard for actors because the business has changed so much and there’s so many of these superhero movies and comic book films now. Doing them is a big thing for an actor, because then you’re in “that group,” and not every actor wants to be in that group because it follows you, so to speak. A lot of actors have done really well in superhero movies and have done other things too, but it’s a big step and commitment for an actor. And he’d never really been in this kind of film before.

What were the main technical challenges in pulling it all together?
I really wanted to shoot on location all around New York City, and that was a big challenge because it’s far harder than it sounds. But it was so important to the vibe and feel of the movie. So many superhero movies use lots of CGI, but I needed that gritty reality of the actual streets. And I think that’s why it’s so unsettling to people because it does feel so real. Luckily, we had Emma Tillinger Koskoff, who’s one of the great New York producers. She was key in getting locations.

Did you do a lot of previz?
I don’t usually do that much. We did it once for War Dogs and it worked well, but it’s a really slow and annoying process to some extent. As crazy as it sounds, we tried it once on the big Murray Franklin scene with De Niro at the end, which is not a scene you’d normally previz — it’s just two guys sitting on a couch. But it was a 12-page scene with so many camera angles, so we began to previz it and then just abandoned it half-way through. The DP and I were like, “This isn’t worth it. We’ll just do it like we always do and just figure it out as we go.” But previz is an amazing tool. It just needed more time and money than we had, and definitely more patience than I have.

Where did you post?
We started off at my house, where Jeff and I had an Avid setup. We also had a satellite office at 9000 Sunset, where all the assistants were. VFX and our VFX supervisor Edwin Rivera were also based out of there along with our music editor, and that’s where most of it was done. Our supervising sound editor was Alan Robert Murray, a two-time Oscar-winner for his work on American Sniper and Letters From Iwo Jima, and we did the Atmos sound mix on the lot at Warners with Tom Ozanich and Dean Zupancic.

Talk about editing with Jeff Groth. What were the big editing challenges?
There are a lot of delusions in Arthur’s head, so it was a big challenge to know when to hide them and when to reveal them. The scene order in the final film is pretty different from the scripted order, and that’s all about deciding when to reveal information. When you write the script, every scene seems important, and everything has to happen in this order, but when you edit, it’s like, “What were we thinking? This could move here, we can cut this, and so on.”

Todd Phillips on set with Robert DeNiro

That’s what’s so fun about editing and why I love it and post so much. I see my editor as a co-writer. I think every director loves editing the most, because let’s face it — directors are all control freaks, and you have the most control in post and the editing room. So for me at least, I direct movies and go through all the stress of production and shooting just to get to the editing room. It’s all stuff I just have to deal with so I can then sit down and actually make the movie. So it’s the final draft of the script and I very much see it as a writing exercise.

Post is your last shot at getting the script right, and the most fun part of making a movie is the first 10 to 12 weeks of editing. The worst part is the final stretch of post, all that detail work and watching the movie 400 times. You get sick of it, and it’s so hard to be objective. This ended up taking 20 weeks before we had the first cut. Usually you get 10 for the director’s cut, but I asked Warners for more time and they were like, “OK.”

Visual effects play a big role in the film. How many were there?
More than you’d think, but they’re not flashy. I told Edwin early on, if you do your job right, no one will guess there are any VFX shots at all. He had a great team, and we used various VFX houses, including Scanline, Shade and Branch.

There’s a lot of blood, and I’m guessing that was all enhanced a lot?
In fact, there was no real blood — not a drop — used on set, and that amazes people when I tell them. That’s one of the great things about VFX now — you can do all the blood work in post. For instance, traditionally, when you film a guy being shot on the subway, you have all the blood spatters and for take two, you have to clean all that up and repaint the walls and reset, and it takes 45 minutes. This way, with VFX, you don’t have to deal with any of that. You just do a take, do it again until it’s right, and add all the blood in post. That’s so liberating.

What was the most difficult VFX shot to do?
I’d say the scene with Randall at his apartment, and all that blood tracking on the walls and on Arthur’s face and hands is pretty amazing, and we spent the most time on all that, getting it right.

Where did you do the DI, and how important is it to you?
At Company 3 with my regular colorist Jill Bogdanowicz, and it’s vital for the look. I only began doing DIs on the first Hangover, and the great thing about it is you can go in and surgically fix anything. And if you have a great DP like Larry Sher, who’s shot the last six movies for me, you don’t get lost in the maze of possibilities, and I trust him more than I trust myself sometimes.

We shot it digitally, though the original plan was to shoot 65mm large format, and when that fell through to shoot 35mm. Then Larry and I did a lot of tests and decided we’d shoot digital and make it look like film. And thanks to the way he lit and all the work he and Jill did, it has this weird photochemical feel and look. It’s not quite film, but it’s definitely not digital. It’s somewhere in the middle, its own thing.


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: Sarofsky EP Steven Anderson

This EP’s responsibilities range gamut “from managing our production staff to treating clients to an amazing dinner.”

Company: Chicago’s Sarofsky

Can you describe your company?
We like to describe ourselves as a design-driven production company. I like to think of us as that but so much more. We can be a one-stop shop for everything from concept through finish, or we can partner with a variety of other companies and just be one piece of the puzzle. It’s like ordering from a Chinese menu — you get to pick what items you want.

What’s your job title, and what does the job entail?
I’m executive producer, and that means different things at different companies and industries. Here at Sarofsky, I am responsible for things that run the gamut from managing our production staff to treating clients to an amazing dinner.

Sarofsky

What would surprise people the most about what falls under that title?
I also run payroll, and I am damn good at it.

How has the VFX industry changed in the time you’ve been working?
It used to be that when you told someone, “This is going to take some time to execute,” that’s what it meant. But now, everyone wants everything two hours ago. On the flip side, the technology we now have access to has streamlined the production process and provided us with some terrific new tools.

Why do you like being on set for shoots? What are the benefits?
I always like being on set whenever I can because decisions are being made that are going to affect the rest of the production paradigm. It’s also a good opportunity to bond with clients and, sometimes, get some kick-ass homemade guacamole.

Did a particular film inspire you along this path in entertainment?
I have been around this business for quite a while, and one of the reasons I got into it was my love of film and filmmaking. I can’t say that one particular film inspired me to do this, but I remember being a young kid and my dad taking me to see The Towering Inferno in the movie theater. I was blown away.

What’s your favorite part of the job?
Choosing a spectacular bottle of wine for a favorite client and watching their face when they taste it. My least favorite has to be chasing down clients for past due invoices. It gets old very quickly.

What is your most productive time of the day?
It’s 6:30am with my first cup of coffee sitting at my kitchen counter before the day comes at me. I get a lot of good thinking and writing done in those early morning hours.

Original Bomb Pop via agency VMLY&R

If you didn’t have this job, what would you be doing instead?
I would own a combo bookstore/wine shop where people could come and enjoy two of my favorite things.

Why did you choose this profession?
I would say this profession chose me. I studied to be an actor and made my living at it for several years, but due to some family issues, I ended up taking a break for a few years. When I came back, I went for a job interview at FCB and the rest is history. I made the move from agency producing to post executive producer five years ago and have not looked back since.

Can you briefly explain one or more ways Sarofsky is addressing the issue of workplace diversity in its business?
We are a smallish women-owned business, and I am a gay man; diversity is part of our DNA. We always look out for the best talent but also try to ensure we are providing opportunities for people who may not have access to them. For example, one of our amazing summer interns came to us through a program called Kaleidoscope 4 Kids, and we all benefited from the experience.

Name some recent projects you have worked on, which are you most proud of, and why?
My first week here at EP, we went to LA for the friends and family screening of Guardians of the Galaxy, and I thought, what an amazing company I work for! Marvel Studios is a terrific production partner, and I would say there is something special about so many of our clients because they keep coming back. I do have a soft spot for our main title for Animal Kingdom just because I am a big Ellen Barkin fan.

Original Bomb Pop via agency VMLY&R

Name three pieces of technology you can’t live without.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t say my MacBook and iPhone, but I also wouldn’t want to live without my cooking thermometer, as I’ve learned how to make sourdough bread this year, and it’s essential.

What social media channels do you follow?
I am a big fan of Instagram; it’s just visual eye candy and provides a nice break during the day. I don’t really partake in much else unless you count NPR. They occupy most of my day.

Do you listen to music while you work? Care to share your favorite music to work to?
I go in waves. Sometimes I do but then I won’t listen to anything for weeks. But I recently enjoyed listening to “Ladies and Gentleman: The Best of George Michael.” It was great to listen to an entire album, a rare treat.

What do you do to de-stress from it all?
I get up early and either walk or do some type of exercise to set the tone for the day. It’s also so important to unplug; my partner and I love to travel, so we do that as often as we can. All that and a 2006 Chateau Margaux usually washes away the day in two delicious sips.

Filmmaker Hasraf “HaZ” Dulull talks masterclass on sci-fi filmmaking

By Randi Altman

Hasraf “HaZ” Dulull is a producer/director and a hands-on VFX and post pro. His most recent credits include the features films 2036 Origin Unknown and The Beyond, the Disney TV series Fast Layne and the Disney Channel original movies Under the Sea — A Descendants Story, which takes place between Descendants 2 and 3. Recently, Dulull developed a masterclass on Sci-Fi Filmmaking, which can be bought or rented.

Why would this already very busy man decide to take on another project and one that is a little off his current path? Well, we reached out to find out.

Why, at this point in your career, did you think it was important to create this masterclass?
I have seen other masterclasses out there to do with filmmaking and they were always academic based, which turned me off. The best ones were the ones that were taught by actual filmmakers who had made commercial projects, films or TV shows… not just short films. So I knew that if I was to create and deliver a masterclass, I would do it after having made a couple of feature films that have been released out there in the world. I wanted to lead by example and experience.

When I was in LA explaining to studio people, executives and other filmmakers how I made my feature films, they were impressed and fascinated with my process. They were amazed that I was able to pull off high-concept sci-fi films on tight budgets and schedules but still produce a film that looked expensive to make.

When I was researching existing masterclasses or online courses as references, I found that no one was actually going through the entire process. Instead they were offering specialized training in either cinematography or VFX, but there wasn’t anything about how to break down a script and put a budget and schedule together; how to work with locations to make your film work; how to use visual effects smartly in production; how to prepare for marketing and delivering your film for distribution. None of these things were covered as a part of a general masterclass, so I set out to fill that void with my masterclass series.

Clearly this genre holds a special place in your heart. Can you talk about why?
I think it’s because the genre allows for so much creative freedom because sci-fi relies on world-building and imagination. Because of this freedom, it leads to some “out of this world” storytelling and visuals, but on the flip side it may influence the filmmaker to be too ambitious on a tight budget. This could lead to making cheap-looking films because of the over ambitious need to create amazing worlds. Not many filmmakers know how to do this in a fiscally sensible way and they may try to make Star Wars on a shoestring budget. So this is why I decided to use the genre of sci-fi in this masterclass to share my experience of smart filmmaking to achieve commercially successful results.

How did you decide on what topics to cover? What was your process?
I thought about the questions the people and studio executives were asking me when I was in those LA meetings, which pretty much boiled down to, “How did you put the movie together for that tight budget and schedule?” When answering that question, I ended up mapping out my process and the various stages and approaches I took in preproduction, production and post production, but also in the deliverables stage and marketing and distribution stage too. As an indie filmmaker, you really need to get a good grasp on that part to ensure your film is able to be released by the distributors and received commercially.

I also wanted each class/episode to have a variety of timings and not go more than around 10 minutes (the longest one is around 12 minutes, and the shortest is three minutes). I went with a more bite-sized approach to make the experience snappy, fun yet in-depth to allow the viewers to really soak in the knowledge. It also allows for repeat viewing.

Why was it important to teach these classes yourself?
I wanted it to feel raw and personal when talking about my experience of putting two sci-fi feature films together. Plus I wanted to talk about the constant problem solving, which is what filmmaking is all about. Teaching the class myself allowed me to get this all out of my system in my voice and style to really connect with the audience intimately.

Can you talk about what the experience will be like for the student?
I want the students to be like flies on the wall throughout the classes — seeing how I put those sci-fi feature films together. By the end of the series, I want them to feel like they have been on an entire production, from receiving a script to the releasing of the movie. The aim was to inspire others to go out and make their film. Or to instill confidence in those who have fears of making their film, or for existing filmmakers to learn some new tips and tricks because in this industry we are always learning on each project.

Why the rental and purchase options? What have most people been choosing?
Before I released it, one of the big factors that kept me up nights was how to make this accessible and affordable for everyone. The idea of renting is for those who can’t afford to purchase it but would love to experience the course. They can do so at a cut-down price but can only view within the 48-hour window. Whereas the purchase price is a little higher price-wise but you get to access it as many times as you like. It’s pretty much the same model as iTunes when you rent or buy a movie.

So far I have found that people have been buying more than renting, which is great, as this means audiences want to do repeat viewings of the classes.


Randi Altman is the founder and editor-in-chief of postPerspective. She has been covering production and post production for more than 20 years. 

Terminator: Dark Fate director Tim Miller

By Iain Blair

He said he’d be back, and he meant it. Thirty-five years after he first arrived to menace the world in the 1984 classic The Terminator, Arnold Schwarzenegger has returned as the implacable killing machine in Terminator: Dark Fate, the latest installment of the long-running franchise.

And he’s not alone in his return. Terminator: Dark Fate also reunites the film’s producer and co-writer James Cameron with original franchise star Linda Hamilton for the first time in 28 years in a new sequel that picks up where Terminator 2: Judgment Day left off.

When the film begins, more than two decades have passed since Sarah Connor (Hamilton) prevented Judgment Day, changed the future and re-wrote the fate of the human race. Now, Dani Ramos (Natalia Reyes) is living a simple life in Mexico City with her brother (Diego Boneta) and father when a highly advanced and deadly new Terminator — a Rev-9 (Gabriel Luna) — travels back through time to hunt and kill her. Dani’s survival depends on her joining forces with two warriors: Grace (Mackenzie Davis), an enhanced super-soldier from the future, and a battle-hardened Sarah Connor. As the Rev-9 ruthlessly destroys everything and everyone in its path on the hunt for Dani, the three are led to a T-800 (Schwarzenegger) from Sarah’s past that might be their last best hope.

To helm all the on-screen mayhem, black humor and visual effects, Cameron handpicked Tim Miller, whose credits include the global blockbuster Deadpool, one of the highest grossing R-rated films of all time (it grossed close to $800 million). Miller then assembled a close-knit team of collaborators that included director of photography Ken Seng (Deadpool, Project X), editor Julian Clarke (Deadpool, District 9) and visual effects supervisor Eric Barba (The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Oblivion).

Tim Miller on set

I recently talked to Miller about making the film, its cutting-edge VFX, the workflow and his love of editing and post.

How daunting was it when James Cameron picked you to direct this?
I think there’s something wrong with me because I don’t really feel fear as normal people do. It just manifests as a sense of responsibility, and with this I knew I’d never measure up to Jim’s movies but felt I could do a good job. Jim was never going to tell this story, and I wanted to see it, so it just became more about the weight of that sense of responsibility, but not in a debilitating way. I felt pretty confident I could carry this off. But later, the big anxiety was not to let down Linda Hamilton. Before I knew her, it wasn’t a thing, but later, once I got to know her I really felt I couldn’t mess it up (laughs).

This is still Cameron’s baby even though he handed over the directing to you. How hands-on was he?
He was busy with Avatar, but he was there for a lot of the early meetings and was very involved with the writing and ideas, which was very helpful thematically. But he wasn’t overbearing on all that. Then later when we shot, he wanted to write a few of the key scenes, which he did, and then in the edit he was in and out, but he never came into my edit room. He’d give notes and let us get on with it.

What sort of film did you set out to make?
A continuation of Sarah’s story. I never felt it was John’s story to me. It was always about a mother’s love for a son, and I felt like there was a real opportunity here. And that that story hadn’t been told — partly because the other sequels never had Linda. Once she wanted to come back, it was always the best possible story. No one else could be her or Arnold’s character.

Any surprises working with them?
Before we shot, people were telling me, “You got to be ready, we can’t mess around. When Arnold walks on set you’d better be rolling!” Sure enough, when he walked on he’d go, “And…” (Laughs) He really likes to joke around. With Linda — and the other actors — it was a love-fest. They’re both such nice, down-to-earth people, and I like a collegial atmosphere. I’m not a screamer. I’m very prepared, and I feel if you just show up on time, you’re already ahead of the game as a director.

What were the main technical challenges in pulling it all together?
They were all different for each big action set piece, and fitting it all into a schedule was tough, as we had a crazy amount of VFX. The C-5 plane sequence was far and away the biggest challenge to do and [SFX supervisor] Neil Corbould and his team designed and constructed all the effects rigs for the movie. The C-5 set was incredible, with two revolving sets, one vertical and one horizontal. It was so big you could put a bus in it, and it was able to rotate 360 degrees and tilt in either direction at the same time.

You just can’t simulate that reality of zero gravity on the actors. And then after we got it all in camera, which took weeks, our VFX guy Eric Barba finished it off. The other big one was the whole underwater scene, where the Humvee falls over the top of a dam and goes underwater as it’s swept down a river. For that, we put the Humvee on a giant scissor lift that could take it all the way under, so the water rushes in and fills it up. It’s really safe to do, but it feels frighteningly realistic for the actors.

This is only my second movie, so I’m still learning, but the advantage is I’m really willing to listen to any advice from the smart people around me on set on how best to do all this stuff.

How early on did you start integrating post and all the VFX?
Right from the start. I use previz a lot, as I come from that environment and I’m very comfortable with it, and that becomes the template for all of production to work from. Sometimes it’s too much of a template and treated like a bible, but I’m like, “Please keep thinking. Is there a better idea?” But it’s great to get everyone on the same page, so very early on you see what’s VFX, what’s live-action only, what’s a combination, and you can really plan your shoot. We did over 45 minutes of previz, along with storyboards. We did tons of postviz. My director’s cut had no blue/green at all. It was all postviz for every shot.

Tim Miller and Linda Hamilton

DP Ken Seng, who did Deadpool with you, shot it. Talk about how you collaborated on the look.
We didn’t really have time to plan shot lists that much since we moved so much and packed so much into every day. A lot of it was just instinctive run-and-gun, as the shoot was pretty grueling. We shot in Madrid and [other parts of] Spain, which doubled for Mexico. Then we did studio work in Budapest. The script was in flux a lot, and Jim wrote a few scenes that came in late, and I was constantly re-writing and tweaking dialogue and adjusting to the locations because there’s the location you think you’ll get and then the one you actually get.

Where did you post?
All at Blur, my company where we did Deadpool. The edit bays weren’t big enough for this though, so we spilled over into another building next door. That became Terminator HQ with the main edit bay and several assistant bays, plus all the VFX and compositing post teams. Blur also helped out with postviz and previz.

Do you like the post process?
I love post! I was an animator and VFX guy first, so it’s very natural to me, and I had a lot of the same team from Deadpool, which was great.

Talk about editing with Julian Clarke who cut Deadpool. How did that work?
It was the same set up. He’d be back here in LA cutting while we shot. He’s so fast; he’d be just one day behind me — I’ve never met anyone who works as hard. Then after the shoot, we’d edit all day and then I’d deal with VFX reviews for hours.

Can you talk about how Adobe Creative Cloud helped the post and VFX teams achieve their creative and technical goals?
I’m a big fan, and that started back on Deadpool as David Fincher was working closely with Adobe to make Premiere something that could beat Avid. We’re good friends — we’re doing our animated Netflix show Love, Death & Robots together — and he was like, “Dude, you gotta use this tool,” so we used it on Deadpool. It was still a little rocky on that one, but overall it was a great experience, and we knew we’d use it on this one. Adobe really helped refine it and the workflow, and it was a huge leap.

What were the big editing challenges?
(Laughs) We just shot too much movie. We had many discussions about cutting one or more of the action scenes, but in the end, we just took out some of the action from all of them, instead of cutting a particular set piece. But it’s tricky cutting stuff and still making it seamless, especially in a very heavily choreographed sequence like the C-5.

VFX plays a big role. How many were there?
Over 2,500 — a huge amount. The VFX on this were so huge it became a bit of a problem, to be honest.

L-R: Writer Iain Blair and director Tim Miller

How did you work with VFX supervisor Eric Barba.
He did a great job and oversaw all the vendors, including ILM, who did most of them. We tried to have them do all the character-based stuff, to keep it in one place, but in the end, we also had Digital Domain, Method, Blur, UPP, Cantina, and some others. We also brought on Jeff White from ILM since it was more than Eric could handle.

Talk about the importance of sound and music.
Tom Holkenborg, who scored Deadpool, did another great job. We also reteamed with sound design and mixer Craig Henighan and we did the mix at Fox. They’re both crucial in a film like this, but I’m the first to admit music’s not my strength. Luckily, Julian Clarke is excellent with that and very focused. He worked hard at pulling it all together. I love sound design and we talked about all the spotting, and Julian managed a lot of that too for me because I was so busy with the VFX.

Where did you do the DI and how important is it to you?
It’s huge, and we did it at Company 3 with Tim Stipan, who did Deadpool. I like to do a lot of reframing, adding camera shake and so on. It has a subtle but important effect on the overall film.


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.

Technicolor Post opens in Wales 

Technicolor has opened a new facility in Cardiff, Wales, within Wolf Studios. This expansion of the company’s post production footprint in the UK is a result of the growing demand for more high-quality content across streaming platforms and the need to post these projects, as well as the growth of production in Wales.

The facility is connected to all of Technicolor’s locations worldwide through the Technicolor Production Network, giving creatives easy access and to their projects no matter where they are shooting or posting.

The facility, an extension of Technicolor’s London operations, supports all Welsh productions and features a multi-purpose, state-of-the-art suite as well as space for VFX and front-end services including dailies. Technicolor Wales is working on Bad Wolf Production’s upcoming fantasy epic His Dark Materials, providing picture and sound services for the BBC/HBO show. Technicolor London’s recent credits include The Two Popes, The Souvenir, Chernobyl, Black Mirror, Gentleman Jack and The Spanish Princess.

Within this new Cardiff facility, Technicolor is offering 2K digital cinema projection, FilmLight Baselight color grading, realtime 4K HDR remote review, 4K OLED video monitoring, 5.1/7.1 sound, ADR recording/source connect, Avid Pro Tools sound mixing, dailies processing and Pulse cloud storage.

Bad Wolf Studios in Cardiff offers 125,000 square feet of stage space with five stages. There is flexible office space, as well as auxiliary rooms and costume and props storage. Its within

Rising Sun Pictures’ Anna Hodge talks VFX education and training

Based in Adelaide, South Australia, Rising Sun Pictures (RSP) has created stunning visual effects for films including Spider-Man: Far From Home, Captain Marvel, Thor: Ragnarok and Game of Thrones.

It also operates a visual effects training program in conjunction with the University of South Australia in which students learn such skills as compositing, tracking, effects, lighting, look development and modeling from working professionals. Thanks to this program, many students have landed jobs in the industry.

We recently spoke with RSP’s manager of training and education, Anna Hodge, about the school’s success.

Tell us about the education program at Rising Sun Pictures.
Rising Sun Pictures is an independently owned visual effects company. We’ve worked on more than 130 films, as well as commercials and streaming series, and we are very much about employing locals from South Australia. When this is not possible, we hire staff from interstate and overseas for key senior positions.

Our education program was established in 2015 in conjunction with the University of South Australia (UniSA) in order to directly feed our junior talent pool. We found there was a gap between traditional visual effects training and the skills young artists needed to hit the ground running in a studio.

How is the program structured?
We began with a single Graduate Certificate in Visual Effects program of 12 weeks duration that was designed for students coming out of vocational colleges and universities wanting to improve their skills and employability. Students apply through a portfolio process. The program accepts 10 students each term and are exposes them to Foundry Nuke and other visual effects software. They gain experience by working on shots from past movies and creating a short film.

The idea is to give them a true industry experience, develop a showreel in the process and gain a qualification through a prestigious university. Our students are exposed to the studio floor from day one. They attend RSP five days a week. They work in our training rooms and are immersed in the life of the company. We want them to feel as much a part of RSP as our regular employees.

Our program has grown to include two graduate certificate streams. The Graduate Certificate in Effects and Lighting and our first graduate certificate was rebadged into the Graduate Certificate of Compositing and Tracking. Both have been highly successful for our graduates acquiring employment post studies at RSP.

Anna Hodge and students

We also offer course work toward the university’s media arts degree. We teach two elective courses in the second year, specializing in modeling and texturing and look development and lighting. The university students attend RSP as part of their studies at UniSA. It gives them exposure to our artists, industry-type projects and expectations of the industry through workshop-based delivery.

In 2019, our education program expanded, and we introduced “visual effects specialization” as part of the media arts degree. Unlike any other degree, the students spend their entire last year of studies at RSP. They are integrated with the graduate certificate classes, and learning at RSP for the whole year enables them to build skills in both compositing and tracking and effects and lighting, making them highly skilled and desirable employees at the end of their studies.

What practical skills do students learn?
In the Media Arts Modeling and Texturing elective course, they are exposed to Maya and are introduced to Pixologic ZBrush. In the second semester, they can study look development and lighting and learn Substance Painter and how to light in SideFX Houdini.

