January 2005 Archives
I've been working close to two years at Tippett, and many people have asked me what's it like. They have always wondered what a visual effects studio looks like, and how it presents itself! Each studio has its share of quirks and idiosyncrasies, and Tippett is no different.
Tippett Studio is stretched out over a four block radius, with five buildings. We have around 170 employees (my guess-timate). We're located in Berkeley, California, very close to the I-80 freeway. A studio like Pixar which resides less than five minutes away, is contained on one huge gated block with a large entrance sign which says Pixar Animation Studios. Tippett is a little bit more discreet, with just a small plaque containing the words: Tippett Studio: hours 9am - 7pm.
Tippett is much less of a pure animation facility, and does not have the resources that being publicly traded can bring. It makes up for that by creating films that have been inspiration for numerous artists in all fields. Walking around the studio one can see what the past twenty years have been like. Models and posters of previous years of film-making adorn the walls and halls. A life-size creation of ED-209, used in the film Robocop, commands respect as it looms over the stage. Maquettes of characters from The Haunting, Starship Troopers, Robocop, My Favorite Martian, and Jurassic Park dot the landscape. Physical props and animatronics from Robocop and Starship Troopers are displayed proudly in Tippett's lobby. The detail presented in these production items is outstanding. After all, they were used in the original films!
As you walk around the studio, you can see that no matter which field the artists have chosen to pursue, they are a stepping stone away from learning more about the other parts of the craft from nearby artists. TDs, compositors, animators, rotoscopers and matchmovers all share a common space. It makes for a very dynamic and rich environment where artists can further improve their field by learning more about the process of what happens when they're done with their part of the pipeline!
Having a stage where one can see element shoots in progress, seeing how a motion control rig operates, or how a miniature is created from start to finish is a wonderful opportunity. The artists and technicians that have been here for the longest time are well versed in their craft, and have improved with time into other areas of the film-making arena.
From his beginnings as a model and miniature creator, one of our senior artists is now a TD, and still continues to create elaborate and beautiful miniatures for shows that require that specific talent. Another artist started as a machinist creating the intricate parts for the Starship Troopers animatronic bugs' legs, which animators could animate, very similar to the work he had done with Jurassic Park's animatronic inputs for the dinosaurs. And yet another started as a computer interface engineer on Jurassic Park, designing and testing the devices which the animators could use to animate. He has since moved on to supervising some amazing films, from The Haunting to our latest film, Constantine.
Tippett is an amazing facility, comprised of many people that are dedicated to the creation of special and visual effects. I am humbled by the many years of talent which layer this studio.
I hope you all had a great weekend! It's Monday morning here in the Bay area and it's not raining, so that's a good sign. I went to Phoenix over the weekend, and in addition to getting some spectacular photographs of the landscape, I saw the IMAX 3D film, Aliens of the Deep.
It's an excellent film, about 50 minutes long, which shows deep sea life at its extreme, and how that could possibly aid our search for life on other worlds.
From the brochure:
James Cameron, Academy Award winning director, deep ocean adventurer, and space exploration visionary, combines his talents and his passions in the upcoming spectacular 3D film Aliens of the Deep. Cameron takes audiences to one of the Earth's most extreme environments-the depths of the ocean-to encounter the alien-like creatures that live there. He's joined in the journey by a team of young oceanographers and NASA mission scientists who share his interests and excitement as they help us consider the correlations between life under water and the life we may one day find in outer space.
Aliens of the Deep presents the dramatic and visually stunning highlights of a series of expeditions to deep ocean oases-hydrothermal vents where super heated chemical and mineral charged water give life to some of the strangest animals on earth. Six foot tall worms with blood-red plumes, blind white crabs, and an astonishing biomass of white shrimp, all compete to find just the right location in the flow of the super heated water. They are as close to alien life as anything seen on Earth, a clue to what might exist elsewhere in the universe. This adventure brings the audience as close as possible to imagining what it will be like to travel far into space and meet aliens face to face.
