Archive for Creative Work
Two of 3 spots. “Evolution” was a small team, 3 weeks, lighting and effects with Softimage and Arnold.
I love small but intense projects like this.
“Run” was primarily Maya/Vray with a touch of ICE. The studio (Royale) is only 6 years old but advancing fast, and it’s been a real pleasure working with them. For their first exploration of ICE, Royale invited in some familiar SI friends – Ciaran Moloney, Steven Caron, Leonard Kotch, Billy Morrison and yours truly doing a first gig start to finish as a CG sup (which with guys like this mostly involved saying “go for it.”)
Like the Psyop “Telstra” spot, this commercial essentially required us to create a system for knitting cloth from massive numbers of strands. Leonard Kotch wrote a system which performs many of the same tasks as the Psyop “Entwiner” tool, but he took a slightly different direction, it was fascinating to compare how the two diverged. The progressive animation required for these two shots resulted in a pretty flexible and broad system, which we are currently using for the last of the three spots, which will wrap in production soon.
Royale has been an enthusiastic and fun group to work with and it’s been great getting to show a studio as strong as they are in design some of the possibilities ICE can bring to jobs like this. Expect to see some version of Leonard’s “LKFabric” system gifted to the community before long – very cool Royale, thanks! (They also throw good parties, their 6′th birthday celebration was impressive and… unusual.)
And so is Psyop!
This little commercial project from a while back was a LOT of fun. A very small team of us (5 or 6 total, I think) made this (plus a few shots more) in just a few short weeks (two or three I forget) at the LA studio, using a hybrid Maya/Softimage approach which Psyop does really well. All models and animation in maya are brought to Softimage for lighting with Arnold and additional ICE effects – in this case, the characters, and stuffing are entirely strands. No geometry aside from the little plastic eyes and their teeth.
Psyop’s lighting supervisor Jonah Friedman wowed me with the system for knitting via strands he built, and how fast he built it. He also quickly made it on my “favorite people” list in general, it was a blast working with him and the others there. The system, which we called “entwiner” builds layers upon layers of strands… these knit characters are built down to every individual fiber. And Arnold powered right through these millions of strands without a blip. Pretty cool. It was so efficient at it in fact, that it made sense to make the “stuffing” out of tiny fibers too, which gave it a nice volumetric kind of feel when lit.
The liquid is a simple lagoa setup, with wet maps generated in ICE. While the commercial was so simple I was really pleased with how the studio took pains to take their clients ideas and give it the very best. A couple of knit characters could have been faked with geometry and textures, but going that extra mile even when time was so short is what really impressed me, and the combination of maya/softimage, ICE and Arnold is a powerful one, as Psyop shows even on small jobs like this. My kind of studio. Thanks for having me you guys.
I am a big fan of Polynoid. Ever since their first images of cybernetic snails came out I’ve been hooked on their often-dark blend of art-meets-tech imagery.
Fabian Pross of Polynoid was, for a while, maintaining a very cool blog (come on Fabian, post new stuff!) One post in particular puts into words a critical concept I and many others often try to get across to newer artists – the importance of avoiding simulation where possible.
Simulations usually don’t quite achieve what you want them to, visually. The trap people fall into is to try to force a behavior out of a simulation. You end up making endless iterations while the setup you’re using grows more and more bloated and slow. A single directoral change becomes a nightmare. You lose control and the limitations of your setup starts to dictate the look.
The solution is to create what I think of as “deterministic” solutions – setups which change over time, but in very strict ways you specify. That’s one of the things I was trying to get at with the “post simulation” tutorials, the benefit of offloading much of the look outside of what is simulated.
Even skilled vfx artists fall into this trap with some regularity. I can’t say how many times I’ve seen production scenes which have grown bloated to the point of containing hundreds of forces and collision objects just to try to achieve a simple effect. You can’t afford it. A simple directoral change blows the whole thing apart. Stop. Take a deep breath. Don’t go over that cliff. Simulate judiciously, in small doses, only where you have to.
Simple simulation + deterministic stuff for a complex look = control.
