December 2006 Archives

Two years and counting

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I was just looking into the past, and noticed that it's been a little over two years since I started this blog! The site has been up since 2002, but not in blog form until Dec 2004. Previously I had one page up, which listed my credits and reel and CV. Now I actually have a record of what I've been doing the past two years! This diary of sorts is a way for me to remember and record the visual effects events that happen in my life, and I hope to have taken you all on an enjoyable journey with me. Next year promises to be just as big! So far, there are around 50 subscribers to this blog (up from around ten), and it looks like that there are an average of 900 repeat visitors each month!

I'm going to continue posting interesting visual effects related items that pertain to my career, as well as go into some detail about the VES Mentoring program which will premiere early next year. I"ll also be covering the VES Show & Tell, which I missed out last year since I was deep in production on Charlotte's Web. In addition, your helpful requests in the Open Call entry will allow me to tailor several of my future postings to you! The Tips of the Week are slow going, as everything culminates during the busy period in production, so bear with me, and I'll be slowly putting them up. I'm in the process of several tips which you have suggested. It's more of a Tip of the Month, these days though.

Tip of the Week - Comping with Channels

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It's become a staple of compositing life. RGBA channels used as masks. Using simple reorderers, switchmattes, and copies, you can easily move any color channel and use it as a mask or matte. Why would you want to do this? Well, a couple of different reasons. It can clean up the appearance of your script, it can make rendering out sequences easier on the 3D artist, and you can have more information in less places to look. Shake has a limit of five available channels, rgbaz. Flame has a limit of four at last count, rgba. Nuke has a limit of 64, rgba, and another 60 of your choice. Read on to see how using a number of different channels can make your life easier.


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I'm happy to announce that I've been selected as a VES Judge for the upcoming VES Awards, coming up early next year! Since I'm down in LA right now, I have an opportunity to judge and narrow down the choices of many submissions. Who knows how long I will be here to take advantage of these options. The top three nominees in each cateogry will then be cast to the entire VES for voting. This event will happen early next year. Like last year, the VES members will be able to vote by proxy on the top three, and there will also be a VES Show & Tell for the top three. I attended the VES Show & Tell in 2005, almost two years. Follow the below links to see a review of what happens!

The Big Reveal, Part I
The Big Reveal, Part II
The Big Reveal, Part III
The Big Reveal, Part IV
The Big Reveal, Part V

Last night I attended a screening of The Good Shepherd, a film by Robert De Niro about the birth of the CIA. It starred Matt Damon, Angelina Jolie, and William Hurt, to name a few of big actors. It was a good movie, and while I had no idea what was going on for the first couple of minutes (my head was totally not into watching a film), I eventually settled into the story and enjoyed it as it unfolded. Some nice invisible effects, and a couple obvious greenscreens were in the film. Nothing too horrible though. The film itself focused on a counter intelligence agent (Damon) who learns his way up the ladder, and finds out that trust only goes so far. Trust not thy friends, trust thy enemy is a theme that's recurring. You never really know who's a bad guy until the end. It was a pretty good drama. I'd recommend it for a DVD viewing, as you may need to pause it to soak it some of the detail and discuss what's been happening up to that point.

Also yesterday I received a package in the mail which contained the latest film I worked on (well almost). Flags of our Fathers showed up on my doorstep, complete with security tags and individually serial numbered. I'm hoping to do an extended breakdown of the shots I did in the Case Studies section of VFXTalk in the new year, so keep an eye over on that forum! And of course I'll eventually be adding it to my Gallery with the other films. Also expect Charlotte's Web to be described as well! If you haven't already, pick up Cinefex 108, which details the work that Tippett Studio and the other companies did to complete that film. And of course, pick up Cinefex 107, which chronicles the work that Digital Domain did on Flags of our Fathers, in addition to an excellent article about Davy Jones from ILM!

A Charlotte's Web Review

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From the Hollywood Reporter!

Seems like a decent review, here's an except below.

The result, with its gently contemporized dialogue that still remains quite true to White's original wording, offers a family-friendly primer on the cycle of life that's careful to not overplay the inherent sentiment.

Factor in terrific work by an inspired cast of voices -- including Julia Roberts as Charlotte, Steve Buscemi (a perfect Templeton the Rat), John Cleese (an acerbic sheep), Oprah Winfrey (a chatty goose) and 10-year-old Dominic Scott Kay in the key role of Wilbur, the wide-eyed spring pig -- and you've got a license to spin boxoffice gold that should continue through the holidays and into the new year.

Unfortunately it's up against Eragon this weekend, so who knows what'll happen!