Some of the visual effects were done by Blur, and consisted mainly of what these alien creatures would look like. The film described how it could be possible that life under the oceans of a neighbor planet's moon (Jupiter's Europa) could exist. Currently there exists a plan to launch a remotely operated satellite to Europa to study what is underneath its icy oceans.
The sterwoscopic footage shown in the film is nothing short of spectacular. Awesome underwater eruptions of superheated water, alien animals that have never seen the sun. From depths of 850 to 3500 meters, there are an astonishing array of living creatures that thrive just on the heat and water of the ocean.
My brother and I were the only twenty-something guys in the crowd, while the rest of the audience was comprised of families and the elderly. If there is an IMAX theatre near you, I would definitely recommend this film. An amazing look into a world that none of us have seen.
Paint. This tip goes hand in hand with last weeks tip, Roto. When do you paint frames as opposed to roto? How can you decide which method will work best given the task at hand? Follow the link, and I'll help you break it down.
One thing to always remember, is that painting multiple frames to remove something is time-consuming and wasteful. There are always easier ways to get rid of a camera, or a grip, or wires. By using roto you can effectively get rid of the aforementioned items, and use your paint skills to clean up harder areas of the frame.
Paint is also not only used for clean-up, but also for creation. You can use paint strokes as lightning strikes, for electrical surges, for laser blasts. Almost anything that is dynamic in action can be created by paint. During my time on Stargate SG-1, I painted such items as staff blasts, zat hits, and electrical surges. If you take a look at my 2001 demo reel you will see some of the painted electrical arcs that I've done using paint.
A method I've seen by some beginning artists (I've done this when I started!) is to paint tracking markers out by hand. Every frame. Or paint out wires. Many wires. Things to look out for when analyzing a frame and deciding when to paint come with practice and time. Let's say I want to remove a wire rig that's holding up an actor. And for the sake of argument, it's a simple rig on a simple background. An actor suspended on bluescreen. The easiest way to remove this wire is to copy a bit of the surrounding bluescreen over the wire. You're not painting through it, you're covering it up with other bits of the frame. You'll have to track this little bit and cover the wire as it moves, but it's vastly easier than painting a clean frame and trying to match it up via grain later. However sometimes it becomes necessary to do that. Pretty soon the only areas you will need to paint and touch up are where the wires meet the body.
We conclude our coverage of The Big Reveal with some great effects in our next category, Outstanding Supporting Visual Effects in a Motion Picture. I am hoping next year that there will be more interest! The VES members will be voting from January 31st to February 12th, with the winners being announced Feb 16th.
I thought I'd share today's current hit list of the areas of the world that are visiting this site. It's really amazing that it's global!
It looks like 74 people are out of this world. Could that be you? Even though I'm just one of a number of visual effects artists in California, I hope that the tips and insight that I've given will help you in your day-to-day activities as a visual effects artist, whether you be just beginning or just retiring.
This latest comic from Penny Arcade is sure to cause a chuckle. I love their comic style and wry wit. It does give cause to wonder exactly what the producers were thinking. I guess they are trying to capitalize on the success of the comic-movie blockbusters. I guess they haven't figured out that story rules.
A good friend is working on this film, and I have high hopes for the visual effects! Time will tell. Click here for an external link to the quicktime trailer.
Last night in my guild chat window, I referred to the Fantastic Four trailer as grotesque - which I believe puts me in the running for biggest Goddamn nerd ever. It's a post whose rigors I plan to take very seriously. One of the responsibilities I've inherited is the creation of smart-alecky comic strips, which impugn the motives of potentially noble people.
Every film conversion of a beloved property - even the one most people consider a largely successful enterprise - engages in confounding deviations from canon. It doesn't really do to act startled by it anymore. Let us charitably stow away the notion that Jessica Alba could, in any coherent universe, represent the person of Sue Storm in any way. Even when one withdraws the easy targets, this trailer looks like it was made on a dare during second lunch.
