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March 30, 2010

VFX Online Town Hall Meeting

vfxOnlineTownHall.jpgI listened in on this first in a series of online VFX Town Hall meetings on Monday night... in response to the state of our industry. Jeff Heusser was one of the panelist Monday night and has posted his commentary on the evenings discussion below:



commentary by Jeff Heusser @ 11:32 pm on March 30, 2010

Last night the first in a series of online town hall meetings was held – organized by Lee Stranahan, the panelists were Chris deFaria -Vice President, Warner Bros. Pictures, Jefferey A. Okun – Visual Effects Society Chair and visual effects supervisor and Scott Ross – Co-Founder of Digital Domain & former CEO of Industrial, Light and Magic. Rather that try and recap the two hours of discussion I am going to give my opinion of what I saw as the key things to come out of this discussion and what the next steps are.

It was two hours of open, frank discussion that on its own would be important but in addition to the audio discussion there evolved a back channel of discussion on twitter and ustream. The way the web event was structured guests could hear the panelists and could type questions to them, but the audience could not discuss amongst themselves, this is something Lee is looking into addressing for the next event. Users took advantage of tools on the net to fill that gap, a member of the audience has posted an mp3 of the event online, you can find the link to that as well as a lot of the twitter comments by searching on twitter for the hashtag #vfxtownhall.

Ok, now to dive into the commentary portion of this post. What did we learn from this?

If you are looking for a villian in this quest for respect and fairness for the visual effects industry, you are wasting your time. On every level it seems we are our own worst enemy. Chris deFaria raised the issue of leverage. It could not be more clear that visual effects films drive the box office, we have the leverage, what we lack is an organized front to capitalize on that leverage. Hollywood runs on leverage and we are leaving that power unused.

Lee chose the panel to represent the three parties that create visual effects – the studios (deFaria), the vfx houses (Ross) and the artists (Okun). The spotlight in this event quickly shined on the vfx houses and artists as the ones who need to step up and seize the moment. This brings me to the first action item I came up with from my interpretation of the meeting:

Action Item #1: VFX Houses unite!
The heads of all the major visual effects houses need to get on the phone with each other today to plan a meeting to be held as soon as possible. Put aside egos and competition and organize a meeting with two goals – stopping the race to the bottom that is the way the business is currently being conducted and forming a trade organization. We need a voice, a lobbying group that has a strong leader fighting for visual effects and working with the vfx houses to apply the leverage they as a combined group represent. Houses need to stop selling themselves as who can bring the lowest rate to a project through tax incentives and outsourcing and focus on creative, innovative solutions to create unique work. No one can do this alone, there needs to be more cooperation and less underbidding. There needs to be a trade association.

Moving to the artists… probably the most frustrating part of the night was when it came to discussion of the artists themselves. I say frustrating because there was not much in the discussion anyone could say that would make an artist feel better. Artists were told they need to take personal responsibility by not accepting working conditions that are abusive. Waiting for a guild or union is not the answer although I think it was clear in the discussion that everyone thinks that the formation of a guild is what needs to happen… Chris deFaria even went as far as saying that our goal should be for the studios to be on board with that to the point of insisting that work on their films be done solely with guild represented talent. Jeffrey Okun made it clear that the VES is prohibited by its charter from engaging in organizing, so this guild needs to be something new and just like the idea of a trade organization we are left looking for a strong leader to drive this process forward. I think that will happen, primarily because there are existing large unions who have to be looking at the large number of artists they stand to represent if they organized visual effects. This is an area that will take time but there are some things we can do right now.

Action Item #2: Artists Unite!
First, if you are an artist it is time to take inventory of how things are going for yourself in a big picture way. How are you progressing in the industry? How are you doing in your personal life, what are you doing towards your financial future? We need to move from a place of wonder at how cool our jobs are and what amazing stuff we get to do and understand that none of this would be possible without us. Which brings us back to leverage. What can the individual artist do? Artists need to talk to each other, continue the conversation this event has already spawned. Companies that don’t follow local labor laws or run abusive environments need to be exposed and people need to stop working there. One of our next podcasts will be with a labor attorney to talk specifics of what an individual can do and should be aware of. Artists need to talk to each other about these issues, in person and by harnessing the power of the internet.

