October 2007 Archives

Lighting in Comping

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Say it ain't so! Lightinng and compositing have always gone hand in hand, and as such, many facilities have lighters do the comping on their shot. While this definitely makes things go quicker, you may not always get the best results like from an independent lighter/comper team. The reason? There are few lighters who excel at comping, and few compers who excel at lighting.

Last week there was an updated Nuke tool posted over at FXshare called Relight. It basically allows you to add lights and shadows to an already rendered scene, using a number of alternative passes. Marco wrote it, check it out over at FXshare and his lowrez page. What will this help us compositors do? Well, occasionally there isn't time to re-render certain bits, or add a little nuance that the supervisor might want. This tool allows us to quickly add a light from another direction and use that, all from within Nuke. It's pretty quick, and very effective. There was a lighting tool originally planned for Nuke a long time ago, but that has since fallen by the wayside. I'm hoping that the next versions of Nuke have something like this built in, since having a 3D compositing environment only begs for a tool to light objects! This does not replace the work that lighters do for us. It does however help us add more detail into our shot that is called for at the last minute, which happens more often than not. Marco is also on VFXTalk as user makal, so be sure and head over there to see what else is going on!

In a day or two the VFXTalk newsletter going out, which details many of the upcoming plans that we have for the site.

The Weekend

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It was a crazy one.. After working 9 hours on Saturday, we hit the Digital Domain Halloween party. Doors opened at 9:30pm, and went until 2am. Aside from the open bar, the theme of Heaven and Hell was apparent.. From an angelical harpist on a stage outside, to a rocking live band inside, they had all bases covered. There was also a photo booth, tarot card readers and palm readers outside, with food (which went pretty quickly early on). There was a big line to get in, but everyone did! Here are some pictures from a Flickr pool.


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Yes, it's been a week since I last posted, but it's getting crazy.. Crazy, I tell you. A couple more weeks on The Golden Compass, and then it's off to creating cool stuff for The Mummy!

Every year, Digital Domain hosts an extravagant Halloween bash. This year will prove no different! Unfortunately, i never got a chance to take pictures last time, but hopefully this year I'll be able to snap some photos. Here is what the tickets look like. Don't try to print the image out and take it! There's information on the back that you'll be missing. Like always, costumes are required, so there will definitely be some interesting ones! Last year there were Ghostbusters, Legomen and women, and superheroes. This year I'm thinking there'll be Transformers and Spartans.

I was forwarded a link from a pal, concerning the last film I completed, The Dark Is Rising.. Well, check out how it did at Box Office Mojo. I don't think it's in theatres anymore. Looks like I'll have to catch it on DVD.

Our next challenge for VFXTalk is coming soon. I'm just finishing up the final touches with the moderation crew there, and we'll have something either this week or next. Ya, it's been two months since the last one, but this one will sure to keep everyone interested. Also I'm writing up a bunch for next year, so expect some great challenges then! The official announcement with the partnership of VFXTalk and myself will be coming shortly.

In film news, it sounds like there is an overwhelming chance of a writers strike. The votes came in at a steep 90% for a strike, so we'll see what happens come November 1st. It won't affect us too much in postproduction, yet. All our work is signed for and is ready to be worked on for a summer release. This will affect everyone in production and preproduction for sure.

Ask for VFX.

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A little entry this Tuesday.. Yesterday at Digital Domain we had an influx of artists, I think around 10-15, some rehires, some new, all on our upcoming shows. If I recall correctly, none were in comp. It seemed most were on the 3D realm of things. There'll be another bunch of artists coming in next Monday as well, but I don't know how many, or on which shows. As many of you may know from visiting Siggraph, Digital Domain is hiring a bunch of people for our upcoming shows. It's going to be a busy winter/spring!

I'm just finishing up some Golden Compass work. We're getting close to our deadline, within a month to go! The film comes out in December if I've been told correctly. The release date is also on the poster too, so we've got a hard deadline for sure. I don't know if it's going to be like Pirates, where the final shots were finalled close to three weeks to the release date!