A Fantastic Four movie seems like sort of a sure thing, which is why I don't understand the stingy production values. But then it's like, oh, right. It's a sure thing. And we can be reliably expected to sit in front of any moving picture. Indeed, we will pay! So, I guess that's one mystery solved.
Read more over at Penny Arcade!
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Happy Wednesday! We continue our coverage of The Big Reveal with our next Category, Outstanding Supporting Visual Effects in a Broadcast Program.
Sweet. I got a chance to finally see this film and while I didn't think it was as great as Pitch Black, it had its moments.
The visual effects were fairly good, with the sunrise effects of Crematoria excellent. Even some of the set design was impressive. Almost Geiger-esque. I was a bit disappointed in the convoluted nature of the film, with various characters being of different backgrounds; necromongers, elementals, and whatever Riddick is, which sort of turned me off. Save the planet, save the human race, yadda, yadda. I guess it makes the film deeper but come on, a Vin Diesel film? Do we expect it to have any deep meaning? This is from the same writer that did Waterworld, so I'll let you decide.
Our next category, which took place from 10:50am to 11:35am on Saturday, was Outstanding Visual Effects in a Broadcast Miniseries, Movie, or Special. I have not seen these shows on TV at all, but needless to say, having been in the broadcast visual effects business, I can see what kind of pressure these artists are under!
Our second session of the day involves the category Outstanding Visual Effects in a Commercial. A bit shorter than our motion picture category, this as well had three nominees. British Telecom: Network, CitroÃ«n: Alive with Technology, and Johnny Walker: Tree.
A quick post... I was reading up on vfxblog the interview with Jeff Okun, who I saw Saturday at The Big Reveal. An interesting little blurb.
Was it difficult to choose the nominees?
Fortunately, that's not up to us. That's the job of the Society members. As an Awards Committee, it's our job to notify as many people as possible that this awards show exists and that they need to enter. We're still jiggling with the formula a little bit about how to get the word out, what to charge for an entry, etc. Then what we do - it's like for one category we got 27 entries - so we assemble together a blue ribbon panel of judges that are made up of Visual Effects Society members who have expertise in the field. We make sure that there are no slates and logos or individual's names or anything on the entries. Then we assemble all the reels in a big group, and the judges watch the entries and the befores and afters and the way the entries are made, and any other material, one after the other. Then they choose their top three that they think are in and then it goes off to the VES.
Believe me, I'd like to be able to influence the nominations. I'd make sure all my friends got in...
That's pretty cool! It's all about the work, which is great. No special treatment for being a close buddy of one of the committee members. Can't wait till they get a load of Constantine. :) Read the rest of the interview here.
Yesterday I had an enjoyable time down in Los Angeles at the Skirball Cultural Center, where the Visual Effects Society introduced artists who described their craft. Over the next several days, I'll go over what I saw and their descriptions and timeframe to complete their shots. What puzzles me is that in some of the categories the visual effects producers and supervisors were nominated, instead of the artists. I was hoping for more artist discussion than supervisors hamming it up for the audience and promoting themselves. They didn't really do the work. There's another award for them to strive for. It's the Oscar.
Rotoscoping. The technical art of tracing a frame many times. Many, many times. All of us have done it at some time or another. And if you haven't, what are you waiting for? It's a skill that should be learned, however tedious it may be. Here are some tips to help you ease the pain.
While rotoscoping moving people, I tend to use several different nodes for each part of the body. Hands, arms, legs, torso, head. Depending on your compositing package, this will make deleting or redoing any section of the person easier. Don't set keyframes on every frame, or even every 5 or 10. If you're rotoscoping a human, you'll want to match the cadence of their walk or run, so keyframe the roto on the highs or lows of their gait.
