Tag Archives: VFX

Using VFX to bring the new Volkswagen Jetta to life

LA-based studio Jamm provided visual effects for the all-new 2019 Volkswagen Jetta campaign Betta Getta Jetta. Created by Deutsch and produced by ManvsMachine, the series of 12 spots bring the Jetta to life by combining Jamm’s CG design with a color palette inspired by the car’s 10-color ambient lighting system.

“The VW campaign offered up some incredibly fun and intricate challenges. Most notably was the volume of work to complete in a limited amount of time — 12 full-CG spots in just nine weeks, each one unique with its own personality,” says VFX supervisor Andy Boyd.

Collaboration was key to delivering so many spots in such a short span of time. Jamm worked closely with ManvsMachine on every shot. “The team had a very strong creative vision which is crucial in the full 3D world where anything is possible,” explains Boyd.

Jamm employed a variety of techniques for the music-centric campaign, which highlights updated features such as ambient lighting and Beats Audio. The series includes spots titled  Remix, Bumper-to-Bumper, Turb-Whoa, Moods, Bass, Rings, Puzzle and App Magnet, along with 15-second teasers, all of which aired on various broadcast, digital and social channels during the World Cup.

For “Remix,” Jamm brought both a 1985 and a 2019 Jetta to life, along with a hybrid mix of the two, adding a cool layer of turntablist VFX, whereas for “Puzzle,” they cut up the car procedurally in Houdini​, which allowed the team to change around the slices as needed.

For Bass, Jamm helped bring personality to the car while keeping its movements grounded in reality. Animation supervisor Stew Burris pushed the car’s performance and dialed in the choreography of the dance with ManvsMachine as the Jetta discovered the beat, adding exciting life to the car as it bounced to the bassline and hit the switches on a little three-wheel motion.

We reached out to Jamm’s Boyd to find out more.

How early did Jamm get involved?
We got involved as soon as agency boards were client approved. We worked hand in hand with ManvMachine to previs each of the spots in order to lay the foundation for our CG team to execute both agency and directors’ vision.

What were the challenges of working on so many spots at once.
The biggest challenge was for editorial to keep up with the volume of previs options we gave them to present to agency.

Other than Houdini, what tools did they use?
Flame, Nuke and Maya were used as well.

What was your favorite spot of the 12 and why?
Puzzle was our favorite to work on. It was the last of the bunch delivered to Deutsch which we treated with a more technical approach, slicing up the car like a Rubix’s Cube.

 

2nd-gen AMD Ryzen Threadripper processors

At the SIGGRAPH show, AMD announced the availability of its 2nd-generation AMD Ryzen Threadripper 2990WX processor with 32 cores and 64 threads. These new AMD Ryzen Threadripper processors are built using 12nm “Zen+” x86 processor architecture. Second-gen AMD Ryzen Threadripper processors support the most I/O and are compatible with existing AMD X399 chipset motherboards via a simple BIOS update, offering builders a broad choice for designing the ultimate high-end desktop or workstation PC.

The 32-core/64-thread Ryzen Threadripper 2990WX and the 24-core/48-thread Ryzen Threadripper 2970WX are purpose-built for prosumers who crave raw computational compute power to dispatch the heaviest workloads. The 2nd-gen AMD Ryzen Threadripper 2990WX offers up to 53 percent faster multithread performance and up to 47 percent more rendering performance for creators than the core i9-7980XE.

This new AMD Ryzen Threadripper X series comes with a higher base and boost clocks for users who need high performance. The 16 cores and 32 threads in the 2950X model offer up to 41 percent more multithreaded performance than the Core i9-7900X.

Additional performance and value come from:
• AMD StoreMI technology: All X399 platform users will now have free access to AMD StoreMI technology, enabling configured PCs to load files, games and applications from a high-capacity hard drive at SSD-like read speeds.
• Ryzen Master Utility: Like all AMD Ryzen processors, the 2nd-generation AMD Ryzen Threadripper CPUs are fully unlocked. With the updated AMD Ryzen Master Utility, AMD has added new features, such as fast core detection both on die and per CCX; advanced hardware controls; and simple, one-click workload optimizations.
• Precision Boost Overdrive (PBO): A new performance-enhancing feature that allows multithreaded boost limits to be raised by tapping into extra power delivery headroom in premium motherboards.