Another Vancouver transplant

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Another VFX firm heads up to Vancouver! It's looking more positive every day. That makes three or four now. Zoic Studios, the Orphanage, and Giant Killer Robots. They join the current VFX studios; Rainmaker, Atmosphere VFX, Spin West, Technicolor, Image Engine, Northwest, and the Embassy. Are there any more recent additions that I'm missing?

Expanding to serve "Hollywood North," Santa Monica-based visual effects creator Entity FX on Monday said it has opened a full production and supervision studio in Vancouver.

Best known for its effects work on "Miami Vice" and "The Aviator," Entity FX will use its new facility in Vancouver's chic Yaletown district to offer theatrical and episodic visual effects for U.S. projects shooting on location in British Columbia. The Canadian facility also is wired for seamless cross-collaboration and file-sharing with Entity FX in Santa Monica, which recently expanded its workforce to 75. "We're growing in Los Angeles and now in Canada, too," Entity FX president Mat Beck said in a statement. "It's exciting to be able to work on projects with all of the advantages of multiple locations." Beck added that the expansion northward by Entity FX helps answer an increased need for coordinated effects work in both Los Angeles and British Columbia.

Animating Templeton

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Some more Charlotte's Web news, now that the film is coming out this Friday! Source: CalendarLive.

ANIMATORS at Tippett Studio took the tenets of Method acting to a new level when they rescued a rat from a snake's mouth and put him up in luxurious digs in their Bay Area studio where they could scrutinize his every move.

It was all to prepare for a leading role in Paramount Pictures' "Charlotte's Web," opening Friday, which revolves around a series of startling events that occur in a barnyard filled with ordinary animals.

Director Gary Winick sought to root the creatures in reality: For starters he cast the film with actual animals — the only exception being two of its stars: Charlotte the spider (voiced by Julia Roberts) and Templeton the rat (Steve Buscemi).

To cast the film's computer-animated rodent, producers at Paramount turned to seven visual effects houses around the globe. Each shop was sent a packet of test materials, including an illustration of the Templeton character, 15 seconds of barnyard footage and a clip of an actor reading the rat's dialogue. The studios had two months to build a computer model, animate it in sync with the dialogue and composite their pest into the barnyard plate.

One hopeful, Tippett Studio in Berkeley, created a 15-second performance piece showcasing its take on the famously grouchy kids' book character. Looking back, Tippett visual effects supervisor Joel Friesch says their version of Templeton looked a bit like a bear, while supervising animator Todd LaBonte says it recalled a miniature dog.

But something about the rat's attitude in the screen test captured the imagination of Paramount production execs; they awarded the job to Tippett a few months later. When the artists heard the news, their first order of business was to head to a pet shop and splurge on a $7 Dumpster rat for reference.

Quickly dubbed Master Splinter, after the all-knowing martial artist rat in "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles," the new pet would serve as muse to a studio of computer artists working to create the most believable CG rat possible. They say Master Splinter lived a life of leisure except when he was doused with water so artists could study the way the liquid altered his fur.

Founded by CG luminary Phil Tippett, the studio is well versed in fur effects. The company wrote an in-house software tool now in its fourth generation called Furoscious that enabled visual effects artists to cover the CG model of Templeton with 1.5 million realistic rat hairs.

It was up to the animators to minimize a tendency toward human pantomime and deliver realistic rat kinetics to Winick's specifications by becoming experts in rat motion. Animators were going for the antithesis of the boyish mouse in "Stuart Little." Instead, Templeton's humanistic gestures are layered lightly onto a virtual rat and expressed primarily through his "movie mouth," says LaBonte.

And while some celebrities are badly cast in animated voice roles, delivering flat performances, LaBonte says Buscemi's voice for Templeton was a delight to animate.

"A guy like Buscemi conveys so much humor and menace and intensity in his voice that it makes our animation so much cooler," he enthuses. (For their own edification, the animators created a reel of Templeton performing to Buscemi's expletive-laden scenes in "Reservoir Dogs.")

Once the movie got underway on location, principal photography provided animators with a few natural gifts too. Animators often spend hours combing through raw footage (known as background plates) looking for opportunities to tie the CG world and real world together.

In one case, animator Raquel Cahuelo spotted a take in which a real-life newborn gosling accidentally tripped over itself. She incorporated Templeton into that plate to make it look as if he pushes the baby out of his way to grab an unhatched egg with the intent of turning it into dinner. "It was so cold-hearted we had to leave it in," LaBonte chuckles.

And what about Master Splinter? Three weeks before Tippett shipped the last of their 280 shots, their in-house rat passed away. "Master Splinter served his purpose," LaBonte says in his best Buscemi voice. "Roll the credits, cut to black."