Both degree and graduate certificate students in the dynamic effects and lighting course receive around nine weeks of Houdini training and then move onto lighting. Those in the compositing and tracking stream learn Nuke, as well as 3D Equalizer and Silhouette. All our degree and graduate certificate students are also exposed to Autodesk’s Shotgun. They learn the tools we use on the floor and apply them in the same workflow.

Skills are never taught in isolation. They learn how they fit into the whole movie-making process. Working on the short film project, run in conjunction with We Made a Thing Studios (WEMAT), students learn how to work collaboratively, take direction and gain other necessary skills required for working in a deadline-driven environment.

Where do your students come from?
We attract applications from South Australia. Over the past few years, applications from interstate and overseas have significantly increased. The benefit of our program is that it’s only 12-weeks long, so students can pick up the skills they require without a huge investment in time. There is strong growth of jobs in South Australia so they are often employed locally or sometimes return to their hometowns to gain employment.

What are the advantages of training in a working VFX studio?
Our training goes beyond simple software skills. Our students are taught by some of our best artists in the world and professionals who have been working in the industry for years. Students can walk around the studio, talk to and shadow artists, and attend a company staff meeting. We schedule what we call “Day in the Life Of” presentations so students can gain an understanding of the various roles that make up our company. Students hear from department heads, senior artists, producers and even juniors. They talk about their jobs and their pathways into the industry. They provide students with sound practical advice on how to improve their skills and present themselves. We also run sessions with recruiters, who share insights in building good resumes and showreels.

We are always trying to reinvent and improve what we do. I have one-on-ones with students to find out how they are doing and what we can do to improve their learning experience. We take feedback seriously. Our instructors are passionate artists and educators. Over time, I think we’ve built something quite unique and special at RSP.

How do you support your students in their transition from the program into the professional world?
We have an excellent relationship with recruiters at other visual effects companies in South Australia, interstate and globally, and we use those connections to help our students find work. A VFX company that opened in Brisbane recently hired two of our students and wants to hire more.

Of course, one reason we created the program was to meet our own need for juniors. So I work closely with our department heads to meet their needs. If a job lands and they have positions open, I will refer students for interviews. Many of our students stay in touch after they leave here. Our support doesn’t stop after 12 weeks. When former students add new material to their showreels, I encourage them to send them in and I forward them to the relevant heads of department. When one of our graduates secures his or hers first VFX job, it’s the best news. This really makes my day.

How do you see the program evolving over the next few years?
We are working on new initiatives with UniSA. Nothing to reveal yet, but I do expect our numbers to grow simply because our graduate results are excellent. Our employment rate is well above 70 percent. I spoke with someone yesterday who is looking to apply next year. She was at a recent film event and met a bunch of our graduates who raved about the programs they studied at RSP. Hearing that sort of thing is really exciting and something that we are really proud of.

RSP and UniSA are both mindful that when scaling up we don’t compromise on quality delivery. It is important to us that students consistently receive the same high-quality training and support regardless of class size.

Do you feel that visual effects offer a strong career path?
Absolutely. I am constantly contacted by recruiters who are looking to hire our graduates. I don’t foresee a lack of jobs, only a lack of qualified artists. We need to keep educating students to avoid a skill shortage. There has never been a better time to train for a career in visual effects.

De-aging John Goodman 30 years for HBO’s The Righteous Gemstones

For HBO’s original series The Righteous Gemstones, VFX house Gradient Effects de-aged John Goodman using its proprietary Shapeshifter tool, an AI-assisted tool that can turn back the time on any video footage. With Shapeshifter, Gradient sidestepped the Uncanny Valley to shave decades off Goodman for an entire episode, delivering nearly 30 minutes of film-quality VFX in six weeks.

In the show’s fifth episode, “Interlude,” viewers journey back to 1989, a time when the Gemstone empire was still growing and Eli’s wife, Aimee-Leigh, was still alive. But going back also meant de-aging Goodman for an entire episode, something never attempted before on television. Gradient accomplished it using Shapeshifter, which allows artists to “reshape” an individual frame and the performers in it and then extend those results across the rest of a shot.

Shapeshifter worked by first analyzing the underlying shape of Goodman’s face. It then extracted important anatomical characteristics, like skin details, stretching and muscle movements. With the extracted elements saved as layers to be reapplied at the end of the process, artists could start reshaping his face without breaking the original performance or footage. Artists could tweak additional frames in 3D down the line as needed, but they often didn’t need to, making the de-aging process nearly automated.

“Shapeshifter an entirely new way to de-age people,” says Olcun Tan, owner and visual effects supervisor at Gradient Effects. “While most productions are limited by time or money, we can turn around award-quality VFX on a TV schedule, opening up new possibilities for shows and films.”

Traditionally, de-aging work for film and television has been done in one of two ways: through filtering (saves time, but hard to scale) or CG replacements (better quality, higher cost), which can take six months to a year. Shapeshifter introduces a new method that not only preserves the actor’s original performance, but also interacts naturally with other objects in the scene.

“One of the first shots of ‘Interlude’ shows stage crew walking in front of John Goodman,” describes Tan. “In the past, a studio would have recommended a full CGI replacement for Goodman’s character because it would be too hard or take too much time to maintain consistency across the shot. With Shapeshifter, we can just reshape one frame and the work is done.”

This is possible because Shapeshifter continuously captures the face, including all of its essential details, using the source footage as its guide. With the data being constantly logged, artists can extract movement information from anywhere on the face whenever they want, replacing expensive motion-capture stages, equipment and makeup teams.

Director Ang Lee: Gemini Man and a digital clone

By Iain Blair

Filmmaker Ang Lee has always pushed the boundaries in cinema, both technically and creatively. His film Life of Pi, which he directed and produced, won four Academy Awards — for Best Direction, Best Cinematography, Best Visual Effects and Best Original Score.

Lee’s Brokeback Mountain won three Academy Awards, including Best Direction, Best Adapted Screenplay and Best Original Score. Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon was nominated for 10 Academy Awards and won four, including Best Foreign Language Film for Lee, Best Cinematography, Best Original Score and Best Art Direction/Set Decoration.

His latest, Paramount’s Gemini Man, is another innovative film, this time disguised as an action-thriller. It stars Will Smith in two roles — first, as Henry Brogan, a former Special Forces sniper-turned-assassin for a clandestine government organization; and second (with the assistance of ground-breaking visual effects) as “Junior,” a cloned younger version of himself with peerless fighting skills who is suddenly targeting him in a global chase. The chase takes them from the estuaries of Georgia to the streets of Cartagena and Budapest.

Rounding out the cast is Mary Elizabeth Winstead as Danny Zakarweski, a DIA agent sent to surveil Henry; Golden Globe Award-winner Clive Owen as Clay Verris, a former Marine officer now seeking to create his own personal military organization of elite soldiers; and Benedict Wong as Henry’s longtime friend, Baron.

Lee’s creative team included director of photography Dion Beebe (Memoirs of a Geisha, Chicago), production designer Guy Hendrix Dyas (Inception, Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull), longtime editor Tim Squyres (Life of Pi and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon) and composer Lorne Balfe (Mission: Impossible — Fallout, Terminator Genisys).

The groundbreaking visual effects were supervised by Bill Westenhofer, Academy Award-winner for Life of Pi as well as The Golden Compass, and Weta  Digital’s Guy Williams, an Oscar-nominee for The Avengers, Iron Man 3 and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.

Will Smith and Ang Lee on set

I recently talked to Lee — whose directing credits include Taking Woodstock, Hulk, Ride With the Devil, The Ice Storm and Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk — about making the film, which has already generated a lot of awards talk about its cutting-edge technology, the workflow and his love of editing and post.

Hollywood’s been trying to make this for over two decades now, but the technology just wasn’t there before. Now it’s finally here!
It was such a great idea, if you can visualize it. When I was first approached about it by Jerry Bruckheimer and David Ellison, they said, “We need a movie star who’s been around a long time to play Henry, and it’s an action-thriller and he’s being chased by a clone of himself,” and I thought the whole clone idea was so fascinating. I think if you saw a young clone version of yourself, you wouldn’t see yourself as special anymore. It would be, “What am I?” That also brought up themes like nature versus nurture and how different two people with the same genes can be. Then the whole idea of what makes us human? So there was a lot going on, a lot of great ideas that intrigued me. How does aging work and affect you? How would you feel meeting a younger version of yourself? I knew right away it had to be a digital clone.

You certainly didn’t make it easy for yourself as you also decided to shoot it in 120fps at 4K and in 3D.
(Laughs) You’re right, but I’ve been experimenting with new technology for the past decade, and it all started with Life of Pi. That was my first taste of 3D, and for 3D you really need to shoot digitally because of the need for absolute precision and accuracy in synchronizing the two cameras and your eyes. And you need a higher frame rate to get rid of the strobing effect and any strangeness. Then when you go to 120 frames per second, the image becomes so clear and far smoother. It’s like a whole new kind of moviemaking, and that’s fascinating to me.

Did you shoot native 3D?
Yes, even though it’s still so clumsy, and not easy, but for me it’s also a learning process on the set which I enjoy.

Junior

There’s been a lot of talk about digital de-aging use, especially in Scorsese’s The Irishman. But you didn’t use that technique for Will’s younger self, right?
Right. I haven’t seen The Irishman so I don’t know exactly what they did, but this was a total CGI creation, and it’s a lead character where you need all the details and performance. Maybe the de-aging is fine for a quick flashback, but it’s very expensive to do, and it’s all done manually. This was also quite hard to do, and there are two parts to it: Scientifically, it’s quite mind-boggling, and our VFX supervisor Bill Westenhofer and his team worked so hard at it, along with the Weta team headed by VFX supervisor Guy Williams. So did Will. But then the hardest part is dealing with audiences’ impressions of Junior, as you know in the back of your mind that a young Will Smith doesn’t really exist. Creating a fully digital believable human being has been one of the hardest things to do in movies, but now we can.

How early on did you start integrating post and all the VFX?
Before we even started anything, as we didn’t have unlimited money, a big part of the budget went to doing a lot of tests, new equipment, R&D and so on, so we had to be very careful about planning everything. That’s the only way you can reduce costs in VFX. You have to be a good citizen and very disciplined. It was a two-year process, and you plan and shoot layer by layer, and you have to be very patient… then you start making the film in post.

I assume you did a lot of previz?
(Laughs) A whole lot, and not only for all the obvious action scenes. Even for the non-action stuff, we designed and made the cartoons and did previz and had endless meetings and scouted and measured and so on. It was a lot of effort.

How tough was the shoot?
It was very tough and very slow. My last three movies have been like this since the technology’s all so new, so it’s a learning process as you’re figuring it all out as you go. No matter how much you plan, new stuff comes up all the time and equipment fails. It feels very fragile and very vulnerable sometimes. And we only had a budget for a regular movie, so we could only shoot for 80 days, and we were on three continents and places like Budapest and Cartagena as well as around Savannah in the US. Then I insist on doing all the second unit stuff as well, apart from a few establishing shots and sunsets. I have to shoot everything, so we had to plan very carefully with the sound team as every shot is a big deal.

Where did you post?
All in New York. We rented space at Final Frame, and then later we were at Harbor. The thing is, no lab could process our data since it was so huge, so when we were based in Savannah we just built our own technology base and lab so we could process all our dailies and so on — and we bought all our servers, computers and all the equipment needed. It was all in-house, and our technical supervisor Ben Gervais oversaw it all. It was too difficult to take all that to Cartagena, but we took it all to Budapest and then set it all up later in New York for post.

Do you like the post process?
I like the first half, but then it’s all about previews, getting notes, changing things. That part is excruciating. Although I have to give a lot of credit to Paramount as they totally committed to all the VFX quite early and put the big money there before they even saw a cut so we had time to do them properly.

Junior

Talk about editing with Tim Squyres. How did that work?
We sent him dailies. When I’m shooting, I just want to live in my dreams, unless something alarms me, and he’ll let me know. Otherwise, I prefer to work separately. But on this one, since we had to turn over some shots while we were shooting, he came to the set in Budapest, and we’d start post already, which was new to me. Before, I always liked to cut separately.

What were the big editing challenges?
Trying to put all the complex parts together, dealing with the rhythm and pace, going from quiet moments to things like the motorcycle chase scenes and telling the story as effectively as we could —all the usual things. In this medium, everything is more critical visually.

All the VFX play a big role. How many were there?
Over 1,000, but then Junior alone is a huge visual effect in every scene he’s in. Weta did all of him and complained that they got the hardest and most expensive part. (Laughs) The other, easier stuff was spread out to several companies, including Scanline and Clear Angle.

Ang Lee and Iain Blair

Talk about the importance of sound and music.
We did the mix at Harbor on its new stage, and it’s always so important. This time we did something new. Typically, you do Atmos at the final mix and mix the music along with all the rest, but our music editor did an Atmos mix on all the music first and then brought it to us for the final mix. That was very special.

Where did you do the DI and how important is it to you?
It’s huge on a movie like this. We set up our own DI suite in-house at Final Frame with the latest FilmLight Baselight, which is amazing. Our colorist Marcy Robinson had trained on it, and it was a lot easier than on the last film. Dion came in a lot and they worked together, and then I’d come in. We did a lot of work, especially on all the night scenes, enhancing moonlight and various elements.

I think the film turned out really well and looks great. When you have the combination of these elements like 3D, digital cinematography, high frame rate and high resolution, you really get “new immersive cinema.” So for me, it’s a new and different way of telling stories and processing them in your head. The funny thing is, personally I’m a very low-tech person, but I’ve been really pursuing this for the last few years.


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.

Foundry updates Nuke to version 12.0

Foundry has released Nuke 12.0, which introduces the next cycle of releases for the Nuke family. The Nuke 12.0 release brings improved interactivity and performance across the Nuke family, from additional GPU-enabled nodes for cleanup to a rebuilt playback engine in Nuke Studio and Hiero. Nuke 12.0 also sees the integration of GPU-accelerated tools integrated from Cara VR for camera solving, stitching and corrections and updates to the latest industry standards.

OpenEXR

New features of Nuke 12.0 include:
• UI interactivity and script loading – This release includes  a variety of optimizations throughout the software to improve performance, especially when working at scale. One key improvement offers a much smoother experience and noticeably maintains UI interactivity and reduced loading times when working in large scripts.
• Read and write performance – Nuke 12.0 includes focused improvement to OpenEXR read and write performance, including optimizations for several popular compression types (Zip1, Zip16, PIZ, DWAA, DWAB), improving render times and interactivity in scripts. Red and Sony camera formats also see additional GPU support.
• Inpaint and EdgeExtend – These GPU-accelerated nodes provide faster and more intuitive workflows for common tasks, with fine detail controls and contextual paint strokes.
• Grid Warp Tracker – Extending the Smart Vector toolset in NukeX, this node uses Smart Vectors to drive grids for match moving, warping and morphing images.
• Cara VR node integration – The majority of Cara VR’s nodes are now integrated into NukeX, including a suite of GPU-enabled tools for VR and stereo workflows and tools that enhance traditional camera solving and cleanup workflows.
• Nuke Studio, Hiero and HieroPlayer Playback – The timeline-based tools in the Nuke family see dramatic improvements in playback stability and performance as a result of a rebuilt playback engine optimized for the heavy I/O demands of color-managed workflows with multichannel EXRs.

HPA Awards name 2019 creative nominees

The HPA Awards Committee has announced the nominees for the creative categories for the 2019 HPA Awards. The HPA Awards honor outstanding achievement and artistic excellence by the individuals and teams who help bring stories to life. Launched in 2006, the HPA Awards recognize outstanding achievement in color grading, editing, sound and visual effects for work in episodic, spots and feature films.

The winners of the 14th Annual HPA Awards will be announced at a gala ceremony on November 21 at the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles.

The 2019 HPA Awards Creative Category nominees are:

Outstanding Color Grading – Theatrical Feature

-“First Man”

Natasha Leonnet // Efilm

-“Roma”

Steven J. Scott // Technicolor

-“Green Book”

Walter Volpatto // FotoKem

-“The Nutcracker and the Four Realms”

Tom Poole // Company 3

-“Us”

Michael Hatzer // Technicolor

-“Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse”

Natasha Leonnet // Efilm

 

Outstanding Color Grading – Episodic or Non-theatrical Feature

-“The Handmaid’s Tale – Liars”

Bill Ferwerda // Deluxe Toronto

-“The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel – Vote for Kennedy, Vote for Kennedy”

Steven Bodner // Light Iron

-“Game of Thrones – Winterfell”

Joe Finley // Sim, Los Angeles

-“I am the Night – Pilot”

Stefan Sonnenfeld // Company 3

-“Gotham – Legend of the Dark Knight: The Trial of Jim Gordon”

Paul Westerbeck // Picture Shop

-“The Man in the High Castle – Jahr Null”

Roy Vasich // Technicolor

 

Outstanding Color Grading – Commercial  

-Zara – “Woman Campaign Spring Summer 2019”

Tim Masick // Company 3

-Tiffany & Co. – “Believe in Dreams: A Tiffany Holiday”

James Tillett // Moving Picture Company

-Hennessy X.O. – “The Seven Worlds”

Stephen Nakamura // Company 3

-Palms Casino – “Unstatus Quo”

Ricky Gausis // Moving Picture Company

-Audi – “Cashew”

Tom Poole // Company 3

 

Outstanding Editing – Theatrical Feature

-“Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood”

Fred Raskin, ACE

-“Green Book”

Patrick J. Don Vito, ACE

-“Rolling Thunder Revue: A Bob Dylan Story by Martin Scorsese”

David Tedeschi, Damian Rodriguez

-“The Other Side of the Wind”

Orson Welles, Bob Murawski, ACE

-“A Star Is Born”

Jay Cassidy, ACE

 

Outstanding Editing – Episodic or Non-theatrical Feature (30 Minutes and Under)

“Russian Doll – The Way Out”

Todd Downing

-“Homecoming – Redwood”

Rosanne Tan, ACE

-“Veep – Pledge”

Roger Nygard, ACE

-“Withorwithout”

Jake Shaver, Shannon Albrink // Therapy Studios

-“Russian Doll – Ariadne”

Laura Weinberg

 

Outstanding Editing – Episodic or Non-theatrical Feature (Over 30 Minutes)

-“Stranger Things – Chapter Eight: The Battle of Starcourt”

Dean Zimmerman, ACE, Katheryn Naranjo

-“Chernobyl – Vichnaya Pamyat”

Simon Smith, Jinx Godfrey // Sister Pictures

-“Game of Thrones – The Iron Throne”

Katie Weiland, ACE

-“Game of Thrones – The Long Night”

Tim Porter, ACE

-“The Bodyguard – Episode One”

Steve Singleton

 

Outstanding Sound – Theatrical Feature

-“Godzilla: King of Monsters”

Tim LeBlanc, Tom Ozanich, MPSE // Warner Bros.

Erik Aadahl, MPSE, Nancy Nugent, MPSE, Jason W. Jennings // E Squared

-“Shazam!”

Michael Keller, Kevin O’Connell // Warner Bros.

Bill R. Dean, MPSE, Erick Ocampo, Kelly Oxford, MPSE // Technicolor

-“Smallfoot”

Michael Babcock, David E. Fluhr, CAS, Jeff Sawyer, Chris Diebold, Harrison Meyle // Warner Bros.

-“Roma”

Skip Lievsay, Sergio Diaz, Craig Henighan, Carlos Honc, Ruy Garcia, MPSE, Caleb Townsend

-“Aquaman”

Tim LeBlanc // Warner Bros.

Peter Brown, Joe Dzuban, Stephen P. Robinson, MPSE, Eliot Connors, MPSE // Formosa Group

 

Outstanding Sound – Episodic or Non-theatrical Feature

-“Chernobyl – 1:23:45”

Stefan Henrix, Stuart Hilliker, Joe Beal, Michael Maroussas, Harry Barnes // Boom Post

-“Deadwood: The Movie”

John W. Cook II, Bill Freesh, Mandell Winter, MPSE, Daniel Coleman, MPSE, Ben Cook, MPSE, Micha Liberman // NBC Universal

-“Game of Thrones – The Bells”

Tim Kimmel, MPSE, Onnalee Blank, CAS, Mathew Waters, CAS, Paula Fairfield, David Klotz

-“The Haunting of Hill House – Two Storms”

Trevor Gates, MPSE, Jason Dotts, Jonathan Wales, Paul Knox, Walter Spencer // Formosa Group

-“Homecoming – Protocol”

John W. Cook II, Bill Freesh, Kevin Buchholz, Jeff A. Pitts, Ben Zales, Polly McKinnon // NBC Universal

 

Outstanding Sound – Commercial 

-John Lewis & Partners – “Bohemian Rhapsody”

Mark Hills, Anthony Moore // Factory

Audi – “Life”

Doobie White // Therapy Studios

-Leonard Cheshire Disability – “Together Unstoppable”

Mark Hills // Factory

-New York Times – “The Truth Is Worth It: Fearlessness”

Aaron Reynolds // Wave Studios NY

-John Lewis & Partners – “The Boy and the Piano”

Anthony Moore // Factory

 

Outstanding Visual Effects – Theatrical Feature

-“Avengers: Endgame”

Matt Aitken, Marvyn Young, Sidney Kombo-Kintombo, Sean Walker, David Conley // Weta Digital

-“Spider-Man: Far From Home”

Alexis Wajsbrot, Sylvain Degrotte, Nathan McConnel, Stephen Kennedy, Jonathan Opgenhaffen // Framestore

-“The Lion King”

Robert Legato

Andrew R. Jones

Adam Valdez, Elliot Newman, Audrey Ferrara // MPC Film

Tom Peitzman // T&C Productions

-“Alita: Battle Angel”

Eric Saindon, Michael Cozens, Dejan Momcilovic, Mark Haenga, Kevin Sherwood // Weta Digital

-“Pokemon Detective Pikachu”

Jonathan Fawkner, Carlos Monzon, Gavin Mckenzie, Fabio Zangla, Dale Newton // Framestore

 

Outstanding Visual Effects – Episodic (Under 13 Episodes) or Non-theatrical Feature

-“Game of Thrones – The Long Night”

Martin Hill, Nicky Muir, Mike Perry, Mark Richardson, Darren Christie // Weta Digital

-“The Umbrella Academy – The White Violin”

Everett Burrell, Misato Shinohara, Chris White, Jeff Campbell, Sebastien Bergeron

-“The Man in the High Castle – Jahr Null”

Lawson Deming, Cory Jamieson, Casi Blume, Nick Chamberlain, William Parker, Saber Jlassi, Chris Parks // Barnstorm VFX

-“Chernobyl – 1:23:45”

Lindsay McFarlane

Max Dennison, Clare Cheetham, Steven Godfrey, Luke Letkey // DNEG

-“Game of Thrones – The Bells”

Steve Kullback, Joe Bauer, Ted Rae

Mohsen Mousavi // Scanline

Thomas Schelesny // Image Engine

 

Outstanding Visual Effects – Episodic (Over 13 Episodes)

-“Hawaii Five-O – Ke iho mai nei ko luna”

Thomas Connors, Anthony Davis, Chad Schott, Gary Lopez, Adam Avitabile // Picture Shop

-“9-1-1 – 7.1”

Jon Massey, Tony Pizadeh, Brigitte Bourque, Gavin Whelan, Kwon Choi // FuseFX

-“Star Trek: Discovery – Such Sweet Sorrow Part 2”

Jason Zimmerman, Ante Dekovic, Aleksandra Kochoska, Charles Collyer, Alexander Wood // CBS Television Studios

-“The Flash – King Shark vs. Gorilla Grodd”

Armen V. Kevorkian, Joshua Spivack, Andranik Taranyan, Shirak Agresta, Jason Shulman // Encore VFX

-“The Orville – Identity: Part II”

Tommy Tran, Kevin Lingenfelser, Joseph Vincent Pike // FuseFX

Brandon Fayette, Brooke Noska // Twentieth Century Fox TV

 

In addition to the nominations announced today, the HPA Awards will present a small number of special awards. Visual effects supervisor and creative Robert Legato (The Lion King, The Aviator, Hugo, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Titanic, Avatar) will receive the HPA Award for Lifetime Achievement.

Winners of the Engineering Excellence Award include Adobe, Epic Games, Pixelworks, Portrait Displays Inc. and LG Electronics. The recipient of the Judges Award for Creativity and Engineering, a juried honor, will be announced in the coming weeks. All awards will be bestowed at the HPA Awards gala.

For more information or to buy tickets to the 2019 HPA Awards, click here.

 

 

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.”

Flavor adds Joshua Studebaker as CG supervisor

Creative production house Flavor has added CG supervisor Joshua Studebaker to its Los Angeles studio. For more than eight years, Studebaker has been a freelance CG artist in LA, specializing in design, animation, dynamics, lighting/shading and compositing via Maya, Cinema 4D, Vray/Octane, Nuke and After Effects.

A frequent collaborator with Flavor and its brand and agency partners, Studebaker has also worked with Alma Mater, Arsenal FX, Brand New School, Buck, Greenhaus GFX, Imaginary Forces and We Are Royale in the past five years alone. In his new role with Flavor, Studebaker oversees visual effects and 3D services across the company’s global operations. Flavor’s Chicago, Los Angeles and Detroit studios offer color grading, VFX and picture finishing using tools like Autodesk Lustre and Flame Premium.