You will want to use a tool that allows you to have soft edges, so that motionblurred frames of the person will accurately be rotoed. If you're going to be rotoscoping objects, like cars, boxes, things that are usually inanimate, you can use one complete roto to cover the entire object. However, if there are extreme perspective changes, it might be better to use different roto for different parts of the object. Sometimes for objects like these, you can roto the first frame, and track the object throughout the shot duration.
I took a chance and watched this film tonight. Ick.
Besides the excellent choices of weaponry, like the P90 and G36, and some amazing special pyrotechnic effects, this is missable. This is one of the few films that was shot in Vancouver, BC, that didn't try to change cities. They mention in the movie that it's actually Vancouver! The Vancouver Public Library, Canada Place, and Stanley Park are all featured locales. I was fairly disappointed in the visual effects work, they stood out blatantly. It was an action film, after all.
Some news about the upcoming Charlotte's Web film. While we are still in pre-production for this show, some interesting news has come about with the casting of the voices.
Julia Roberts will voice Charlotte, the spider. Steve Buscemi will voice Templeton, the rat. Oprah Winfrey will voice Gussy the goose and Cedric The Entertainer as Golly the goose. John Cleese will voice Samuel the Sheep. Reba McEntire and Kathy Bates will voice the two cows, Betsy and Bitsy, while Thomas Hayden Church and AndrÃ© Benjamin from Andre 3000 will voice the crows, Brooks and Elwyn.
You are probably guessing that most of these creatures will be at some point, created in 3D. Your guess is right. Tippett is a creature studio, so we're obviously doing several.
As I'm sure some of you may know, The Big Reveal is happening this Saturday in Los Angeles. I'll be going down to take a look at the entries for the VES Awards, and see what some of my peers have accomplished in the past year. This year our membership will be able to vote for the artists online!
As I'm walking through the studio today, I saw one of our helpful staff managing a bunch (less than a hundred, more than fifty) of incoming demo reels. It was a sight to see. Each tape, wrapped with several sheets of paper, and rubberbanded. And it seemed that it was just this weeks catch! For those of you sending out reels, keep your head up, and check the websites of the company that you are applying to. There's no need to sent it when they're not hiring, and unless you have already talked to someone inside, don't send it to them either.
Today was the culmination of over a years amount of production. We screened all of Tippett's work in the film, which ran a grand total of 20 minutes. We originally started with 70 shots, and the final count was 207. Of the 207, I completed 20, and assisted in a couple more. It was pretty exciting to see all our film at once in the theatre. Shots we had finalled a year ago came back looking great! Time makes the heart grow fonder, I guess. I can't wait to see the film with sound and on a huge screen!
I've spent some time today writing up my story. Hopefully it'll give you some insight into my past, and how I've gotten to where I'm at. I hope it can keep you entertained for the better part of ten minutes!
The Constantine website has been updated to include a bunch of pictures from the movie. They chose some really great ones that sort of give away how Hell looks, but it seems every movie these days is giving away bits. The one below is also the one that's featured on one of the international posters that I posted about earlier this week. And if you visit Meyemind you'll see the rest of them!
When you're compositing 3D images into a film or video plate, it will rarely match up. Your job as a compositor is to dial in the color values, match the blacks, fleshtones, and so forth, until what was added and what is original blend together. Adding grain onto your final 3D is a necessary step to make the shot feel as if it was shot in one take.
Check out David's informative post on the subject on his blog at Meyemind.
The gallery section is now available in the sidebar. I'll be adding a small quicktime of the shots in question as well, but you'll have to make do with stills for now. Would any of you be interested in seeing a screenshot of the shake trees for the shots as well?
A couple friends and I had lunch today and we started discussing how big visual effects companies do business differently than small ones. The discussion came up on how ILM is going to be moving into their new Presidio complex here in San Francisco this summer. Where will the money come from to fund this endeavour, and will it be enough to keep all the artists they have currently employed? How about small, one or two man operations? Can they do the work of a larger house with just their resources? Can they charge a significant amount of money LESS than the big houses and still get away with decent quality? Will anyone else know except us?