I think this is one area where the Visual Effects Society needs to step up. There has been talk of the VES providing sample contracts or suggested terms that members could use to provide a unified front when talking to employers, that needs to happen as well as anything else VES can do to educate its members and the community at large without violating its charter. This is a critical moment in the history of visual effects, what VES does at this moment will define for many of us the value and perception of that organization going forward.

Action Item #3: Keep this momentum going
Last night almost 450 people from around the world sat for two hours listening to a discussion about the issues visual effects as a maturing industry face. They extended the conversation on twitter and other channels and that carried on into the next day. I encourage you to become part of that conversation, even if you don’t use twitter regularly check out that link above and see what people are saying about this topic. Listen to the town hall, join the next one (likely to be held in late April, we’ll let you know here when it is announced). Talk openly and loudly about the issues raised here and be an active part of the solution. There may be no easy answers but we can only move to a position of power by raising awareness and sharing information.

Thanks to Lee and the panelists for making this event happen. It is clear that we are a passionate bunch who have chosen our careers because we love visual effects, in my opinion we are going to need help applying a business model on top of that passion to move the business and our careers into the next stage. Lee has informed me that he is working on a way for last night’s panel to respond to further questions people may have and the Q&A section from the event was archived and we will be working our way through that to see what answers we can get to questions posed there that were not able to be addressed in the event.

The slides from the event can be viewed here: www.slideshare.net/Stranahan/vfx-online-town-hall-1.

Any thoughts?

See Also: Artists Review of the VFX Town Hall meeting...

Posted by dschnee at 2:12 PM

March 24, 2010

Twilight Saga: Eclipse Poster 2

Will somebody from Summit put a friggin' wolf on a poster!?! This poster is New Moon with a different hue... weak. Our wolves look pretty bad ass, just sayin'

This is what somebody else had to say about it...

"The full theatrical poster for Twilight Saga: Eclipse featuring everybody’s favorite human-supernatural love triangle — Edward, Bella, and Jacob. Check out the poster here at right and click for the larger full view. The previously released teaser poster gave us no hint as to the look of Eclipse, but with this new poster we can see that Bella (Kirsten Stewart) is now in the forefront with her paramours (Robert Pattinson as Edward and Taylor Lautner as Jacob) behind her. Gone are the brown tones from New Moon which were meant to signify the introduction of the werewolves. As the tagline says, Bella has a choice (actually, several choices) to make and the poster shows that it’s hers and hers alone." (geeksofdoom.com)

Eclipse haunts teenage wastelands on June 30, 2010.

Posted by dschnee at 9:18 AM

March 20, 2010

New Moon DVD/Blu-Ray Released!

The two-disc special edition (DVD) and [Blu-ray]

Blu-ray Review: The Twilight Saga: New Moon | High-Def Digest

If you didn't know where a 'New Moon' release party was near you, you could have checked out www.edwardbellafanclub.com to search for a midnight release party near you. Enjoyed the party with several of your friends! It would have be fun.

See Also:
New Moon Rifftrax!!!

Posted by dschnee at 9:55 PM

March 17, 2010

New Moon Named Showest Top Film

The Twilight Saga: New Moon has been named the film of 2009 by filmgoers voting for the Fandango Fan Choice Award at the upcoming ShoWest convention in Las Vegas.

The sequel beat Avatar and eight other movies to claim the top prize at the cinema owners event, which starts later this month.

New Moon garnered 66 per cent of the vote.