With a simple BIOS update, all 2nd-generation AMD Ryzen Threadripper CPUs are supported by a full ecosystem of new motherboards and all existing X399 platforms. Designs are available from top motherboard manufacturers, including ASRock, ASUS, Gigabyte and MSI.

The 32-core, 64-thread AMD Ryzen Threadripper 2990WX is available now from global retailers and system integrators. The 16-core, 32-thread AMD Ryzen Threadripper 2950X processor is expected to launch on August 31, and the AMD Ryzen Threadripper 2970WX and 2920X models are slated for launch in October.

NIM 3.0 studio management tool debuts at Siggraph

NIM Labs’ new NIM 3.0 is an all-in-one studio management platform that helps visual effects and post production houses track projects and manage their company. Created by creative directors and studio heads, NIM 3.0 helps studios do more under one roof with a redesigned review tool, grouped bidding and a live link to Adobe Premiere.

What began as an in-house toolset for Ntropic is now the studio management software in-house at Digital Domain, Logan, Taylor James and Intelligent Creatures. With NIM 3.0, studios get access tools to handle bidding, tracking, versioning, scheduling, reviews, finances and time cards in one place.

The creative review tool has been rewritten from the ground up to make screening and markup of videos, PDFs and still frames even easier. Review capabilities have also been extended to more parts of NIM, so users can do more in a single location. With Review Bins, teams can stay organized using saveable smart filters and grouped elements for later use. Review Bins come with a new Theater View, which allows for a larger viewer experience and the ability to zoom, fit, fill and pan review items during playback. Review items can also be stacked according to version, allowing supervisors and clients to quickly visualize progress.

After years of building NIM Connectors into Maya, Houdini, 3ds Max, Nuke and Flame, NIM Labs is introducing its first direct workflow for Adobe Premiere editors. With NIM 3.0, Adobe Premiere becomes a conform tool, helping VFX, VR and post houses do everything from creating timeline shots to round-tripping elements rendered in other packages, all without leaving the app. Thanks to the new NIM Connector, the entire creative review process can be conducted from within Premiere, creating a seamless experience. Premiere is NIM’s third Adobe connection, following After Effects and Photoshop.

NIM’s bidding system was created to get bids out the door faster using studio-wide templates. In NIM 3.0, new organizational tools let producers define the different sections of their bid using groups, allowing greater flexibility and speed when responding to a large RFP. Through item linking, users will be able to modify multiple line items simultaneously, with the ability to attach further information like images, notes and descriptions when the need arises.

Companies with existing directory systems can now immediately integrate NIM with their users. By accessing NIM 3.0’s on-board security controls, organizations can manage permissions and security groups from Active Directory (AD) or Lightweight Directory Access Protocol (LDAP). Support for multiple domains will add even more authentication controls across networks.

NIM 3.0 will be available in the fall. Active user licenses cost $360 annually and $40 monthly. NIM 2.8 is currently available as a free 30-day trial.

Behind the Title: Jogger Studios’ CD Andy Brown

This veteran creative director can also often be found at the controls of his Flame working on a new spot.

NAME: Andy Brown

COMPANY: Jogger Studios (@joggerstudios)

CAN YOU DESCRIBE YOUR COMPANY?
We are a boutique post house with offices in the US and UK providing visual effects, motion graphics, color grading and finishing. We are partnered with Cut + Run for editorial and get to work with their editors from around the world. I am based in our Jogger Los Angeles office, after having helped found the company in London.

WHAT’S YOUR JOB TITLE?
Creative Director

WHAT DOES THAT ENTAIL?
Overseeing compositing, visual effects and finishing. Looking after staff and clients. Juggling all of these things and anticipating the unexpected.

WHAT WOULD SURPRISE PEOPLE THE MOST ABOUT WHAT FALLS UNDER THAT TITLE?
I’m still working “on the box” every day. Even though my title is creative director, it is the hands-on work that is my first love as far as project collaborations go. Also I get to re-program the phones and crawl under the desks to get the wires looking neater when viewed from the client couch.

WHAT’S YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THE JOB?
The variety, the people and the challenges. Just getting to work on a huge range of creative projects is such a privilege. How many people get to go to work each day looking forward to it?