Flavor creative director Jason Cook also has a long history of working with Studebaker and deep respect for his talent. “What I love most about Josh is that he is both technical and a really amazing artist and designer. Adding him is a huge boon to the Flavor family, instantly elevating our production capabilities tenfold.”

Flavor has always emphasized creativity as a key ingredient, and according to Studebaker, that’s what attracted him. “I see Flavor as a place to grow my creative and design skills, as well as help bring more standardization to our process in house,” he explained. “My vision is to help Flavor become more agile and more efficient and to do our best work together.”

Visual Effects in Commercials: Chantix, Verizon

By Karen Moltenbrey

Once too expensive to consider for use in television commercials, visual effects soon found their way into this realm, enlivening and enhancing the spots. Today, countless commercials are using increasingly complex VFX to entertain, to explain and to elevate a message. Here, we examine two very different approaches to using effects in this way. In the Verizon commercial Helping Doctors Fight Cancer, augmented reality is transferred from a holographic medical application and fused into a heartwarming piece thanks to an extremely delicate production process. For the Chantix Turkey Campaign, digital artists took a completely different method, incorporating a stylized digital spokes-character — with feathers, nonetheless – into various scenes.

Verizon Helping Doctors Fight Cancer

The main goal of television advertisements — whether they are 15, 30 or 60 seconds in length — is to sell a product. Some do it through a direct sales approach. Some by “selling” a lifestyle or brand. And some opt to tell a story. Verizon took the latter approach for a campaign promoting its 5G Ultra Wideband.

Vico Sharabani

For the spot Helping Doctors Fight Cancer, directed by Christian Weber, Verizon adds a human touch to its technology through a compelling story illustrating how its 5G network is being used within a mixed-reality environment so doctors can better treat cancer patients. The 30-second commercial features surgeons and radiologists using high-fidelity holographic 3D anatomical renderings that can be viewed from every angle and even projected onto a person’s body for a more comprehensive examination, while the imagery can potentially be shared remotely in near real time. The augmented-reality application is from Medivis, a start-up medical visualization company that is using Verizon’s next-generation 5G wireless speeds to deliver the high speeds and low latencies necessary for the application’s large datasets and interactive frame rates.

The spot introduces video footage of patients undergoing MRIs and discussion by Medivis cofounder Dr. Osamah Choudhry about how treatment could be radically changed using the technology. Holographic medical imagery is then displayed showing the Medivis AR application being used on a patient.

“McGarryBowen New York, Verizon’s advertising agency, wanted to show the technology in the most accurate and the most realistic way possible. So, we studied the technology,” says Vico Sharabani, founder/COO of The-Artery, which was tasked with the VFX work in the spot. To this end, The Artery team opted to use as much of the actual holographic content as possible, pulling assets from the Medivis software and fusing it with other broadcast-quality content.

The-Artery is no stranger to augmented reality, virtual reality and mixed reality. Highly experienced in visual effects, Sharabani founded the company to solve business problems within the visual space across all platforms, from films to commercials to branding, and as such, alternate reality and story have been integral elements to achieving that goal. Nevertheless, the work required for this spot was difficult and challenging.

“It’s not just acquiring and melding together 3D assets,” says Sharabani. “The process is complex, and there are different ways to do it — some better than others. And the agency wanted it to be true to the real-life application. This was not something we could just illustrate in a beautiful way; it had to be very technically accurate.”

To this end, much of the holographic imagery consisted of actual 3D assets from the Medivis holographic AR system, captured live. At times, though, The Artery had to rework the imagery using multiple assets from the Medivis application, and other times the artists re-created the medical imagery in CG.

Initially, the ad agency expected that The-Artery would recreate all the digital assets in CG. But after learning as much as they could about the Medivis system, Sharabani and the team were confident they could export actual data for the spot. “There was much greater value to using actual data when possible, actual CT data,” says Sharabani. “Then you have the most true-to-life representation, which makes the story even more heartfelt. And because we were telling a true story about the capabilities of the network around a real application being used by doctors, any misrepresentation of the human anatomy or scans would hurt the message and intention of the campaign.”

The-Artery began developing a solution with technicians at Medivis to export actual imagery via the HoloLens headset that’s used by the medical staff to view and manipulate the holographic imagery, to coincide with the needs of the commercial. Sometimes this involved merely capturing the screen performance as the HoloLens was being used. Other times the assets from the Medivis system were rendered over a greenscreen without a background and later composited into a scene.

“We have the ability to shoot through the HoloLens, which was our base; we used that as our virtual camera whereby the output of the system is driven by the HoloLens. Every time we would go back to do a capture (if the edit changed or the camera position changed), we had to use the HoloLens as our virtual camera in order to get the proper camera angle,” notes Sharabani. Because the HoloLens is a stereoscopic device, The Artery always used the right-eye view for the representations, as it most closely reflected the experience of the user wearing the device.

Since the Medivis system is driven by the HoloLens, there is some shakiness present — an artifact the group retained in some of the shots to make it truer to life. “It’s a constant balance of how far we go with realism and at what point it is too distracting for the broadcast,” says Sharabani.

For imagery like the CT scans, the point cloud data was imported directly into Autodesk’s Maya, where it was turned into a 3D model. Other times the images were rendered out at 4K directly from the system. The Medivis imagery was later composited into the scenes using Autodesk’s Flame.

However, not every bit of imagery was extracted from the system. Some had to be re-created using a standard 3D pipeline. For instance, the “scan” of the actor’s skull was replicated by the artists so that the skull model matched perfectly with the holographic imagery that was overlaid in post production (since everyone’s skull proportions are different). The group began by creating the models in Maya and then composited the imagery within Autodesk’s Flame, along with a 3D bounding box of the creative implant.

The artists also replicated the Medivis UI in 3D to recreate and match the performance of the three-dimensional UI to the AI hand gestures by the person “using” the Medivis system in the spot — both of which were filmed separately. For the CG interface, the group used Autodesk’s Maya and Flame, as well as Adobe’s After Effects.

“The process was so integrated to the edit, we needed the proper 3D tracking and some of the assets to be built as a 3D screen element,” explains Sharabani. “It gave us more flexibility to build the 3D UI inside of Flame, enabling us to control it more quickly and easily when we changed a hand gesture or expanded the shots.”

With The-Artery’s experience pertaining to virtual technology, the team was quick to understand the limitations of the project using this particular equipment. Once that was established, however, they began to push the boundaries with small hacks that enabled them to achieve their goals of using actual holographic data to tell an amazing story.

Chantix “Turkey” Campaign

Chantix is medication to help smokers kick the habit. To get its message across in a series of television commercials, the drug maker decided to talk turkey, focusing the campaign on a CG turkey that, well, goes “cold turkey” with the assistance of Chantix.

A series of four spots — Slow Turkey, Camping, AC and Beach Day — prominently feature the turkey, created at The Mill. The spots were directed and produced in-house by Mill+, The Mill’s end-to-end production arm, with Jeffrey Dates directing.


L-R: John Montefusco, Dave Barosin and Scott Denton

“Each one had its own challenges,” says CG lead John Montefusco. Nevertheless, the initial commercial, Slow Turkey, presented the biggest obstacle: the build of the character from the ground up. “It was not only a performance feat, but a technical one as well,” he adds.

Effects artist Dave Barosin iterated Montefusco’s assessment of Slow Turkey, which, in addition to building the main asset from scratch, required the development of a feather system. Meanwhile, Camping and AC had the addition of clothing, and Beach Day presented the challenge of wind, water and simulation in a moving vehicle.

According to senior modeler Scott Denton, the team was given a good deal of creative freedom when crafting the turkey. The artists were presented with some initial sketches, he adds, but more or less had free rein in the creation of the look and feel of the model. “We were looking to tread the line between cartoony and realistic,” he says. The first iterations became very cartoony, but the team subsequently worked backward to where the character was more of a mix between the two styles.

The crew modeled the turkey using Autodesk’s Maya and Pixologic’s ZBrush. It was then textured within Adobe’s Substance and Foundry’s Mari. All the details of the model were hand-sculpted. “Nailing the look and feel was the toughest challenge. We went through a hundred iterations before getting to the final character you see in the commercial,” Denton says.

The turkey contains 6,427 body feathers, 94 flight feathers and eight scalp feathers. They were simulated using a custom feather setup built by the lead VFX artist within SideFX Houdini, which made the process more efficient. Proprietary tools also were used to groom the character.

The artists initially developed a concept sculpt in ZBrush of just the turkey’s head, which underwent numerous changes and versions before they added it to the body of the model. Denton then sculpted a posed version with sculpted feathers to show what the model might look like when posed, giving the client a better feel for the character. The artists later animated the turkey using Maya. Rendering was performed in Autodesk’s Arnold, while compositing was done within Foundry’s Nuke.

“Developing animation that holds good character and personality is a real challenge,” says Montefusco. “There’s a huge amount of evolution in the subtleties that ultimately make our turkey ‘the turkey.’”

For the most part, the same turkey model was used for all four spots, although the artists did adapt and change certain aspects — such as the skeleton and simulation meshes – for each as needed in the various scenarios.

For the turkey’s clothing (sweater, knitted vest, scarf, down vest, knitted cap, life vest), the group used Marvelous Designer 3D software for virtual clothes and fabrics, along with Maya and ZBrush. However, as Montefusco explains, tailoring for a turkey is far different than developing CG clothing for human characters. “Seeing as a lot of the clothes that were selected were knit, we really wanted to push the envelope and build the knit with geometry. Even though this made things a bit slower for our effects and lighting team, in the end, the finished clothing really spoke for itself.”

The four commercials also feature unique environments ranging from the interior and exterior of a home to a wooded area and beach. The artists used mostly plates for the environments, except for an occasional tent flap and chair replacement. The most challenging of these settings, says Montefusco, was the beach scene, which required full water replacement for the shot of the turkey on the paddle board.


Karen Moltenbrey is a veteran writer, covering visual effects and post production.

VFX in Features: Hobbs & Shaw, Sextuplets

By Karen Moltenbrey

What a difference a year makes. Then again, what a difference 30 years make. That’s about the time when the feature film The Abyss included photoreal CGI integrated with live action, setting a trend that continues to this day. Since that milestone many years ago, VFX wizards have tackled a plethora of complicated problems, including realistic hair and skin, resulting in realistic digital humans, as well as realistic water, fire and other elements. With each new blockbuster VFX film, digital artists continually raise the bar, challenging the status quo and themselves to elevate the art even further.

The visual effects in today’s feature films run the gamut from in-your-face imagery that can put you on the edge of your seat through heightened action to the kind that can make you laugh by amping up the comedic action. As detailed here, Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw takes the former approach, helping to carry out amazing stunts that are bigger and “badder” than ever. Opposite that is Sextuplets, which uses VFX to carry out a gag central to the film in a way that also pushes the envelope.

Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw

The Fast and the Furious film franchise, which has included eight features that collectively have amassed more than $5 billion worldwide since first hitting the road in 2001, is known for its high-octane action and visual effects. The latest installment, Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw, continues that tradition.

At the core of the franchise are next-level underground street racers who become reluctant fugitives pulling off big heists. Hobbs & Shaw, the first stand-alone vehicle, has Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham reprising their roles as loyal Diplomatic Security Service lawman Luke Hobbs and lawless former British operative Deckard Shaw, respectively. This comes after facing off in Furious 7 (2015) and then playing cat and mouse as Shaw tries to escape from prison and Hobbs tries to stop him in 2017’s The Fate of the Furious. (Hobbs first appeared in 2011’s Fast Five and became an ally to the gang. Shaw’s first foray was in 2013’s Fast & Furious 6.)

Now, in the latest installment, the pair are forced to join forces to hunt down anarchist Brixton Lorr (Idris Elba), who has control of a bio weapon. The trackers are hired separately to find Hattie, a rogue MI6 agent (who is also Shaw’s sister, a fact that initially eludes Hobbs) after she injects herself with the bio agent and is on the run, searching for a cure.

The Universal Pictures film is directed by David Leitch (Deadpool 2, Atomic Blonde). Jonathan Sela (Deadpool 2, John Wick) is DP, and visual effects supervisor is Dan Glass (Deadpool 2, Jupiter Ascending). A number of VFX facilities worked on the film, including key vendor DNeg along with other contributors such as Framestore.

DNeg delivered 1,000-plus shots for the film, including a range of vehicle-based action sequences set in different global locations. The work involved the creation of full digi-doubles and digi-vehicle duplicates for the death-defying stunts, jumps and crashes, as well as complex effects simulations and extensive digital environments. Naturally, all the work had to fit seamlessly alongside live-action stunts and photography from a director with a stunt coordinator pedigree and a keen eye for authentic action sequences. In all, the studio worked on 26 sequences divided among the Vancouver, London and Mumbai locations. Vancouver handled mostly the Chernobyl break-in and escape sequences, as well as the Samoa chase. London did the McLaren chase and the cave fight, as well as London chase sequences. The Mumbai team assisted its colleagues in Vancouver and London.

When you think of the Fast & Furious, the first thing that comes to mind are intense car chases, and according to Chris Downs, CG supervisor at DNeg Vancouver, the Chernobyl beat is essentially one long, giant car-and-motorcycle pursuit, describing it as “a pretty epic car chase.”

“We essential have Brixton chasing Shaw and Hattie, and then Shaw and Hattie are trying to catch up to a truck that’s being driven by Hobbs, and they end up on these utility ramps and pipes, using them almost as a roadway to get up and into the turbine rooms, onto the rooftops and then jump between buildings,” he says. “All the while, everyone is getting chased by these drones that Brixton is controlling.”

The Chernobyl sequences — the break-in and the escape — were the most challenging work on the film for DNeg Vancouver. The villain, Brixton, is using the Chernobyl nuclear power plant in Russia as the site of his hideaway, leading Hobbs and Shaw to secretly break into his secret lab underneath Chernobyl to locate a device Brixton has there — and then not-so-secretly break out.

The break-in was filmed at a location outside of London, at the decommissioned Eggborough coal-powered plant that served as a backdrop. To transform the locale into Chernobyl, DNeg augmented the site with cooling towers and other digital structures. Nevertheless, the artists also built an entire CG version of the site for the more extreme action, using photos of the actual Chernobyl as reference for their work. “It was a very intense build. We had artistic liberty, but it was based off of Chernobyl, and a lot of the buildings match the reference photography. It definitely maintained the feeling of a nuclear power plant,” says Downs.

Not only did the construction involve all the exteriors of the industrial complex around Chernobyl, but also an interior build of an “insanely complicated” turbine hall that the characters race through at one point.

The sequence required other environment work, too, as well as effects, digi-doubles and cloth sims for the characters’ flight suits and parachutes as they drop into the setting.

Following the break-in, Hobbs and Shaw are captured and tortured and then manage to escape from the lab just in time as the site begins to explode. For this escape sequence, the crew built a CG Chernobyl reactor and power station, automated drones, a digital chimney, an epic collapse of buildings, complex pyrotechnic clouds and burning material.

“The scope of the work, the amount of buildings and pipes, and the number of shots made this sequence our most difficult,” says Downs. “We were blowing it up, so all the buildings had to be effects-friendly as we’re crashing things through them.” Hobbs and Shaw commandeer vehicles as they try to outrun Brixton and the explosion, but Brixton and his henchmen give chase in a range of vehicles, including trucks, Range Rovers, motorcycles and more — a mix of CGI and practical with expert stunt drivers behind the wheel.

As expected for a Fast & Furious film, there’s a big variety of custom-built vehicles. Yet, for this scene and especially in Samoa, DNeg Vancouver crafted a range of CG vehicles, including motorcycles, SUVs, transport trucks, a flatbed truck, drones and a helicopter — 10 in all.

According to Downs, maintaining the appropriate wear and tear on the vehicles as the sequences progressed was not always easy. “Some are getting shot up, or something is blown up next to them, and you want to maintain the dirt and grime on an appropriate level,” he says. “And, we had to think of that wear and tear in advance because you need to build it into the model and the texture as you progress.”

The CG vehicles are mostly used for complex stunts, “which are definitely an 11 on the scale,” says Downs. Along with the CG vehicles, digi-doubles of the actors were also used for the various stunt work. “They are fairly straightforward, though we had a couple shots where we got close to the digi-doubles, so they needed to be at a high level of quality,” he adds. The Hattie digi-double proved the most difficult due to the hair simulation, which had to match the action on set, and the cloth simulation, which had to replicate the flow of her clothing.

“She has a loose sweater on during the Chernobyl sequence, which required some simulation to match the plate,” Downs adds, noting that the artists built the digi-doubles from scratch, using scans of the actors provided by production for quality checks.

The final beat of the Chernobyl escape comes with the chimney collapse. As the chase through Chernobyl progresses, Shaw tries to get Hattie to Hobbs, and Brixton tries to grab Hattie from Shaw. In the process, charges are detonated around the site, leading to the collapse of the main chimney, which just misses obliterating the vehicle they are all in as it travels down a narrow alleyway.

DNeg did a full environment build of the area for this scene, which included the entire alleyway and the chimney, and simulated the destruction of the chimney along with an explosive concussive force from the detonation. “There’s a large fireball at the beginning of the explosion that turns into a large volumetric cloud of dust that’s getting kicked up as the chimney is collapsing, and all that had to interact with itself,” Downs says of the scene. “Then, as the chimney is collapsing toward the end of the sequence, we had the huge chunks ripping through the volumetrics and kicking up more pyrotechnic-style explosions. As it is collapsing, it is taking out buildings along the way, so we had those blowing up and collapsing and interacting with our dust cloud, as well. It’s quite a VFX extravaganza.”

Adding to the chaos: The sequence was reshot. “We got new plates for the end of that escape sequence that we had to turn around in a month, so that was definitely a white-knuckle ride,” says Downs. “Thankfully we had already been working on a lot of the chimney collapse and had the Chernobyl build mostly filled in when word came in about the reshoot. But, just the amount of effects that went into it — the volumetrics, the debris and then the full CG environment in the background — was a staggering amount of very complex work.”

The action later turns from London at the start of the film, to Russia for the Chernobyl sequences, and then in the third act, to Samoa, home of the Hobbs family, as the main characters seek refuge on the island while trying to escape from Brixton. But Brixton soon catches up to them, and the last showdown begins amid the island’s tranquil setting with a shimmering blue ocean and green lush mountains. Some of the landscape is natural, some is man-made (sets) and some is CGI. To aid in the digital build of the Samoan environment, Glass traveled to the Hawaiian island of Kauai, where the filming took place, and took a good amount of reference footage.

For a daring chase in Samoa, the artists built out the cliff’s edge and sent a CG helicopter tumbling down the steep incline in the final battle with Brixton. In addition to creating the fully-digital Samoan roadside, CG cliff and 3D Black Hawk, the artists completed complex VFX simulations and destruction, and crafted high-tech combat drones and more for the sequence.

The helicopter proved to be the most challenging of all the vehicles, as it had a couple of hero moments when certain sections were fairly close to the camera. “We had to have a lot of model and texture detail,” Downs notes. “And then with it falling down the cliff and crash-landing onto the beach area, the destruction was quite tricky. We had to plan out which parts would be damaged the most and keep that consistent across the shots, and then go back in and do another pass of textures to support the scratches, dents and so forth.”

Meanwhile, DNeg London and Mumbai handled a number of sequences, among them the compelling McLaren chase, the CIA building descends and the final cave fight in Samoa. There were also a number of smaller sequences, for a total of approximately 750 shots.

One of the scenes in the film’s trailer that immediately caught fans’ attention was the McLaren escape/motorcycle transformation sequence, during which Hobbs, Shaw and Hattie are being chased by Brixton baddies on motorcycles through the streets of London. Shaw, behind the wheel of a McLaren 720S, tries to evade the motorbikes by maneuvering the prized vehicle underneath two crossing tractor trailer rigs, squeezing through with barely an inch to spare. The bad news for the trio: Brixton pulls an even more daring move, hopping off the bike while grabbing onto the back of it and then sliding parallel inches above the pavement as the bike zips under the road hazard practically on its side; once cleared, he pulls himself back onto the motorbike (in a memorable slow-motion stunt) and continues the pursuit thanks to his cybernetically altered body.

Chris Downs

According to Stuart Lashley, DNeg VFX supervisor, this sequence contained a lot of bluescreen car comps in which the actors were shot on stage in a McLaren rigged on a mechanical turntable. The backgrounds were shot alongside the stunt work in Glasgow (playing as London). In addition, there were a number of CG cars added throughout the sequence. “The main VFX set pieces were Hobbs grabbing the biker off his bike, the McLaren and Brixton’s transforming bike sliding under the semis, and Brixton flying through the double-decker bus,” he says. “These beats contained full-CG vehicles and characters for the most part. There was some background DMP [digital matte-painting] work to help the location look more like London. There were also a few shots of motion graphics where we see Brixton’s digital HUD through his helmet visor.”

As Lashley notes, it was important for the CG work to blend in with the surrounding practical stunt photography. “The McLaren itself had to hold up very close to the camera; it has a very distinctive look to its coating, which had to match perfectly,” he adds. “The bike transformation was a welcome challenge. There was a period of experimentation to figure out the mechanics of all the small moving parts while achieving something that looked cool at the same time.”

As exciting and complex as the McLaren scene is, Lashley believes the cave fight sequence following the helicopter/tractor trailer crash was perhaps even more of a difficult undertaking, as it had a particular VFX challenge in terms of the super slow-motion punches. The action takes place at a rock-filled waterfall location — a multi-story set on a 30,000-square-foot soundstage — where the three main characters battle it out. The film’s final sequence is a seamless blend of CG and live footage.

Stuart Lashley

“David [Leitch] had the idea that this epic final fight should be underscored by these very stylized, powerful impact moments, where you see all this water explode in very graphic ways,” explains Lashley. “The challenge came in finding the right balance between physics-based water simulation and creative stylization. We went through a lot of iterations of different looks before landing on something David and Dan [Glass] felt struck the right balance.”

The DNeg teams used a unified pipeline for their work, which includes Autodesk’s Maya for modeling, animation and the majority of cloth and hair sims; Foundry’s Mari for texturing; Isotropix’s Clarisse for lighting and rendering; Foundry’s Nuke for compositing; and SideFX’s Houdini for effects work, such as explosions, dust clouds, particulates and fire.

With expectations running high for Hobbs & Shaw, filmmakers and VFX artists once more delivered, putting audiences on the edge of their seats with jaw-dropping VFX work that shifted the franchise’s action into overdrive yet again. “We hope people have as much fun watching the result as we had making it. This was really an exercise in pushing everything to the max,” says Lashley, “often putting the physics book to one side for a bit and picking up the Fast & Furious manual instead.”

Sextuplets

When actor/comedian/screenwriter/film producer Marlon Wayans signed on to play the lead in the Netflix original movie Sextuplets, he was committing to a role requiring an extensive acting range. That’s because he was filling not one but seven different lead roles in the same film.

In Sextuplets, directed by Michael Tiddes, Wayans plays soon-to-be father Alan, who hopes to uncover information about his family history before his child’s arrival and sets out to locate his birth mother. Imagine Alan’s surprise when he finds out that he is part of “identical” sextuplets! Nevertheless, his siblings are about as unique as they come.

There’s Russell, the nerdy, overweight introvert and the only sibling not given up by their mother, with whom he lived until her recent passing. Ethan, meanwhile, is the embodiment of a 1970s pimp. Dawn is an exotic dancer who is in jail. Baby Pete is on his deathbed and needs a kidney. Jaspar is a villain reminiscent of Austin Powers’ Dr. Evil. Okay, that is six characters, all played by Wayans. Who is the seventh? (Spoiler alert: Wayans also plays their mother, who was simply on vacation and not actually dead as Russell had claimed.)

There are over 1,100 VFX shots in the movie. None, really, involved the transformation of the actor into the various characters — that was done using prosthetics, makeup, wigs and so forth, with slight digital touch-ups as needed. Instead, the majority of the effects work resulted from shooting with a motion-controlled camera and then compositing two (or more) of the siblings together in a shot. For Baby Pete, the artists also had to do a head replacement, comp’ing Wayans onto the body of a much smaller actor.

“We used quite a few visual effects techniques to pull off the movie. At the heart was motion control, [which enables precise control and repetition of camera movement] and allowed us to put multiple characters played by Marlon together in the scenes,” says Tiddes, who has worked with Wayans on multiple projects in the past, including A Haunted House.

The majority of shots involving the siblings were done on stage, filmed on bluescreen with a TechnoDolly for the motion control, as it is too impractical to fit the large rig inside an actual house for filming. “The goal was to find locations that had the exterior I liked [for those scenes] and then build the interior on set,” says Tiddes. “This gave me the versatility to move walls and use the TechnoDolly to create multiple layers so we could then add multiple characters into the same scene and interact together.”

According to Tiddes, the team approached exterior shots similarly to interior ones, with the added challenge of shooting the duplicate moments at the same time each day to get consistent lighting. “Don Burgess, the DP, was amazing in that sense. He was able to create almost exactly the same lighting elements from day to day,” he notes.