The reason why shops like ILM, SPI, Dreamworks, and Pixar can keep expanding is because they have an inate ability to promote themselves with their own developed shows, while still being able to be profitable. All the larger companies that I mentioned above also have a significant amount of resources and infrastructure to make such amazing films such as Spiderman, Shrek, and Finding Nemo. There is also a level of talent that resides at these companies that mesh together. Something that you can't get by just tossing a group of freelancers in one room and asking them to get along.
It seems that that there is a shift to a show-based visual effects industry, where everyone is freelance and comes onto a show, and then leaves that show to go to another one, with no ties to any one company. The Visual Effects Society is going in the right direction, with providing members with health care plans since this shift is happening. It's a great step!
What would you prefer? A show-based industry where you have to search for your next job and maybe endure a bad show to pay the bills, or a company based industry where you mesh with your coworkers, and the company is responsible for getting the work for you?
The VES Award nominees have been announced! Click here to download the PDF. I'm ecstatic to say that the team that animated Sammael for Hellboy got nominated!
In the category of Outstanding Performance by an Animated Character in a Live Action Motion Picture, the nominees from Tippett are: Dovi Anderson, Todd Labonte, Sven Jensen, and Paul Thuriot. Their competition includes Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban and Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events.
In the Outstanding Compositing in a Motion Picture category, the nominees are:
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban - Azkaban Guards Attack
Dorne Huebler, Jay Cooper, Patrick Brennan, Anthony Shafer
The Phantom of the Opera - Opening Shot
Claas Henke, Laurent Ben-Mimoun, Anupam Das
Spider-Man 2 - Train Sequence
Colin Drobnis, Greg Derochie, Blaine Kennison, Kenny Lam
There are some new international Constantine posters that were released this past weekend. One of them has one of my shots! Cool! I have no idea which market it's going into, so if you see it, let me know!
Trying my hand at this digital photography thing. Here's a photo of my car this weekend as I try to get the exposures correct! It's tougher trying to photograph something than it is to adjust everything in the computer. I have great respect for the professional photographers out there. I'm amazed at the quality that some photographers (the National Geographic guys and girls) can capture!
24 has started again. Tonight was their two hour season premiere. It's one of the only shows that I can still catch on TV, and only because I can get FOX through the airwaves! Somehow they still can keep the show fresh and entertaining, despite the fact that you know Jack is going to get into trouble, one way or the other! If you have 72 hours to kill, I definitely recommend picking up seasons One through Three. They're very good.
Another great series I got into was The Shield. I was able to rent Seasons 1 and 2 off of Netflix, and am waiting for the third. Definitely a gritty show. A season is 13 episodes, and they're very addicting.
Slowly getting this thing up and running smoothly. I've added a bunch of my old reels, so take a gander at them.. I've been looking around for my 2002 reel, but I haven't found it yet. It's possible that it's only on DBeta. All the reels are in divx AVI or WMV format, so download the latest codec.
I'm also adding some stills from my past productions, so there is a lot of digging into the old demo bin. :)
I've added a VFX Artist section. The artists that I know that have a website that is often updated are listed there. Check them out!
This is the name of a film that inspired the creation of Honda's Cog commercial. Some of you may remember this commercial, which featured the parts from Honda's Accord in a dazzling spectacle of cause and effect. While it doesn't have the same production values as the Cog commercial, it is done without the aid of CG.
The Way Things Go, created in 1987, is a 30 minute long film contain various household items, one affecting another. I've had this DVD in my collection for close to a year now, and every time someone new comes over, I put in this amazing film. It doesn't have a musical score, so I play a little ambient music to stimulate both the eyes and ears of my guests. The film starts with a close-up of a trashbag spinning. As it picks up speed, it descends upon a tire, which eventually is pushed along my the trashbag. The tire sets in motion a chain of events that lasts 30 minutes. Reactions range from fire and explosions, to the simple physics of a falling tetherball. Some of the reactions even appear to defy gravity!