I was introduced to another search engine.. Remember all the ones before? Lycos, Altavista, Yahoo, and of course, Google. I was shown ask.com, which I think has been around for a little while. Anyway, I asked for vfx in the blog section, and this blog comes up as number two in the top Feeds! How cool is that. I also asked about vfx in google, and guess what's number one? VFXTalk! Awesome. VFXHQ is second, and it's been dead for a while, but it has some good making-ofs from a long time ago. VFXPro is third, it used to be the standard where all the pros went to search for jobs. I think most of us still do. We're hoping to change that, of course. If you do a search for vfx blog in Google, you'll get the great vfxblog.com site, and then this one comes a close second. Pretty neat. I'm number two for vfx blogs searches, and we're number one for vfx on Google (number three on Ask)!

Friday Number 1.

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Or Thursday number two. However you look at it, I'll be working the weekend, as is probably most of the Golden Compass crew. We've got some big deadlines to hit, and a couple more spectacular shots to finish up. I'm not really counting how many weeks are left, I just know it's coming up soon, and there just isn't time. But we'll get it done. Yesterday I had a chance to visit Rhythm and Hues, twice, in just as many weeks, and met up with some former coworkers from Digital Domain, and just hang out, have lunch, and chat. I met a couple other compers and we talked about the work we were all doing, since R&H and DD are almost in bed together. We work on almost all the same shows! It was a nice visit, and the drive there and back was easy on a motorcycle. Being stuck in LA car traffic, a thing of the past!

Over the past month or so, I"ve been in communication with the owner of VFXTalk.com, and we're coming to an agreement. I'll be stepping up into a co-ownership role at VFXTalk.com, which will increase my responsibilities, and hopefully, bring more content, interest and people to the site. I don't want to give too much away just yet, but there'll be a much bigger reason for vfx professionals to visit. In addition, those VIP members that have signed up over the past year and pledged their support of the site will be rewarded.

Today at work, director Rob Cohen of XXX and Stealth fame came in to talk to the Mummy crew, and give us an overview of the scope of the work. We also got a chance to see a lot of our internal work which I haven't had a chance to see yet. Looks really good! You'll have to wait until next summer to see the work.

Lots more to do

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The Compass is slowly moving forward. Lots of cool work in the pipeline, and I'm slowly finishing up my shots. I received a new one yesterday, through some restructuring with comp leads and compositors, as there are a bunch of shows shifting gears right now. I picked up a pretty fancy shot from our comp supervisor, Joe. I worked with Joe very briefly up in Vancouver, on a small show called Jeremiah, that starred Luke Perry and Theo Huxtable (ya, can't remember his real name at the moment). Somehow, everyone's connected. Remember that when getting your next job.

In less than a month I'll be moving onto The Mummy. We've got a small team at the moment, but we'll definitely be picking up people once everything starts rolling. The storyboards are crazy difficult, but it looks to be a fun, but really complex, show! Check out Rob Cohen's blog on The Mummy production. The comp supervisor that I worked with on Pirates will be heading this one up as well, so I'm pretty sure it'll be smooth sailing.

Hits. And Misses.

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Well, ok then. Looks like the more I post, the more hits I get.. Interesting. I guess my sporadic postings from a week here to a week there aren't enough to keep you interested. :) Let me know what keeps you coming here, or what you want to hear from me. You can always subscribe to this blog via RSS or email, located on the right side toolbar.

We're slowly getting to the end of our show! There are a couple weeks left, a lot of shots to finish up and send off to other companies so they can add their creatures, and copious amounts of caffeine and alcohol to sooth our workload. On that note, I totally forgot that today is the premiere of The Seeker: The Dark Is Rising! I won't get a chance to see it today, but maybe you will. If you do, stick around, and let me know if I'm in the credits.

Tip of the Week - Making a Nuke Gizmo

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It's been a while since I wrote a Tip of the Week. This week's one covers how to make a gizmo in Nuke. A Nuke Gizmo is a collection of nodes that accomplishes something in one grouping. It's similar to a Shake Macro. The advantage of Nuke's gizmo is that it is not server side based, so you can create any number of custom gizmos, and launch them on a farm, and it'll run them, unlike Shake macros, which prefers a centralized location. Another advantage is that Nuke's automatic gizmo creation is far superior to Shake's automatic macro creation wizard. How so? Hit the link below and follow along.