A full weekend.

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My goodness, it's Monday again.. How time flies. The weekend flew by quite quickly. Saturday was the VES Group and one-on-one review sessions, which spanned six hours starting at 10am over at Image Metrics in Santa Monica. I had personally never heard of Image Metrics, but the COO was there in the morning to give a brief lecture and demonstration of the techniques his company does with facial motion capture, complete with examples. It was definitely an inspiring sight. They also work closely with other LA visual effects companies as well as with their head office in London in creating emotional computer characters, be it realistic or caricature.

After the hour lecture and discussion, we broke into groups, with we mentors in the one on one group. There were five of us, for about 30 students. 10 each from Gnomon, USC, and OTIS. The students had a chance to sit down with use for 15 minutes each, almost too short a time, and discuss their career goals, show us their reels and CVs, and ask any questions they might have of us. I talked to about 16 students, I think, and unfortunately, most of the names escape me, but the faces and work stick. Early next year these students will have a chance to be mentored by, at the moment, three of us (Alan and Paolo are the other two). If you're a VES member, I urge you to sign up to be a mentor to a student! After all, at one time you knew nothing either. From what our VES contact mentioned, there are 1500 VES members around the world at the moment, and about 500 in the LA area.

I talked with some up and coming talent reviewing the reels, and definitely all of them had potential. Like all students, the reels do need work, but it's understandable. After all, my first reel wasn't the most breathtaking. But it did show potential to my first employer, and things accelerated from there.

Sunday was another VES filled day. We attended the screening for Charlotte's Web over at Paramount Studios in Hollywood. The VFX supervisors were there as well for the Q&A that followed, since the official cast and crew screening was last Friday. I enjoyed the film, even though it was more of a family affair. The work changed only a little from the last time I saw the footage from half a year ago up at Tippett, mostly some small color timing tweaks, and the addition of Charlotte into our Templeton shots. I didn't really like the design of the spider, but Rising Sun did what they could do with the direction they were given. The close ups were pretty good, and the spider hair and silk was well done. There were numerous depth of field issues, but I can see how it was tough to focus on a very narrow window, yet try to keep the creatures in focus.. Many times it had to be faked. Templeton and the crows Elwyn and Brooks were well done (Tippett's work on the film). After seeing the shots again after eight months, they were pretty good. It was amazingly tough to pull off some of the depth of field and integration shots with Templeton and his surrounding environment, but I think you'll be pleasantly surprised. Rhythm & Hues did some great work, as usual, with the face replacements of the animals. I'd recommend it as a family film.

Hard at work

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On a Saturday, making stereoscopic composites. Oye, what fun! Nothing to wake you up like some Bloodhound Gang. Being a Legend in my spare time!

VES Mentoring

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Tomorrow at Sony Pictures Imageworks! I'll be there from about 3pm on. I'll also be meeting a select few students on December 9 at Image Metrics to review and critique their demo reels and answer any questions.

Visual Effects Society Training and Mentoring Program Presents:

"Finding and Keeping Your FIRST (Paid) Job in Today's Visual Effects Industry"

Saturday, Dec. 2, 2006
Location: DeMille Theater, The Culver Studios, 9336 West Washington Blvd., Culver City
(Please enter through Gate 2 on Ince Blvd., in-between Culver Studios and the Sony Pictures Imageworks campus)

TimePanel Session TitlePanel Moderator
8:30 to 9:00Check-in (Coffee and bagels provided by Sony Imageworks)
9:00 to 9:10Welcome and IntroductionSande Scoredos (Executive Director of Training and Artist Development, Sony Imageworks)
9:10 to 10:30Visual Effects in the Game IndustryHabib Zargarpour (Senior Art Director, Electronic Arts)
10:35 to 11:55Visual Effects for BroadcastMark Driscoll (President, Look! Effects Inc.)
11:55 to 12:55Lunch (provided by Sony Imageworks)
12:55 to 2:15Computer Animated Feature FilmsFrank Gladstone (Vice President, STARZ Animation)
2:20 to 3:40Visual Effects for Feature FilmsSande Scoredos
3:45 to 4:45"Mind Your Own Business-Your Career Support Team"Pamela Kleibrink Thompson (Recruiter/ Career Coach, Ideas to Go)
4:45 to 5:00Final Questions and "Wrap Up"Sande Scoredos

Special support provided by the Academy Foundation of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences

The Culver Studios
9336 West Washington Blvd.
Culver City, CA 90232
(310) 202-1234

About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from December 2006 listed from newest to oldest.

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