Following up on last week's Tip, today I'll discuss a similar topic. Shadow density refers to the color density of an object's shadow . This shadow is usually created by using a shadow alpha created by your rendering package, or even by simple roto. The colors of a surface under shadow can vary greatly, so take great care in analyzing reference of similar shots, or similar areas in the frame that contain shadows. There are different methods of getting an accurate shadow, and using the technique of gaining our black point is probably the quickest way of getting a shadow value. Just sample the colors that fall under shadow, and dial your artificial shadow values in to match!
I received this film over the holiday break, and finally got a chance to watch it last night.
It's a very nice Chinese film, made by Zhang Yimou, the same director that did Hero and Raise the Red Lantern. This film is just as amazing in its imagery as Hero, and the story is just as interesting. It is subtitled, which is a feature I'm glad for. You just can't get the same tonal inflection that occurs when English speaking actors dub over the film. While some of the visual effects are quite nice (the scenes in the bamboo jungle), others did need a lot of work, like almost all of the flying dagger blades that appear in the film. Ziyi Zhang plays a great role in this film as a blind brothel dancer, and is the only cast member which I have seen in more films than the other Chinese actors present.
Over the Christmas break I received a call and an email inviting me for an impromptu interview for Fantastic Four. A bunch of studios are working on it, and I was hoping that Tippett may have picked up some shots, but alas, it was not meant to be. Meteor Studios called and asked about my availability starting in January until the end of the show. Usually I would take such an opportunity to work on a film like this, and even the upcoming Sin City has tempted my fragile little mind, but personal and financial reasons have tied me down to the Bay area.
A TD is a Technical Director. But I've always wondered why they're called Technical Directors. What do they direct? How did this term come about? Depending on which company you are at, sometimes they're called Lighters.
Even at some other companies, TDs often do the compositing as well! So what is a TD? I asked some TDs, and here are their responses.
The technical director is usually the senior technical person within a single business unit of a company. This person usually possesses the highest level of competence in a specific technical field and may be recognized as an expert in that industry. The technical director provides technical direction on business decisions and in the execution of specific projects. He or she may be assigned to a single project, or may oversee a number of projects with related technologies. This position is often similar to that of chief scientist or chief engineer, but perhaps more involved in business decisions. Technical directors and chief scientists often report to the chief technology officer of the company.
This is, of course, totally unrelated to what a TD at a visual effects company does. Many TDs are given technical direction from a lead TD.
The term comes from ancient Mayan I think. The TD, in Mayan culture, is the most revered of their gods. Worshipped for bringing light to the world. Often in battle with his nemesis "comper, the trickster".
The TD title is on it's way out. It doesn't in any way describe the role of people who have the title. If you look at recent credit lists, the people we call TDs here are actually credited as lighters.
Ultimately, the most accurate description of a TD is here, http://www.3drender.com/jobs/TD.htm, written by Jeremy Birn.
The work that many TD's do in lighting and rendering is similar to the work of the "Director of Photography" (or DP) in live-action film production. Otherwise, the name TD can be a bit misleading, and some studios don't even use the term. At some companies, the person lighting a shot would be called a Lighting Animator or simply a Lighter, instead of a Lighting TD. People rigging characters are sometimes called a Rigger, Puppeteer, Physiquer, Technical Animator, or other titles instead of Character TD. Because of this, some companies will never list a help-wanted ad for TD's. A TD by any other name is still a TD, though, and they still need to hire people with similar skills for any computer graphics production.
Happy new year to everyone out there that's reading. Hope you had an enjoyable holiday season. I'm back into the thick of things here at work, finishing up Constantine, on our last week! Things are looking good. We've got three shots left. The shot I've been working on, which was finalled in April of last year, reared its ugly head early last month. That's what I'm working on this week, and it should be going to film today or tomorrow.