A method to the madness

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Woah, woah, woah. A third entry in just as many days. You'd think I wasn't working on a show to be delivered in less than a month. In the Open Call entry from last year I asked people to give suggestions on what they wanted to read about. One of the suggestions was the following:

Could you give us a rundown of the things you encounter most often while working on a complex script? A shot that has multiple cg elements integrated? I find the questions I primarily have now deal with pipeline issues. Of course some of the tools and nodes used are proprietary, and I know those can't be mentioned. It would be very nice to hear what the main passes are that you typically get from the 3D dept. I'd love to hear about any of the more modern ways of approaching a shot. Such as rendering flat with a normals pass and a couple lighting passes, doing the final lighting in post.

So here's an answer. I'll try to keep it as simple as possible, and not be specific to a particular company. When I say we, it refers to the compositing departments of the studios that I've worked for. Feel free to ask questions in the comments section.

Over the span of a decade, lots of things have changed. We've gotten faster, better machines, more intuitive software packages, and the knowledge that people have gained over the years. From the dinosaurs in Jurassic Park, to Davy Jones in Pirates of the Caribbean, the detail of the characters and environments have increased substantially. We are only limited by our imagination now. As such, the elements we are required to assemble vary in complexity. From the well known color channels such as red, green,blue, alpha, and z depth, to more specific ones such as ambient occlusion, global illumination, specular, diffuse, environment, subsurface, normals, uv maps and more! All of these rendered elements are not always necessary. Depending on the complexity of the final shot, we're tasked with often using the least amount of rendered elements (layers) to accomplish the shot. At the very least, we need RGBA.

But just using RGBA doesn't always give us the level of control that we compositors need. So, we ask for more render layers. Often these layers are just things that our Lighting TD can give us. Most of the time they're very good about giving us all the correct layers that we need to final our shots. Other times we approach them and ask for extras. The communication between the compositing department and lighting department is vital to the completion of our shots. How do we decide what we need? Well, there are a couple ways. Ask a lead. Comp and Lighting leads are leads for a reason. They've had the experience to know what render passes are necessary to get the look of a shot. Other times, experience will lead the way. I've reached a point where I know what passes I need from lighting artists, and if it's not rendered out and I absolutely need it, I'll let them know. Only time and experience will let you know what you need when compositing a final shot. Most of the time we receive the following passes. R,G,B and A of course, as well as Z depth. For environmental comps, we might get a Y depth pass. Almost always a diffuse and specular pass is present, as well as normals. There are also certain plugins and tools that we use in our day to day compositing tasks, from normals remapping and lighting in 3D, to lens distortion and uv projection. All these help us to final a shot. These are some of the basic passes we get. Depending on the timeframe and complexity of a shot, we might get more render intensive passes such as ambient occlusion and subsurface scattering. Often, the final shot might look like it has a certain cg pass, but in reality, we hacked it together using a number of different tricks and methods.

In constructing a complex shot, it's vital to break down the major bits and pieces into managable chunks. A bunch of tanks on a beach, for example, in Flags of our Fathers, requires different approaches for the shot. The tanks themselves may have required all the passes I mentioned, from diffuse, reflection, specular, environment, ambient occlusion, z depth, and so forth. The beach, being CG, might require a different selection of passes, from just diffuse and specular, to z depth. The men on the beach, even different passes, a beauty pass, diffuse, specular, and shadow. Then you have the CG water, and the background matte painting of sky and clouds. As you see, the complexity of this shot can grow enormously. By breaking the shot up into specific pieces, it's easier to delegate the responsibility of the completion of that piece to a department. The water and smoke and clouds, to the fx department. The tanks, modelling and lighting. The CG people, animation and lighting. Assembling everything, the comp department. In compositing we don't really light a shot. We might fix or add small nuances that a supervisor might ask for, but by and large, we don't relight anything. As we build a shot up like this, we frequently get new renders from all the departments, and it's our job to put them all together, document what goes where, and what changes from the previous version there might be. Approaching such a shot in steps is necessary for sanity. Some of us are more insane than others. As illustrated below.