WHAT’S YOUR LEAST FAVORITE?
The hours, occasionally. It’s more common to have to work without clients nowadays. That definitely makes for more work sometimes, as you might need to create two or three versions of a spot to get approval. If everyone was in the room together you reach a consensus more quickly.

WHAT IS YOUR FAVORITE TIME OF THE DAY?
I like the start of the day best, when everyone is coming into the office and we are getting set up for whatever project we are working on. Could be the first coffee of the day that does it.

IF YOU DIDN’T HAVE THIS JOB, WHAT WOULD YOU BE DOING INSTEAD?
I want to say classic car dealer, but given my actual career path the most likely alternative would be editor.

WHY DID YOU CHOOSE THIS PROFESSION?
There were lots of reasons, when I look at it. It was either the Blue Peter Book of Television (the longest running TV program for kids, courtesy of the BBC) or my visit to the HTV Wales TV station with my dad when I was about 12. We walked around the studios and they were playing out a film to air, grading it live through a telecine. I was really struck by the influence that the colorist was having on what was seen.

I went on to do critical work on photography, film and television at the Centre for Contemporary Cultural Studies at Birmingham University. Part of that course involved being shown around the Pebble Mill BBC Studios. They were editing a sequence covering a public enquiry into the Handsworth riots in 1985. It just struck me how powerful the editing process was. The story could be told so many different ways, and the editor was playing a really big part in the process.

Those experiences (and an interest in writing) led me to think that television might be a good place to work. I got my first job as a runner at MPC after a friend had advised me how to get a start in the business.

CAN YOU NAME SOME RECENT PROJECTS YOU HAVE WORKED ON?
We worked on a couple of spots for Bai recently with Justin Timberlake creating the “brasberry.” We had to make up some graphic animations for the newsroom studio backdrop for the shoot and then animate opening title graphics to look just enough like it was a real news report, but not too much like a real news report.

We do quite a bit of food work, so there’s always some burgers, chicken or sliced veggies that need a bit of love to make them pop.

There’s a nice set extension job starting next week, and we recently finished a job with around 400 final versions, which made for a big old deliverables spreadsheet. There’s so much that we do that no one sees, which is the point if we do it right.

WHAT IS THE PROJECT THAT YOU ARE MOST PROUD OF?
Sometimes the job that you are most proud of isn’t necessarily the most amazing thing to look at. I used to work on newspaper commercials back in the UK, and it was all so “last minute.” A story broke, and all of a sudden you had to have a spot ready to go on air with no edit, no footage and only the bare bones of a script. It could be really challenging, but we had to get it done somehow.

But the best thing is seeing something on TV that you’ve worked on. At Jogger Studios, it is primarily commercials, so you get that excitement over and over again. It’s on air for a few weeks and then it’s gone. I like that. I saw two of our spots in a row recently on TV, which I got a kick out of. Still looking for that elusive hat-trick.

NAME THREE PIECES OF TECHNOLOGY YOU CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT.
The Flame, the Land Rover Series III and, sadly, my glasses.

WHAT SOCIAL MEDIA CHANNELS DO YOU FOLLOW?
Just friends and family on Instagram, mainly. Although like most Flame operators, I look at the Flame Learning Channel on YouTube pretty regularly. YouTube also thinks I’m really interested in the Best Fails of 2018 for some reason.

DO YOU LISTEN TO MUSIC WHILE YOU WORK?
More often than not it is podcasts. West Wing Weekly, The Adam Buxton Podcast, Short Cuts and Song Exploder. Plus some of the shows on BBC 6 Music, which I really miss.

WHAT DO YOU DO TO DE-STRESS FROM IT ALL?
I go to work every day feeling incredibly lucky to be doing the job that I do, and it’s good to remember that. The 15-minute walk to and from work in Santa Monica usually does it.

Living so close to the beach is fantastic. We can get down to the sand, get the super-brella set up and get in the sea with the bodyboards in about 15 minutes. Then there’s the Malibu Cars & Coffee, which is a great place to start your Sunday.

The Darkest Minds director Jennifer Yuh Nelson

By Iain Blair

Jennifer Yuh Nelson has been an acclaimed — and highly bankable — director in animation for years, thanks to her work on the billion-dollar-grossing Kung Fu Panda franchise.

