Monday, November 21, 2011

A busy year

For the last 14 months I've been happily very busy as a compositor in Hollywood and as a DFX Supervisor in Mumbai.

In Mumbai India, supervising was an adventure.
I had a mixed team of Nuke,Shake and After Effects compositors.  Most of the work involved pulling green screens and integrating the cg and live action into matte paintings, which we had to upgrade with moving clouds, fire effects, smoke and other atmospherics. We had over 500 shots on one show, and during the time I was there we worked on about a dozen projects. We dabbled in some 3DStereo work.

During my first safari in India, I taught NUKE at Reliance Media Works, also in Mumbai.   Whenever possible I was hands-on in NUKE, setting up shot templates, working out problems and teaching best work-flows. I stress the importance of using the simplest node possible for the job and keeping comps neat for collaboration.  I did some NUKE work setting up our pipeline for Priest and Pirates, which were a ton of roto and compositing.

I also dove into Shake, compositing shots and elements for artists to use in mass production. About half the crew worked in Shake, so I spent a good deal of time last winter helping them out with the finer aesthetics of integrating live action with matte paintings and adding digital opticals.   Most of this work was for a local episodic pilot.

With only one other After Effects artist and lots of motion graphics work, well, I took-on a bunch of comp work to free him up for other shots.  Although most of the work was finished before I arrived,  I did get in on a couple of Gulliver's Travels shots in AE.

While I was hands-on as much as possible in compositing, I also had lots of work with my crew working in  CG, matte painting, roto, matchmove and previs.  As the on-floor supervisor, a lot of my time was taken up with meetings with client directors -- but still I got in lots of comp hours.

Back in the USA, I jumped right into compositing 
at yU+co, a "player" in motion graphics main titles and such. My former AceFx partner, Stevan del George hooked me up with Garson Yu, who I last worked with during Immortal Beloved making the producer's tag for Mel Gibson's Icon Productions,  Stevan needed a crack compositor to move comps from design to completion and help him focus more on his duties as studio stereographer.

I was tossed into Pirates of the Caribbean On Stranger Tides to make the final comp from production roughs and get things stereo-ready.  This involved a lot of roto but more than anything, a streamlined pipeline to accommodate many changes to the look and content of the main-on-end titles.  From there I jumped into the Green Lantern, followed quickly by Conan, and Dolphin Tale -- all  3D movies.  I moved into stereo production also -- assisting Stevan here and there and adjusting convergence from time to time.

In addition to these films, they tasked me with numerous other projects -- titles for the 2D film Wings of Life, several production company tags and commercials for McDonalds, Puffins cereal and the United States Navy -- 100% on watch!  I was able to work about 30% in Nuke, 60% in After Effects and the rest in Maya --  an old love.

Wings of Life and the other work Louie Schwartzberg  is doing at Moving Art  is way cool -beautiful, moving.   I suggest you check it out.  

Anyway, it's been a busy 14 months and I've finally gotten a little time, so I've updated my resume and reel to reflect all this fine work -- work done in collaboration with great artists here and in Mumbai I was honored to work with.  I love this job.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Updating Editing Skills with Lynda

  Editing   might seem unrelated to a site dedicated to my compositing skills, but as a compositor I from time to time do a little editing.  Often I need to check something in context, and it's a lot easier to use an editing program than build an edit in a compositing application.  Mostly, I learned editing hacking away at my own demos with a little guidance from a friend.  And an 8000 page (or so it seemed) pdf manual.

Friends have been telling me to visit for their great tutorials.  I procrastinated, there being many other priorities, and I wasn't sure I wanted to commit to the subscription.   Boy was I wrong!

What got me to move was the Visual Effects Society's Linwood Dunn Online Training Scholarship.  This scholarship gives VES members who apply two-weeks of premium access, on a rotating basis as slots are available.  Shortly after I applied, my number came up. When I went to I was a bit overwhelmed by the sheer volume of offerings.  My biggest interests, Mocha and Mokey are among the few applications they don't yet have lessons for.  I decided to start with Final Cut Pro, and took Larry Jordan's  eight hour Final Cut Pro 5 Essential Editing.  I chose FCP 5 because, well, that's what I have at home.

Let me tell you, it was great.  Of course, it really took me a bit closer to 16 hours with stops and starts.  At first I thought I'd just listen to the parts I "needed".  But as things progressed, I became more familiar with the site and discovered that they give certificates you can print or link to from your website.  This meant finishing all the lessons in the course.  And naturally, I thought I could get by without the excercise materials, but when I got to the audio section, I just had to do the lesson excercises.  They downloaded in a snap.

cert_bannerSo I finished this class and I can say that my skills --and confidence --are greatly improved.  I decided I had to have Lynda in my life.  So I bought myself a month's gift certificate.  Gift certificates are nice, there is no automatic renewal, but the drawback is that they don't offer a premium gift certificate.  Remember, premium has the exercise files.  I hope to upgrade to a premium annual pass.