How in the hell can we manage such complex and messy scripts? Well, if you're working on a shot for the better part of two or more weeks, you'll know your script inside and out, especially if you start it from scratch. Taking over a shot, like the one on the left, is just asking for horror. The one on the right is a little bit more manageable, and actually has some notes. On Pirates of the Caribbean I took over some shots from other artists, and let me tell you, it's often easier to go ahead and start over from scratch for certain parts of the tree than try and figure out why your fellow comper decided to do something one way, and you know another way to do it. Our minds are wired certain ways, and it shows when constructing and deconstructing shots such as these.

I hope this post was informative for you! Please let me know if I answered your questions to completion, and how we approach complex shots. Don't be shy.

Worked into a corner?

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On one of my free days this weekend, walking around the neighborhood, I began thinking about the job, and what pros and cons it offers me, and how will it affect my future path. I think all of us in the industry feel constricted at times, both with the quality (or lack there of) of the work, and the time we spend doing it. Ultimately it's a job, and many of us in this job enjoy the work. As we get older we realize that time is finite, and that working insanely long hours isn't for us. Wives and husbands, girlfriends and boyfriends, sons and daughters all grow up and have to deal with the spousal unit or mother and father away at work for 10-11 hours a day. This only gets worse as one rises up into the ranks of being a vfx lead and vfx supervisor. So, exactly, what to we have to gain from working like this?

Most of the artists in the field are content with where they are, be it a comper, a lighter, or just another cog in the machine. They're having fun, working an appropriate number of hours, but ultimately, they don't want to do anything else, both in the industry or elsewhere. Some people have the affinity to want to go further. With going further comes less time for other things, which includes a social life at times. It's a balancing act between all aspects of life and we have less time as we get older. I still wonder where I want to go, and what I want to be when I grow up. Life is content at the moment, being a compositor at Digital Domain, working on some extremely cool work. But what do I really want to do? Do I want to appease my affinity for going further, and head into compositing lead again? Or how about going further than that? VFX supervisor, here I come! Or do I want to be content with being a comper, and work the regular (semi-regular) hours, with meaningful relationships. Do I have the capacity for supervision? Do I have the eye for that? There are some talented supervisors out there who are definitely at the top of their game. It's a balance of politics, creativity, technicality, and personality. How do I break into something like that, and how do they manage to balance their life? Is it a matter of getting paid extremely well during the show, and then taking several months off to relax and have a life?

It seems that I've taken a lot on my plate. I have. I've also tried to fit even more onto it, but there just isn't enough time in the day to accomplish what I want to do. Apart from a full time job here at DD, I'm pursuing manufacturing and marketing for an unrelated to vfx product, contributing to VFXTalk, writing a book, reading several, helping several websites get off the ground, improving this one, riding the motorcycle, working out at the gym, working out my mind, and enjoying the wife. Why is life so complicated, or why do I make it so complicated? I could be content doing what I'm doing with no other additions, but somehow, I've decided to pursue my propensity for growth. It's what life is all about.

After all this, I've added some more details into my Biography and Filmography, be sure to check it out by clicking the link in the top bar.

Physical effects are cool

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A little bit more news on The Kingdom, which premiered last Friday, and came in at the boxoffice at number 2 with $17.7 million. The Game Plan, with The Rock, came in first. I stumbled upon a quick "making of" the car/suburban crash in the movie, and it's always so cool to see how they do it.. Check the Yahoo link here, and discuss what you've seen by clicking the CGNews link here!

Tomorrow we see a screening of 3:10 to Yuma, which I hear is pretty good. It's followed by a Q/A session with Director James Mangold, Editor Michael McCusker, A.C.E., Costume Designer Arianne Phillips, Art Director Gregory A. Berry, and Supervising Sound Editor Don Sylvester. This is again sponsored by Below The Line. They've got some good screenings coming up. Also make sure to check out the BTL News Blog, which has up to date information (usually) on the strike which is poised to happen here in LA very soon.

About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from October 2007 listed from newest to oldest.

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November 2007 is the next archive.

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