Now she’s taken on her first live-action film with Fox’s The Darkest Minds. Adapted from the best-selling book by Alexandra Bracken, the first in a YA trilogy, the film stars Amandla Stenberg in the lead as Ruby, along with Harris Dickinson, Miya Cech and Skylan Brooks.

The Darkest Minds also features adults, including Mandy Moore and Bradley Whitford, and revolves around a group of teens who mysteriously develop powerful new abilities and who are then declared a threat by the government and detained. It’s essentially a genre mash-up — a road movie with some sci-fi elements and lots of kinetic action. It was written by Chad Hodge, best known for his work as the creator and executive producer of TNT’s Good Behavior and Fox’s Wayward Pines.

Nelson’s creative team included DP Kramer Morgenthau (Terminator Genisys, Thor: The Dark World), editors Maryann Brandon (Star Wars: The Force Awakens) and Dean Zimmerman (Stranger Things), and visual effects supervisor Björn Mayer (Oblivion). Fox-based 21 Laps’ (Stranger Things, Arrival) Shawn Levy and Dan Levine produced.

I recently spoke with Nelson about making the film.

What sort of film did you set out to make?
To start off with, I wanted a great emotional core, and as this was based off a book, it already had that built in… even in early versions of the script. It had great characters with strong relationships, and I wanted to do some action stuff.

Any big surprises making the move to a major live-action film, or were you pretty prepared in terms of prep thanks to your background in animation?
I was pretty prepared, and the prep’s essentially the same as in animation. But, of course, production is utterly different, along with the experience of being on location. I had a really great crew and a fantastic DP, which helped me a lot. The big difference is suddenly you have the luxury of coverage, which you don’t get in animation. There you need to know exactly what you want, as it’s so expensive to create. Being outside all day on location, and dealing with the elements and crew and cast all at once — that was a big learning curve, but I really loved it. I had a fantastic time!

What were the main technical challenges in pulling it all together?
There were a lot of moving parts, and the main one was probably all the VFX involved. It’s a very reality-based book. It’s not set in outer space, and it’s supposed to look very grounded and seamless with reality. So you have these characters with superpowers that are meant to be very believable, but then we had fire, flamethrowers, 300 extras running around, wind machines and so on. Then all the post fire stuff we had to add later.

How early on did you start integrating post and all the VFX?
Right at the start, and my VFX super Björn Mayer was so smart about it and figuring out ways to get really cool looks. We tried out a ton of visual approaches. Some were done in camera, most were done in post or augmented in post – especially all the fire effects. It was intense reality, not complete reality, that we aimed for, so we had some flexibility.

I assume you did a lot of previs?
Quite a lot, and that was also a big help. We did full-3D previs, like we do in animation, so I was pretty used to that. We also storyboarded a big chunk of the movie, including scenes that normally you wouldn’t have to storyboard because I wanted to make completely sure we were covered on everything.

Didn’t you start off as a storyboard artist?
I did, and my husband’s one too, so I roped him in and we did the whole thing ourselves. It’s just an invaluable tool for showing people what’s going on in a director’s head, and when they’ve seen the pictures they can then offer creative ideas as everyone knows what you’re trying to achieve.

How tough was the shoot?
We shot in Atlanta, and it went smoothly considering there’s always unexpected things. We had freak thunderstorms and a lot of rain that made some sets sink and so on, but it’s how you respond to all that that counts. Everyone was calm and organized.

Where did you post?
Here in LA. We rented some offices near my home and just set up editorial and all our VFX there. It was very convenient.

In a sense, animation is all post, so you must love the post process?
You’re right – animation is like a long-running post for the whole production. I love post because it’s so transformative, and it’s beautiful to see all the VFX get layered in and see the movie suddenly come to life.

Talk about editing this with two editors. How did that work?
Maryann was on the set with us, working as we shot, and then Dean came on later in post, so we had a great team.

What were the big editing challenges?
I think the big one was making all the relationships believable over the course of the film, and so much of it is very subtle. It can come down to just a look or a moment, and we had to carefully plot the gradations and work hard to make it all feel real.

All the VFX play a big role. How many were there?
Well over 2,000 I think, and MPC and Crafty Apes did most of them. I loved working on them with my VFX supervisor. It’s very similar to working with them in animation, which is essentially one big VFX show. So I was very familiar with the process, although integrating them into live action instead of a virtual world is quite different. I loved seeing how it all got integrated so seamlessly.