And control is what makes a VFX artist, in my mind. Anyone can pull levers until they get a nice result out of fumeFX. But to achieve brilliant results which are new or spot-on to what is needed in prodution, you have to have control – be it in fumeFX, ICE, Realflow, Houdini or whatever. And one of the best ways to achieve control is to only simulate where you have to, and keep it simple when you do.
Fabian puts this idea into words better in this post. Even if the techniques he uses here are specific to ICE, the underlying message and workflow is the same everywhere – avoid simulation to gain control and speed.
Even when you use simulation, who says that you have to stop there? Bake it and use it as an element you shape further or build on. This concept is really powerful. A good example of this idea in practice is demonstrated by a little DCC-agnostic tool called Sparta. Simulate, then shape the results.
FearNet has a nice post on Abe Lincoln, Vampire Hunter. Here’s my favorite bit:
– This movie puts vampires back where they belong, and that’s as bad guys and not heartthrobs; who should be beheaded with an axe and not kissed by tweens. That’s what you can expect. Badass vampires getting treated like the killers that they are.
I can’t tell you how awesome working on this one is. By far it’s the most creative and enjoyable project I’ve worked on in years. It’s a really fun film.
“Visionary filmmakers Tim Burton and Timur Bekmambetov (director of Wanted) bring a fresh and visceral voice to the blood-thirsty lore of the vampire, imagining Lincoln as history’s greatest hunter of the undead.”
Update: It’s out, but Disney marketing seems to have melted down and the result has been poor box office returns. A pity, because it’s actually quite fun and well worth a watch. Seriously, it’s a good film – watch and see for yourself. :D
Garman Herigstad once gave me a slew of advice years ago, and every bit of it has proven useful to me over the years. So when he voices an opinion, I listen. Such is the case in his most recent blog post where he discusses dailies.
Dalies are at the heart of VFX. It’s where artists get feedback and develop their eye. It’s where production is kept on track. It’s also where seniors develop opinions on their artists, where directors evaluate their teams, and where critical choices are made.
My best advice for artists attending dailies for the first time is to be quiet and pay full attention. Take notes, as Garman suggests. Keep your mouth shut unless your input is needed or asked for. Never lie, never try to spin anything, never be defensive or explanatory – just listen to the instructions that are given, ask questions if anything is unclear, and be professional.
The people evaluating the work are almost always aware of issues or concerns an individual artist is not exposed to – a VFX sup may be thinking about continuity with other shots, upcoming changes, or criteria passed down from a director. The leadership attending or running the dailies may also not have much time, or the viewing theatre may have other teams waiting, so the general rule is to let the person(s) making decisions quickly and accurately evaluate what they are being shown, make a decision, and convey that decision as directives for action.
And always, always as an artist address the notes you are given. The people giving notes remember what they ask for, and nothing infuriates a director or VFX sup more than to give the same notes over and over. If you are dialing in towards a result, ie if the notes are on the order of “more” or “less,” that’s ok. But if the notes keep coming back as “where’s the fix?” then you are probably pissing someone off.
Anyway, it’s a good read, on an important subject, from a knowledgable source worth listening to.
So I’ve picked up a position as VFX Supervisor at StereoD, a company which started in 2009 doing stereoconversion and which in less than 3 years has grown to a leading edge studio of over 600 artists and growing.
The visual effects department is new, having risen from a small group of artists who performed miscellaneous visual effects as needed to enhance or fill out the stereo process, and my job as I see it is to lay a foundation for growth given the large demand for services we’re encountering. The effects vary from show to show, from environmental and supportive effects (snow, rain, smoke, fog etc) to more unusual effects, some of which are only possible in the realm of stereo.
Challenging, and a lot of fun. When I first arrived at StereoD I was staggered by the number of shows they are running concurrently, below are just a few, in no particular order. If you’re an experienced visual effects artist and are looking for a place that is growing and evolving and has work on some of the largest and most advanced films being created, StereoD should definitely be on your radar. And most amazing of all? Unlike some places (cough) the VFX dept at StereoD is already showing profit and has more requests for work than we can accommodate…. ;)
From a couple of years back, when ICE was very new.
The person in the bottom of the image is Shannon Moon by the way (moonbase.net, moon, get it?)
(This article is a follow up to a thread on the XSI mailing list, showing some experiments I did a ways back with NPR using softimage ICE…)