A few months ago, it was announced that The Twilight Saga: New Moon was up for Fandango's ShoWest Fan Choice Award, and that its competition ring was pretty vast (including the following films: 2012, Alvin And The Chipmunks: The Squeakquel, Avatar, Harry Potter And The Half-Blood Prince, Ice Age: Dawn Of The Dinosaurs, Monsters Vs. Aliens, Night At The Museum: Battle Of The Smithsonian, Star Trek, The Blind Side, The Hangover, The Proposal, Transformers: Revenge Of The Fallen, Up, and X-Men Origins: Wolverine).

Today, MTV announced that New Moon beat out its competition with a whopping sixty-six percent of the total user vote.

MTV also quoted a Fandango representative to say that while many people might've expected Avatar (which has raked in ticket sales to the tune of over two billion dollars) to win, "never bet against the passion, loyalty and dedication of the vociferous 'Twilight' fans."

Posted by dschnee at 12:30 AM

March 16, 2010

FX Guide Interview - New Moon Rises on DVD

We were interviewed by Ian Failes from fxguide.com a few months ago, and it looks like he was saving it until now with the fancy dvd/blu-ray release... :) It was a short 'over the phone' interview, my first of it's kind, and yeah I stumbled my way through it a bit, hah. Ian didn't have too many specific questions about our comp work (New Moon was not yet released), so I casually talked about what we did on the show... anyhow, it's good to see it up on fxguide and again, It was a great experience being a part of a great USM team.

New Moon, the second film in the Twilight series, is just out on DVD/Blu-ray. Director Chris Weitz and visual effects supervisor Susan MacLeod called on Tippett Studio's to bring to life a pack of large wolves. We speak to some of Tippett's key visual effects team about the creation of the wolves.

Check out the Interview here and/or on fxguide.com - Thanks!

fxg: What would you say was Tippett's general approach to the wolves?

Phil Tippett (visual effects supervisor): The approach was that we had to get as close as we could to real wolf behaviour in the wild. Anatomically, these wolves are as close as we could get digitally to timber wolves. Chris Weitz insisted they be real wolves photographically. So that was our objective from the beginning. We did what we normally do when we have to match a real creature - we get a great deal of anatomical reference and photographic material. We look at a lot of books on wolves and just steep ourselves in wolf look and behaviour. Also, a bunch of the guys under my co-supervisor Matt Jacobs - puppet makers, animators, model makers and TDs - went to a wolf preserve outside of LA and got inside a big pen with a bunch of these 200 pound wolves and spent the afternoon with them.

Stephen Unterfranz (character CG supervisor): The wolf sanctuary visit was even more interactive than I hoped it would be. We got to go into enclosures with real animals - some had been kept as pets and some were wild. There were different degrees of wildness in these animals. It was really exciting to get to see them and their behaviour. They were comfortable enough with us to get great reference photography and video. We had pictures of the pads of their feet and and how their teeth connected to their gums. Then we had some selects from the production - who was the biggest wolf and who was what colour.

Tom Gibbons (animation supervisor): Animators in general are reference-oriented people, so we looked at nature videos. We did look at lions which are a little bit heavier than wolves and horses for their gait. YouTube is a godsend! If you're good at typing in the words, you can find amazing freakin' reference. We do have some high-speed cameras in the animation department so sometimes we shoot our own dogs doing stuff at 3000 frames a second just to see what it does.

fxg: What were some of the key things you picked up about wolf behaviour?

Tom Gibbons: The reference gathering was very specific to how they should look like in the film. Wolves are not dogs, but it takes a while to understand how different the two species are. The problem is that not a lot of people have had experiences with wolves - actually, even in some movies that are supposed to be about wolves they are actually huskies or other dogs. We felt that the audience might think our wolves didn't look right, so we had to make adjustments with the specific wolf behaviour and soften it a little.

fxg: Once you had your reference, how did you get started on modelling and animation?

Phil Tippett: We had some time in pre-production and we were very clear in what needed to be done from Chris' storyboards, so were able to work with Chris and the visual effects supervisor on the show, Susan McLeod, to create some previs that was very much locked into what the locations were. We were able to develop the pantomime and choreography for the wolf action - in animation terms exclusively. We weren't bound by any other constraints. We could just let the wolves go and do the best behaviour that looked great for the shot. That would inform how we would move the cameras when they went out and shot the actual backgrounds, which are empty without wolves. We needed to know where the lenses and the camera movements were. It was most important that the animation drive the cinematography.

fxg: Can you talk about the modelling process?