Can you talk about the importance of sound and music?
It was so important to me, and we had quite a few songs in the film because it’s partly a road trip. There’s the big dance scene where we found a great song and then were able to shoot to the track. We mixed all the sound on the Fox lot.

Where did you do the DI and how important is it to you?
At Technicolor, and I’m pretty involved, although I don’t micro-manage. I’d give notes, and we’d make some stuff pop a bit more and play around with the palette, but basically it went pretty quickly as what we shot already looked really sweet.

Did the film turn out the way you hoped?
It did, and I can’t wait to do another live-action film. I adore animation, but live action’s like this new shiny toy.

You’re that Hollywood rarity — a successful female director. What advice would you give to young women who want to direct?
Do what makes you happy. Don’t do it just because someone says “you can” or “you can’t.” You’ve got to have that personal desire to do this job, and it’s not easy and I don’t expect change to come very quickly to Hollywood. But it is coming.


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: Weta Digital VFX supervisor Erik Winquist

NAME: Erik Winquist

COMPANY: Wellington, New Zealand’s Weta Digital

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

WHAT’S YOUR JOB TITLE?
Visual Effects Supervisor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rampage

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

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

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

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

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

Quick Chat: Joyce Cox talks VFX and budgeting

Veteran VFX producer Joyce Cox has a long and impressive list of credits to her name. She got her start producing effects shots for Titanic and from there went on to produce VFX for Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, The Dark Knight and Avatar, among many others. Along the way, Cox perfected her process for budgeting VFX for films and became a go-to resource for many major studios. She realized that the practice of budgeting VFX could be done more efficiently if there was a standardized way to track all of the moving parts in the life cycle of a project’s VFX costs.

With a background in the finance industry, combined with extensive VFX production experience, she decided to apply her process and best practices into developing a solution for other filmmakers. That has evolved into a new web-based app called Curó, which targets visual effects budgeting from script to screen. It will be debuting at Siggraph in Vancouver this month.

Ahead of the show we reached out to find out more about her VFX producer background and her path to becoming a the maker of a product designed to make other VFX pros’ lives easier.

You got your big break in visual effects working on the film Titanic. Did you know that it would become such an iconic landmark film for this business while you were in the throes of production?
I recall thinking the rough cut I saw in the early stage was something special, but had no idea it would be such a massive success.

Were there contacts made on that film that helped kickstart your career in visual effects?
Absolutely. It was my introduction into the visual effects community and offered me opportunities to learn the landscape of digital production and develop relationships with many talented, inventive people. Many of them I continued to work with throughout my career as a VFX producer.

Did you face any challenges as a woman working in below-the-line production in those early days of digital VFX?
It is a bit tricky. Visual effects is still a primarily male dominated arena, and it is a highly competitive environment. I think what helped me navigate the waters is my approach. My focus is always on what is best for the movie.

Was there anyone from those days that you would consider a professional mentor?
Yes. I credit Richard Hollander, a gifted VFX supervisor/producer with exposing me to the technology and methodologies of visual effects; how to conceptualize a VFX project and understand all the moving parts. I worked with Richard on several projects producing the visual effects within digital facilities. Those experiences served me well when I moved to working on the production side, navigating the balance between the creative agenda, the approved studio budgets and the facility resources available.

You’ve worked as a VFX producer on some of the most notable studio effects films of all time, including X-Men 2, The Dark Night, Avatar and The Jungle Book. Was there a secret to your success or are you just really good at landing top gigs?
I’d say my skills lie more in doing the work than finding the work. I believe I continued to be offered great opportunities because those I’d worked for before understood that I facilitated their goals of making a great movie. And that I remain calm while managing the natural conflicts that arise between creative desire and financial reality.

Describe what a VFX producer does exactly on a film, and what the biggest challenges are of the job.
This is a tough question. During pre-production, working with the director, VFX supervisor and other department heads, the VFX producer breaks down the movie into the digital assets, i.e., creatures, environments, matte paintings, etc., that need to be created, estimate how many visual effects shots are needed to achieve the creative goals as well as the VFX production crew required to support the project. Since no one knows exactly what will be needed until the movie is shot and edited, it is all theory.