Once I finish Jordan's second editing class, I plan to brush up on my After Effects with the latest version.  A few months ago I taught myself NUKE doing the NUKE 6 tutorials on the Foundry website.  I might just go back and do Lynda's Nuke 5 lessons just to see if I missed anything.  (Not much, afterall, I did just teach Nuke 6 in India.)  There's a bunch of other stuff I want to update and learn as well.  So much for TV!

I liked so much I signed up for their affiliate program. In return, they're letting me offer my readers a free 24 hour pass to   Enjoy!

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Getting into 3D Stereo Compositing

Anachrome optical diopter glasses.
Image via Wikipedia
3D Stereo compositing has been on the lips lately of everyone I've talked to, specifically conversions from 2-D to 3-D.  I can't name names, but  if you're at all awake right now, you'll know that 3-D stereo films are having a big comeback since it's Golden Age in the early 1950's (well before my time).  I'm confident and hopeful that this time, 3-D films are here to stay, and 3-D TV is coming up fast.

I'm sure many others have had experiences touching "3-D" now and then over the years. It's been interesting watching the development of 3D and I'm really excited to see it taking tinseltown by storm.

My first ventures into "3-D" were as 3d Supervisor at The Post Group in the mid 1980's.   We were early pioneers of digital paint and compositing and 3d-CGI, using such tools as the Aurora, Paint Box, Harry, Mirage, Bosch and Wavefront.  My colleague and friend Evan Ricks ( Big American Films, Shanghai, China) did a couple of still renderings using Wavefront so I jumped in and did some too.  Not having a market for our new skills, and faced with lots of production deadlines we left it at that.  I worked on Disney's Captain Eo,  but my contributions were non-stereographic titles.  Nonetheless, I liked the show and was glad to have a small association. 

Around this time I saw Lamont Johnson's Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone with Molly Ringwald (1983).  Interesting film, but the 3D gave me horrific eyestrain and a major headache --as I recall I had to leave the theater.  (I've since learned this could have been a projection issue.)

A few years later my friend and employer Chris Mitchell at Atomix tapped me to help revise some CGI work done for a stereographic ride film, I forget the name, but it had something to do with space.  I met the great stereographer, Peter Anderson at this time.  Our project was delivered in anamorphic D1, and to view it we used a mirror rig that fit over the monitor, with the images side by side (and rotated as I recall).  Later I did a small project, again with Chris and Peter,Marlboro 500.  This was live action and I designed some visual effects which were composited.  Another artist did some Houdini CGI and I added Wavefront smoke effects and composited the job in Composer.  I missed a chance to work again with Peter on the Cirque du Soleil IMAX film Journey of Man due to scheduling conflicts to my deep regret.

With my renewed interest in 3-D as a professional, I decided I should augment my practical knowledge with a little book-time I can as fast as I can.  Myeb search took me straight to WIKIPEDIA; this has been a great source of general information.  I suggest if you have any interest in 3-D, and don't know words like stereopsis,  horopter, convergence, you head over to wiki-land right away for a little R-n-R.  (Reaserch and Reading)...  Their article on 3-D films provides a great primer on the history and development of 3-D....

The first color 3-D feature was Bwana Devil, the story of the man eating lions of Tsavo, East Africa.  [This story was redone as a 2-D film starring Michael Douglas and Vil Kilmer and in 1996 as The Ghost and The Darkness--I had the pleasure of working on this film as a senior compositor for Sony Pictures Imageworks. VFX Supervised by my friend Stuart Robertson]

The talk is about stereo 3-D today, as I said before.  My trip to India was all about preparing artists in Mumbai use Nuke for stereographic 2-D to 3-D conversion (Isa Teaches NUKE in India).  I've since talked to several companies about their conversion projects.

I  saw Clash of The Titans, mainly to see the quality of the stereo conversion done for that film.  I took along a large group of highly trained movie and vfx critics (my family and a few friends), and all of us were delighted with the action, visuals, effects and found the 3-D worked fine.  The original film is one we enjoyed, so I expected no less with this remake.  A few scenes with really fast motion were hard to follow the action, but I've seen the same problem in 2-D films, so I can't join the chorus of published critics who coed about these scenes.  Because the film was shot well for 2-D, the standard depth cues in the shots were there, and they tended to be stronger than the 3-D most of the time.  The film also employed standard DOF blurring, light fall-off and haze, so the visuals were pretty rich.  Watching the film, I was reminded that good 3d space starts with staging, lighting and the use of traditional depth cues.  3-D is the icing on the cake.  I intend to see Alice in Wonderland next to compare the 3-D conversion results.

 3-D films are here to stay; I'm convinced.  I don't see 3-D supplanting 2-D films the way color drove black and white out of the standard toolkit into the realm of "art" or the way talkies obliterated the silent film.    USA Today says that box office is up 10% (despite the economy) and attributes this increase to 3-D films. As a compositor, this means that it's time to be 3D savvy.  I'm glad I've done enough 3d 3-D to understand the concepts.  NUKE, AfterEffects and other applications are there to help with the work-flow.  Vendors are coming online with processes for conversion.  New cameras are coming.  It's a good time to be in Visual Effects.

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Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Isa teaches NUKE in India

Isa Alsup teaching Nuke.  
Reliance Media Works, India
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