Stephen Unterfranz: We modelled one primary asset that we called the generator, based on the character Jacob, in Maya. The model was pretty straightforward. Fur grooming was a little bit more involved, with the style and the clumping. That look was defined in the art department which consisted of model and paint. To generate the variations for the rest of the pack, we brought Jacob into rigging and built a puppet for him. Then for as long as we could we were deriving the other four variations from Jacob. We were always prepared for the need to separate them into different assets. That worked really well for animation for things like walk cycles and run cycles between the different wolves.

fxg: How did you approach the facial set-up for the wolves?

Stephen Unterfranz: We basically had a blend shape system with some rig controls on top to accentuate the facial features. When we first started, we weren't sure how much acting the wolves were going to do. We worked with the lead modeler to break down the different regions of the face to their constituent blend shapes to give the animators control. As it turns out, they don't have too full of a range. They were kept really realistic. There were some key things that needed to be hit like the brow movements and how the muscles around the eyes worked. It had to be really distinctive for showing anger and feeling.

fxg: Moving to animation, what were some of the important things you wanted to convey?

Tom Gibbons: It was all about being naturalistic. There had to be an emotional connection between Jacob as a wolf and Bella, but it didn't have to be as an extreme as what we thought it might have been initially. Our largest challenge was to make the wolves feel large - difficult to show because there wasn't always lots of reference. We always stayed true to the wolf. We couldn't do anything anthropomorphic with them and didn't want to do anything that looked outside the realm of a timber wolf.

fxg: How did you use the reference you'd gathered in working out the movement of wolves?

Tom Gibbons: We started with a run and a walk cycle. As I studied the movement, even in our own studio we had people say that I had come up with a very dramatised walk. The thing is, most four-legged animals walk left foot forward, rear right forward, front right forward, left rear forward. So they do a staggered step. One of the things wolves do is walk left foot front, left foot rear, right foot front, right foot rear. That was the kind of walk I developed because we wanted to do a stalk rather than just a general walk. I felt that this kind of behaviour in a walk cycle was more interesting than a traditional 'I'm just a happy dog walking forward', but a lot of people called it out and said: 'Hey, that's wrong.' But it was right!

fxg: What tools did you rely on for the animation?

Tom Gibbons: We used Maya. We have a whole arsenal of plug-ins we've developed over the years. We had a crew of about 10 working on about 60 shots. When you animate in Maya you're not animating the fur. But with a wolf, fur represents a huge amount of the volume. We would typically animate the skeleton which basically looks like a shaved wolf. Once you start to put fur on it, everything starts to change. Our recipe to compensate for the missing fur in the animation stage is to try and run full renders of the wolves after we've done blocking, so we can start to see how the fur is looking and being affected by the animation. This lets us tweek things and allows us to go back compensate for things if need be.

fxg: How did you approach the wolf fur?

Phil Tippett: That was a whole huge research and development thing that our studio has been involved with for the last ten years. So we applied the tools we've been developing in-house to the New Moon project. The rendering time is just horrendous and the more wolves you put in the shot the more crazy it is. It's also so time consuming. Our art department headed by Nate Frietberg and Erin Borgan, working really closely with Matt Jacobs, had to get really stuck on this fur, not only as photographically as we could but also dynamically. So as the wolves are moving or wind is blowing on them, it showed in the fur.

fxg: What were some of the compositing challenges?

David Schnee: It was mostly about interaction between the wolves and their environment. The wolves were supposed to be eight to 1200 pounds, so they had to move the ground around a lot and we had to show their weight with the interaction with mulch or grass. We had a huge element shoot where we shot hay and moss and mulch - anything to help us integrate these guys as they're running around sliding and picking up their paws and slamming them down. For shots of the wolves emerging from behind trees, we ended up doing a cut-out of a wolf in blue and pushed it through the branches to give them the interaction for the wolves emerging. Also, everything was planned out and shot in VistaVision so that we could have the flexibility of having the animators drive the cameras, doing post camera moves for wolf action. We composited in Shake.

fxg: Was there a particular shot that was interesting to composite?