Michael Tiddes

So, whenever there was a scene with multiple Wayans characters, it would be filmed on back-to-back days with each of the characters. Tiddes usually started off with Alan, the straight man, to set the pace for the scene, using body doubles for the other characters. Next, the director would work out the shot with the motion control until the timing, composition and so forth was perfected. Then he would hit the Record button on the motion-control device, and the camera would repeat the same exact move over and over as many times as needed. The next day, the shot was replicated with the other character, and the camera would move automatically, and Wayans would have to hit the same marks at the same moment established on the first day.

“Then we’d do it again on the third day with another character. It’s kind of like building layers in Photoshop, and in the end, we would composite all those layers on top of each other for the final version,” explains Tiddes.

When one character would pass in front of another, it became a roto’d shot. Oftentimes a small bluescreen was set up on stage to allow for easier rotoscoping.

Image Engine was the main visual effects vendor on the film, with Bryan Jones serving as visual effects supervisor. The rotoscoping was done using a mix of SilhouetteFX’s Silhouette and Foundry’s Nuke, while compositing was mainly done using Nuke and Autodesk’s Flame.

Make no mistake … using the motion-controlled camera was not without challenges. “When you attack a scene, traditionally you can come in and figure out the blocking on the day [of the shoot],” says Tiddes. “With this movie, I had to previsualize all the blocking because once I put the TechnoDolly in a spot on the set, it could not move for the duration of time we shot in that location. It’s a large 13-foot crane with pieces of track that are 10 feet long and 4 feet wide.”

In fact, one of the main reasons Tiddes wanted to do the film was because of the visual effects challenges it presented. In past films where an actor played multiple characters in a scene, usually one character is on one side of the screen and the other character is on the other side, and a basic split-screen technique would have been used. “For me to do this film, I wanted to visually do it like no one else has ever done it, and that was accomplished by creating camera movement,” he explains. “I didn’t want to be constrained to only split-screen lock-off camera shots that would lack energy and movement. I wanted the freedom to block scenes organically, allowing the characters the flexibility to move through the room, with the opportunity to cross each other and interact together physically. By using motion control, by being able to re-create the same camera movement and then composite the characters into the scene, I was able to develop a different visual style than previous films and create a heightened sense of interactivity and interaction between two or multiple characters on the screen while simultaneously creating dynamic movement with the camera and invoking energy into the scene.”

At times, Gregg Wayans, Marlon’s nephew, served as his body double. He even appears in a very wide shot as one of the siblings, although that occurred only once. “At the end of the day, when the concept of the movie is about Marlon playing multiple characters, the perfectionist in me wanted Marlon to portray every single moment of these characters on screen, even when the character is in the background and out of focus,” says Tiddes. “Because there is only one Marlon Wayans, and no one can replicate what he does physically and comedically in the moment.”

Tiddes knew he would be challenged going into the project, but the process was definitely more complicated than he had initially expected — even with his VFX editorial background. “I had a really good starting point as far as conceptually knowing how to execute motion control. But, it’s not until you get into the moment and start working with the actors that you really understand and digest exactly how to pull off the comedic timing needed for the jokes with the visual effects,” he says. “That is very difficult, and every situation is unique. There was a learning curve, but we picked it up quickly, and I had a great team.”

A system was established that worked for Tiddes and Burgess, as well as Wayans, who had to execute and hit certain marks and look at proper eyelines with precise timing. “He has an earwig, and I am talking to him, letting him know where to look, when to look,” says Tiddes. “At the same time, he’s also hearing dialogue that he’s done the day before in his ear, and he’s reacting to that dialog while giving his current character’s lines in the moment. So, there’s quite a bit going on, and it all becomes more complex when you add the character and camera moving through the scene. After weeks of practice, in one of the final scenes with Jaspar, we were able to do 16 motion-controlled moments in that scene alone, which was a lot!”

At the very end of the film, the group tested its limits and had all six characters (mom and all the siblings, with the exception of Alan) gathered around a table. That scene was shot over a span of five days. “The camera booms down from a sign and pans across the party, landing on all six characters around a table. Getting that motion and allowing the camera to flow through the party onto all six of them seamlessly interacting around the table was a goal of mine throughout the project,” Tiddes says.

Other shots that proved especially difficult were those of Baby Pete in the hospital room, since the entire scene involved Wayans playing three additional characters who are also present: Alan, Russell and Dawn. And then they amped things up with the head replacement on Baby Pete. “I had to shoot the scene and then, on the same day, select the take I would use in the final cut of the movie, rather than select it in post, where traditionally I could pick another take if that one was not working,” Tiddes adds. “I had to set the pace on the first day and work things out with Marlon ahead of time and plan for the subsequent days — What’s Dawn going to say? How is Russell going to react to what Dawn says? You have to really visualize and previsualize all the ad-libbing that was going on and work it out right there in the moment and discuss it, to have kind of a loose plan, then move forward and be confident that you have enough time between lines to allow room for growth when a joke just comes out of nowhere. You don’t want to stifle that joke.”

While the majority of effects involved motion control, there is a scene that contains a good amount of traditional effects work. In it, Alan and Russell park their car in a field to rest for the night, only to awake the next morning to find they have inadvertently provoked a bull, which sees red, literally — both from Alan’s jacket and his shiny car. Artists built the bull in CG. (They used Maya and Side Effects Houdini to build the 3D elements and rendered them in Autodesk’s Arnold.) Physical effects were then used to lift the actual car to simulate the digital bull slamming into the vehicle. In some shots of the bull crashing into the car doors, a 3D car was used to show the doors being damaged.

In another scene, Russell and Alan catch a serious amount of air when they crash through a barn, desperately trying to escape the bull. “I thought it would be hilarious if, in that moment, cereal exploded and individual pieces flew wildly through the car, while [the cereal-obsessed] Russell scooped up one of the cereal pieces mid-air with his tongue for a quick snack,” says Tiddes. To do this, “I wanted to create a zero-gravity slow-motion moment. We shot the scene using a [Vision Research] high-speed Phantom camera at 480fps. Then in post, we created the cereal as a CG element so I could control how every piece moved in the scene. It’s one of my favorite VFX/comedy moments in the movie.”

As Tiddes points out, Sextuplets was the first project on which he used motion control, which let him create motion with the camera and still have the characters interact, giving the subconscious feeling they were actually in the room with one another. “That’s what made the comedy shine,” he says.


Karen Moltenbrey is a veteran writer/editor covering VFX and post production.

Mavericks VFX provides effects for Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale

By Randi Altman

Season 3 episodes of Hulu’s The Handmaid’s Tale are available for streaming, and if you had any illusions that things would lighten up a bit for June (Elizabeth Moss) and the ladies of Gilead, I’m sorry to say you will be disappointed. What’s not disappointing is that, in addition to the amazing acting and storylines, the show’s visual effects once again play a heavy role.

Brendan Taylor

Toronto’s Mavericks VFX has created visual effects for all three seasons of the show, based on Margaret Atwood’s dystopian view of the not-too-distant future. Its work has earned two Emmy nominations.

We recently reached out to Maverick’s founder and visual effects supervisor, Brendan Taylor, to talk about the new season and his workflow.

How early did you get involved in each season? What sort of input did you have regarding the shots?
The Handmaid’s Tale production is great because they involve us as early as possible. Back in Season 2, when we had to do the Fenway Park scene, for example, we were in talks in August but didn’t shoot until November. For this season, they called us in August for the big fire sequence in Episode 1, and the scene was shot in December.

There’s a lot of nice leadup and planning that goes into it. Our opinions are sought after and we’re able to provide input on what’s the best methodology to use to achieve a shot. Showrunner Bruce Miller, along with the directors, have a way of how they’d like to see it, and they’re great at taking in our recommendations. It was very collaborative and we all approach the process with “what’s best for the show” in mind.

What are some things that the showrunners asked of you in terms of VFX? How did they describe what they wanted?
Each person has a different approach. Bruce speaks in story terms, providing a broader sense of what he’s looking for. He gave us the overarching direction of where he wants to go with the season. Mike Barker, who directed a lot of the big episodes, speaks in more specific terms. He really gets into the details, determining the moods of the scene and communicating how each part should feel.

What types of effects did you provide? Can you give examples?
Some standout effects were the CG smoke in the burning fire sequence and the aftermath of the house being burned down. For the smoke, we had to make it snake around corners in a believable yet magical way. We had a lot of fire going on set, and we couldn’t have any actors or stunt person near it due to the size, so we had to line up multiple shots and composite it together to make everything look realistic. We then had to recreate the whole house in 3D in order to create the aftermath of the fire, with the house being completely burned down.

We also went to Washington, and since we obviously couldn’t destroy the Lincoln Memorial, we recreated it all in 3D. That was a lot of back and forth between Bruce, the director and our team. Different parts of Lincoln being chipped away means different things, and Bruce definitely wanted the head to be off. It was really fun because we got to provide a lot of suggestions. On top of that, we also had to create CGI handmaids and all the details that came with it. We had to get the robes right and did cloth simulation to match what was shot on set. There were about a hundred handmaids on set, but we had to make it look like there were thousands.

Were you able to reuse assets from last season for this one?
We were able to use a handmaids asset from last season, but it needed a lot of upgrades for this season. Because there were closer shots of the handmaids, we had to tweak it and made sure little things like the texture, shaders and different cloth simulations were right for this season.

Were you on set? How did that help?
Yes, I was on set, especially for the fire sequences. We spent a lot of time talking about what’s possible and testing different ways to make it happen. We want it to be as perfect as possible, so I had to make sure it was all done properly from the start. We sent another visual effects supervisor, Leo Bovell, down to Washington to supervise out there as well.

Can you talk about a scene or scenes where being on set played a part in doing something either practical or knowing you could do it in CG?
The fire sequence with the smoke going around the corner took a lot of on-set collaboration. We had tried doing it practically, but the smoke was moving too fast for what we wanted, and there was no way we could physically slow it down.

Having the special effects coordinator, John MacGillivray, there to give us real smoke that we could then match to was invaluable. In most cases on this show, very few audible were called. They want to go into the show knowing exactly what to expect so we were prepared and ready.

Can you talk about turnaround time? Typically, series have short ones. How did that affect how you worked?
The average turnaround time was eight weeks. We began discussions in August, before shooting, and had to delivery by January. We worked with Mike to simplify things without diminishing the impact. We just wanted to make sure we had the chance to do it well given the time we had. Mike was very receptive in asking what we needed to do to make it the best it could be in the timeframe that we had. Take the fire sequence, for example. We could have done full-CGI fire but that would have taken six months. So we did our research and testing to find the most efficient way to merge practical effects with CGI and presented the best version in a shorter period of time.

What tools were used?
We used Foundry Nuke for compositing. We used Autodesk Maya to build all the 3D houses, including the burned-down house, and to destroy the Lincoln Memorial. Then we used Side Effects Houdini to do all the simulations, which can range from the smoke and fire to crowd and cloth.

Is there a shot that you are most proud of or that was very challenging?
The shot where we reveal the crowd over June when we’re in Washington was incredibly challenging. The actual Lincoln Memorial, where we shot, is an active public park, so we couldn’t prevent people from visiting the site. The most we could do was hold them off for a few minutes. We ended up having to clean out all of the tourists, which is difficult with moving camera and moving people. We had to reconstruct about 50% of the plate. Then, in order to get the CG people to be standing there, we had to create a replica of the ground they’re standing on in CG. There were some models we got from the US Geological Society, but they didn’t completely line up, so we had to make a lot of decisions on the fly.

The cloth simulation in that scene was perfect. We had to match the dampening and the movement of all the robes. Stephen Wagner, who is our effects lead on it, nailed it. It looked perfect, and it was really exciting to see it all come together. It looked seamless, and when you saw it in the show, nobody believed that the foreground handmaids were all CG. We’re very proud.

What other projects are you working on?
We’re working on a movie called Queen & Slim by Melina Matsoukas with Universal. It’s really great. We’re also doing YouTube Premium’s Impulse and Netflix’s series Madam C.J. Walker.


Randi Altman is the founder and editor-in-chief of postPerspective. She has been covering production and post production for more than 20 years. 

Visual Effects Roundtable

By Randi Altman

With Siggraph 2019 in our not-too-distant rearview mirror, we thought it was a good time to reach out to visual effects experts to talk about trends. Everyone has had a bit of time to digest what they saw. Users are thinking what new tools and technologies might help their current and future workflows. Manufacturers are thinking about how their products will incorporate these new technologies.

We provided these experts with questions relating to realtime raytracing, the use of game engines in visual effects workflows, easier ways to share files and more.

Ben Looram, partner/owner, Chapeau Studios
Chapeau Studios provides production, VFX/animation, design and creative IP development (both for digital content and technology) for all screens.

What film inspired you to work in VFX?
There was Ray Harryhausen’s film Jason and the Argonauts, which I watched on TV when I was seven. The skeleton-fighting scene has been visually burned into my memory ever since. Later in life I watched an artist compositing some tough bluescreen shots on a Quantel Henry in 1997, and I instantly knew that that was going to be in my future.

What trends have you been seeing? USD? Rendering in the cloud? What do you feel is important?
Double the content for half the cost seems to be the industry’s direction lately. This is coming from new in-house/client-direct agencies that sometimes don’t know what they don’t know … so we help guide/teach them where it’s OK to trim budgets or dedicate more funds for creative.

Are game engines affecting how you work, or how you will work in the future?
Yes, rendering on device and all the subtle shifts in video fidelity shifted our attention toward game engine technology a couple years ago. As soon as the game engines start to look less canned and have accurate depth of field and parallax, we’ll start to integrate more of those tools into our workflow.

Right now we have a handful of projects in the forecast where we will be using realtime game engine outputs as backgrounds on set instead of shooting greenscreen.

What about realtime raytracing? How will that affect VFX and the way you work?
We just finished an R&D project with Intel’s new raytracing engine OSPRay for Siggraph. The ability to work on a massive scale with last-minute creative flexibility was my main takeaway. This will allow our team to support our clients’ swift changes in direction with ease on global launches. I see this ingredient as really exciting for our creative tech devs moving into 2020. Proof of concept iterations will become finaled faster, and we’ve seen efficiencies in lighting, render and compositing effort.

How have ML/AI affected your workflows, if at all?
None to date, but we’ve been making suggestions for new tools that will make our compositing and color correction process more efficient.

The Uncanny Valley. Where are we now?
Still uncanny. Even with well-done virtual avatar influencers on Instagram like Lil Miquela, we’re still caught with that eerie feeling of close-to-visually-correct with a “meh” filter.

Apple

Can you name some recent projects?
The Rookie’s Guide to the NFL. This was a fun hybrid project where we mixed CG character design with realtime rendering voice activation. We created an avatar named Matthew for the NFL’s Amazon Alexa Skills store that answers your football questions in real time.

Microsoft AI: Carlsberg and Snow Leopard. We designed Microsoft’s visual language of AI on multiple campaigns.

Apple Trade In campaign: Our team concepted, shot and created an in-store video wall activation and on-all-device screen saver for Apple’s iPhone Trade In Program.

 

Mac Moore, CEO, Conductor
Conductor is a secure cloud-based platform that enables VFX, VR/AR and animation studios to seamlessly offload rendering and simulation workloads to the public cloud.

What are some of today’s VFX trends? Is cloud playing an even larger role?
Cloud is absolutely a growing trend. I think for many years the inherent complexity and perceived cost of cloud has limited adoption in VFX, but there’s been a marked acceleration in the past 12 months.

Two years ago at Siggraph, I was explaining the value of elastic compute and how it perfectly aligns with the elastic requirements that define our project-based industry; this year there was a much more pragmatic approach to cloud, and many of the people I spoke with are either using the cloud or planning to use it in the near future. Studios have seen referenceable success, both technically and financially, with cloud adoption and are now defining cloud’s role in their pipeline for fear of being left behind. Having a cloud-enabled pipeline is really a game changer; it is leveling the field and allowing artistic talent to be the differentiation, rather than the size of the studio’s wallet (and its ability to purchase a massive render farm).

How are game engines changing how VFX are done? Is this for everyone or just a select few?
Game engines for VFX have definitely attracted interest lately and show a lot of promise in certain verticals like virtual production. There’s more work to be done in terms of out-of-the-box usability, but great strides have been made in the past couple years. I also think various open source initiatives and the inherent collaboration those initiatives foster will help move VFX workflows forward.

Will realtime raytracing play a role in how your tool works?
There’s a need for managing the “last mile,” even in realtime raytracing, which is where Conductor would come in. We’ve been discussing realtime assist scenarios with a number of studios, such as pre-baking light maps and similar applications, where we’d perform some of the heavy lifting before assets are integrated in the realtime environment. There are certainly benefits on both sides, so we’ll likely land in some hybrid best practice using realtime and traditional rendering in the near future.

How do ML/AI and AR/VR play a role in your tool? Are you supporting OpenXR 1.0? What about Pixar’s USD?
Machine learning and artificial intelligence are critical for our next evolutionary phase at Conductor. To date we’ve run over 250 million core-hours on the platform, and for each of those hours, we have a wealth of anonymous metadata about render behavior, such as the software run, duration, type of machine, etc.

Conductor

For our next phase, we’re focused on delivering intelligent rendering akin to ride-share app pricing; the goal is to provide producers with an upfront cost estimate before they submit the job, so they have a fixed price that they can leverage for their bids. There is also a rich set of analytics that we can mine, and those analytics are proving invaluable for studios in the planning phase of a project. We’re working with data science experts now to help us deliver this insight to our broader customer base.

AR/VR front presents a unique challenge for cloud, due to the large size and variety of datasets involved. The rendering of these workloads is less about compute cycles and more about scene assembly, so we’re determining how we can deliver more of a whole product for this market in particular.

OpenXR and USD are certainly helping with industry best practices and compatibility, which build recipes for repeatable success, and Conductor is collaborating on creating those guidelines for success when it comes to cloud computing with those standards.

What is next on the horizon for VFX?
Cloud, open source and realtime technologies are all disrupting VFX norms and are converging in a way that’s driving an overall democratization of the industry. Gone are the days when you need a pile of cash and a big brick-and-mortar building to house all of your tech and talent.

Streaming services and new mediums, along with a sky-high quality bar, have increased the pool of available VFX work, which is attracting new talent. Many of these new entrants are bootstrapping their businesses with cloud, standards-based approaches and geographically dispersed artistic talent.

Conductor recently became a fully virtual company for this reason. I hire based on expertise, not location, and today’s technology allows us to collaborate as if we are in the same building.

 

Aruna Inversin, creative director/VFX supervisor, Digital Domain 
Digital Domain has provided visual effects and technology for hundreds of motion pictures, commercials, video games, music videos and virtual reality experiences. It also livestreams events in 360-degree virtual reality, creates “virtual humans” for use in films and live events, and develops interactive content, among other things.

What film inspired you to work in VFX?
RoboCop in 1984. The combination of practical effects, miniatures and visual effects inspired me to start learning about what some call “The Invisible Art.”

What trends have you been seeing? What do you feel is important?
There has been a large focus on realtime rendering and virtual production and using it to help increase the throughput and workflow of visual effects. While indeed realtime rendering does increase throughput, there is now a greater onus on filmmakers to plan their creative ideas and assets before you can render them. No longer is it truly post production, but we are back into the realm of preproduction, using post tools and realtime tools to help define how a story is created and eventually filmed.

USD and cloud rendering are also important components, which allow many different VFX facilities the ability to manage their resources effectively. I think another trend that has since passed and has gained more traction is the availability of ACES and a more unified color space by the Academy. This allows quicker throughput between all facilities.

Are game engines affecting how you work or how you will work in the future?
As my primary focus is in new media and experiential entertainment at Digital Domain, I already use game engines (cinematic engines, realtime engines) for the majority of my deliverables. I also use our traditional visual effects pipeline; we have created a pipeline that flows from our traditional cinematic workflow directly into our realtime workflow, speeding up the development process of asset creation and shot creation.

What about realtime raytracing? How will that affect VFX and the way you work?
The ability to use Nvidia’s RTX and raytracing increases the physicality and realistic approximations of virtual worlds, which is really exciting for the future of cinematic storytelling in realtime narratives. I think we are just seeing the beginnings of how RTX can help VFX.

How have AR/VR and AI/ML affected your workflows, if at all?
Augmented reality has occasionally been a client deliverable for us, but we are not using it heavily in our VFX pipeline. Machine learning, on the other hand, allows us to continually improve our digital humans projects, providing quicker turnaround with higher fidelity than competitors.

The Uncanny Valley. Where are we now?
There is no more uncanny valley. We have the ability to create a digital human with the nuance expected! The only limitation is time and resources.

Can you name some recent projects?
I am currently working on a Time project but I cannot speak too much about it just yet. I am also heavily involved in creating digital humans for realtime projects for a number of game companies that wish to push the boundaries of storytelling in realtime. All these projects have a release date of 2020 or 2021.

 

Matt Allard, strategic alliances lead, M&E, Dell Precision Workstations
Dell Precision workstations feature the latest processors and graphics technology and target those working in the editing studio or at a drafting table, at the office or on location.

What are some of today’s VFX trends?
We’re seeing a number of trends in VFX at the moment — from 4K mastering from even higher-resolution acquisition formats and an increase in HDR content to game engines taking a larger role on set in VFX-heavy productions. Of course, we are also seeing rising expectations for more visual sophistication, complexity and film-level VFX, even in TV post (for example, Game of Thrones).

Will realtime raytracing play a role in how your tools work?
We expect that Dell customers will embrace realtime and hardware-accelerated raytracing as creative, cost-saving and time-saving tools. With the availability of Nvidia Quadro RTX across the Dell Precision portfolio, including on our 7000 series mobile workstations, customers can realize these benefits now to deliver better content wherever a production takes them in the world.

Large-scale studio users will not only benefit from the freedom to create the highest-quality content faster, but they’ll likely see overall impact to their energy consumption as they assess the move from CPU rendering, which dominates studio data centers today. Moving toward GPU and hybrid CPU/GPU rendering approaches can offer equal or better rendering output with less energy consumption.

How are game engines changing how VFX are done? Is this for everyone or just a select few?
Game engines have made their way into VFX-intensive productions to deliver in-context views of the VFX during the practical shoot. With increasing quality driven by realtime raytracing, game engines have the potential to drive a master-quality VFX shot on set, helping to minimize the need to “fix it in post.”

What is next on the horizon for VFX?
The industry is at the beginning of a new era as artificial intelligence and machine learning techniques are brought to bear on VFX workflows. Analytical and repetitive tasks are already being targeted by major software applications to accelerate or eliminate cumbersome elements in the workflow. And as with most new technologies, it can result in improved creative output and/or cost savings. It really is an exciting time for VFX workflows!

Ongoing performance improvements to the computing infrastructure will continue to accelerate and democratize the highest-resolution workflows. Now more than ever, small shops and independents can access the computing power, tools and techniques that were previously available only to top-end studios. Additionally, virtualization techniques will allow flexible means to maximize the utilization and proliferation of workstation technology.

 

Carl Flygare, manager, Quadro Marketing, PNY
Providing tools for realtime raytracing, augmented reality and virtual reality with the goal of advancing VFX workflow creativity and productivity. PNY is NVIDIA’s Quadro channel partner throughout North America, Latin America, Europe and India..

How will realtime raytracing play a role in workflows?
Budgets are getting tighter, timelines are contracting, and audience expectations are increasing. This sounds like a perfect storm, in the bad sense of the term, but with the right tools, it is actually an opportunity.

Realtime raytracing, based on Nvidia’s RTX technology and support from leading ISVs, enables VFX shops to fit into these new realities while delivering brilliant work. Whiteboarding a VFX workflow is a complex task, so let’s break it down by categories. In preproduction, specifically previz, realtime raytracing will let VFX artists present far more realistic and compelling concepts much earlier in the creative process than ever before.

This extends to the next phase, asset creation and character animation, in which models can incorporate essentially lifelike nuance, including fur, cloth, hair or feathers – or something else altogether! Shot layout, blocking, animation, simulation, lighting and, of course, rendering all benefit from additional iterations, nuanced design and the creative possibilities that realtime raytracing can express and realize. Even finishing, particularly compositing, can benefit. Given the applicable scope of realtime raytracing, it will essentially remake VFX workflows and overall film pipelines, and Quadro RTX series products are the go-to tools enabling this revolution.

How are game engines changing how VFX is done? Is this for everyone or just a select few?
Variety had a great article on this last May. ILM substituted realtime rendering and five 4K laser projectors for a greenscreen shot during a sequence from Solo: A Star Wars Story. This allowed the actors to perform in context — in this case, a hyperspace jump — but also allowed cinematographers to capture arresting reflections of the jump effect in the actors’ eyes. Think of it as “practical digital effects” created during shots, not added later in post. The benefits are significant enough that the entire VFX ecosystem, from high-end shops and major studios to independent producers, are using realtime production tools to rethink how movies and TV shows happen while extending their vision to realize previously unrealizable concepts or projects.

Project Sol

How do ML and AR play a role in your tool? And are you supporting OpenXR 1.0? What about Pixar’s USD?
Those are three separate but somewhat interrelated questions! ML (machine learning) and AI (artificial intelligence) can contribute by rapidly denoising raytraced images in far less time than would be required by letting a given raytracing algorithm run to conclusion. Nvidia enables AI denoising in Optix 5.0 and is working with a broad array of leading ISVs to bring ML/AI enhanced realtime raytracing techniques into the mainstream.