During production, the VFX producer oversees the buildout of the communications, data management and digital production schedule that are critical to success. Also, during production the VFX producer is evaluating what is being shot and tries to forecast potential changes to the budget or schedule.

Starting in production and going through post, the focus is on getting the shots turned over to digital facilities to begin work. This is challenging in that creative or financial changes can delay moving forward with digital production, compressing the window of time within which to complete all the work for release. Once everything is turned over that focus switches to getting all the shots completed and delivered for the final assembly.

What film did you see that made you want to work in visual effects?
Truthfully, I did not have my sights set on visual effects. I’ve always had a keen interest in movies and wanted to produce them. It was really just a series of unplanned events, and I suppose my skills at managing highly complex processes drew me further into the world of visual effects.

Did having a background in finance help in any particular way when you transitioned into VFX?
Yes, before I entered into production, I spent a few years working in the finance industry. That experience has been quite helpful and perhaps is something that gave me a bit of a leg up in understanding the finances of filmmaking and the ability to keep track of highly volatile budgets.

You pulled out of active production in 2016 to focus on a new company, tell me about Curó.
Because of my background in finance and accounting, one of the first things I noticed when I began working in visual effects was, unlike production and post, the lack of any unified system for budgeting and managing the finances of the process.  So, I built an elaborate system of worksheets in Excel that I refined over the years. This design and process served as the basis for Curó’s development.

To this day the entire visual effects community manages the finances, which can be tens, if not hundreds, of millions in spend with spreadsheets. Add to that the fact that everyone’s document designs are different, which makes the job of collaborating, interpreting and managing facility bids unwieldy to say the least.

Why do you think the industry needs Curó, and why is now the right time? 
Visual effects is the fastest growing segment of the film industry, demonstrated in the screen credits of VFX-heavy films. The majority of studio projects are these tent-pole films, which heavily use visual effects. The volatility of visual effects finances can be managed more efficiently with Curó and the language of VFX financial management across the industry would benefit greatly from a unified system.

Who’s been beta testing Curó, and what’s in store for the future, after its Siggraph debut?
We’ve had a variety of beta users over the past year. In addition to Sony and Netflix a number of freelance VFX producers and supervisors as well as VFX facilities have beta access.

The first phase of the Curó release focuses on the VFX producers and studio VFX departments, providing tools for initial breakdown and budgeting of digital and overhead production costs. After Siggraph we will be continuing our development, focusing on vendor bid packaging, bid comparison tools and management of a locked budget throughout production and post, including the accounting reports, change orders, etc.

We are also talking with visual effects facilities about developing a separate but connected module for their internal granular bidding of human and technical resources.

 

Alkemy X joins forces with Quietman, adds CD Megan Oepen

Creative content studio Alkemy X has entered into a joint venture with long-time New York City studio Quietman. In addition, Alkemy X has brought on director/creative director Megan Oepen.

The Quietman deal will see founder and creative director Johnnie Semerad moving the operations of his company into Alkemy X, where both parties will share all creative talent, resources and capabilities.

“Quietman’s reputation of high-end, award-winning work is a tribute to Johnnie’s creative and entrepreneurial spirit,” says Justin B. Wineburgh, Alkemy X president/CEO. “Over the course of two decades, he grew and evolved Quietman from a fledgling VFX boutique into one of the most renowned production companies in advertising and branded content. By joining forces with Alkemy X, we’ll no doubt build on each other’s legacies collectively.”

Semerad co-founded Quietman in 1996 as a Flame-based visual effects company. Since then, it has expanded into the full gamut of production and post production services, producing more than 100 Super Bowl spots, and earning a Cannes Grand Prix, two Emmy Awards and other honors along the way.

“What I’ve learned over the years is that you have to constantly reinvest and reinvent, especially as clients increasingly demand start-to-finish projects,” says Semerad. “Our partnership with Alkemy X will elevate how we serve existing and future clients together, while bolstering our creative and technical resources to reach our potential as commercial filmmakers. The best part of this venture? I’ve always been listed with the Qs, but now, I’m with the As!”

