Tag Archives: production

My oh my… I’ve done 10 years of VFX work.

It’s now a decade since I first cut my teeth doing VFX on music videos. Lots has changed, technology has marched on at a huge pace, and yet the fundamental way of approaching a shot is almost the same.

Simple solutions are often the most effective ones and in particular those you know and can trust. For me this has meant finding appropriate methods for a particular time & situation and sticking with them for similar projects in the future. Consequently alongside my extensive Softimage, Terragen and PFTrack experience, my VFX fingers have touched Adobe products, GIMP, Deep Exploration, SpeedTree, Global Mapper, Inkscape, Combustion, Nuke, Maya, Max, and Cinema 4D.

As a generalist with such a broad background skillset, I found myself recently in an unusual position; that of a 3D lead artist on a 60 episode long TV series. All in all I spent a year working alongside a team of staff from both the production and post production side of things. I was even on set for a stint, something I hadn’t done for many years. Rather irritatingly, the whole thing is under wraps so I can’t say a word about that directly until it’s broadcast.

In the past 10 years I’ve learnt more than I could possibly have imagined when I left college. Here’s a few things I’d like to pass on to those entering the brave new (actually quite old) world of VFX. They’re based on my experience, so might not match the opinion of others.

Firstly and most importantly, listen to those telling you not to be sedentary. Stand up often and walk around. Consider a standing desk. Exercise regularly. You need it. Yes you do. Fresh air too, and daylight. By daylight I mean directly from the Sun, not a simulation bulb. Plus if you work from home, which you may well do at some point, human contact is essential. You need those breaks from the screen to be a human being rather than a ‘zombie’ as I’ve heard execs refer to VFX guys as.

On a similar note, burning the candle at both ends does nobody any good. Try to avoid long hours, even if you are enjoying a project. Past a certain point in the day, I find the work I am doing is deteriorating in quality and my brain is no longer functioning at its best. On that note, drink plenty of water. Lots of offices are air-conditioned and will dry you out very fast. If you must work extra time, try to wangle a weekend, especially if you’re a freelancer. You’ll get paid an extra day and will have the benefit of further sleep. Some of my best work has been done on a Saturday.

Don’t be ashamed to take shortcuts or cheat. The whole of VFX is a cheat, a lie. It’s OK to use stock libraries for footage, elements, sound, textures and even models. Quality varies so do your research, but the time you could save will actually save money in the end too. For an HD project, consider rendering out elements at 720p, then upscaling in the comp. 720p has less than a million pixels in it. 1080p has over 2 million. Render times are much lower and many cannot tell the difference in image quality. There are rare exceptions to this, but I’ve even passed SD anamorphic widescreen renders of skies and the like to be composited before now and nobody’s noticed or cared. If it is matching something soft in the background footage or is out of focus anyway, it just doesn’t matter.

Keep curious. Ask questions of those around you, whether they’re older or younger, wiser or greener. Everybody knows something the person next to them doesn’t and in this profession, that’s especially true. Whether you are self-taught or degree educated, you cannot possibly know all there is to know about the huge amount of software and associated techniques. Remember what I wrote earlier about simple solutions? The more experienced near you will possibly know them, so just ask. Don’t waste four hours struggling to do something that could be done in one hour using a technique they know.

VFX isn’t all about big budget movies and long form TV shows. Consider using your skills elsewhere. There’s a huge amount of corporate and educational work out there. I did quite a long stint of work on illustrative animations for educational websites and kids TV. As another example, did you know there’s 3D warehouse simulation software, requiring many real-time 3D models? Now you do.

Finally, if you’re a freelancer, get used to this question: “So what are you working on at the moment?”
My answer is currently, “Nothing,” so feel free to get in touch!
If you have no money, don’t, but do read this: http://www.ajcgi.co.uk/blog/?p=855

Richard Hammond’s Journey To The Centre of The Planet

Not so long ago I finished working at Lola on this project, soon to be broadcast on prime time BBC here in the UK. Can’t say a lot about it yet other than it’s CGI heavy and interesting stuff. The name is possibly in progress. Not sure, it’s changed a few times! Here’s a press release and no I didn’t get to meet him.

http://bbc.in/lwdbRu

Animation for Oasis

Oasis Denim Animation

That’s the shop, not the band, pop-pickers.
Recently I was called upon by Pretzel Films to aid them in the creation of an animation for the ladies clothing shop Oasis. We see a girl walking along changing clothes to suit her environment, the time of day and such, focussed on the idea that there is a pair of jeans for every occasion.

My input was the background images, drawn mostly by hand, then animated into the background based on a rough edit provided for me. The girl was not filmed against a green or blue screen, allowing the director, Jake Dypka a greater freedom when it came to lighting, however this did mean Jake ended up doing a lot of rotoscoping. Fortunately he was using the new rapid rotoscoping tools in After Effects CS5, which I’ve yet to look into. It was an enjoyable piece to work on, being something that provided enough creative leeway to not be restrictive.

Update: The film was viewable on Oasis-stores.com but is no longer part of their marketing. However, it is currently sitting on youtube apparently. http://bit.ly/a2ID0h

Waking The Dead continues…

gemma

Following on from the previous post, this week’s episodes of Waking The Dead on BBC1 focussed on the story of Gemma, a girl raped twice then thrown off a bridge, and somehow surviving with a few broken bones and a shattered pelvis.

I worked on one shot for this, the falling stunt Gemma. A digital stunt double works out cheaper, and safer than a real one.

Being how she is seen at a distance I was able to get away with modifying a pre-existing female model straight out of Poser. I reduced the detail level to something managable, altered the overall shape to match the adjacent shots and set about animating using a slightly modified default rig in Softimage. Once that was cleared as being fine, the hair and clothes were added, the whole lot rendered out and passed on to Sascha for compositing.

[no longer on iplayer]

Waking The Dead begins…

flies

Series 8 of Waking The Dead started last night on BBC 1, here in the UK.

Around the 17 minute mark, 2 people go inside a building and get many cg flies thrown in their direction, created by my fair hand, animated one at a time in XSI, composited in After Effects by Sascha Fromeyer of The Green Apple variety.

More to come on this show… Hopefully show reel rights, who knows?

Human Centipede shown at Frightfest!

centipede2

Update: SEQUEL

Film 4’s Frightfest was on again this year at the Empire in London’s Leicester Square.

I was one of a few freelancers lucky enough to work on Tom Six’s ‘Human Centipede’, a thoroughly odd concept for a film. I briefly mentioned this in a previous post, incorrectly referring to it as the Human Caterpillar. I guess a caterpillar does seem slightly cuter than a centipede! The rough premise for this is that a surgeon, previously separating siamese twins for a living, is now collecting people to build a centipede where each person’s mouth is stitched to the anus of the person in front. Yup. You read that correctly.

My part in this was to fix a few things in After Effects that couldn’t be sorted on set. The lady above is having her teeth removed in order to facilitate the passage of waste from the person in front. In that instance is was up to me to remove teeth from the 3 shots involved. The rest was mostly tracking stuff, and a few blood spatters, but there were a couple of time consuming shots involving animating a load of rain drops on a car window. The shots were filmed out of sequence on a night when it genuinely was raining, but some were missing the obvious rain drops one expects from having just driven through rain. The best bit about this was Tom Six saying something like “Rain from a rain machine always looks shit. Nothing like rain,” a statement I highly agree with. Lovely guy. The kind of person you wouldn’t expect to come up with a film about stitching people together in a chain.

http://www.imdb.com/title/tt1467304/

http://www.frightfest.co.uk/09films/film17.html