OpenXR 1.0 was released at Siggraph 2019. Nvidia (among others) is supporting this open, royalty-free and cross-platform standard for VR/AR. Nvidia is now providing VR enhancing technologies, such as variable rate shading, content adaptive shading and foveated rendering (among others), with the launch of Quadro RTX. This provides access to the best of both worlds — open standards and the most advanced GPU platform on which to build actual implementations.

Pixar and Nvidia have collaborated to make Pixar’s USD (Universal Scene Description) and Nvidia’s complementary MDL (Materials Definition Language) software open source in an effort to catalyze the rapid development of cinematic quality realtime raytracing for M&E applications.

Project Sol

What is next on the horizon for VFX?
The insatiable desire on the part of VFX professionals, and audiences, to explore edge-of-the-envelope VFX will increasingly turn to realtime raytracing, based on the actual behavior of light and real materials, increasingly sophisticated shader technology and new mediums like VR and AR to explore new creative possibilities and entertainment experiences.

AI, specifically DNNs (deep neural networks) of various types, will automate many repetitive VFX workflow tasks, allowing creative visionaries and artists to focus on realizing formerly impossible digital storytelling techniques.

One obvious need is increasing the resolution at which VFX shots are rendered. We’re in a 4K world, but many films are finished at 2K, primarily based on VFX. 8K is unleashing the abilities (and changing the economics) of cinematography, so expect increasingly powerful realtime rendering solutions, such as Quadro RTX (and successor products when they come to market), along with amazing advances in AI, to allow the VFX community to innovate in tandem.

 

Chris Healer, CEO/CTO/VFX supervisor, The Molecule 
Founded in 2005, The Molecule creates bespoke VFX imagery for clients worldwide. Over 80 artists, producers, technicians and administrative support staff collaborate at our New York City and Los Angeles studios.

What film or show inspired you to work in VFX?
I have to admit, The Matrix was a big one for me.

Are game engines affecting how you work or how you will work?
Game engines are coming, but the talent pool is difficult and the bridge is hard to cross … a realtime artist doesn’t have the same mindset as a traditional VFX artist. The last small percentage of completion on a shot can invalidate any values gained by working in a game engine.

What about realtime raytracing?
I am amazed at this technology, and as a result bought stock in Nvidia, but the software has to get there. It’s a long game, for sure!

How have AR/VR and ML/AI affected your workflows?
I think artists are thinking more about how images work and how to generate them. There is still value in a plain-old four-cornered 16:9 rectangle that you can make the most beautiful image inside of.

AR,VR, ML, etc., are not that, to be sure. I think there was a skip over VR in all the hype. There’s way more to explore in VR, and that will inform AR tremendously. It is going to take a few more turns to find a real home for all this.

What trends have you been seeing? Cloud workflows? What else?
Everyone is rendering in the cloud. The biggest problem I see now is lack of a UBL model that is global enough to democratize it. UBL = usage-based licensing. I would love to be able to render while paying by the second or minute at large or small scales. I would love for Houdini or Arnold to be rentable on a Satoshi level … that would be awesome! Unfortunately, it is each software vendor that needs to provide this, which is a lot to organize.

The Uncanny Valley. Where are we now?
We saw in the recent Avengers film that Mark Ruffalo was in it. Or was he? I totally respect the Uncanny Valley, but within the complexity and context of VFX, this is not my battle. Others have to sort this one out, and I commend the artists who are working on it. Deepfake and Deeptake are amazing.

Can you name some recent projects?
We worked on Fosse/Verdon, but more recent stuff, I can’t … sorry. Let’s just say I have a lot of processors running right now.

 

Matt Bach and William George, lab technicians, Puget Systems 
Puget Systems specializes in high-performance custom-built computers — emphasizing each customer’s specific workflow.

Matt Bach

William George

What are some of today’s VFX trends?
Matt Bach: There are so many advances going on right now that it is really hard to identify specific trends. However, one of the most interesting to us is the back and forth between local and cloud rendering.

Cloud rendering has been progressing for quite a few years and is a great way to get a nice burst in rendering performance when you are  in a crunch. However, there have been high improvements in GPU-based rendering with technology like Nvidia Optix. Because of these, you no longer have to spend a fortune to have a local render farm, and even a relatively small investment in hardware can often move the production bottleneck away from rendering to other parts of the workflow. Of course, this technology should make its way to the cloud at some point, but as long as these types of advances keep happening, the cloud is going to continue playing catch-up.

A few other that we are keeping our eyes on are the growing use of game engines, motion capture suits and realtime markerless facial tracking in VFX pipelines.

Realtime raytracing is becoming more prevalent in VFX. What impact does realtime raytracing have on system hardware, and what do VFX artists need to be thinking about when optimizing their systems?
William George: Most realtime raytracing requires specialized computer hardware, specifically video cards with dedicated raytracing functionality. Raytracing can be done on the CPU and/or normal video cards as well, which is what render engines have done for years, but not quickly enough for realtime applications. Nvidia is the only game in town at the moment for hardware raytracing on video cards with its RTX series.

Nvidia’s raytracing technology is available on its consumer (GeForce) and professional (Quadro) RTX lines, but which one to use depends on your specific needs. Quadro cards are specifically made for this kind of work, with higher reliability and more VRAM, which allows for the rendering of more complex scenes … but they also cost a lot more. GeForce, on the other hand, is more geared toward consumer markets, but the “bang for your buck” is incredibly high, allowing you to get several times the performance for the same cost.

In between these two is the Titan RTX, which offers very good performance and VRAM for its price, but due to its fan layout, it should only be used as a single card (or at most in pairs, if used in a computer chassis with lots of airflow).

Another thing to consider is that if you plan on using multiple GPUs (which is often the case for rendering), the size of the computer chassis itself has to be fairly large in order to fit all the cards, power supply, and additional cooling needed to keep everything going.

How are game engines changing or impacting VFX workflows?
Bach: Game engines have been used for previsualization for a while, but we are starting to see them being used further and further down the VFX pipeline. In fact, there are already several instances where renders directly captured from game engines, like Unity or Unreal, are being used in the final film or animation.

This is getting into speculation, but I believe that as the quality of what game engines can produce continues to improve, it is going to drastically shake up VFX workflows. The fact that you can make changes in real time, as well as use motion capture and facial tracking, is going to dramatically reduce the amount of time necessary to produce a highly polished final product. Game engines likely won’t completely replace more traditional rendering for quite a while (if ever), but it is going to be significant enough that I would encourage VFX artists to at least familiarize themselves with the popular engines like Unity or Unreal.

What impact do you see ML/AI and AR/VR playing for your customers?
We are seeing a lot of work being done for machine learning and AI, but a lot of it is still on the development side of things. We are starting to get a taste of what is possible with things like Deepfakes, but there is still so much that could be done. I think it is too early to really tell how this will affect VFX in the long term, but it is going to be exciting to see.

AR and VR are cool technologies, but it seems like they have yet to really take off, in part because designing for them takes a different way of thinking than traditional media, but also in part because there isn’t one major platform that’s an overwhelming standard. Hopefully, that is something that gets addressed over time, because once creative folks really get a handle on how to use the unique capabilities of AR/VR to their fullest, I think a lot of neat stories will be told.

What is the next on the horizon for VFX?
Bach: The sky is really the limit due to how fast technology and techniques are changing, but I think there are two things in particular that are going to be very interesting to see how they play out.

First, we are hitting a point where ethics (“With great power comes great responsibility” and all that) is a serious concern. With how easy it is to create highly convincing Deepfakes of celebrities or other individuals, even for someone who has never used machine learning before, I believe that there is the potential of backlash from the general public. At the moment, every use of this type of technology has been for entertainment or otherwise rightful purposes, but the potential to use it for harm is too significant to ignore.

Something else I believe we will start to see is “VFX for the masses,” similar to how video editing used to be a purely specialized skill, but now anyone with a camera can create and produce content on social platforms like YouTube. Advances in game engines, facial/body tracking for animated characters and other technologies that remove a number of skills and hardware barriers for relatively simple content are going to mean that more and more people with no formal training will take on simple VFX work. This isn’t going to impact the professional VFX industry by a significant degree, but I think it might spawn a number of interesting techniques or styles that might make their way up to the professional level.

 

Paul Ghezzo, creative director, Technicolor Visual Effects
Technicolor and its family of VFX brands provide visual effects services tailored to each project’s needs.

What film inspired you to work in VFX?
At a pretty young age, I fell in love with Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope and learned about the movie magic that was developed to make those incredible visuals come to life.

What trends have you been seeing? USD? Rendering in the cloud? What do you feel is important?
USD will help structure some of what we currently do, and cloud rendering is an incredible source to use when needed. I see both of them maturing and being around for years to come.

As for other trends, I see new methods of photogrammetry and HDRI photography/videography providing datasets for digital environment creation and capturing lighting content; performance capture (smart 2D tracking and manipulation or 3D volumetric capture) for ease of performance manipulation or layout; and even post camera work. New simulation engines are creating incredible and dynamic sims in a fraction of the time, and all of this coming together through video cards streamlining the creation of the end product. In many ways it might reinvent what can be done, but it might take a few cutting-edge shows to embrace and perfect the recipe and show its true value.

Production cameras tethered to digital environments for live set extensions are also coming of age, and with realtime rendering becoming a viable option, I can imagine that it will only be a matter of time for LED walls to become the new greenscreen. Can you imagine a live-action set extension that parallaxes, distorts and is exposed in the same way as its real-life foreground? How about adding explosions, bullet hits or even an armada of spaceships landing in the BG, all on cue. I imagine this will happen in short order. Exciting times.

Are game engines affecting how you work or how you will work in the future?
Game engines have affected how we work. The speed and quality that they offer is undoubtably a game changer, but they don’t always create the desired elements and AOVs that are typically needed in TV/film production.

They are also creating a level of competition that is spurring other render engines to be competitive and provide a similar or better solution. I can imagine that our future will use Unreal/Unity engines for fast turnaround productions like previz and stylized content, as well as for visualizing virtual environments and digital sets as realtime set extensions and a lot more.

Snowfall

What about realtime raytracing? How will that affect VFX and the way you work?
GPU rendering has single-handedly changed how we render and what we render with. A handful of GPUs and a GPU-accelerated render engine can equal or surpass a CPU farm that’s several times larger and much more expensive. In VFX, iterations equal quality, and if multiple iterations can be completed in a fraction of the time — and with production time usually being finite — then GPU-accelerated rendering equates to higher quality in the time given.

There are a lot of hidden variables to that equation (change of direction, level of talent provided, work ethics, hardware/software limitations, etc.), but simply said, if you can hit the notes as fast as they are given, and not have to wait hours for a render farm to churn out a product, then clearly the faster an iteration can be provided the more iterations can be produced, allowing for a higher-quality product in the time given.

How have AR or ML affected your workflows, if at all?
ML and AR haven’t significantly affected our current workflows yet … but I believe they will very soon.

One aspect of AR/VR/MR that we occasionally use in TV/film production is to previz environments, props and vehicles, which allows everyone in production and on set/location to see what the greenscreen will be replaced with, which allows for greater communication and understanding with the directors, DPs, gaffers, stunt teams, SFX and talent. I can imagine that AR/VR/MR will only become more popular as a preproduction tool, allowing productions to front load and approve all aspects of production way before the camera is loaded and the clock is running on cast and crew.
Machine learning is on the cusp of general usage, but it currently seems to be used by productions with lengthy schedules that will benefit from development teams building those toolsets. There are tasks that ML will undoubtably revolutionize, but it hasn’t affected our workflows yet.

The Uncanny Valley. Where are we now?
Making the impossible possible … That *is* what we do in VFX. Looking at everything from Digital Emily in 2011 to Thanos and Hulk in Avengers: Endgame, we’ve seen what can be done, and the Uncanny Valley will likely remain, but only on productions that can’t afford the time or cost of flawless execution.

Can you name some recent projects?
Big Little Lies, Dead to Me, NOS4A2, True Detective, Veep, This Is Us, Snowfall, The Loudest Voice, and Avengers: Endgame.

 

James Knight, virtual production director, AMD 
AMD is a semiconductor company that develops computer processors and related technologies for M&E as well as other markets. Its tools include Ryzen and Threadripper.

What are some of today’s VFX trends?
Well, certainly the exploration for “better, faster, cheaper” keeps going. Faster rendering, so our community can accomplish more iterations in a much shorter amount of time, seems to something I’ve heard the whole time I’ve been in the business.

I’d surely say the virtual production movement (or on-set visualization) is gaining steam, finally. I work with almost all the major studios in my role, and all of them, at a minimum, have the ability to speed up post and blend it with production on their radar; many have virtual production departments.

How are game engines changing how VFX are done? Is this for everyone or just a select few?
I would say game engines are where most of the innovation comes from these days. Think about Unreal, for example. Epic pioneered Fortnite, and the revenue from that must be astonishing, and they’re not going to sit on their hands. The feature film and TV post/VFX business benefits from the requirement of the gaming consumer to see higher-resolution, more photorealistic images in real time. That gets passed on to our community in eliminating guess work on set when framing partial or completely CG shots.

It should be for everyone or most, because the realtime and post production time savings are rather large. I think many still have a personal preference for what they’re used to. And that’s not wrong, if it works for them, obviously that’s fine. I just think that even in 2019, use of game engines is still new to some … which is why it’s not completely ubiquitous.

How do ML or AR play a role in your tool? Are you supporting OpenXR 1.0? What about Pixar’s USD?
Well, it’s more the reverse. With our new Rome and Threadripper CPUs, we’re powering AR. Yes, we are supporting OpenXR 1.0.

What is next on the horizon for VFX?
Well, the demand for VFX is increasing, not the opposite, so the pursuit of faster photographic reality is perpetually in play. That’s good job security for me at a CPU/GPU company, as we have a way to go to properly bridge the Uncanny Valley completely, for example.

I’d love to say lower-cost CG is part of the future, but then look at the budgets of major features — they’re not exactly falling. The dance of Moore’s law will forever be in effect more than likely, with momentary huge leaps in compute power — like with Rome and Threadripper — catching amazement for a period. Then, when someone sees the new, expanded size of their sandpit, they then fill that and go, “I now know what I’d do if it was just a bit bigger.”

I am vested and fascinated by the future of VFX, but I think it goes hand in hand with great storytelling. If we don’t have great stories, then directing and artistry innovations don’t properly get noticed. Look at the top 20 highest grossing films in history … they’re all fantasy. We all want to be taken away from our daily lives and immersed in a beautiful, realistic VFX intense fictional world for 90 minutes, so we’ll be forever pushing the boundaries of rigging, texturing, shading, simulations, etc. To put my finger on exactly what’s next, I’d say I happen to know of a few amazing things that are coming, but sadly, I’m not at liberty to say right now.

 

Michel Suissa, managing director of pro solutions, The Studio-B&H 
The Studio-B&H provides hands-on experience to high-end professionals. Its Technology Center is a fully operational studio with an extensive display of high-end products and state-of-the-art workflows.

What are some of today’s VFX trends?
AI, ML, NN (GAN) and realtime environments

Will realtime raytracing play a role in how the tools you provide work?
It already does with most relevant applications in the market.

How are game engines changing how VFX are done? Is this for everyone or just a select few?
The ubiquity of realtime game engines is becoming more mainstream with every passing year. It is becoming fairly accessible to a number of disciplines within different market targets.

What is next on the horizon for VFX?
New pipeline architectures that will rely on different implementations (traditional and AI/ML/NN) and mixed infrastructures (local and cloud-based).

What trends have you been seeing? USD? Rendering in the cloud? What do you feel is important?
AI, ML and realtime environments. New cloud toolsets. Prominence of neural networks and GANs. Proliferation of convincing “deepfakes” as a proof of concept for the use of generative networks as resources for VFX creation.

What about realtime raytracing? How will that affect VFX workflows?
RTX is changing how most people see their work being done. It is also changing expectations about what it takes to create and render CG images.



The Uncanny Valley. Where are we now?
AI and machine learning will help us get there. Perfection still remains too costly. The amount of time and resources required to create something convincing is prohibitive for the large majority of the budgets.

 

Marc Côté, CEO, Real by Fake 
Real by Fake services include preproduction planning, visual effects, post production and tax-incentive financing.

What film or show inspired you to work in VFX?
George Lucas’ Star Wars and Indiana Jones (Raiders of the Lost Ark). For Star Wars, I was a kid and I saw this movie. It brought me to another universe. Star Wars was so inspiring even though I was too young to understand what the movie was about. The robots in the desert and the spaceships flying around. It looked real; it looked great. I was like, “Wow, this is amazing.”

Indiana Jones because it was a great adventure; we really visit the worlds. I was super-impressed by the action, by the way it was done. It was mostly practical effects, not really visual effects. Later on I realized that in Star Wars, they were using robots (motion control systems) to shoot the spaceships. And as a kid, I was very interested in robots. And I said, “Wow, this is great!” So I thought maybe I could use my skills and what I love and combine it with film. So that’s the way it started.

What trends have you been seeing? What do you feel is important?
The trend right now is using realtime rendering engines. It’s coming on pretty strong. The game companies who build engines like Unity or Unreal are offering a good product.

It’s bit of a hack to use these tools in rendering or in production at this point. They’re great for previz, and they’re great for generating realtime environments and realtime playback. But having the capacity to change or modify imagery with the director during the process of finishing is still not easy. But it’s a very promising trend.

Rendering in the cloud gives you a very rapid capacity, but I think it’s very expensive. You also have to download and upload 4K images, so you need a very big internet pipe. So I still believe in local rendering — either with CPUs or GPUs. But cloud rendering can be useful for very tight deadlines or for small companies that want to achieve something that’s impossible to do with the infrastructure they have.

My hope is that AI will minimize repetition in visual effects. For example, in keying. We key multiple sections of the body, but we get keying errors in plotting or transparency or in the edges, and they are all a bit different, so you have to use multiple keys. AI would be useful to define which key you need to use for every section and do it automatically and in parallel. AI could be an amazing tool to be able to make objects disappear by just selecting them.

Pixar’s USD is interesting. The question is: Will the industry take it as a standard? It’s like anything else. Kodak invented DPX, and it became the standard through time. Now we are using EXR. We have different software, and having exchange between them will be great. We’ll see. We have FBX, which is a really good standard right now. It was built by Filmbox, a Montreal company that was acquired by Autodesk. So we’ll see. The demand and the companies who build the software — they will be the ones who take it up or not. A big company like Pixar has the advantage of other companies using it.

The last trend is remote access. The internet is now allowing us to connect cross-country, like from LA to Montreal or Atlanta. We have a sophisticated remote infrastructure, and we do very high-quality remote sessions with artists who work from disparate locations. It’s very secure and very seamless.

What about realtime raytracing? How will that affect VFX and the way you work?
I think we have pretty good raytracing compared to what we had two years ago. I think it’s a question of performance, and of making it user-friendly in the application so it’s easy to light with natural lighting. To not have to fake the rebounds so you can get two or three rebounds. I think it’s coming along very well and quickly.

Sharp Objects

So what about things like AI/ML or AR/VR? Have those things changed anything in the way movies and TV shows are being made?
My feeling right now is that we are getting into an era where I don’t think you’ll have enough visual effects companies to cover the demand.

Every show has visual effects. It can be a complete character, like a Transformer, or a movie from the Marvel Universe where the entire film is CG. Or it can be the huge number of invisible effects that are starting to appear in virtually every show. You need capacity to get all this done.

AI can help minimize repetition so artists can work more on the art and what is being created. This will accelerate and give us the capacity to respond to what’s being demanded of us. They want a faster cheaper product, and they want the quality to be as high as a movie.

The only scenario where we are looking at using AR is when we are filming. For example, you need to have a good camera track in real time, and then you want to be able to quickly add a CGI environment around the actors so the director can make the right decision in terms of the background or interactive characters who are in the scene. The actors will not see it until they have a monitor or a pair of glasses or something to be able to give them the result.

So AR is a tool to be able to make faster decisions when you’re on set shooting. This is what we’ve been working on for a long time: bringing post production and preproduction together. To have an engineering department who designs and conceptualizes and creates everything that needs to be done before shooting.

The Uncanny Valley. Where are we now?
In terms of the environment, I think we’re pretty much there. We can create an environment that nobody will know is fake. Respectfully, I think our company Real by Fake is pretty good at doing it.

In terms of characters, I think we’re still not there. I think the game industry is helping a lot to push this. I think we’re on the verge of having characters look as close as possible to live actors, but if you’re in a closeup, it still feels fake. For mid-ground and long shots, it’s fine. You can make sure nobody will know. But I don’t think we’ve crossed the valley just yet.

Can you name some recent projects?
Big Little Lies and Sharp Objects for HBO, Black Summer for Netflix
and Brian Banks, an indie feature.

 

Jeremy Smith, CTO, Jellyfish Pictures
Jellyfish Pictures provides a range of services including VFX for feature film, high-end TV and episodic animated kids’ TV series and visual development for projects spanning multiple genres.

What film or show inspired you to work in VFX?
Forrest Gump really opened my eyes to how VFX could support filmmaking. Seeing Tom Hanks interact with historic footage (e.g., John F. Kennedy) was something that really grabbed my attention, and I remember thinking, “Wow … that is really cool.”

What trends have you been seeing? What do you feel is important?
The use of cloud technology is really empowering “digital transformation” within the animation and VFX industry. The result of this is that there are new opportunities that simply wouldn’t have been possible otherwise.

Jellyfish Pictures uses burst rendering into the cloud, extending our capacity and enabling us to take on more work. In addition to cloud rendering, Jellyfish Pictures were early adopters of virtual workstations, and, especially after Siggraph this year, it is apparent to see that this is the future for VFX and animation.

Virtual workstations promote a flexible and scalable way of working, with global reach for talent. This is incredibly important for studios to remain competitive in today’s market. As well as the cloud, formats such as USD are making it easier to exchange data with others, which allow us to work in a more collaborative environment.

It’s important for the industry to pay attention to these, and similar, trends, as they will have a massive impact on how productions are carried out going forward.
Are game engines affecting how you work, or how you will work in the future?

Game engines are offering ways to enhance certain parts of the workflow. We see a lot of value in the previz stage of the production. This allows artists to iterate very quickly and helps move shots onto the next stage of production.

What about realtime raytracing? How will that affect VFX and the way you work?
The realtime raytracing from Nvidia (as well as GPU compute in general) offers artists a new way to iterate and help create content. However, with recent advancements in CPU compute, we can see that “traditional” workloads aren’t going to be displaced. The RTX solution is another tool that can be used to assist in the creation of content.

How have AR/VR and ML/AI affected your workflows, if at all?
Machine learning has the power to really assist certain workloads. For example, it’s possible to use machine learning to assist a video editor by cataloging speech in a certain clip. When a director says, “find the spot where the actor says ‘X,’” we can go directly to that point in time on the timeline.

 In addition, ML can be used to mine existing file servers that contain vast amounts of unstructured data. When mining this “dark data,” an organization may find a lot of great additional value in the existing content, which machine learning can uncover.

The Uncanny Valley. Where are we now?
With recent advancements in technology, the Uncanny Valley is closing, however it is still there. We see more and more digital humans in cinema than ever before (Peter Cushing in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story was a main character), and I fully expect to see more advances as time goes on.

Can you name some recent projects?
Our latest credits include Solo: A Star Wars Story, Captive State, The Innocents, Black Mirror, Dennis & Gnasher: Unleashed! and Floogals Seasons 1 through 3.

 

Andy Brown, creative director, Jogger 
Jogger Studios is a boutique visual effects studio with offices in London, New York and LA. With capabilities in color grading, compositing and animation, Jogger works on a variety of projects, from TV commercials and music videos to projections for live concerts.

What inspired you to work in VFX?
First of all, my sixth form English project was writing treatments for music videos to songs that I really liked. You could do anything you wanted to for this project, and I wanted to create pictures using words. I never actually made any of them, but it planted the seed of working with visual images. Soon after that I went to university in Birmingham in the UK. I studied communications and cultural studies there, and as part of the course, we visited the BBC Studios at Pebble Mill. We visited one of the new edit suites, where they were putting together a story on the inquiry into the Handsworth riots in Birmingham. It struck me how these two people, the journalist and the editor, could shape the story and tell it however they saw fit. That’s what got me interested on a critical level in the editorial process. The practical interest in putting pictures together developed from that experience and all the opportunities that opened up when I started work at MPC after leaving university.

What trends have you been seeing? What do you feel is important?
Remote workstations and cloud rendering are all really interesting. It’s giving us more opportunities to work with clients across the world using our resources in LA, SF, Austin, NYC and London. I love the concept of a centralized remote machine room that runs all of your software for all of your offices and allows you scaled rendering in an efficient and seamless manner. The key part of that sentence is seamless. We’re doing remote grading and editing across our offices so we can share resources and personnel, giving the clients the best experience that we can without the carbon footprint.

