Entries in Visual Effects (81)
Over a year ago I wrote The Film Industry is Broken, about how the increasing importance of both visual effects and digital color grading means that some of a film's most important visual decisions are being made blindly. I proposed that tools were needed to communicate complex color corrections between DI (Digital Intermediate) houses and visual effects facilities, and that the best-case scenario would be to integrate visual effects and DI so that the two processes could collaborate and evolve apace, throughout not only a film's post-production but also its production and pre-production.
I wrote that about a week before embarking on the adventure of The Spirit, a film on which I would get to put every one of those ideas to the test. We created, within The Orphanage's San Francisco offices, a secure mission-control for all the visual effects work on The Spirit. Based around a Nucoda Film Master grading station, The Bunker, as it came to be called, was where we performed the DI over the course of six months of visual effects shot production divided among ten facilities spanning the globe, integrating visual effects shot review and color correction into one seamless process. At all times, all participants had accurate and up-to-date color information about every one of their shots.
You can read a detailed article about this at VFX World. Here's an excerpt:
"As we were reviewing the shots, we were viewing them in the context of the ever-evolving cut of the movie. We'd get EDLs passed up from creative editorial in L.A. and we would stay in sync with the current cut. Every submission from every vendor would get dropped into a full 2K timeline that was being color-graded on the fly. In that sense, we merged the DI process and the visual effects shot review process into one, as opposed to the traditional, and painful way of doing it, which is that you final all your visual effects shots and then you go into the DI. This was the ultimate win/win of post. We not only achieved a huge amount of efficiently, which enabled us to do 1,900 shots on a budget in six months but it was the right thing to do creatively for the film. The look of the film is so significant, and we weren't making decisions blind. The Bunker's technology backbone is such that we can pre-color correct a shot and compact that correction into a look-up table (LUT) which we can share with the vendor. The vendor can bake that color correction into their QuickTime dailies that we review using cineSync software, but then they can deliver the shot to us uncorrected and we can reapply that correction in the DI so we have the ultimate flexibility to change it if we want to. But we also have a trust relationship with the vendor and they know that the way we have been looking at the shot the whole time is a faithful representation of what it's going to be."
Read the whole article here. It's mighty good—and yet there's more to it that I hope to blog on soon. See, the process of tying visual effects review and DI together turned out so much better than I'd dreamed it could, and it taught me some very important things about what matters in effects work. Stay tuned!
Bring the Sex, AKA preorder Adobe After Effects CS4 Visual Effects and Compositing Studio Techniques
As the author of The DV Rebel's Guide: An All-Digital Approach to Making Killer Action Movies on the Cheap, I can say with some authority that a book should be easier to read than its title. Although by Mark Christiansen's Adobe After Effects CS4 Visual Effects and Compositing Studio Techniques has a longer name than its predecessor, it's for a darn good reason—the addition of the word's visual effects and compositing. Mark's Studio Techniques books have always been unique among After Effects books in their focus on visual effects compositing for film and television.
I had the honor of writing the foreword for AAECS4VFX&CST, wherein I ask and answer the question of why one might want to do such a crazy thing as composite visual effects shots in After Effects CS4:
You’re holding a book on visual effects compositing in Adobe After Effects. There are those who question the validity of such a thing. Some perpetuate a stigma that After Effects is for low-end TV work and graphics only. To do “real” effects work, you should use a program such as Nuke or Shake. Those techy, powerful applications are good for getting shots to look technically correct, But they do not do much to help you sex them up.
Sex them up? Indeed. The central premise of the foreword is that Hollywood is not about reality, it's about glorious unreality—and while there are applications and books that focus on helping you achieve realism, the ambitious effects artist is much better off learning to make things gloriously, cinematically unreal. Sexy even.
“Make it look real.” That would seem to be the mandate of the visual effects artist. Spielberg called and he wants the world to believe, if only for 90 minutes, that dinosaurs are alive and breathing on an island off the coast of South America. Your job: make them look real. Right?
I am about to tell you, the visual effects artist, the most important thing you’ll ever learn in this business: Making those Velociraptors (or vampires or alien robots or bursting dams) “look real” is absolutely not what you should be concerned with when creating a visual effects shot.
Movies are not reality. The reason we love them is that they present us with a heightened, idealized version of reality. Familiar ideas—say, a couple having an argument—but turned up to eleven: The argument takes place on the observation deck of the Empire State building, both he and she are perfectly backlit by the sun (even though they’re facing each other), which is at the exact same just-about-to-set golden-hour position for the entire ten-minute conversation. The couple are really, really charming and impossibly good-looking—in fact, one of them is Meg Ryan. Before the surgery. Oh, and music is playing.
What’s real about that? Nothing at all—and we love it.
You'll have to get the book to read the rest, except that I'll give away the ending:
After Effects may not be on par with Nuke and Shake in the tech department, but it beats them handily in providing a creative environment to experiment, create, and reinvent a shot. In that way it’s much more akin to the highly-respected Autodesk Flame and Inferno systems—it gives you a broad set of tools to design a shot, and has enough horsepower for you to finish it too. It’s the best tool to master if you want to focus on the creative aspects of visual effects compositing. That’s why this book is unique. Mark’s given you the good stuff here, both the nitty-gritty details as well as the aerial view of extracting professional results from an application that’s as maligned as it is loved. No other book combines real production experience with a deep understanding of the fundamentals, aimed at the most popular compositing package on the planet.
If there's one author whose work fills more of my shelves than Frank Miller, it's Mark Cotta Vaz. He's been writing for Cinefex since I've been reading it, and is responsible for such must-haves as Industrial Light & Magic: Into the Digital Realm, The Art of The Incredibles, and The Invisible Art: The Legends of Movie Matte Painting.
He takes the time to understand the unique aspects of a film's production, and The Spirit: The Movie Visual Companion is no exception. I feel privileged to have our work represented so faithfully and thoughtfully. If you want a window into both my day job and the creative mind of Frank Miller, along with some actual information on the filmmaking process and tons of gorgeous pictures, this is the book for you—although you may want to unwrap it Christmas morning after seeing the movie!