Alkemy X is also teaming up with Oepen, an award-winning creative director and live-action director with 20 years of broadcast, sports and consumer brand campaign experience. Notable clients include Google, the NBA, MLB, PGA, NASCAR, Dove Beauty, Gatorade, Sprite, ESPN, Delta Air Lines, Home Depot, Regal Cinemas, Chick-Fil-A and Yahoo! Sports. Oepen was formerly the executive producer and director for Red Bull’s Non-Live/Long Format Productions group, and headed Under Armour’s Content House. She was also the creator behind Under Armour Originals.

Marvel’s Victoria Alonso to receive HPA’s Charles S. Swartz Award

The Hollywood Professional Association (HPA) has announced that Victoria Alonso, producer and executive VP of production for Marvel Studios, will receive the organization’s 2018 Charles S. Swartz Award at the HPA Awards on November 15. The HPA Awards recognize creative artistry, innovation and engineering excellence, and the Charles S. Swartz Award honors the recipient’s significant impact across diverse aspects of the industry.

A native of Buenos Aires, Alonso moved to the US at the age of 19. She worked her way up through the industry, beginning as a PA and then working four years at the VFX house Digital Domain. She served as VFX producer on a number of films, including Ridley Scott’s Kingdom of Heaven, Tim Burton’s Big Fish, Andrew Adamson’s Shrek and Marvel’s Iron Man. She won the Visual Effects Society (VES) Award for outstanding supporting visual effects/motion picture for Kingdom of Heaven, with two additional shared nominations (best single visual effects, outstanding visual effects/effects-driven motion picture) for Iron Man.

Eventually, she joined Marvel as the company’s EVP of visual effects and post, doubling as co-producer on Iron Man, a role she reprised on Iron Man 2, Thor and Captain America: The First Avenger. In 2011, she advanced to executive producer on the hit The Avengers and has since executive produced Marvel’s Iron Man 3, Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Captain America: Civil War, Thor: The Dark World, Avengers: Age of Ultron, Ant-Man, Guardians of the Galaxy, Doctor Strange, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, Spider-Man: Homecoming, Thor: Ragnarok, Black Panther, Avengers: Infinity War and most recently, Ant-Man and the Wasp.

She is currently at work on the untitled fourth installment of Avengers and Captain Marvel.

The Charles S. Swartz Award was named after executive Charles Swartz, who had a far ranging creative and technical career, eventually leading the Entertainment Technology Center at the University of Southern California, a leading industry think tank and research center. The Charles S. Swartz Award is awarded at the discretion of the HPA Awards Committee and the HPA Board of Directors, and is not given annually.

SIGGRAPH conference chair Roy C. Anthony: VR, AR, AI, VFX, more

By Randi Altman

Next month, SIGGRAPH returns to Vancouver after turns in Los Angeles and Anaheim. This gorgeous city, whose convention center offers a water view, is home to many visual effects studios providing work for film, television and spots.

As usual, SIGGRAPH will host many presentations, showcase artists’ work, display technology and offer a glimpse into what’s on the horizon for this segment of the market.

Roy C. Anthony

Leading up to the show — which takes place August 12-16 — we reached out to Roy C. Anthony, this year’s conference chair. For his day job, Anthony recently joined Ventuz Technology as VP, creative development. There, he leads initiatives to bring Ventuz’s realtime rendering technologies to creators of sets, stages and ProAV installations around the world

SIGGRAPH is back in Vancouver this year. Can you talk about why it’s important for the industry?
There are 60-plus world-class VFX and animation studios in Vancouver. There are more than 20,000 film and TV jobs, and more than 8,000 VFX and animation jobs in the city.

So, Vancouver’s rich production-centric communities are leading the way in film and VFX production for television and onscreen films. They are also are also busy with new media content, games work and new workflows, including those for AR/VR/mixed reality.

How many exhibitors this year?
The conference and exhibition will play host to over 150 exhibitors on the show floor, showcasing the latest in computer graphics and interactive technologies, products and services. Due to the increase in the amount of new technology that has debuted in the computer graphics marketplace over this past year, almost one quarter of this year’s 150 exhibitors will be presenting at SIGGRAPH for the first time

In addition to the traditional exhibit floor and conferences, what are some of the can’t-miss offerings this year?
We have increased the presence of virtual, augmented and mixed reality projects and experiences — and we are introducing our new Immersive Pavilion in the east convention center, which will be dedicated to this area. We’ve incorporated immersive tech into our computer animation festival with the inclusion of our VR Theater, back for its second year, as well as inviting a special, curated experience with New York University’s Ken Perlin — he’s a legendary computer graphics professor.