Are game engines affecting how you work or how you will work in the future?
Game engines are having a tremendous effect on the entire media and entertainment industry, from conception to delivery. Walking around Siggraph last month, seeing what was not only possible but practical and available today using gaming engines, was fascinating. It’s hard to predict industry trends, but the technology felt like it will change everything. The possibilities on set look great, too, so I’m sure it will mean a merging of production and post production in many instances.

What about realtime raytracing How will that affect VFX and the way you work?
Faster workflows and less time waiting for something to render have got to be good news. It gives you more time to experiment and refine things.

Chico for Wendy’s

How have AR/VR or ML/AI affected your workflows, if at all?
Machine learning is making its way into new software releases, and the tools are useful. Anything that makes it easier to get where you need to go on a shot is welcome. AR, not so much. I viewed the new Mac Pro sitting on my kitchen work surface through my phone the other day, but it didn’t make me want to buy it any more or less. It feels more like something that we can take technology from rather than something that I want to see in my work.

I’d like 3D camera tracking and facial tracking to be realtime on my box, for example. That would be a huge time-saver in set extensions and beauty work. Anything that makes getting perfect key easier would also be great.

The Uncanny Valley. Where are we now?
It always used to be “Don’t believe anything you read.” Now it’s, “Don’t believe anything you see.” I used to struggle to see the point of an artificial human, except for resurrecting dead actors, but now I realize the ultimate aim is suppression of the human race and the destruction of democracy by multimillionaire despots and their robot underlings.

Can you name some recent projects?
I’ve started prepping for the apocalypse, so it’s hard to remember individual jobs, but there’s been the usual kind of stuff — beauty, set extensions, fast food, Muppets, greenscreen, squirrels, adding logos, removing logos, titles, grading, finishing, versioning, removing rigs, Frankensteining, animating, removing weeds, cleaning runways, making tenders into wings, split screens, roto, grading, polishing cars, removing camera reflections, stabilizing, tracking, adding seatbelts, moving seatbelts, adding photos, removing pictures and building petrol stations. You know, the usual.

 

James David Hattin, founder/creative director, VFX Legion 
Based in Burbank and British Columbia, VFX Legion specializes in providing episodic shows and feature films with an efficient approach to creating high-quality visual effects.

What film or show inspired you to work in VFX?
Star Wars was my ultimate source of inspiration for doing visual effects. Much of the effects in the movies didn’t make sense to me as a six-year-old, but I knew that this was the next best thing to magic. Visual effects create a wondrous world where everyday people can become superheroes, leaders of a resistance or ruler of a 5th century dynasty. Watching X-wings flying over the surface of a space station, the size of a small moon was exquisite. I also learned, much later on, that the visual effects that we couldn’t see were as important as what we could see.

I had already been steeped in visual effects with Star Trek — phasers, spaceships and futuristic transporters. Models held from wires on a moon base convinced me that we could survive on the moon as it broke free from orbit. All of this fueled my budding imagination. Exploring computer technology and creating alternate realities, CGI and digitally enhanced solutions have been my passion for over a quarter of century.

What trends have you been seeing? What do you feel is important?
More and more of the work is going to happen inside a cloud structure. That is definitely something that is being pressed on very heavily by the tech giants like Google and Amazon that rule our world. There is no Moore’s law for computers anymore. The prices and power we see out of computers is almost plateauing. The technology is now in the world of optimizing algorithms or rendering with video cards. It’s about getting bigger, better effects out more efficiently. Some companies are opting to run their entire operations in the cloud or co-located server locations. This can theoretically free up the workers to be in different locations around the world, provided they have solid, low-latency, high-speed internet.

When Legion was founded in 2013, the best way around cloud costs was to have on-premises servers and workstations that supported global connectivity. It was a cost control issue that has benefitted the company to this day, enabling us to bring a global collective of artists and clients into our fold in a controlled and secure way. Legion works in what we consider a “private cloud,” eschewing the costs of egress from large providers and working directly with on-premises solutions.

Are game engines affecting how you work or how you will work in the future?
Game engines are perfect for revisualization in large, involved scenes. We create a lot of environments and invisible effects. For the larger bluescreen shoots, we can build out our sets in Unreal engines, previsualizing how the scene will play for the director or DP. This helps get everyone on the same page when it comes to how a particular sequence is going to be filmed. It’s a technique that also helps the CG team focus on adding details to the areas of a set that we know will be seen. When the schedule is tight, the assets are camera-ready by the time the cut comes to us.

What about realtime raytracing via Nvidia’s RTX? How will that affect VFX and the way you work?
The type of visual effects that we create for feature films and television shows involves a lot of layers and technology that provides efficient, comprehensive compositing solutions. Many of the video card rendering engines like Octanerender, Redshift and V-Ray RT are limited when it comes to what they can create with layers. They often have issues with getting what is called a “back to beauty,” in which the sum of the render passes equals the final render. However, the workarounds we’ve developed enable us to achieve the quality we need. Realtime raytracing introduces a fantastic technology that will someday make it an ideal fit with our needs. We’re keeping an out eye for it as it evolves and becomes more robust.

How have AR/VR or ML/AI affected your workflows, if at all?
AR has been in the wings of the industry for a while. There’s nothing specific that we would take advantage of. Machine learning has been introduced a number of times to solve various problems. It’s a pretty exciting time for these things. One of our partner contacts, who left to join Facebook, was keen to try a number of machine learning tricks for a couple of projects that might have come through, but we didn’t get to put it through the test. There’s an enormous amount of power to be had in machine learning, and I think we are going to see big changes over the next five years in that field and how it affects all of post production.

The Uncanny Valley. Where are we now?
Climbing up the other side, not quite at the summit for daily use. As long as the character isn’t a full normal human, it’s almost indistinguishable from reality.

Can you name some recent projects?
We create visual effects on an ongoing basis for a variety of television shows that include How to Get Away with Murder, DC’s Legends of Tomorrow, Madam Secretary and The Food That Built America. Our team is also called upon to craft VFX for a mix of movies, from the groundbreaking feature film Hardcore Henry to recently released films such as Ma, SuperFly and After.

MAIN IMAGE: Good Morning Football via Chapeau Studios.


Randi Altman is the founder and editor-in-chief of postPerspective. She has been covering production and post production for more than 20 years. 

Whiskytree experiences growth, upgrades tools

Visual effects and content creation company Whiskytree has gone through a growth spurt that included a substantial increase in staff, a new physical space and new infrastructure.

Providing content for films, television, the Web, apps, game and VR or AR, Whiskytree’s team of artists, designers and technicians use applications such as Autodesk Maya, Side Effects Houdini, Autodesk Arnold, Gaffer and Foundry Nuke on Linux — along with custom tools — to create computer graphics and visual effects.

To help manage its growth and the increase in data that came with it, Whiskytree recently installed Panasas ActiveStor. The platform is used to store and manage Whiskytree’s computer graphics and visual effects workflows, including data-intensive rendering and realtime collaboration using extremely large data sets for movies, commercials and advertising; work for realtime render engines and games; and augmented reality and virtual reality applications.

“We recently tripled our employee count in a single month while simultaneously finalizing the build-out of our new facility and network infrastructure, all while working on a 700-shot feature film project [The Captain],” says Jonathan Harb, chief executive officer and owner of Whiskytree. “Panasas not only delivered the scalable performance that we required during this critical period, but also delivered a high level of support and expertise. This allowed us to add artists at the rapid pace we needed with an easy-to-work-with solution that didn’t require fine-tuning to maintain and improve our workflow and capacity in an uninterrupted fashion. We literally moved from our old location on a Friday, then began work in our new facility the following Monday morning, with no production downtime. The company’s ‘set it and forget it’ appliance resulted in overall smooth operations, even under the trying circumstances.”

In the past, Whiskytree operated a multi-vendor storage solution that was complex and time consuming to administer, modify and troubleshoot. With the office relocation and rapid team expansion, Whiskytree didn’t have time to build a new custom solution or spend a lot of time tuning. It also needed storage that would grow as project and facility needs change.

Projects from the studio include Thor: Ragnarok, Monster Hunt 2, Bolden, Mother, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Downsizing, Warcraft and Rogue One: A Star Wars.

Tips from a Flame Artist: things to do before embarking on a VFX project

By Andy Brown

I’m creative director and Flame artist at Jogger Studios in Los Angeles. We are a VFX and finishing studio and sister company to  Cut+Run, which has offices in LA, New York, London, San Francisco and Austin. As an experienced visual effects artist, I’ve seen a lot in my time in the industry, and not just what ends up on the screen. I’m also an Englishman living in LA.

I was asked to put together some tips to help make your next project a little bit easier, but in the process, I remembered many things I forgot. I hope these tips these help!

1) Talk to production.

2) Trust your producers.

3) Don’t assume anyone (including you) knows anything.

4) Forget about the money; it’s not your job. Well, it’s kind of your job, but in the context of doing the work, it’s not.

5) Read everything that you’ve been sent, then read it again. Make sure you actually understand what is being asked of you.

6) Make a list of questions that cover any uncertainty you might have about any aspect of the project you’re bidding for. Then ask those questions.

7) Ask production to talk to you if they have any questions. It’s better to get interrupted on your weekend off than for the client to ask her friend Bob, who makes videos for YouTube. To be fair to Bob, he might have a million subscribers, but Bob isn’t doing the job, so please, keep Bob out of it.

8) Remember that what the client thinks is “a small amount of cleanup” isn’t necessarily a small amount of cleanup.

9) Bring your experience to the table. Even if it’s your experience in how not to do things.

10) If you can do some tests, then do some tests. Not only will you learn something about how you’re going to approach the problem, but it will show your client that you’re engaged with the project.

11) Ask about the deliverables. How many aspect ratios? How many versions? Then factor in the slated, the unslated and the generics and take a deep breath.

12) Don’t believe that a lift (a cutdown edit) is a lift is a lift. It won’t be a lift.

13) Make sure you have enough hours in your bid for what you’re being asked to do. The hours are more important than the money.

14) Attend the shoot. If you can’t attend the shoot, then send someone to the shoot … someone who knows about VFX. And don’t be afraid to pipe up on the shoot; that’s what you’re there for. Be prepared to make suggestions on set about little things that will make the VFX go more smoothly.

15) Give yourself time. Don’t get too frustrated that you haven’t got everything perfect in the first day.

16) Tackle things methodically.

17) Get organized.

18) Make a list.

19) Those last three were all the same thing, but that’s because it’s important.

20) Try to remember everyone’s names. Write them down. If you can’t remember, ask.

21) Sit up straight.

23) Be positive. You blew that already by being too English.

24) Remember we all want to get the best result that we can.

25) Forget about the money again. It’s not your job.

26) Work hard and don’t get pissed off if someone doesn’t like what you’ve done so far. You’ll get there. You always do.

27) Always send WIPs to the editor. Not only do they appreciate it, but they can add useful info along the way.

28) Double-check the audio.

29) Double-check for black lines at the edges of frame. There’s no cutoff anymore. Everything lives on the internet.

30) Check your spelling. Even if you spelled it right, it might be wrong. Colour. Realise. Etcetera. Etc.

 

Company 3 buys Sixteen19, offering full-service post in NYC

Company 3 has acquired Sixteen19, a creative editorial, production and post company based in New York City. The deal includes Sixteen19’s visual effects wing, PowerHouse VFX, and a mobile dailies operation with international reach.

The acquisition helps Company 3 further serve NYC’s booming post market for feature film and episodic TV. As part of the acquisition, industry veterans and Sixteen19 co-founders Jonathan Hoffman and Pete Conlin, along with their longtime collaborator, EVP of business development and strategy Alastair Binks, will join Company 3’s leadership team.

“With Sixteen19 under the Company 3 umbrella, we significantly expand what we bring to the production community, addressing a real unmet need in the industry,” says Company 3 president Stefan Sonnenfeld. “This infusion of talent and infrastructure will allow us to provide a complete suite of services for clients, from the start of production through the creative editing process to visual effects, final color, finishing and mastering. We’ve worked in tandem with Sixteen19 many times over the years, so we know that they have always provided strong client relationships, a best-in-class team and a deeply creative environment. We’re excited to bring that company’s vision into the fold at Company 3.”

Sonnenfeld will continue to serve as president of Company 3, and oversee operations of Sixteen19. As a subsidiary of Deluxe, Company 3 is part of a broad portfolio of post services. Bringing together the complementary services and geographic reach of Company3, Sixteen19 and Powerhouse VFX, will expand Company 3’s overall portfolio of post offerings and reach new markets in the US and internationally.

Sixteen19’s New York location includes 60 large editorial suites; two 4K digital cinema grading theaters; and a number of comfortable spaces, open environments and many common areas. Sixteen19’s mobile dailies services will add a perfect companion to Company 3’s existing offerings in that arena. PowerHouse VFX includes dedicated teams of experienced supervisors, producers and artists in 2D and 3D visual effects and compositing.

“The New York film community initially recognized the potential for a Company 3 and Sixteen19 partnership,” says Sixteen19’s Hoffman. “It’s not just the fact that a significant majority of the projects we work on are finished at Company 3, it’s more that our fundamental vision about post has always been aligned with Stefan’s. We value innovation; we’ve built terrific creative teams; and above all else, we both put clients first, always.”

Sixteen19 and Powerhouse VFX will retain their company names.

Game of Thrones’ Emmy-nominated visual effects

By Iain Blair

Once upon a time, only glamorous movies could afford the time and money it took to create truly imaginative and spectacular visual effects. Meanwhile, television shows either tried to avoid them altogether or had to rely on hand-me-downs. But the digital revolution changed all that with its technological advances, and new tools quickly leveling the playing field. Today, television is giving the movies a run for their money when it comes to sophisticated visual effects, as evidenced by HBO’s blockbuster series, Game of Thrones.

Mohsen Mousavi

This fantasy series was recently Emmy-nominated a record-busting 32 times for its eighth and final season — including one for its visually ambitious VFX in the penultimate episode, “The Bells.”

The epic mass destruction presented Scanline’s VFX supervisor, Mohsen Mousavi, and his team many challenges. But his expertise in high-end visual effects, and his reputation for constant innovation in advanced methodology, made him a perfect fit to oversee Scanline’s VFX for the crucial last three episodes of the final season of Game of Thrones.

Mousavi started his VFX career in the field of artificial intelligence and advanced-physics-based simulations. He spearheaded designing and developing many different proprietary toolsets and pipelines for doing crowd, fluid and rigid body simulation, including FluidIT, BehaveIT and CardIT, a node-based crowd choreography toolset.

Prior to joining Scanline VFX Vancouver, Mousavi rose through the ranks of top visual effects houses, working in jobs that ranged from lead effects technical director to CG supervisor and, ultimately, VFX supervisor. He’s been involved in such high-profile projects as Hugo, The Amazing Spider-Man and Sucker Punch.

In 2012, he began working with Scanline, acting as digital effects supervisor on 300: Rise of an Empire, for which Scanline handled almost 700 water-based sea battle shots. He then served as VFX supervisor on San Andreas, helping develop the company’s proprietary city-generation software. That software and pipeline were further developed and enhanced for scenes of destruction in director Roland Emmerich’s Independence Day: Resurgence. In 2017, he served as the lead VFX supervisor for Scanline on the Warner Bros. shark thriller, The Meg.

I spoke with Mousavi about creating the VFX and their pipeline.

Congratulations on being Emmy-nominated for “The Bells,” which showcased so many impressive VFX. How did all your work on Season 4 prepare you for the big finale?
We were heavily involved in the finale of Season 4, however the scope was far smaller. What we learned was the collaboration and the nature of the show, and what the expectations were in terms of the quality of the work and what HBO wanted.

You were brought onto the project by lead VFX supervisor Joe Bauer, correct?
Right. Joe was the “client VFX supervisor” on the HBO side and was involved since Season 3. Together with my producer, Marcus Goodwin, we also worked closely with HBO’s lead visual effects producer, Steve Kullback, who I’d worked with before on a different show and in a different capacity. We all had daily sessions and conversations, a lot of back and forth, and Joe would review the entire work, give us feedback and manage everything between us and other vendors, like Weta, Image Engine and Pixomondo. This was done both technically and creatively, so no one stepped on each other’s toes if we were sharing a shot and assets. But it was so well-planned that there wasn’t much overlap.

[Editor’s Note: Here is the full list of those nominated for their VFX work on Game of Thrones — Joe Bauer, lead visual effects supervisor; Steve Kullback, lead visual effects producer; Adam Chazen, visual effects associate producer; Sam Conway, special effects supervisor; Mohsen Mousavi, visual effects supervisor; Martin Hill, visual effects supervisor; Ted Rae, visual effects plate supervisor; Patrick Tiberius Gehlen, previz lead; and Thomas Schelesny, visual effects and animation supervisor.]

What were you tasked with doing on Season 8?
We were involved as one of the lead vendors on the last three episodes and covered a variety of sequences. In episode four, “The Last of the Starks,” we worked on the confrontation between Daenerys and Cersei in front of the King’s Landing’s gate, which included a full CG environment of the city gate and the landscape around it, as well as Missandei’s death sequence, which featured a full CG Missandei. We also did the animated Drogon outside the gate while the negotiations took place.

Then for “The Bells” we were responsible for most of the Battle of King’s Landing, which included full digital city, Daenerys’ army camp site outside the walls of King’s Landing, the gathering of soldiers in front of the King’s Landing walls, Danny’s attack on the scorpions, the city gate, streets and the Red Keep, which had some very close-up set extensions, close-up fire and destruction simulations and full CG crowd of various different factions — armies and civilians. We also did the iconic Cleaganebowl fight between The Hound and The Mountain and Jamie Lannister’s fight with Euron at the beach underneath the Red Keep. In Episode 5, we received raw animation caches of the dragon from Image Engine and did the full look-dev, lighting and rendering of the final dragon in our composites.

For the final episode, “The Iron Throne, we were responsible for the entire Deanerys speech sequence, which included a full 360 digital environment of the city aftermath and the Red Keep plaza filled with digital unsullied Dothrakies and CG horses leading into the majestic confrontation between Jon and Drogon, where it revealed itself from underneath a huge pile of snow outside Red Keep. We were also responsible for the iconic throne melt sequence, which included some advance simulation of high viscous fluid and destruction of the area around the throne and finishing the dramatic sequence with Drogon carrying Danny out of the throne room and away from King’s Landing into the unknown.

Where was all this work done?
The majority of the work was done here in Vancouver, which is the biggest Scanline office. Additionally we had teams working in our Munich, Montreal and LA offices. We’re a 100% connected company, all working under the same infrastructure in the same pipeline. So if I work with the team in Munich, it’s like they’re sitting in the next room. That allows us to set up and attack the project with a larger crew and get the benefit of the 24/7 scenario; as we go home, they can continue working, and it makes us far more productive.

How many VFX did you have to create for the final season?
We worked on over 600 shots across the final three episodes which gave us approximately over an hour of screen time of high-end consistent visual effects.

Isn’t that hour length unusual for 600 shots?
Yes, but we had a number of shots that were really long, including some ground coverage shots of Arya in the streets of King’s Landing that were over four or five minutes long. So we had the complexity along with the long duration.

How many people were on your team?
At the height, we had about 350 artists on the project, and we began in March 2018 and didn’t wrap till nearly the end of April 2019 — so it took us over a year of very intense work.

Tell us about the pipeline specific to Game of Thrones.
Scanline has an industry-wide reputation for delivering very complex, full CG environments combined with complex simulation scenarios of all sort of fluid dynamics and destruction based on our simulation framework “Flowline.” We had a high-end digital character and hero creature pipeline that gave the final three episodes a boost up front. What was new were the additions to our procedural city generation pipeline for the recreation of King’s Landing, making sure it can deliver both in wide angle shots as well as some extreme close-up set extensions.

How did you do that?
We used a framework we developed back for Independence Day: Resurgence, which is a module-based procedural city generation leveraging some incredible scans of the historical city of Dubrovnik as a blueprint and foundation of King’s Landing. Instead of doing the modeling conventionally, you model a lot of small modules, kind of like Lego blocks. You create various windows, stones, doors, shingles and so on, and once it’s encoded in the system, you can semi-automatically generate variations of buildings on the fly. That also goes for texturing. We had procedurally generated layers of façade textures, which gave us a lot of flexibility on texturing the entire city, with full control over the level of aging and damage. We could decide to make a block look older easily without going back to square one. That’s how we could create King’s Landing with its hundreds of thousands of unique buildings.

The same technology was applied to the aftermath of the city in Episode 6. We took the intact King’s Landing and ran a number of procedural collapsing simulations on the buildings to get the correct weight based on references from the bombed city of Dresden during WWII, and then we added procedurally created CG snow on the entire city.

It didn’t look like the usual matte paintings were used at all.
You’re right, and there were a lot of shots that normally would be done that way, but to Joe’s credit, he wanted to make sure the environments weren’t cheated in any way. That was a big challenge, to keep everything consistent and accurate. Even if we used traditional painting methods, it was all done on top of an accurate 3D representation with correct lighting and composition.

What other tools did you use?
We use Autodesk Maya for all our front-end departments, including modeling, layout, animation, rigging and creature effects, and we bridge the results to Autodesk 3ds Max, which encapsulates our look-dev/FX and rendering departments, powered by Flowline and Chaos Group’s V-Ray as our primary render engine, followed by Foundry’s Nuke as our main compositing package.

At the heart of our crowd pipeline, we use Massive and our creature department is driven with Ziva muscles which was a collaboration we started with Ziva Dynamics back for the creation of the hero Megalodon in The Meg.

Fair to say that your work on Game of Thrones was truly cutting-edge?
Game of Thrones has pushed the limit above and beyond and has effectively erased the TV/feature line. In terms of environment and effects and the creature work, this is what you’d do for a high-end blockbuster for the big screen. No difference at all.


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: MPC Senior Compositor Ruairi Twohig

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

NAME: NYC-based Ruairi Twohig

COMPANY: Moving Picture Company (MPC)

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

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

Cadillac

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tiffany & Co.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shipping + Handling adds Jerry Spivack, Mike Pethel, Matthew Schwab

VFX creative director Jerry Spivack and colorists Michael Pethel and Matthew Schwab have joined LA’s Shipping + Handling, Spot Welders‘ VFX, color grading, animation, and finishing arm/sister company.

Alongside executive producer Scott Friske and current creative director Casey Price, Spivack will help lead the company’s creative team. As the creative director/co-founder at Ring of Fire, Spivack was responsible for crafting and spearheading VFX on commercials for brands including FedEx, Nike and Jaguar; episodic work for series television including Netflix’s Wormwood and 12 seasons of FX’s It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia; promos for NBC’s The Voice and The Titan Games; and feature films such as Sony Pictures’ Spider-Man 2, Bold Films’ Drive and Warner Bros.’ The Bucket List.

Colorist Pethel was a founding partner of Company 3 and for the past five years has served client and director relationships under his BeachHouse Color brand, which he will continue to maintain. Pethel’s body of work includes campaigns for Carl’s Jr., Chase, Coke, Comcast/Xfinity, Hyundai, Jeep, Netflix and Southwest Airlines.

Commenting on the move, Pethel says, “I’m thrilled to be joining such a fantastic group of highly regarded and skilled professionals at Shipping + Handling. There is so much creativity here; the people are awesome to work with and the technology they are able to offer clientele at the facility is top-notch.”

Schwab formally joins the Shipping + Handling roster after working closely with the company over the past two years on multiple campaigns for Apple, Acura, QuickBooks and many others. Aside from his role at Shipping + Handling, Schwab will also continue his work through Roving Picture Company. Having worked with a number of internationally recognized brands, Schwab has collaborated on projects for Amazon, Honda, Mercedes-Benz, National Geographic, Netflix, Nike, PlayStation and Smirnoff.

“It’s exciting to be part of a team that approaches every project with such energy. This partnership represents a shared commitment to always deliver outstanding color and technical results for our clients,” says Schwab.

“Pethel is easily amongst the best colorists in our industry. As a longtime client of his, I have a real understanding of the professionalism he brings to every session. He is a delight in the room and wickedly talented. Schwab’s talent has just been realized in the last few years, and we are pleased to offer his skill to our clients. If our experience working with him over the last couple of years is any indication, we’re going to make a lot of clients happy he’s on our roster,” adds Friske.

Spivack, Pethel and Schwab will operate out of Shipping + Handling’s West Coast office on the creative campus it shares with its sister company, editorial post house Spot Welders.

Image: (L-R) Mike Pethel, Matthew Schwab, Jerry Spivack

 

Matthew Bristowe joins Jellyfish as COO

UK-based VFX and animation studio Jellyfish Pictures has hired Matthew Bristowe as director of operations. With a career spanning over 20 years, Bristowe joins Jellyfish Pictures after a stint as head of production at Technicolor.

During his 20 years in the industry, Bristowe has overseen hundreds of productions, including; Aladdin (Disney), Star Wars: The Last Jedi (Lucasfilm/Disney), Avengers: Age of Ultron (Marvel) and Guardians of the Galaxy (Marvel). In 2014 he was honored with the Advanced Imaging Society’s Lumiere Award for his work on Alfonso Cuarón’s Academy Award-winning Gravity.

Bristowe led the One Of Us VFX team to success in the category of Special, Visual and Graphic Effects at the BAFTAs and Best Digital Effects at the Royal Television Society Awards for The Crown Season 1. Another RTS award and BAFTA nomination followed in 2018 for The Crown Season 2. Prior to working with Technicolor and One of Us, Bristowe held senior positions at MPC and Prime Focus.