David Schnee:(compositing supervisor) There's a sequence when the wolves phase into their wolf form from their human form, and go into some somewhat playful fighting. There's a number of shots where they'll come together and attack each other and then fall back and then jump off each other and then slide back towards camera and draw a big gouge into ground. With the elements we shot we really able to reveal some big mounds in the ground, slobber when they hit and tufts of fur. Jacob's wolf had a very red russet tinge to it which was difficult to integrate because the plates we had were very green and yellow.

fxg: How did you deal with the human to wolf transformation shots?

Phil Tippett: The directive from Chris was that they had to transform very quickly. Early on we had to do some tests to make sure that would work. Conceptually the mass size from a six foot man who weighs 165 pounds into a 12 foot wolf that weighs 1200 pounds sounds ridiculous. Doing a proof of concept, we figured out a pantomime style and an action that would allow us to make this transitiion. We just had to carefully articulate the transition between human and wolf in not much more than 12 frames, so half a second. It meant that the pantomime of the human actors had to be very specific to make sure it worked, so we worked with the actors on the set to make sure they made the proper moves. We only have three transformations and two of them are wire gags. As they are leaping through the air, they transform, so we had the opportunity to make the transformation mid-flight.

David Schnee: Because a transformation was such a short amount of frames, it wasn't as bad as you'd think. We did a transition from live action to digital double and into the wolf, and animation got us most of the way. Then we just had to massage the elements to reveal the arms and body and head and the performance we wanted for a few frames, adding in some clothes tearing and some shapes to make the face look more like a muzzle occasionally.

fxg: Tippett is so well known for its character work. What did you learn from the whole process for the wolves?

Stephen Unterfranz: In the very beginning, we weren't sure what the look was going to be. You hear 'werewolf' and that immediately conjures up some imagery. In terms of the story it was actually a lot of fun, because they weren't monsters - they were just large wolves. They didn't go crazy or anything. It was a lot of fun to make a naturalistic wolf, but trying to figure out what that looked like was initially tricky.

Posted by dschnee at 6:03 PM

March 15, 2010

Cinefex #121 - The Tippett Touch

Cinefex #121 | www.tippett.com

This is great, I love this...

From its humble beginnings in a garage to state-of-the-art facility at the forefront of the much-changed visual effects industry, Tippett Studio, recently observed its quarter-century anniversary. Now Cinefex honors that milestone with a career retrospective of its renowned founder, Phil Tippett, who first distinguished himself as a stop-motion animator in the Star Wars and Robocop series, before exploring the short-lived go-motion process with Dragonslayer, and then plunging into computer animation with the groundbreaking Jurassic Park and dozens of subsequent films ranging from Starship Troopers and Hellboy to Cloverfield and, most recently, The Twilight Saga.

See Also: The traditional magic behind Cinefex's first ever illustrated cover from artist Mark Raats

The March> 2010 edition of the magazine carried an in-depth editorial on Tippett along with a feature on Tippett Studio's 25 Anniversary and even though

this highly regarded magazine has never featured an illustration on its cover before, Don kindly granted me an enormous amount of freedom with the design. Raats step-by-step work in progress HERE

Posted by dschnee at 8:44 PM

March 11, 2010

The Twilight Saga: Eclipse Teaser Trailer

no vfx, no comment.

As a string of mysterious killings grips Seattle, Bella (Stewart), whose high school graduation is fast approaching, is forced to choose between her love for vampire Edward (Pattinson) and her friendship with werewolf Jacob (Lautner). (IMDB)

The Twilight Saga: Eclipse arrives in theaters June 30, 2010.

Posted by dschnee at 6:45 AM