We’ll be kicking off the week in a big VR way with a special session following the opening ceremony featuring Ivan Sutherland, considered by many as “the father of computer graphics.” That 50-year retrospective will present the history and innovations that sparked our industry.

We have also brought Syd Mead, a legendary “visual futurist” (Blade Runner, Tron, Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Aliens, Time Cop, Tomorrowland, Blade Runner 2049), who will display an arrangement of his art in a special collection called Progressions. This will be seen within our Production Gallery experience, which also returns for its second year. Progressions will exhibit more than 50 years of artwork by Syd, from his academic years to his most current work.

We will have an amazing array of guest speakers, including those featured within the Business Symposium, which is making a return to SIGGRAPH after an absence of a few years. Among these speakers are people from the Disney Technology Innovation Group, Unity and Georgia Tech.

On Tuesday, August 14, our SIGGRAPH Next series will present a keynote speaker each morning to kick off the day with an inspirational talk. These speakers are Tony Derose, a senior scientist from Pixar; Daniel Szecket, VP of design for Quantitative Imaging Systems; and Bob Nicoll, dean of Blizzard Academy.

There will be a 25th anniversary showing of the original Jurassic Park movie, being hosted by “Spaz” Williams, a digital artist who worked on that film.

Can you talk about this year’s keynote and why he was chosen?
We’re thrilled to have ILM head and senior VP, ECD Rob Bredow deliver the keynote address this year. Rob is all about innovation — pushing through scary new directions while maintaining the leadership of artists and technologists.

Rob is the ultimate modern-day practitioner, a digital VFX supervisor who has been disrupting ‘the way it’s always been done’ to move to new ways. He truly reflects the spirit of ILM, which was founded in 1975 and is just one year younger than SIGGRAPH.

A large part of SIGGRAPH is its slant toward students and education. Can you discuss how this came about and why this is important?
SIGGRAPH supports education in all sub-disciplines of computer graphics and interactive techniques, and it promotes and improves the use of computer graphics in education. Our Education Committee sponsors a broad range of projects, such as curriculum studies, resources for educators and SIGGRAPH conference-related activities.

SIGGRAPH has always been a welcoming and diverse community, one that encourages mentorship, and acknowledges that art inspires science and science enables advances in the arts. SIGGRAPH was built upon a foundation of research and education.

How are the Computer Animation Festival films selected?
The Computer Animation Festival has two programs, the Electronic Theater and the VR Theater. Because of the large volume of submissions for the Electronic Theater (over 400), there is a triage committee for the first phase. The CAF Chair then takes the high scoring pieces to a jury comprised of industry professionals. The jury selects then become the Electronic Theater show pieces.

The selections for the VR Theater are made by a smaller panel comprised mostly of sub-committee members that watch each film in a VR headset and vote.

Can you talk more about how SIGGRAPH is tackling AR/VR/AI and machine learning?
Since SIGGRAPH 2018 is about the theme of “Generations,” we took a step back to look at how we got where we are today in terms of AR/VR, and where we are going with it. Much of what we know today couldn’t have been possible without the research and creation of Ivan Sutherland’s 1968 head-mounted display. We have a fanatic panel celebrating the 50-year anniversary of his HMD, which is widely considered and the first VR HMD.

AI tools are newer, and we created a panel that focuses on trends and the future of AI tools in VFX, called “Future Artificial Intelligence and Deep Learning Tools for VFX.” This panel gains insight from experts embedded in both the AI and VFX industries and gives attendees a look at how different companies plan to further their technology development.

What is the process for making sure that all aspects of the industry are covered in terms of panels?
Every year new ideas for panels and sessions are submitted by contributors from all over the globe. Those submissions are then reviewed by a jury of industry experts, and it is through this process that panelists and cross-industry coverage is determined.

Each year, the conference chair oversees the program chairs, then each of the program chairs become part of a jury process — this helps to ensure the best program with the most industries represented from across all disciplines.

In the rare case a program committee feels they are missing something key in the industry, they can try to curate a panel in, but we still require that that panel be reviewed by subject matter experts before it would be considered for final acceptance.