“Matt joining Jellyfish Pictures is a substantial hire for the company,” explains CEO Phil Dobree. “2019 has seen us focus on our growth, following the opening of our newest studio in Sheffield, and Matt’s extensive experience of bringing together creativity and strategy will be instrumental in our further expansion.”

Maxon intros Cinema 4D R21, consolidates versions into one offering

By Brady Betzel

At SIGGRAPH 2019, Maxon introduced the next release of its graphics software, Cinema 4D R21. Maxon also announced a subscription-based pricing structure as well as a very welcomed consolidation of its Cinema 4D versions into a single version, aptly titled Cinema 4D.

That’s right, no more Studio, Broadcast or BodyPaint. It all comes in one package at one price, and that pricing will now be subscription-based — but don’t worry, the online anxiety over this change seems to have been misplaced.

The cost has been substantially dropped for Cinema 4D R21, leading the way to start what Maxon is calling the “3D for the Real World” initiative. Maxon wants it to be the tool you choose for your graphics needs.

If you plan on upgrading every year or two, the new subscription-based model seems to be a great deal:

– Cinema 4D subscription paid annually: $59.99/month
– Cinema 4D subscription paid monthly: $94.99/month
– Cinema 4D subscription with Redshift paid annually: $81.99/month
– Cinema 4D subscription with Redshift paid monthly: $116.99/month
– Cinema 4D perpetual pricing: $3,495 (upgradeable)

Maxon did mention that if you have previously purchased Cinema 4D, there will be subscription-based upgrade/crossgrade deals coming.

The Updates
Cinema 4D R21 includes some great updates that will be welcomed by many users, both new and experienced. The new Field Force dynamics object allows the use of dynamic forces in modeling and animation within the MoGraph toolset. Caps and bevels have an all-new system that not only allows the extrusion of 3D logos and text effects but also means caps and bevels are integrated on all spline-based objects.

Furthering Cinema 4D’s integration with third-party apps, there is an all-new Mixamo Control rig allowing you to easily control any Mixamo characters. (If you haven’t checked out the models from Mixamo, you should. It’s a great way to find character rigs fast.)

An all-new Intel Open Image Denoise integration has been added to R21 in what seems like part of a rendering revolution for Cinema 4D. From the acquistion of Redshift to this integration, Maxon is expanding its third-party reach and doesn’t seem scared.

There is a new Node Space, which shows what materials are compatible with chosen render engines, as well as a new API available to third-party developers that allows them to integrate render engines with the new material node system. R21 has overall speed and efficiency improvements, with Cinema 4D supporting the latest processor optimizations from both Intel and AMD.

All this being said, my favorite update — or map toward the future — was actually announced last week. Unreal Engine added Cinema 4D .c4d file support via the Datasmith plugin, which is featured in the free Unreal Studio beta.

Today, Maxon is also announcing its integration with yet another game engine: Unity. In my opinion, the future lies in this mix of real-time rendering alongside real-world television and film production as well as gaming. With Cinema 4D, Maxon is bringing all sides to the table with a mix of 3D modeling, motion-graphics-building support, motion tracking, integration with third-party apps like Adobe After Effects via Cineware, and now integration with real-time game engines like Unreal Engine. Now I just have to learn it all.

Cinema 4D R21 will be available on both Mac OS and Windows on Tuesday, Sept. 3. In the meantime, watch out for some great SIGGRAPH presentations, including one from my favorite, Mike Winkelmann, better known as Beeple. You can find some past presentations on how he uses Cinema 4D to cover his “Everydays.”

Virtual Production Field Guide: Fox VFX Lab’s Glenn Derry

Just ahead of SIGGRAPH, Epic Games has published a resource guide called “The Virtual Production Field Guide”  — a comprehensive look at how virtual production impacts filmmakers, from directors to the art department to stunt coordinators to VFX teams and more. The guide is workflow-agnostic.

The use of realtime game engine technology has the potential to impact every aspect of traditional filmmaking, and the trend is increasingly being used in productions ranging from films like Avengers: Endgame and the upcoming Artemis Fowl to TV series like Game of Thrones.

The Virtual Production Field Guide offers an in-depth look at different types of techniques from creating and integrating high-quality CG elements live on set to virtual location scouting to using photoreal LED walls for in-camera VFX. It provides firsthand insights from award-winning professionals who have used these techniques – including directors Kenneth Branagh and Wes Ball, producers Connie Kennedy and Ryan Stafford, cinematographers Bill Pope and Haris Zambarloukos, VFX supervisors Ben Grossmann and Sam Nicholson, virtual production supervisors Kaya Jabar and Glenn Derry, editor Dan Lebental, previs supervisor Felix Jorge, stunt coordinators Guy and Harrison Norris, production designer Alex McDowell, and grip Kim Heath.

As mentioned, the guide is dense with information, so we decided to run an excerpt to give you an idea of what it covers.

Glenn DerryHere is an interview with Glenn Derry, founder and VP of visual effects at Fox VFX Lab, which offers a variety of virtual production services with a focus on performance capture. Derry is known for his work as a virtual production supervisor on projects like Avatar, Real Steel and The Jungle Book.

Let’s find out more.

How has performance capture evolved since projects such as The Polar Express?
In those earlier eras, there was no realtime visualization during capture. You captured everything as a standalone piece, and then you did what they called the director layout. After-the-fact, you would assemble the animation sequences from the motion data captured. Today, we’ve got a combo platter where we’re able to visualize in realtime.
When we bring a cinematographer in, he can start lining up shots with another device called the hybrid camera. It’s a tracked reference camera that he can hand hold. I can immediately toggle between an Unreal overview or a camera view of that scene.The earlier process was minimal in terms of aesthetics. We did everything we could in MotionBuilder, and we made it look as good as it could. Now we can make a lot more mission-critical decisions earlier in the process because the aesthetics of the renders look a lot better.

What are some additional uses for performance capture?
Sometimes we’re working with a pitch piece, where the studio is deciding whether they want to make a movie at all. We use the capture stage to generate what the director has in mind tonally and how the project could feel. We could do either a short little pitch piece or, for something like Call of the Wild, we created 20 minutes and three key scenes from the film to show the studio we could make it work.

The second the movie gets greenlit, we flip over into preproduction. Now we’re breaking down the full script and working with the art department to create concept art. Then we build the movie’s world out around those concepts.

We have our team doing environmental builds based on sketches. Or in some cases, the concept artists themselves are in Unreal Engine doing the environments. Then our virtual art department (VAD) cleans those up and optimizes them for realtime.

Are the artists modeling directly in Unreal Engine?
The artists model in Maya, Modo, 3ds Max, etc. — we’re not particular about the application as long as the output is FBX. The look development, which is where the texturing happens, is all done within Unreal. We’ll also have artists working in Substance Painter and it will auto-update in Unreal. We have to keep track of assets through the entire process, all the way through to the last visual effects vendor.

How do you handle the level of detail decimation so realtime assets can be reused for visual effects?
The same way we would work on AAA games. We begin with high-resolution detail and then use combinations of texture maps, normal maps and bump maps. That allows us to get high-texture detail without a huge polygon count. There are also some amazing LOD [level of detail] tools built into Unreal, which enable us to take a high-resolution asset and derive something that looks pretty much identical unless you’re right next to it, but runs at a much higher frame rate.

Do you find there’s a learning curve for crew members more accustomed to traditional production?
We’re the team productions come to do realtime on live-action sets. That’s pretty much all we do. That said, it requires prep, and if you want it to look great, you have to make decisions. If you were going to shoot rear projection back in the 1940s or Terminator 2 with large rear projection systems, you still had to have all that material pre-shot to make it work.
It’s the same concept in realtime virtual production. If you want to see it look great in Unreal live on the day, you can’t just show up and decide. You have to pre-build that world and figure out how it’s going to integrate.

The visual effects team and the virtual production team have to be involved from day one. They can’t just be brought in at the last minute. And that’s a significant change for producers and productions in general. It’s not that it’s a tough nut to swallow, it’s just a very different methodology.

How does the cinematographer collaborate with performance capture?
There are two schools of thought: one is to work live with camera operators, shooting the tangible part of the action that’s going on, as the camera is an actor in the scene as much as any of the people are. You can choreograph it all out live if you’ve got the performers and the suits. The other version of it is treated more like a stage play. Then you come back and do all the camera coverage later. I’ve seen DPs like Bill Pope and Caleb Deschanel pick this right up.

How is the experience for actors working in suits and a capture volume?
One of the harder problems we deal with is eye lines. How do we assist the actors so that they’re immersed in this, and they don’t just look around at a bunch of gray box material on a set. On any modern visual effects movie, you’re going to be standing in front of a 50-foot-tall bluescreen at some point.

Performance capture is in some ways more actor-centric versus a traditional set because there aren’t all the other distractions in a volume such as complex lighting and camera setup time. The director gets to focus in on the actors. The challenge is getting the actors to interact with something unseen. We’ll project pieces of the set on the walls and use lasers for eye lines. The quality of the HMDs today are also excellent for showing the actors what they would be seeing.

How do you see performance capture tools evolving?
I think a lot of the stuff we’re prototyping today will soon be available to consumers, home content creators, YouTubers, etc. A lot of what Epic develops also gets released in the engine. Money won’t be the driver in terms of being able to use the tools, your creative vision will be.

My teenage son uses Unreal Engine to storyboard. He knows how to do fly-throughs and use the little camera tools we built — he’s all over it. As it becomes easier to create photorealistic visual effects in realtime with a smaller team and at very high fidelity, the movie business will change dramatically.

Something that used to cost $10 million to produce might be a million or less. It’s not going to take away from artists; you still need them. But you won’t necessarily need these behemoth post companies because you’ll be able to do a lot more yourself. It’s just like desktop video — what used to take hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of Flame artists, you can now do yourself in After Effects.

Do you see new opportunities arising as a result of this democratization?
Yes, there are a lot of opportunities. High-quality, good-looking CG assets are still expensive to produce and expensive to make look great. There are already stock sites like TurboSquid and CGTrader where you can purchase beautiful assets economically.

But with the final assembly and coalescing of environments and characters there’s still a lot of need for talented people to do it effectively. I can see companies emerging out of that necessity. We spend a lot of time talking about assets because it’s the core of everything we do. You need to have a set to shoot on and you need compelling characters, which is why actors won’t go away.

What’s happening today isn’t even the tip of the iceberg. There are going to be 50 more big technological breakthroughs along the way. There’s tons of new content being created for Apple, Netflix, Amazon, Disney+, etc. And they’re all going to leverage virtual production.
What’s changing is previs’ role and methodology in the overall scheme of production.
While you might have previously conceived of previs as focused on the pre-production phase of a project and less integral to production, that conception shifts with a realtime engine. Previs is also typically a hands-off collaboration. In a traditional pipeline, a previs artist receives creative notes and art direction then goes off to create animation and present it back to creatives later for feedback.

In the realtime model, because the assets are directly malleable and rendering time is not a limiting factor, creatives can be much more directly and interactively involved in the process. This leads to higher levels of agency and creative satisfaction for all involved. This also means that instead of working with just a supervisor you might be interacting with the director, editor and cinematographer to design sequences and shots earlier in the project. They’re often right in the room with you as you edit the previs sequence and watch the results together in realtime.

Previs image quality has continued to increase in visual fidelity. This means a greater relationship between previs and final pixel image quality. When the assets you develop as a previs artist are of a sufficient quality, they may form the basis of final models for visual effects. The line between pre and final will continue to blur.

The efficiency of modeling assets only once is evident to all involved. By spending the time early in the project to create models of a very high quality, post begins at the outset of a project. Instead of waiting until the final phase of post to deliver the higher-quality models, the production has those assets from the beginning. And the models can also be fed into ancillary areas such as marketing, games, toys and more.

Review: Dell UltraSharp 27 4K InfinityEdge monitor

By Sophia Kyriacou

The Dell UltraSharp U2718Q monitor did not disappoint. Getting started requires minimal effort. You are up and running in no time — from taking it out of the box to switching it on. The stand, the standard Dell mount, is simple to assemble and intuitive, so you barely need to look at any instructions. But if you do, there is a step-by-step guide to help you set up within minutes.

The monitor comes in a well-designed package, which ensures it gets to you safely and securely. The Dell stand is easily adjustable without fuss and remains in place to your liking, with a swivel of 45 degrees to the left or right, a 90-degree pivot clockwise and counter clockwise, and a maximum height of 130mm. This adjustability means it will certainly meet all your comfort and workflow needs, with the pivot being incredibly useful when working in portrait formats.

The InfinityEdge display not only makes the screen look attractive but, more importantly, gives you extra surface area. When working with more than one monitor, having the ultra-thin edge makes the viewing experience less of a distraction, especially when monitors are butted up together. For me, the InfinityEdge is what makes it … in addition to the image quality and resolution, of course!

The Dell UltraSharp U2718Q has a flicker-free screen, making it comfortable on the eyes. It also has 3480×2160 pixels and boasts a color depth of 1.07 billion colors. The anti-glare coating works very well and meets all the needs of work environments with multiple and varied lighting conditions.

There are several connectors to choose from: one DP (v 1.2), one mDP (v 1.2), one HDMI (v 2.0), one USB 3.0 port (upstream), four USB 3.0 ports (including two USB 3.0 BC 1.2) with charging capability at 2A (max), and an audio line out. You are certainly not going to be short of inputs. I found the on-screen navigation incredibly easy to use. The overall casing design is minimal and subtle, with tones of black and dark silver. With the addition of the InfinityEdge, this monitor looks attractive. There is also a matching keyboard and mouse available.

Summing Up
Personally, I like to set my main monitor at a comfortable distance, with the second monitor butted up to my left at an angle of -35 degrees. Being left-handed, this setup works for me ergonomically, keeping my browser, timeline and editing window on that side, so I’m free to focus on the larger-scale composition in front of me.

The two Dell UltraSharp U2718Q monitors I use are great, as they give me the breathing space to focus on creating without having to constantly move windows around, breaking my flow. And thanks to InfinityEdge, the overall experience feels seamless. I have both monitors set up exactly the same so the color matches and retains the same maximum quality perfectly.


Sophia Kyriacou is an award-winning conceptual creative motion designer and animator with over 22 years experience within the broadcast design industry. She’s splits her time between working at the BBC in London and taking on freelance jobs. She is a full voting member at BAFTA and is currently working on a script for a 3D animated short film. 

Brittany Howard music video sets mood with color and VFX

The latest collaboration between Framestore and director Kim Gehrig is for Brittany Howard’s debut solo music video for Stay High, which features a color grade and subtle VFX by the studio. A tribute to the Alabama Shakes’ lead singer’s late father, the stylized music video stars actor Terry Crews (Brooklyn Nine-Nine, The Expendables) as a man finishing a day’s work and returning home to his family.

Produced by production company Somesuch, the aim of Stay High is to present a natural and emotionally driven story that honors the singer’s father, K.J. Howard. Shot in her hometown of Nashville, the music video features Howard’s family and friends while the singer pops up in several scenes throughout the video as different characters.

The video begins with Howard’s father getting off of work at his factory job. The camera follows him on his drive home, all the while he’s singing “Stay High.” As he drives home, we see images people and locations where Howard grew up. The video ends when her dad pulls into his driveway and is met by his daughters and wife.

“Kim wanted to really highlight the innocence of the video’s story, something I kept in mind while grading the film,” says Simon Bourne, Framestore’s head of creative color, who’s graded several films for the director. “The focus needed to always be on Terry with nothing in his surroundings distracting from that and the grade needed to reflect that idea.”

Framestore’s creative director Ben Cronin, who was also a compositor on the project along with Nuke compositor Christian Baker, adds, “From a VFX point of view, our job was all about invisible effects that highlighted the beautiful job that Ryley Brown, the film’s DP, did and to complement Kim’s unique vision.”

“We’ve worked with Kim on several commercials and music video projects, and we love collaborating because her films are always visually-interesting and she knows we’ll always help achieve the ground-breaking and effortlessly cool work that she does.”

Jody Madden upped to CEO at Foundry

Jody Madden, who joined Foundry in 2013 and has held positions as chief operating officer and, most recently, chief customer officer and chief product officer, has been promoted to chief executive officer. She takes over the role from Craig Rodgerson.

Madden, who has a rich background in VFX, has been with Foundry for six years. Prior to joining the company, she spent more than a decade in technology management and studio leadership roles at Industrial Light & Magic, Lucasfilm and Digital Domain after graduating from Stanford University.

“During a time of rapid change in creative industries, Foundry is committed to delivering innovations in workflow and future looking research,” says Madden.  “As the company continues to grow, delivering further improvements in speed, quality and user-experience remains a core focus to enable our customers to meet the demands of their markets.”

“Jody is well known for her collaborative leadership style and this has been crucial in enabling our engineering, product and research teams to achieve results for our customers and build the foundation for the future,” says Simon Robinson, co-founder/chief scientist. “I have worked closely with Jody and have seen the difference she has made to the business so I am extremely excited to see where she will lead Foundry in her new role and look forward to continuing to work with her.”

Technicolor opens prepro studio in LA

Technicolor is opening a new studio in Los Angeles dedicated to creating a seamless pipeline for feature projects — from concept art and visualization through virtual production, production and into final VFX.

As new distribution models increase the demand for content, Technicolor Pre-Production will provide the tools, the talent and the space for creatives to collaborate from day one of their project – from helping set the vision at the start of a job to ensuring that the vision carries through to production and VFX. The result is a more efficient filmmaking process.

Technicolor Pre-Production studio is headed by Kerry Shea, an industry veteran with over 20 years of experience. She is no stranger to this work, having held executive positions at Method Studios, The Third Floor, Digital Domain, The Jim Henson Company, DreamWorks Animation and Sony Pictures Imageworks.

Kerry Shea

Credited on more than 60 feature films including The Jungle Book, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales and Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Shea has an extensive background in VFX and post production, as well as live action, animatronics and creature effects.

While the Pre-Production studio stands apart from Technicolor’s visual effects studios — MPC Film, Mill Film, MR. X and Technicolor VFX — it can work seamlessly in conjunction with one or any combination of them.

The Technicolor Pre-Production Studio will comprise of key departments:
– The Business Development Department will work with clients, from project budgeting to consulting on VFX workflows, to help plan and prepare projects for a smooth transition into VFX.
– The VFX Supervisors Department will offer creative supervision across all aspects of VFX on client projects, whether delivered by Technicolor’s studios or third-party vendors.
– The Art Department will work with clients to understand their vision – including characters, props, technologies, and environments – creating artwork that delivers on that vision and sets the tone for the rest of the project.
– The Virtual Production Department will partner with filmmakers to bridge the gap between them and VFX through the production pipeline. Working on the ground and on location, the department will deliver a fully integrated pipeline and shooting services with the flexibility of a small, manageable team — allowing critical players in the filmmaking process to collaborate, view and manipulate media assets and scenes across multiple locations as the production process unfolds.
– The Visualization Department will deliver visualizations that will assist in achieving on screen exactly what clients envisioned.

“With the advancements of tools and technologies, such as virtual production, filmmaking has reached an inflection point, one in which storytellers can redefine what is possible on-set and beyond,” says Shea. “I am passionate about the increasing role and influence that the tools and craft of visual effects can have on the production pipeline and the even more important role in creating more streamlined and efficient workflows that create memorable stories.”

EP Nick Litwinko leads Nice Shoes’ new long-form VFX arm

NYC-based creative studio Nice Shoes has hired executive producer Nick Litwinko to lead its new film and episodic VFX division. Litwinko, who has built a career on infusing a serial entrepreneur approach to the development of creative studios, will grow the division, recruiting talent to bring a boutique, collaborative approach to visual effects for long-form entertainment projects. The division will focus on feature film and episodic projects.

Since coming on board with Nice Shoes, Litwinko and his team already have three long-form projects underway and will continue working to sign on new talent.

Litwinko launched his career at MTV during the height of its popularity, working as a senior producer for MTV Promos/Animation before stepping up as executive producer/director for MTV Commercials. His decade-long tenure led him to launch his own company, Rogue Creative, where he served dual roles as EP and director and oversaw a wide range of animated, live-action and VFX-driven branded campaigns. He was later named senior producer for Psyop New York before launching the New York office of Blind. He moved on to join the team at First Avenue Machine as executive producer/head of production. He was then recruited to join Shooters Inc. as managing director, leading a strategic rebrand, building the company’s NYC offices and playing an instrumental part in the rebrand to Alkemy X.

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.

SIGGRAPH making-of sessions: Toy Story 4, GoT, more

The SIGGRAPH 2019 Production Sessions program offers attendees a behind-the-scenes look at the making of some of the year’s most impressive VFX films, shows, games and VR projects. The 11 production sessions will be held throughout the conference week of July 28 through August 1 at the Los Angeles Convention Center.

With 11 total sessions, attendees will hear from creators who worked on projects such as Toy Story 4, Game of Thrones, The Lion King and First Man.

Other highlights include:

Swing Into Another Dimension: The Making of Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse
This production session will explore the art and innovation behind the creation of the Academy Award-winning Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse. The filmmaking team behind the first-ever animated Spider-Man feature film took significant risks to develop an all-new visual style inspired by the graphic look of comic books.

Creating the Immersive World of BioWare’s Anthem
The savage world of Anthem is volatile, lush, expansive and full of unexpected characters. Bringing these aspects to life in a realtime, interactive environment presented a wealth of problems for BioWare’s technical artists and rendering engineers. This retrospective panel will highlight the team’s work, alongside reflections on innovation and the successes and challenges of creating a new IP.

The VFX of Netflix Series
From the tragic tales of orphans to a joint force of super siblings to sinister forces threatening 1980s Indiana, the VFX teams on Netflix series have delivered some of the year’s most best visuals. Creatives behind A Series of Unfortunate Events, The Umbrella Academy and Stranger Things will present the work and techniques that brought these worlds and characters into being.

The Making of Marvel Studios’ Avengers: Endgame
The fourth installment in the Avengers saga is the culmination of 22 interconnected films and has drawn audiences to witness the turning point of this epic journey. SIGGRAPH 2019 keynote speaker Victoria Alonso will join Marvel Studios, Digital Domain, ILM and Weta Digital as they discuss how the diverse collection of heroes, environments, and visual effects were assembled into this ultimate, climactic final chapter.

Space Explorers — Filming VR in Microgravity
Felix & Paul Studios, along with collaborators from NASA and the ISS National Lab, share insights from one of the most ambitious VR projects ever undertaken. In this session, the team will discuss the background of how this partnership came to be before diving into the technical challenges of capturing cinematic virtual reality on the ISS.

Productions Sessions are open to conference participants with Select Conference, Full Conference or Full Conference Platinum registrations. The Production Gallery can be accessed with an Experiences badge and above.

Axis provides 1,000 VFX shots for the TV series Happy!

UK-based animation and visual effects house Axis Studios has delivered 1,000 shots across 10 episodes on the second series of the UCP-produced hit Syfy show Happy!.

Based on Grant Morrison and Darick Robertson’s graphic novel, Happy! follows alcoholic ex-cop turned hitman Nick Sax (Christopher Meloni), who teams up with imaginary unicorn Happy (voiced by Patton Oswalt). In the second season, the action moves from Christmastime to “the biggest holiday rebranding of all time” and a plot to “make Easter great again,” courtesy of last season’s malevolent child-kidnapper, Sonny Shine (Christopher Fitzgerald).

Axis Studios, working across its three creative sites in Glasgow, Bristol, and London, collaborated with executive producer and director Brian Taylor and showrunner Patrick Macmanus to raise the bar on the animation of the fully CG character. The studio also worked on a host of supporting characters, including a “chain-smoking man-baby,” a gimp-like Easter Bunny and even a Jeff Goldblum-shaped cloud. Alongside the extensive animation work, the team’s VFX workload greatly increased from the first season — including two additional episodes, creature work, matte painting, cloud simulations, asset building and extensive effects and clean-up work.

Building on the success of the first season, the 100-person team of artists further developed the animation of the lead character, Happy!, improving the rig, giving more nuanced emotions and continually working to integrate him more in the real-world environments.

UK’s Jellyfish adds virtual animation studio and Kevin Spruce

London-based visual effects and animation studio Jellyfish Pictures is opening of a new virtual animation facility in Sheffield. The new site is the company’s fifth studio in the UK, in addition to its established studios in Fitzrovia, Central London; Brixton; South London; and Oval, South London. This addition is no surprise considering Jellyfish created one of Europe’s first virtual VFX studios back in 2017.

With no hardware housed onsite, Jellyfish Pictures’ Sheffield studio — situated in the city center within the Cooper Project Complex — will operate in a completely PC-over-IP environment. With all technology and pipeline housed in a centrally-based co-location, the studio is able to virtualize its distributed workstations through Teradici’s remote visualization solution, allowing for total flexibility and scalability.

The Sheffield site will sit on the same logical LAN as the other four studios, providing access to the company’s software-defined storage (SDS) from Pixit Media, enabling remote collaboration and support for flexible working practices. With the rest of Jellyfish Pictures’ studios all TPN-accredited, the Sheffield studio will follow in their footsteps, using Pixit Media’s container solution within PixStor 5.

The innovative studio will be headed up by Jellyfish Pictures’ newest appointment, animation director Kevin Spruce. With a career spanning over 30 years, Spruce joins Jellyfish from Framestore, where he oversaw a team of 120 as the company’s head of animation. During his time at Framestore, Spruce worked as animation supervisor on feature films such as Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, The Legend of Tarzan and Guardians of the Galaxy. Prior to his 17-year stint at Framestore, Spruce held positions at Canadian animation company, Bardel Entertainment and Spielberg-helmed feature animation studio Amblimation.

Jellyfish Pictures’ northern presence will start off with a small team of animators working on the company’s original animation projects, with a view to expand its team and set up with a large feature animation project by the end of the year.

“We have multiple projects coming up that will demand crewing up with the very best talent very quickly,” reports Phil Dobree, CEO of Jellyfish Pictures. “Casting off the constraints of infrastructure, which traditionally has been the industry’s way of working, means we are not limited to the London talent pool and can easily scale up in a more efficient and economical way than ever before. We all know London, and more specifically Soho, is an expensive place to play, both for employees working here and for the companies operating here. Technology is enabling us to expand our horizon across the UK and beyond, as well as offer talent a way out of living in the big city.”

For Spruce, the move made perfect sense: “After 30 years working in and around Soho, it was time for me to move north and settle in Sheffield to achieve a better work life balance with family. After speaking with Phil, I was excited to discover he was interested in expanding his remote operation beyond London. With what technology can offer now, the next logical step is to bring the work to people rather than always expecting them to move south.

“As animation director for Jellyfish Pictures Sheffield, it’s my intention to recruit a creative team here to strengthen the company’s capacity to handle the expanding slate of work currently in-house and beyond. I am very excited to be part of this new venture north with Jellyfish. It’s a vision of how creative companies can grow in new ways and access talent pools farther afield.”

 

Amazon’s Good Omens: VFX supervisor Jean-Claude Deguara

By Randi Altman

Good versus evil. It’s a story that’s been told time and time again, but Amazon’s Good Omens turns that trope on its head a bit. With Armageddon approaching, two unlikely heroes and centuries-long frenemies— an angel (Michael Sheen) and demon (David Tennant) — team up to try to fight off the end of the world. Think buddy movie, but with the fate of the world at stake.

In addition to Tennant and Sheen, the Good Omens cast is enviable — featuring Jon Hamm, Michael McKean, Benedict Cumberbatch and Nick Offerman, just to name a few. The series is based on the 1990 book by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman.

Jean-Claude Degaura

As you can imagine, this six-part end-of-days story features a variety of visual effects, from creatures to environments to particle effects and fire. London’s Milk was called on to provide 650 visual effects shots, and its co-founder Jean-Claude Deguara supervised all.

He was also able to talk directly with Gaiman, which he says was a huge help. “Having access to Neil Gaiman as the author of Good Omens was just brilliant, as it meant we were able to ask detailed questions to get a more detailed brief when creating the VFX and receive such insightful creative feedback on our work. There was never a question that couldn’t be answered. You don’t often get that level of detail when you’re developing the VFX.”

Let’s find out more about Deguara’s process and the shots in the show as he walks us through his collaboration and creating some very distinctive characters.

Can you talk about how early you got involved on Good Omens?
We were involved right at the beginning, pre-script. It’s always the best scenario for VFX to be involved at the start, to maximize planning time. We spent time with director Douglas Mackinnon, breaking down all six scripts to plan the VFX methodology — working out and refining how to best use VFX to support the storytelling. In fact, we stuck to most of what we envisioned and we continued to work closely with him throughout the project.

How did getting involved when you did help the process?
With the sheer volume and variety of work — 650 shots, a five-month post production turnaround and a crew of 60 — the planning and development time in preproduction was essential. The incredibly wide range of work spanned multiple creatures, environments and effects work.

Having constant access to Neil as author and showrunner was brilliant as we could ask for clarification and more details from him directly when creating the VFX and receive immediate creative feedback. And it was invaluable to have Douglas working with us to translate Neil’s vision in words onto the screen and plan out what was workable. It also meant I was able to show them concepts the team were developing back in the studio while we were on set in South Africa. It was a very collaborative process.

It was important to have strong crew across all VFX disciplines as they worked together on multiple sequences at the same time. So you’re starting in tracking on one, in effects on another and compositing and finishing everything off on another. It was a big logistical challenge, but certainly the kind that we relish and are well versed in at Milk.

Did you do previs? If so, how did that help and what did you use?
We only used previs to work out how to technically achieve certain shots or to sell an idea to Douglas and Neil. It was generally very simple, using gray scale animation with basic geometry. We used it to do a quick layout of how to rescale the dog to be a bigger hellhound, for example.

You were on set supervising… can you talk about how that helped?
It was a fast-moving production with multiple locations in the UK over about six months, followed by three months in South Africa. It was crucial for the volume and variety of VFX work required on Good Omens that I was across all the planning and execution of filming for our shots.

Being on set allowed me to help solve various problems as we went along. I could also show Neil and Douglas various concepts that were being developed back in the studio, so that we could move forward more quickly with creative development of the key sequences, particularly the challenging ones such as Satan and the Bentley.

What were the crucial things to ensure during the shoot?
Making sure all the preparation was done meticulously for each shot — given the large volume and variety of the environments and sets. I worked very closely with Douglas on the shoot so we could have discussions to problem-solve where needed and find creative solutions.

Can you point to an example?
We had multiple options for shots involving the Bentley, so our advance planning and discussions with Douglas involved pulling out all the car sequences in the series scripts and creating a “mini script” specifically for the Bentley. This enabled us to plan which assets (the real car, the art department’s interior car shell or the CG car) were required and when.

You provided 650 VFX shots. Can you describe the types of effects?
We created everything from creatures (Satan exploding up out of the ground; a kraken; the hellhound; a demon and a snake) to environments (heaven – a penthouse with views of major world landmarks, a busy Soho street); feathered wings for Michael Sheen’s angel Aziraphale and David Tennant’s demon Crowley, and a CG Bentley in which Tennant’s Crowley hurtles around London.

We also had a large effects team working on a whole range of effects over the six episodes — from setting the M25 and the Bentley on fire to a flaming sword to a call center filled with maggots to a sequence in which Crowley (Tennant) travels through the internet at high speed.

Despite the fantasy nature of the subject matter, it was important to Gaiman that the CG elements did not stand out too much. We needed to ensure the worlds and characters were always kept grounded in reality. A good example is how we approached heaven and hell. These key locations are essentially based around an office block. Nothing too fantastical, but they are, as you would expect, completely different and deliberately so.

Hell is the basement, which was shot in a disused abattoir in South Africa, whilst heaven is a full CG environment located in the penthouse with a panoramic view over a cityscape featuring landmarks such as the Eiffel Tower, The Shard and the Pyramids.

You created many CG creatures. Can you talk about the challenges of that and how you accomplished them?
Many of the main VFX features, such as Satan (voiced by Benedict Cumberbatch), appear only once in the six-part series as the story moves swiftly toward the apocalypse. So we had to strike a careful balance between delivering impact yet ensuring they were immediately recognizable and grounded in reality. Given our fast five-month post- turnaround, we had our key teams working concurrently on creatures such as a kraken; the hellhound; a small, portly demon called Usher who meets his demise in a bath of holy water; and the infamous snake in the Garden of Eden.

We have incorporated Ziva VFX into our pipeline, which ensured our rigging and modeling teams maximized the development and build phases in the timeframe. For example, the muscle, fat and skin simulations are all solved on the renderfarm; the animators can publish a scene and then review the creature effects in dailies the next day.

We use our proprietary software CreatureTools for rigging all our creatures. It is a modular rigging package, which allows us to very quickly build animation rigs for previs or blocking and we build our deformation muscle and fat rigs in Ziva VFX. It means the animators can start work quickly and there is a lot of consistency between the rigs.

Can you talk about the kraken?
The kraken pays homage to Ray Harryhausen and his work on Clash of the Titans. Our team worked to create the immense scale of the kraken and take water simulations to the next level. The top half of the kraken body comes up out of the water and we used a complex ocean/water simulation system that was originally developed for our ocean work on the feature film Adrift.

Can you dig in a bit more about Satan?
Near the climax of Good Omens, Aziraphale, Crowley and Adam witness the arrival of Satan. In the early development phase, we were briefed to highlight Satan’s enormous size (about 400 feet) without making him too comical. He needed to have instant impact given that he appears on screen for just this one long sequence and we don’t see him again.

Our first concept was pretty scary, but Neil wanted him simpler and more immediately recognizable. Our concept artist created a horned crown, which along with his large, muscled, red body delivered the look Neil had envisioned.

We built the basic model, and when Cumberbatch was cast, the modeling team introduced some of his facial characteristics into Satan’s FACS-based blend shape set. Video reference of the actor’s voice performance, captured on a camera phone, helped inform the final keyframe animation. The final Satan was a full Ziva VFX build, complete with skeleton, muscles, fat and skin. The team set up the muscle scene and fat scene in a path to an Alembic cache of the skeleton so that they ended up with a blended mesh of Satan with all the muscle detail on it.

We then did another skin pass on the face to add extra wrinkles and loosen things up. A key challenge for our animation team — lead by Joe Tarrant — lay in animating a creature of the immense scale of Satan. They needed to ensure the balance and timing of his movements felt absolutely realistic.

Our effects team — lead by James Reid — layered multiple effects simulations to shatter the airfield tarmac and generate clouds of smoke and dust, optimizing setups so that only those particles visible on camera were simulated. The challenge was maintaining a focus on the enormous size and impact of Satan while still showing the explosion of the concrete, smoke and rubble as he emerges.

Extrapolating from live-action plates shot at an airbase, the VFX team built a CG environment and inserted live action of the performers into otherwise fully digital shots of the gigantic red-skinned devil bursting out of the ground.

And the hellhound?
Beelzebub (Anna Maxwell Martin) sends the antichrist (a boy named Adam) a giant hellhound. By giving the giant beast a scary name, Adam will set Armageddon in motion. In reality, Adam really just wants a loveable pet and transforms the hellhound into a miniature hound called, simply, Dog.

A Great Dane performed as the hellhound, photographed in a forest location while a grip kept pace with a small square of bluescreen. The Milk team tracked the live action and performed a digital head and neck replacement. Sam Lucas modeled the head in Autodesk Maya, matching the real dog’s anatomy before stretching its features into grotesquery. A final round of sculpting followed in Pixologic ZBrush, with artists refining 40-odd blend shapes for facial expression.

Once our rigging team got the first iteration of the blend shapes, they passed the asset off to animation for feedback. They then added an extra level of tweaking around the lips. In the creature effects phase, they used Ziva VFX to add soft body jiggle around the bottom of the lips and jowls.

What about creating the demon Usher?
One of our favorite characters was the small, rotund, quirky demon creature called Usher. He is a fully rigged CG character. Our team took a fully concepted image and adapted it to the performance and physicality of the actor. To get the weight of Usher’s rotund body, the rigging team — lead by Neil Roche — used Ziva VFX to run a soft body simulation on the fatty parts of the creature, which gave him a realistic jiggle. They then added a skin simulation using Ziva’s cloth solver to give an extra layer of wrinkling across Usher’s skin. Finally they used nCloth in Maya to simulate his sash and medals.

Was one more challenging/rewarding than the others?
Satan, because of his huge scale and the integrated effects.

Out of all of the effects, can you talk about your favorite?
The CG Bentley without a doubt! The digital Bentley featured in scenes showing the car tearing around London and the countryside at 90 miles per hour. Ultimately, Crowley drives through hell fire on the M25, it catches fire and burns continuously as he heads toward the site of Armageddon. The production located a real Bentley 3.5 Derby Coupe Thrupp & Maberly 1934, which we photo scanned and modeled in intricate detail. We introduced subtle imperfections to the body panels, ensuring the CG Bentley had the same handcrafted appearance as the real thing and would hold up in full-screen shots, including continuous transitions from the street through a window to the actors in an interior replica car.

In order to get the high speed required, we shot plates on location from multiple cameras, including on a motorbike to achieve the high-speed bursts. Later, production filled the car with smoke and our effects team added CG fire and burning textures to the exterior of our CG car, which intensified as he continued his journey.

You’ve talked about the tight post turnaround? How did you show the client shots for approval?
Given the volume and wide range of work required, we were working on a range of sequences concurrently to maximize the short post window — and align our teams when they were working on similar types of shot.

We had constant access to Neil and Douglas throughout the post period, which was crucial for approvals and feedback as we developed key assets and delivered key sequences. Neil and Douglas would visit Milk regularly for reviews toward delivery of the project.

What tools did you use for the VFX?
Amazon (AWS) for cloud rendering, Ziva for creature rigging, Maya, Nuke, Houdini for effects and Arnold for rendering.

What haven’t I asked that is important to touch on?
Our work on Soho, in which Michael Sheen’s Aziraphale bookshop is situated. Production designer Michael Ralph created a set based on Soho’s Berwick Street, comprising a two-block street exterior constructed up to the top of the first story, with the complete bookshop — inside and out — standing on the corner.

Four 20-x-20-foot mobile greenscreens helped our environment team complete the upper levels of the buildings and extend the road into the far distance. We photo scanned both the set and the original Berwick Street location, combining the reference to build digital assets capturing the district’s unique flavor for scenes during both day and nighttime.


Before and After: Soho

Mackinnon wanted crowds of people moving around constantly, so on shooting days crowds of extras thronged the main section of street and a steady stream of vehicles turned in from a junction part way down. Areas outside this central zone remained empty, enabling us to drop in digital people and traffic without having to do takeovers from live-action performers and cars. Milk had a 1,000-frame cycle of cars and people that it dropped into every scene. We kept the real cars always pulling in round the corner and devised it so there was always a bit of gridlock going on at the back.

And finally, we relished the opportunity to bring to life Neil Gaiman and Douglas Mackinnon’s awesome apocalyptic vision for Good Omens. It’s not often you get to create VFX in a comedy context. For example, the stuff inside the antichrist’s head: whatever he thinks of becomes reality. However, for a 12-year-old child, this means reality is rather offbeat.


Randi Altman is the founder and editor-in-chief of postPerspective. She has been covering production and post production for more than 20 years. 

Behind the Title: Ntropic Flame artist Amanda Amalfi

NAME: Amanda Amalfi

COMPANY: Ntropic (@ntropic)

CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR COMPANY?
Ntropic is a content creator producing work for commercials, music videos and feature films as well as crafting experiential and interactive VR and AR media. We have offices in San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York City and London. Some of the services we provide include design, VFX, animation, color, editing, color grading and finishing.

WHAT’S YOUR JOB TITLE?
Senior Flame Artist

WHAT DOES THAT ENTAIL?
Being a senior Flame artist involves a variety of tasks that really span the duration of a project. From communicating with directors, agencies and production teams to helping plan out any visual effects that might be in a project (also being a VFX supervisor on set) to the actual post process of the job.

Amanda worked on this lipstick branding video for the makeup brand Morphe.

It involves client and team management (as you are often also the 2D lead on a project) and calls for a thorough working knowledge of the Flame itself, both in timeline management and that little thing called compositing. The compositing could cross multiple disciplines — greenscreen keying, 3D compositing, set extension and beauty cleanup to name a few. And it helps greatly to have a good eye for color and to be extremely detail-oriented.

WHAT MIGHT SURPRISE PEOPLE ABOUT YOUR ROLE?
How much it entails. Since this is usually a position that exists in a commercial house, we don’t have as many specialties as there would be in the film world.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
First is the artwork. I like that we get to work intimately with the client in the room to set looks. It’s often a very challenging position to be in — having to create something immediately — but the challenge is something that can be very fun and rewarding. Second, I enjoy being the overarching VFX eye on the project; being involved from the outset and seeing the project through to delivery.

WHAT’S YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?
We’re often meeting tight deadlines, so the hours can be unpredictable. But the best work happens when the project team and clients are all in it together until the last minute.

WHAT IS YOUR MOST PRODUCTIVE TIME OF THE DAY?
The evening. I’ve never been a morning person so I generally like the time right before we leave for the day, when most of the office is wrapping up and it gets a bit quieter.

IF YOU DIDN’T HAVE THIS JOB, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING INSTEAD?
Probably a tactile art form. Sometimes I have the urge to create something that is tangible, not viewed through an electronic device — a painting or a ceramic vase, something like that.

HOW EARLY ON DID YOU KNOW THIS WOULD BE YOUR PATH?
I loved films that were animated and/or used 3D elements growing up and wanted to know how they were made. So I decided to go to a college that had a computer art program with connections in the industry and was able to get my first job as a Flame assistant in between my junior and senior years of college.

ANA Airlines

CAN YOU NAME SOME RECENT PROJECTS YOU HAVE WORKED ON?
Most recently I worked on a campaign for ANA Airlines. It was a fun, creative challenge on set and in post production. Before that I worked on a very interesting project for Facebook’s F8 conference featuring its AR functionality and helped create a lipstick branding video for the makeup brand Morphe.

IS THERE A PROJECT THAT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?
I worked on a spot for Vaseline that was a “through the ages” concept and we had to create looks that would read as from 1880s, 1900, 1940s, 1970s and present day, in locations that varied from the Arctic to the building of the Brooklyn Bridge to a boxing ring. To start we sent the digitally shot footage with our 3D and comps to a printing house and had it printed and re-digitized. This worked perfectly for the ’70s-era look. Then we did additional work to age it further to the other eras — though my favorite was the Arctic turn-of-the-century look.

NAME SOME TECHNOLOGY YOU CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT.
Flame… first and foremost. It really is the most inclusive software — I can grade, track, comp, paint and deliver all in one program. My monitors — the 4K Eizo and color-calibrated broadcast monitor, are also essential.

WHAT SOCIAL MEDIA CHANNELS DO YOU FOLLOW?
Mostly Instagram.

DO YOU LISTEN TO MUSIC WHILE YOU WORK? 
I generally have music on with clients, so I will put on some relaxing music. If I’m not with clients, I listen to podcasts. I love How Did This Get Made and Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend.

WHAT DO YOU DO TO DE-STRESS FROM IT ALL?
Hiking and cooking are two great de-stressors for me. I love being in nature and working out and then going home and making a delicious meal.

NYC’s The-Artery expands to larger space in Chelsea

The-Artery has expanded and moved into a new 7,500-square-foot space in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood. Founded by chief creative officer Vico Sharabani, The-Artery will use this extra space while providing visual effects, post supervision, offline editorial, live action and experience design and development across multiple platforms.

According to Sharabani, the new space is not only a response to the studio’s growth, but allows The-Artery to foster better collaboration and reinforce its relationships with clients and creative partners. “As a creative studio, we recognize how important it is for our artists, producers and clients to be working in a space that is comfortable and supportive of our creative process,” he says. “The extraordinary layout of this new space, the size, the lighting and even our location, allows us to provide our clients with key capabilities and plays an important part in promoting our mission moving forward.”

Recent The-Artery projects include 2018’s VR-enabled production for Mercedez-Benz, their work on Under Armour’s “Rush” campaign and Beyonce’s Coachella documentary, Homecoming.

They have also worked on feature films like Netflix’s Beasts of No Nation, Wes Anderson’s Oscar-winning Grand Budapest Hotel and the crime caper Ocean’s 8.

The-Artery’s new studio features a variety of software including Flame, Houdini, Cinema 4D, 3ds Max, Maya, the Adobe Creative Cloud suite of tools, Avid Media Composer, Shotgun for review and approval and more.

The-Artery features a veteran team of talented team of artists and creative collaborators, including a recent addition — editor and former Mad River Post owner Michael Elliot. “Whether they are agencies, commercial and film directors or studios, our clients always work directly with our creative directors and artists, collaborating closely throughout a project,” says Sharabani.

Main Image: Vico Sharabani (far right) and team in their new space.

FXhome, Vegas Creative Software partner on Vegas Post

HitFilm creator FXhome has partnered with Vegas Creative Software to launch a new suite of editing, VFX, compositing and imaging tools for video pros, editors and VFX artists called Vegas Post.

Vegas Post will combine the editing tools of Vegas Pro with FXhome’s expertise in compositing and visual effects to offer an array of features and capabilities.

FXhome is developing customized effects and compositing tools specifically for Vegas Post. The new software suite will also integrate a custom-developed version of FXhome’s new non-destructive RAW image compositor that will enable video editors to work with still-image and graphical content and incorporate it directly into their final productions. All tools will work together seamlessly in an integrated, end-to-end workflow to accelerate and streamline the post production process for artists.

The new software suite is ideally suited for video pros in post facilities of all sizes and requirements — from individual artists to large post studios, broadcasters and small/medium enterprise installations. It will be available in the third quarter, with pricing to be announced.

Meanwhile, FXhome has teamed up with Filmstro, which offers a royalty-free music library, to provide HitFilm users with access to the entire Filmstro music library for 12 months. With Filmstro available directly from the FXhome store, HitFilm users can use Filmstro soundtracks on unlimited projects and get access to weekly new music updates.

Offering more than just a royalty-free music library, Filmstro has developed a user interface that gives artists flexibility and control over selected music tracks for use in their HitFilm projects. HitFilm users can control the momentum, depth and power of any Filmstro track, using sliders to perfectly match any sequence in a HitFilm project. Users can also craft soundtracks to perfectly fit images by using a keyframe graph editor within Filmstro. Moving sliders automatically create keyframes for each element and can be edited at any point.

Filmstro offers over 60 albums’ worth of music with weekly music releases. All tracks are searchable using keywords, film and video genre, musical style, instrumental palette or mood. All Filmstro music is licensed for usage worldwide and in perpetuity. The Filmstro dynamic royalty-free music library is available now on the FXhome Store for $249 and can be purchased here.

Checking In: Glassworks’ Duncan Malcolm, Flame Award winner

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

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

Duncan Malcolm

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sydney’s Fin creates CG robot for Netflix film I Am Mother

Fin Design + Effects, an Australian-based post production house with studios in Melbourne and Sydney, brings its VFX and visual storytelling expertise to the upcoming Netflix film I Am Mother. Directed by Grant Sputore, the post-apocalyptic film stars Hilary Swank, Rose Byrne and Clara Rugaard.

In I Am Mother, a teenage girl (Rugaard) is raised underground by the robot “Mother” (voiced by Byrne), designed to repopulate the earth following an extinction event. But their unique bond is threatened when an inexplicable stranger (Swank) arrives with alarming news.

Working closely with the director, Fin Design’s Sydney office built a CG version of the AI robot Mother to be used interchangeably with the practical robot suit built by New Zealand’s Weta Workshop. Fin was involved from the early stages of the process to help develop the look of Mother, completing extensive design work and testing, which then fed back into the practical suit.

In total, Fin produced over 220 VFX shots, including the creation of a menacing droid army as well as general enhancements to the environments and bunker where this post-apocalyptic story takes place.

According to Fin Australia’s managing director, Chris Spry, “Grant was keen on creating an homage of sorts to old-school science-fiction films and embracing practical filmmaking techniques, so we worked with him to formulate the best approach that would still achieve the wow factor — seamlessly combining CG and practical effects. We created an exact CG copy of the suit, visualizing high-action moments such as running, or big stunt scenes that the suit couldn’t perform in real life, which ultimately accounted for around 80 shots.”

Director Sputore on working with Fin: “They offer suggestions and bust expectations. In particular, they delivered visual effects magic with our CG Mother, one minute having her thunder down bunker corridors and in the next moment speed-folding intricate origami creations. For the most part, the robot at the center of our film was achieved practically. But in those handful of moments where a practical solution wasn’t possible, it was paramount that the audience was not be bumped from the film by a sudden transition to a VFX version of one of our central characters. In the end, even I can’t tell which shots of Mother are CG and which are practical, and, crucially, neither can the audience.”

To create the CG replica, the Fin team paid meticulous attention to detail, ensuring the material, shaders and textures perfectly matched photographs and laser scans of the practical suit. The real challenge, however, was in interpreting the nuances of the movements.

“Precision was key,” explains VFX supervisor Jonathan Dearing. “There are many shots cutting rapidly between the real suit and CG suit, so any inconsistencies would be under a spotlight. It wasn’t just about creating a perfect CG replica but also interpreting the limitations of the suit. CG can actually depict a more seamless movement, but to make it truly identical, we needed to mimic the body language and nuances of the actor in the suit [Luke Hawker]. We did a character study of Luke and rigged it to build a CG version of the suit that could mimic him precisely.”

Fin finessed its robust automation pipeline for this project. Built to ensure greater efficiency, the system allows animators to push their work through lighting and comp at the click of a button. For example, if a shot didn’t have a specific light rig made for it, animators could automatically apply a generic light rig that suits the whole film. This tightly controlled system meant that Fin could have one lighter and one animator working on 200 shots without compromising on quality.

The studio used Autodesk Maya, Side Effects Houdini, Foundry Nuke and Redshift on this project.

I Am Mother premiered at the 2019 Sundance Film Festival and is set to stream on Netflix on June 7.

Behind the Title: MPC creative director Rupert Cresswell

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

NAME: Rupert Cresswell

COMPANY: MPC

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

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

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

VeChain 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pen15

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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